In Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, the name Clinton is ubiquitous.
Bill Clinton Boulevard bisects the city, on which a 10-foot effigy of the former U.S. president, and a giant billboard depicting his smiling face stand. Some Kosovars have even named their sons “Klinton.”
But it is not just Bill who is beloved here. Hillary, too, has been honored with two clothing stores that bear her name.
From outside the shops, several bald, expressionless mannequins wearing outfits inspired by the former first lady can be seen in the display windows. Step inside, and the desire for Hillary to succeed in the presidential primary elections and caucuses — which begin next week — and become the next leader of the United States in early 2017 is unquestionable.
“That woman is an idol for us,” explained Elda Morina, manager of Hillary Boutique 2 as she proudly showed off photos she took with Clinton, who visited Pristina in 2012. Morina is convinced her compatriots would back Clinton if they could take part in the upcoming elections, “because of the name. The surname for us has very, very big meaning.”
Bill Clinton’s support
Kosovo’s reverence largely stems from the support Bill Clinton provided the territory during its war against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, in 1999. At the time, the country consisted of present-day Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo.
US-led NATO bombing ended a campaign of killing by Serbian forces against Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority, which eventually led to Kosovo declaring its independence from Serbia in 2008.
Belgrade still refuses to recognize the Kosovars’ sovereignty. But during her trip to Pristina five years ago as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton said the issue was not debatable. “For me, my family and my fellow Americans this is more than a foreign policy issue,” she affirmed. “It is personal.”
Moria said such statements are why many in Europe’s newest state would like to see Clinton in the White House. “Kosovo is not the priority for her but if there was instability here, we would need her,” she insisted. “Like always, Clintons provide good support.”
Regional tensions remain
While it is generally believed serious instability in Kosovo’s near future is unlikely, ongoing tensions in the region mean the possibility cannot be ruled out.
Lura Limani, editor-in-chief of English language magazine Prishtina Insight, agreed American support would be important in any future altercation, but believes it would be provided regardless of who is elected president later this year.
“The US foreign policy towards Kosovo, or as we like to see it, towards Albanians, has been consistent throughout the twentieth century,” Limani highlighted, “so in that sense I don’t think any sort of election in the U.S. can really change much. And I don’t think that that has happened in the past. After Clinton, Bush as well was very popular here.”
George W. Bush was one of the first world leaders to recognize Kosovo’s independence. As a reward, he too had a Pristina street named after him.
Interest in US presidential race
Limani said Kosovars will be closely following this year’s presidential race.
“They don’t follow because they think there’s going to be a foreign policy change,” she explained. “Like most other countries they follow it because the U.S. is a world power and it can change the world in general.”
“We are among the most pro-American people all over the world,” proclaimed Afrim Hoti, Head of the Political Science Department at Pristina University. “Everyone here is interested in the American elections as they see America as the biggest ally and a partner. Everyone is looking at the US as a friendly country, but not as Republicans or Democrats.”
‘Ideal model’ of democracy
Hoti also said Kosovars look towards the United States — especially at election time — as an “ideal model” of democracy, as they try to build a strong democratic state of their own — a task proving to be difficult.
Kosovo is experiencing its worst political crisis since declaring independence.
Thousands took to the streets of Pristina earlier this month to denounce the country’s elected officials, eventually setting fire to the government’s headquarters. Since October, opposition members of parliament have attacked the chamber with tear gas nearly half a dozen times to protest an EU-brokered deal that provides Serbian-majority municipalities with more autonomy.
“We’re at a very critical point,” admitted Hoti, “and I see no progress unless we organize new elections. The government has to go again to the citizens and gather legitimacy.”
The opposition has vowed to continue protesting until the government resigns. However, as there are no signs the current administration will acquiesce, it appears the only elections Kosovars will be witnessing any time soon are those in the U.S.
Back at Hillary Boutique 2, Morina finally admitted, “no matter who wins in the U.S., it’s okay. What’s best for America is best for us.” She then began to laugh. “But personally, those I know want Clinton. And I hope I will have the opportunity to visit her in the White House.”
(Main photo: A statue of former US President Bill Clinton looking towards Bill Clinton Boulevard on a snowy January afternoon in Pristina, Kosovo, Jan. 18, 2016. P.W. Wellman/VOA)