This column originally appeared on Kosovo 2.0. Available here in English, Albanian, and Serbian.
Saturday’s New York Times profile of Hashim Thaci is a meme in the making. Dan Bilefsky’s piece on Hashim Thaci’s particular brand of statesmanship made the rounds of the Kosovar interwebs, and a lot of interesting observations ensued. One problematic paragraph in particular has drawn attention:
“Mr. Thaci (pronounced THAH-chee) is being hailed in Washington and Brussels as the Gerry Adams of the Balkans, his country on the road toward Europe, his name even invoked, however improbably, as a possible Nobel Peace Prize candidate.”
Madeleine Albright described him as “the Gerry Adams of the Balkans” in 2000, and apparently that statement will follow Thaci forever (along with the famed comparison to George Clooney). But how is Thaci like the leader who helped bring peace to a deeply divided Northern Ireland? Did the EU hold Gerry Adams’ hand in negotiations with Great Britain? Did Gerry Adams conduct talks with his peoples’ historical aggressor and keep them in the dark about what was being decided in their name? Is Kosovo headed toward a power-sharing agreement with Serbia or toward full sovereignty? Who in Washington and Brussels is actually still calling him the Gerry Adams of the Balkans without being sarcastic?
The Nobel Prize mention was another fiasco. All three of Kosovo’s national newspapers — Koha, Zeri, and Gazeta Express — published summaries of the article (or in the case of Koha and Zeri, posted almost exactly the same summary from Kosovo’s public broadcaster, RTK). Koha and Zeri’s headlines boldly state “Gerry Adams of Kosovo, Nobel Candidate” (Koha), and “NYT: Hashim Thaci, Candidate for Nobel Peace Prize?!” Gazeta Express says that the article states Hashim Thaci is a “serious candidate” for the Nobel Prize, and that “European countries and the U.S. compare him to the leader of Ireland’s guerilla force, Gerry Adams.” The link to the original article isn’t provided, and if you’re not an English speaker, you’re at the mercy of the editor’s whim.
But let’s get back to the article itself: the icing on the cake, weirdness-wise, comes in the article’s conclusion. Thaci, apparently, is a Sting fan, and his final words in the article are a few lines from “Englishman in New York,” a song he apparently enjoyed during his time in the KLA: “Takes more than combat gear to make a man. Takes more than a license for a gun. Confront your enemies, avoid them when you can. A gentleman will walk but never run.”
What do these lyrics have to do with anything? Is this some sort of distillation of KLA strategy, explained in Sting-lyric form? Bilefsky seems content to spend all of his time talking about Thaci’s connections to weapons; drugs; organ trafficking; corruption; and his relationships to former commanders accused of war crimes. No Kosovar outside the government is asked what they think about their Prime Minister.
Dan Bilefsky’s New York Times piece reads like a profile written over the course of a few scant days spent in Prishtina, and seems intended for casual, Saturday morning readers. Meanwhile, here in Kosovo, we seem to content to let others portray us and our leaders however they want.