Celebrating the American National Day of Independence, with Americans, in a country that loves America
We stood by the edge of the balcony on the 18th floor of the Grand Hotel in Pristina. Off in the distance we could see fireworks, their bangs making them sound closer than they were. Red and orange lit up the night sky, but for once the colours were a welcome sight to Kosovars.
Somewhere walking around the balcony was an American in a cowboy hat and a star-spangled banner draped over his shoulders. Proudly, he went up to group after group exclaiming he was from the United States, as if he could have been from anywhere else. Proudly, the locals would state that they loved Americans.
As the party carried on around us, I was conscious of you standing next to me. Eventually, you leant over and whispered in my ear: “If I can’t celebrate Independence Day in America, celebrating it in Kosovo is a close second.”
Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, is new born. It is a capital, much like Tirana in Albania, that is striving to forge a national identity for itself, that is trying to find its feet after the turbulence and turmoil of the past.
Walking around the city, which only has a population of around 200,000, you can sense a youthful vibrance, and you can see how new everything is. For a city that has been recovering since the end of the Kosovo War in 1999 and only gaining independence itself in 2008, this isn’t surprising.
However, what is surprising is the number of Americans in Pristina. They were by far and above the major nationality I met while travelling around the country.
Most of the Americans I met and chatted to, which there were a number, seemed to be working for NGOs and other charities. There were a large group of girls who were volunteering in the local hospital; two guys were removing cataracts at an eye clinic, set up and run by other Americans. But by far the most surprising thing for me, even the other backpackers and travellers I met were predominately American.
When I tried to understand why there were so many Americans in Kosovo, one guy responded by saying: “There aren’t many countries around the world where Americans can travel to in which they are so loved.”
Walking around the city of Pristina, I started to notice one or two signs nodding towards this love and adoration. Perhaps it was walking down George W. Bush Avenue, or perhaps it was coming across the statue of Bill Clinton, who is proudly smiling and waving to the city. It is safe to say Kosovars do still have huge amounts of respect for the United States.
All of this stems from the U.S. intervention during the Kosovo War in 1998. The U.S., along with the UN and NATO, all took “necessary” action to ensure the bloody war ended.
Fast forward 10 years. When Kosovo seceded from Serbia and became an independent nation in 2008, George W. Bush and the U.S. was the first country to recognise it as such (many countries including Russia and Serbia still don’t). On the 19th February 2008, George W. Bush justified his decision of recognising Kosovo as an independent nation, saying that by doing so would bring peace to a region scarred by war. Six years after, Bush’s decision is still seen as one of the most important in Kosovo’s history to this day.
And this reverence is seen throughout the country. According to the 2012 U.S. Global Leadership Report, 87% of Kosovars approve of U.S. leadership, the highest rating for any surveyed country in Europe.
Being in Pristina, celebrating the American National Day of Independence, with Americans, in a country that loves America, was extremely surreal, but for me it brought the present and the past together, and it made me understand just why Kosovo is such a great country to travel to, not just for Americans, but for everyone.