Pristinaâ€™s main artery is named Bill Clinton Avenue. After NATO ended ethnic cleansing in 1999, Albanians named their newborns â€śMadeline Albright Ismailiâ€ť or â€śAl Gore Ajeti.â€ť The honeymoon continues: A â€śstatue of libertyâ€ť sits atop a city hotel. American flags fly profusely â€“ on cars, storefronts, and on solitary homes in the countryside.
In Kosovo, American styles, films, and symbols are bolted in hearts and minds. Itâ€™s uncritical, and a tad embarrassing to elites, but there you have it. That giant America helped end Kosovoâ€™s horror still amazes. In Pristina, it is hard to find locals who donâ€™t speak English; even elders try.
Students apply first to American colleges. Turn on the TV, itâ€™s Hollywood. Teens take road trips to Skopje in Macedonia to hang out at the only McDonaldâ€™s around. America is imagined as an endless well of choice, glitz, and promise. â€śKosovars live in Switzerland or Germany,â€ť says Agron Bajrami, editor of the daily Koha Ditore. â€śBut they model their lives after what they think America is.â€ť
The love affair isnâ€™t new. Albanians have long had family in the Bronx and received care packages from Cleveland. They argue that Woodrow Wilson defended Albanians at the Paris peace conference in 1919. George H.W. Bush is known for a â€śChristmas messageâ€ť to Belgrade in 1992 â€“ telling Serbs not to attack. In the 1980s, urban Kosovars watched â€śTwin Peaksâ€ť and listened to Seattle grunge rock.