Wednesday, April 04, 2007

‘Bill Clinton and God saved Kosovo’


In the fight for independence from Serbia, Kosovan Albanians turn their hand to America for friendship
Welcome to Pristina (Photo: Saskia Drude)

Bill Clinton welcomes everyone who has just come to the city from the direction of the airport. The eight metre high placard of the waving former
American president hangs on a twelve-storey building, looming high above the Bill Clinton Boulevard in Pristina, capital of a Kosovo seekingindependence from Serbia. A policeman who is directing traffic along the Boulevard is wearing a cap based on the style of police uniforms from the 1920s. On the fence opposite there's a placard from Thanksgiving last year, with ‘Thank you America’ emblazoned across it.

Boutique Hillary

The fact that there can be such an unabashed American pride in a city with a large Muslim community, not forgetting this central road commemorating an ex-American president, is unheard of virtually anywhere else in the world. In May 1999 and during Bill Clinton’s presidency, the first NATO bomb landed on its Yugoslavian target. 78 days later the Kosovo War ended, and the dispossession of Kosovo-Albanians by Serbian troops was stopped.

After the end of the war, several streets were quickly renamed after freedom fighters, politicians and authors barely known to Albanians. Even city taxi drivers had no idea where anywhere was! Instead of street names, distunguished places via landmarks such as mosques, banks or shops, for example the ‘California’ restaurant, the ‘Boston’ bakery or the ‘Hillary’ Boutique on Bill-Clinton Boulevard.

Mural in Kosovo (Photo: Jutta Sommerbauer)Weapons from the USA

‘The Albanians love us,’ says Robert Curtis, who has worked in Kosovo since 2001. ‘I can do no wrong here. If I drive too fast the police turn a blind eye - just because I’m American.' Curtis is the Dean at the American University in Kosovo, which since 2003 has offered courses in economics, management and other more questionable subjects.

‘Americans are our friends,’ says Faik Fazliu. ‘They were always on the side of the Albanians.’ At 22, Fazilu lost a leg in the last weeks of the war. Now he is chairman of the Association of War Veterans and War Invalids of the now disbanded Kosovan ‘Freedom Army’
UÇK. ‘Already by 1998, the UÇK were getting the majority of their weapons from the USA,’ remembers Fazliu. US-Albanians supported the UÇK as they completely legally bought weapons in large batches from the US. They ranged from assault rifles to grenade launchers. The weapons were created by Albanians in Kosovo. After they entered the war, the Americans set up training camps in Albania for UÇK fighters.

Money for democracy

Since 1999, the US militia has been involved in the international KFOR-Mission in Kosovo. Their camp ‘Bondsteel’ in Ferizaj (Serbian: Urosevaæ) is the largest US military camp in Europe. It is leased for 99 years, and is thus strategically important in the long-term. It reaches across the whole of Kosovo with its two million inhabitants.

Mural in Pristina (Photo: Saskia Drude)The USA also plays an important role in civilian matters. The position of Deputy of the UN Civilian Department UNMIK is created by a US statute. The future US embassy and the offices of USAID, the official US agency for democratisation and economic development, is situated in the middle of a large estate in Kosovo’s main city. The development and democratisation process is co-ordinated from here and is financed by the US.

Furthermore, Americans are involved in both small and large NGOs. Around a dozen large NGOs are operating. Among the three Americans is Kristin Griffiths from the Mercy Corps in Pristina. When Griffith visits the villages around central Kosovo she always hears the same phrase - ‘Bill Clinton and God saved Kosovo’. The initial enthusiasm for the Americans has only waned slightly since the war: ‘Kosovo is one of the few countries in which we Americans are welcomed without fail.’

'Fuck Coca Cola'

Young war veteran Fazilu doesn’t know a great deal about US commitment to Kosovo's democratisation, but he’s learnt a lot from his lessons. ‘Kosovo will be an independent state with respect for all minorities.’ Many Kosovans like Fazilu can’t think further than that longed-for day when the UN Security Council decides the status of Kosovo – probably in the next few weeks. Although EU member states haven’t so far been able to agree on the question, the USA would prefer to see Kosovo as more independent today than it has been before.

In the predominantly Serbian populated north of Kosovo, the US is considered to be an ally of the Albanians. This is in large part thanks to their expulsion of the Serbians from Kosovo. The approximately 100,000 Serbians still living there have congregated in little enclaves in the north of the province. ‘Fuck Coca Cola, fuck the pizza, all we need is Slivovitza,’ is scrawled across postcards and placards in souvenir shops on the Serbian side of the divided city Mitrovica (Serbian: Mitrovicë).

The Serbs build on the traditional support of Moscow. As a member of the so-called Balkan-Contact Group, Russia has often stepped up to offer to support the situation only when all parties involved are agreed on a composite solution to Kosovo's status. This UN Security Council resolution could in turn be rejected by Moscow's veto. The old dichotomy of the world – in Kosovo, it continues to exist.

The author is a member of the German N-Ost network

Photos: Jutta Sommerbauer (Free Kosovo) y Saskia Drude


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Anonymous said...

pushite mi qratz shiptari

Bg anon said...

I'm not very enthusiastic on too much love or too much hate - particularly of politicians.

I bet back in the day (1974) Tito was seen in the same day.

The point is people (everywhere) have to finally realise there are no heros. They must learn to depend on themselves. Still, its probably a more philosophical point. I personally dont feel like I need any role model or hero but then I'm probably in the minority.
Still I reckon there is a corrlation between those who are educated needing less heros and vice versa.

Then again maybe I've got it all wrong and should learn to worship something too :)

Bg anon said...

same way not same day!

Jeebus said...

bg: I'd have to say that I completely disagree that humanity does not need heroes and, more so, with the notion that the educated have less use for them. I think not having any heroes goes against the way our brains are wired as is exemplified by the fact that heroic myths appear in every human culture no matter how isolated. Read Joseph Campbell's "The Hero with a Thousand Faces", it's illuminating.

Regarding the elite, well, how would you explain the near deification of Marx and Lenin (and Stalin and Mao and Che and...etc) amongst the ivory towers of academia? These are people with advanced post-grad degrees and they still need something/someone to look to.

Discounting heroes is nihilistic, at least in my estimation, because it discounts a fundamental aspect of the human mindset; that there are things one can endeavor to do and persons one can endeavor to emulate that can make the world or, perhaps, just your life better.

Now my head hurts, I'm going to go have a beer. Cheers!

bytycci said...

Clinton is not seen as a hero/role model among Albanians. He is seen as a hero/savior. To illustrate this let me use the example of religions. Christians see Jesus as a savior, while Muslims see Mohammed more like a role model.

So Clinton and the "saviour" quality he has among Albanians can be explained through the Albanian psyche. Albanian myths are full of stories of heroes killing dragons and all sorts of monsters. St. George's day is a very popular holiday even today (among people of all religions). Scanderbeg is seen as a hero/savior. Even Enver Hoxha and Rugova tried to portray themselves as hero/saviours.

It is not surprising that we see such enthusiasm for Clinton.

I think we do need heroes. Spiderman, Superman etc etc.

Bg anon said...

You picked a good couple of heros there bytycci - I used to dream about being spiderman, seriously. Maybe he wasnt the toughest of superheros but with his powers, if you are smart you could beat the best of them! No, I like those type of heros. If only, I'd just love to fly through the air from building to building and to round up a murderer or rapist or two with my web... just for a day...

jeebus see bytyccis view. He has mentioned the Albanian context but I would say that this is similar to the Serbian and other former Yugoslav context in the way political leaders are identified as heros almost worthy of worship. Also at play in the Serbian context is complete cynicism in all politicians, which I prefer to complete worship - although both of these elements make an imbalanced society.

This (heroic) kind of attitude completely lets politicians and similar off the hook. Plus there is always the danger when you build something / someone up that this worship can turn to outrage, anger or even violence. Its the old thing about setting yourself up for a fall.

However, I do take your point that people generally do need heros. Although I disagree with your assumption that this is necessarily a positive thing. I'd say it is mainly neutral, that there are as many positive 'heros' as negative. But the difference is that by 'appointing' somebody as a hero in your life you are absolving or excusing them of abiding to standards you might expect from others. If you move in the direction of the US context or the ghettos, I wonder how many young boys idolise the mercedes driving drug supplier et al.

In the context of Marx and company and when the kids of rich westerners (sorry this is a little contemptuous) admire these people, well its obvious those people never lived under those regimes. Glorifying something you dont truly understand isnt something particularly smart. And one can read a hundred books about a topic but without the capability of putting oneself in the shoes of somebody, who was for example persecuted by those regimes. Well personally I think those who are able to see outside their books and understand suffering of others are intelligent too.

Admiration is a different thing. I'm able to admire somebody for their actions. To truly admire them but there will always be a bit of balance there. But real life heros? No. I know I'm not typical though.

Thanks for the book recommendation. Is it a historical thing I wonder? I wonder if this need for heros will subside as man ages and as facts become available to everybody about the lives of those they idolise. Still the fact that we all die will ensure that the greatest hero of all still lives on - the one(s) we meet (or not) once we die.

bytycci said...

"Glorifying something you dont truly understand isnt something particularly smart."

Well said.

But people actually usually glorify things that they don't understand.

I have been trying to find myself a 'hero' for while now, but with no luck. Two people come close, Bono, and Bill Gates (may be Mohammed Yunus too, because he was workin in tougher conditions). But at this time in my life, I don't need a hero.

I think I had my hero/role models as a kid, and it is crucial that kids have positive role models.

And people will always have heros. Just like people will always believe in God. I think it is a result of the evolution. Scientists are proving this.

Going back to Bill Clinton and the Albanians. We should keep in mind that Albanians see America as their helper/protector not just because of Bill Clinton. It goes back to Woodrow Wilson.