As the Ottoman Empire dissolved and the First and Second World Wars came to an end, Kosovo was swallowed up and turned into a province of Marshall Tito’s Yugoslavia. The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, to be precise, at your service, since 1963. In Marxist terms, it was a rather marvellous idea. In Groucho Marx terms, well, it was more like: I refuse to join any club that wants me as a member.
Although a communist autocracy, Yugoslavia was the most ‘liberal’ in the Eastern Bloc. Its subjects weren’t really supposed to comprehend the word ‘dictator’, and its iron-fisted ruler, Comrade Tito, was the darling of the sanctimonious West. Communism Lite was at play here and even Sophia Loren and Richard Burton were happy to grace its shores, bedazzled by the shimmering blue of the Adriatic and the affluence and generosity of their host.
A decade later, in 1973, just after The Dark Side of the Moon was released and George Foreman beat Joe Frazier to become the world heavyweight boxing champion, Kosovo had slightly more modest ambitions. It was destined to be my birthplace. Yet another ethnic Albanian child who would do little to imbalance the Slavic push that gathered on the margins of Kosovo and boxed us in, while wanting to squeeze us out.
Then, in 1979, I became a ‘Tito’s Pioneer’, as we were called after pledging our allegiance to Marshall Tito in primary school. That was also the year in which Tito made his last ever visit to Pristina, my beloved hometown.
We wore red Tito’s Pioneers scarves across our shoulders and our best smiles on our faces that day, as we duly lined the roads to welcome our Supreme Leader.
Tito waved from his Mercedes-Benz 600 with a smugness he was neither able nor willing to conceal. The joy of the common people was tangible and the entire affair so spectacular that it must have turned Kim Il-sung and Leonid Brezhnev avocado-green with envy.