“God bless America and our Western friends,” Ibrahim Rugova, the first president of Kosovo, used to say at the end of his speeches in the 1990´s. The phrase stuck with the public and the sentiment only grew stronger when Bill Clinton ordered NATO to bomb Serbian targets during the Kosovo war in 1999. After 78 days of bombing they successfully expelled the Serbian military, and in so doing put an end to the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.
Roguva’s words would remain etched in the collective consciousness, repeated incessantly, even today, reflecting the affection Kosovo has for the United States ever since. The American ambassador in Prishtina, Greg Delawie, described Kosovo in 2016 as “the most pro-American country outside of the United States”. This affection has lasted nearly 20 years since the end of the war, with Kosovo celebrating this year its 10th anniversary of independence, declared on 17th February 2008 and formally recognised by 114 countries, including 23 members of the European Union.
The gesture that best exemplifies the extent of the nation's devotion is undoubtedly the installation of an 11 foot bronze statue of Clinton in Prishtina, his left hand raised in greeting and his right holding a document bearing his name and the date that the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia commenced, on 24th March 1999.
Clinton himself, now a national hero, was present at the unveiling ceremony on 1st November 2009, where he spoke with a mixture of incredulity and gratitude. “I never expected that anywhere, someone would put up such a big statue of me” he said to a packed crowd in one of the city’s main boulevards that itself bore his name: Bulevardi Bill Klinton.
But this is not the sole symbol of Kosovo's profound gratitude towards the USA, and Clinton is not the only beneficiary. Several schools, sports centres, streets and boulevards throughout the country have been named after the likes of Madeleine Albright, the Secretary of State under Clinton, US Congressman Eliot Engel or former President George Bush.
Despite its declaration of independence, the international community still plays the role of a guardian to Kosovo, and the United Nations is yet to officially recognise its independence, given Russia, who sided with Serbia to defend its own interests, has made use of its veto whenever the question has arisen.
Nevertheless, Kosovo is far from that of 20 years ago. It’s hard to find yet physical traces of war nowadays. Many new generations have grown up in an environment of peace and relative stability. And, as long as there are no major changes in American policy towards Kosovo, there is no reason to believe that this tiny European territory’s devotion will fade. The stars and stripes will continue to be hoisted in Prishtina every 4th July, yet another demonstration of the admiration and respect that Kosovo has for the United States.