As it continues to grow post-war, Kosovo seeks more engagement from Iowa, United States
Wednesday was a marathon-interview day. We talked with the CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce in Kosovo, former President Atifete Jahjaga, a Fulbright Scholar, and others. The topics ranged from the economy to education to the world’s perception of Kosovo.
Perception is something that came up a lot throughout the day. Kosovars are aware that many people still remember the country as it was during the war. Images of burned villages and people gathered for funerals flooded TV screens back then, and in many ways, there has been little update since. But the people of Kosovo want people to visit the country and see the progress that’s been made.
We spoke with Diellza Kryeziu, a 19-year-old university student who’s from Prizren, Kosovo. She was actually born in Switzerland in 1999 at the end of the war and moved back a few years later. She remembers post-war Kosovo well, saying, “Post-war Kosovo was a mess in many ways, you know with the economy, even the social life because people just got out of the traumatic situation.” She admits she’s only recently realized how unstable things were. “Having the electricity on and off all the time seemed fun as a child, but now I’m like oh the state had a lot of problems,” she said.
Sixty-five percent of the population in Kosovo is under the age of 30. Kryeziu is just one of the thousands of youth trying to help the country grow, and she’d like people around the world to realize how much progress they’ve made. “It’s just putting effort into listening and learning a narrative, learning a story is really important,” she said.
Walking around the capital city on Wednesday, it struck me how modern things feel. Cars rush down the street, taxis drop off and pick up customers, and people are walking quickly to their destinations. On Bulevardi Bill Klinton (Bill Clinton Boulevard) near the Bill Clinton statue, there was what reminded me of a small farmers’ market. Individual booths were set up with people selling fresh produce and homemade goods.
Now I’m sure you’d like to know more about the fact that there is a street named about America’s 42nd President. Well, the people of Kosovo love Clinton. They credit him for getting NATO to launch bombing campaigns against Serbian forces during the war in 1999. There is also a George W. Bush and Iowa Street.
This is also a testament to the importance of the country’s relationship with the United States. Former President Antifete Jahjaga said, “We do not have a stronger ally than the United States and the people of the United States.” She’d like to see that relationship grow and expand to new areas. “Having more of the exchange programs between both of the countries. Having more people from your country to visit Kosovo, and from Kosovo to go there. For young people to attend the universities and attend the programs there,” Jahjaga said.
During a lunch with the American Chamber of Commerce CEO Arian Zaka, we learned about modern Kosovo politics. There is an election in October, and Zaka said he would purposefully take a vacation during the week of voting to remain impartial. He wants to be able to work with whoever gets into office. I thought that was very admirable! Before talking to politics, Zaka spent time catching up with Colonel Michael Wunn. They asked each other about their families and work. For me, this was another example of the strong relationships the Iowa National Guard has with so many people in Kosovo.
I’m thankful we met Zaka because of all we learned from him, but also because he ordered some amazing food for us at lunch. There was minced meat wrapped in grape leaves, a sort of meat patty, salad, bread with various spreads, and more. The Kosovars are known for being hospitable, and we definitely experienced that at lunch! And although this was a traditional restaurant, it still had modern influences. I heard American and English songs playing in the background, including Adele. Kosovo is truly a unique place!