ToniBler and Klinton: Gratitude for West lives on in Kosovar names

Pristina (AFP) –


Streets lined with US flags, murals thanking NATO, and boys named ToniBler and Klinton: Kosovars have no shortage of ways to thank Western powers for intervening 20 years ago to end the war with Serbia.

"If it was not for (Bill) Clinton, we would all be dead, this country would not be independent and I would not play football with friends," said 16-year-old Klinton Bajgora, whose parents put a Kosovar twist on the name of the US president they consider to be "the father of our nation".

Twenty years ago this Sunday, NATO launched a 78-day bombing assault on Serbia that ultimately led to its withdrawal of forces in separatist Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians were locked in war with the regime of Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic.

The US-led campaign ended a conflict that left than 13,000 people dead, the vast majority Kosovo Albanians, in the final chapter of Yugoslavia's bloody collapse.

Ever since, Westerners -- especially Americans -- have enjoyed unwavering popularity in Kosovo, which went on to declare independence from Serbia in 2008 with strong US backing.

The capital Pristina even boasts a statue of Bill Clinton on a boulevard named after him, which the US president came to inaugurate in 2009.

"Every time you see this statue I want you to remember that all I want for you is a good future and I will do everything I can to support it for the rest of my life," Clinton told a jubilant crowd at the time.

Klinton Bajgora's family still flies America's stars and stripes from their house in the village of Dobratin, 30 kilometres (18 miles) north of the capital.

The flag is also a common site in stores and streets across Kosovo.

"I don't think Kosovo has a better friend" than Clinton, explains his mother, 50-year-old Selvije Bajgora.

The name "was the only way to thank him".

- Nine Tonys -

Madeleine is also a popular name among young girls in Kosovo, in a gesture of gratitude to then US secretary of state Madeleine Albright.

Other families have drawn inspiration from the UK, another core ally in the Western intervention.

The Dajaku family, from the western village of Rakinice, named their son ToniBler after the former British prime minister.

"In the most critical moments, when the fate of my family and Kosovo was at stake, Tony Blair used all his power to allow NATO intervention and the withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo," the 18-year-old told AFP.

"I proudly bear that name," said ToniBler, whose father Sefer fought with Kosovo separatists.

"It's not just me, all the Albanians in the world are friends of Britain," said his father, saying such help "had to be thanked with a name".

During a 2010 visit to Kosovo, the former premier invited nine young Tonys named after him to come up and join him as he addressed a crowd in Pristina.

"I did what was right. I did not regret it then. I do not regret it now," he said.

Among the youngest Kosovars born after the war, Blair is now less well known than Clinton.

This does not bother Dajaku, who is ready to "always explain what he has done for Kosovo".

As for Klinton Bajgora, his name needs no introduction.

When playing football, his teammates find it easier to call him "Bill".