Tirana cafe. Photo by Don Russell.
No, it’s not a joke. Albanians think highly enough of George W. Bush to name a café after him. There’s even a George W. Bush Street in the capital of Tirana, albeit a rather short, crooked one. Bush received a warm welcome when he became the first U.S. president to visit the country in 2007. The administration’s support for Albania’s entrance into NATO and nearby Kosovo’s independence contributed to making Albania one of the few resolutely pro-American countries in Europe.
So enthusiastic is Albania about NATO that it practically doubled its contingent in Afghanistan this July, even as other European countries were trying to figure out how to withdraw their troops. Okay, that brings the number up to only 262 soldiers. But since nominally Albania is majority Muslim — religion in fact plays a rather muted role in the country — its participation in Afghanistan provides Washington with good PR value. This renewed enthusiasm for NATO also takes away some of the bad taste in the mouth from the revelations in 2008 that a 22-year-old Pentagon contractor in Florida was using Albania as a conduit to send old, and prohibited, Chinese ammunition to troops in Afghanistan.
A café, a street: It’s not much of a basis for a personality cult. In nearby Pristina, for instance, Bill Clinton has easily trumped his successor. Not only does Clinton have a big street named after him, but this month the Kosovar government unveiled an 11-foot, gilded statue of Bill Clinton holding documents in his hand stamped with the date that NATO began bombing Serbia in 1999.
It’s not likely that Iraq or Afghanistan will build any monuments to George W. Bush. But in Tirana, there is a perfect place for a Bush statue. In the very middle of the city, on a raised stone platform near the equestrian statue of national hero Skenderbeg, is a rough patch where the eight-ton bronze figure of communist dictator Enver Hoxha once stood. Except for a brief period every year when the municipal authorities put up a Christmas tree, the spot is free. Erecting a statue of Bush in the very footsteps of Hoxha would indeed be a fitting tribute to the 43rd president.