During the celebration of Bajram, the Muslim community asked permission from the municipality of Tirana to hold its morning prayer at Skënderbeg Square. Thousands of Muslims were present for this ritual. To display the event better several large screens were set up, but when photographed from a mischievously provocative angle they looked like they hid the statue of Skënderbeg. Adding fuel to the fire, an imam argued that Skënderbeg was a Christian hero disliked by the Muslim community.
Social media were immediately brimming with arguments pro and against Skënderbeg, a national hero appointed by the Rilindja scholars of the 19th century, reinforced by the Austro-Hungarian invaders, and later by Fascist Italians, glorified by communists, and sanctioned as hero in the Constitution – for many he remains untouchable.
Much ado about nothing, with the ironical conclusion that the peaceful multi-religious co-existence (clearly betrayed by the latest discussions) is a national heritage and must be protected!
On a TV show regarding this theme, the renowned historian Pëllumb Xhufi, former ambassador to Italy, explained that the figure of Skënderbeg cannot be put up for discussion, particularly not for religious reasons, given that in his 60 years-old lifespan he switched faiths many a time. Until 20 years old he was an Orthodox, a Muslim for the next 20 years, and a Catholic for the last 20 years.
Confusion and uncertainty rule over Skënderbeg’s life as they do in Albania’s history in general. In Italian history school books, Gjergj Kastrioti known as Scanderbeg is studied as a Catholic-born character, kidnapped by the Turks who turned him Muslim, after which he rebelled and turned back to Catholic.
Maybe Xhufi got overwhelmed by his own words.
Or maybe he was thinking about stories of other contemporary Albanian heroes who, following the model of the national hero, shed their skins multiple times: They were born and raised as communists, turned into democrats to suit their interests, and finally furthered them by becoming the new Socialist “Renaissance.”