A Fading Flag?

Notes from Kosovo #2

He stands smiling at the corner of Bill Clinton Boulevard; his left hand outstretched waving to the populace of Prishtina, the agreement that created the independent state of Kosovo cradled in his right. The stance of this bronzed likeness of Bill Clinton is not unlike the posture of the Statue of Liberty and I don’t think it a coincidence. He is the national hero of these ethnic Albanians, the symbol of their independence, and the reason they fly the American flag beside the flags of Kosovo and Albania at all government buildings. This proud little nation is grateful.

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 I have not yet begun to pack. What is holding me back? When I accepted the job, my husband balked. He worried that the talk by the new American administration would put me in danger in a country that exists solely because NATO stepped in when the Muslim population was being slaughtered by the Christian Serbs in the 1990s. Some of my Kosovar colleagues were imprisoned during that war and they remember. Some of them are Muslim and some are atheist, but they all remember. NATO, the bulwark against repression, remains in Kosovo in the border town of Mitrovitz where a bridge separates the Muslim side from the Serbian. I have pictures of the wall of rocks that the Serbian Kosovars piled to block off passage to the Muslims at a contentious moment in 2011 and shooting broke out. There they stay to keep the peace. Walls alone never work.

 So, now even I hesitate. I am in contact with one of my friends from Prishtina, but the others on Facebook have oddly disappeared. They know my politics and understand how devastated I am by the outcome of our election. But they know I am planning to return soon. Are they silent because they haven’t had any family events to brag about recently? Or is it something more ominous?

 I wonder. Will I be still welcome in a foreign land, a Muslim majority country, where I have been paid to guide them in implementing some fundamental changes to their educational structures and processes? Or will they shut me out as a representative of a country that has begun to slam its doors against them, against Muslims - against refugees fleeing annihilation just as many of them had done two decades earlier. 

Because blustery talk has now been accompanied by aggressive action – tough action because now America needs to be tough, so they say. Just a few years ago, I walked the streets of the capitol city, confident of my safety and welcomed unquestionably by everyone I met. Because I was American. Because Americans came to their defense. Because America stood for freedom and civil liberty. I fear that it might not anymore. And perhaps so do they.


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