But first, a little history lesson.
The territorial sovereignty of Kosovo is a regional hot button, and has been throughout history. During the Medieval Period, Kosovo was part of the Serbian Empire prior to being conquered by the Ottomans. Kosovo was once again incorporated into larger Serbia in 1912. In the modern era, even as Serbia and Kosovo became part of Yugolsavia, nationalistic Serbs did not forget this history.
Upon his rise to power in 1989, Slobodan Milosevic revoked Kosovo’s status as an autonomous province within Serbia that had been granted by the Communist power structure in 1974. The Serbian government then began systematically violating the rights of its Kosovar-Albanian citizens. In the early 1990’s, civil unrest erupted in the form of armed conflict between Kosovar-Albanian paramilitaries and Serbian and Yugoslav military forces.
The actions of Serbian forces in the course of fighting were categorized as ethnic cleansing by Western leaders, and in particular by US President Bill Clinton. In 1999, NATO intervened and carried out a 78-day bombing campaign against military and civilian targets in Yugoslavia. Shortly thereafter, the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) (http://www.unmikonline.org/index.html) was created by UN Security Council Resolution 1244. NATO continues to maintain its presence in Kosovo via its Kosovo Force (KFOR) (http://www.nato.int/KFOR/) to preserve stability within the region.
Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008 and just one day later, the US government officially recognized the new nation. The US was the second country to do so, after Costa Rica. (For a complete list of other nations who have recognized Kosovo and to read their official statements of recognition, check out http://www.kosovothanksyou.com/).
It is therefore generally held that Kosovars L-O-V-E the United States. Americans who come to Kosovo are warmly welcomed (I can personally attest to that!). A major road in the capitol city of Pristina has been renamed Bill Clinton Boulevard, complete with an enormous portrait of the former President overlooking the roadway.
The current administration is also held in high esteem. Vice President Joe Biden visited Pristina just last month to reaffirm the US’s relationship with Kosovo and was awarded the Medal of Freedom by the Assembly of Kosovo. Vestiges from his visit remain throughout the city, including billboards such as the one pictured below. (Although his visit occurred before my arrival, you can check out pictures of the event at http://kosovotravelogue.blogspot.com/2009_05_01_archive.html).
As I was stuck in traffic this past Friday evening on my way to Maxi supermarket, I even saw a replica of the Statue of Liberty on the roof of a local hotel named Hotel Victory. According to their website, it is the second largest Statue of Liberty replica in the world.
And now for the part you have all been waiting for… the joke. The following joke was told to me by a Kosovar and is said to be swiftly making the rounds throughout UN agencies and NGOs in Pristina.
A Spanish KFOR soldier was working in Prizren. Throughout the day, an elderly man assisted him. Finally, the Spaniard turned to him and said “Why are you being so nice to me? My country does not recognize yours.” The old man replied, “Yes, but Spain discovered America!”
Having traveled around Europe, I must admit that it is a new and pleasant experience to discover such a positive attitude towards my home. I laughed at this joke, as did the Kosovar and Americans who heard it along with me. But is Kosovo’s relationship with the US helping or hindering the development of the nation’s democratic institutions?
I have only been in Pristina for a few days, but already I am hearing another side to the story. People are talking, and I am listening and learning.
So stay tuned.
UPDATE: On July 5, a group of activists representing the Vetevendosje or “self-determination” movement held a protest outside of government buildings in Pristina to publicly criticize the service record of US Ambassador Tina Kaidanow. They claim that the Ambassador has “misused her position as the most powerful international official in Kosovo” by exhibiting “totalitarian behaviour” and a bias against Albanians. Furthermore, after performing a skit in which actors portraying President Fatmir Sejdiu and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci begged Kaidanow, whose term in Kosovo is ending, not to leave the country, activists proclaimed: “Our last request: Dear Tina, since you had the ability to hurt Kosovo this much, you can help our country if you insert our politicians in your diplomatic suitcases, since they cannot do anything without you.”
The following video shows the aforementioned performance. Although an English translation of the dialogue and interviews with bystanders is not available at this time, it is still worth watching.
Posted By Tiffany Ommundsen
Posted Jun 7th, 2009