TIRANA, Albania – President Bush urged quick action Sunday to turn Kosovo into an independent nation, as he drew an enthusiastic official welcome and a frantic, arm-grabbing show of support from a street crowd during the first visit to Albania by an incumbent U.S. president.
It was a unusual day in the recent history of the Bush presidency: Bush, whose visits to Italy and Germany earlier on this trip prompted demonstrations against him and the Iraq war, could not suppress a satisfied smile as Prime Minister Sali Berisha called him “the greatest and most distinguished guest we have ever had in all times.”
At the news conference with Berisha, Bush said that if diplomats’ efforts did not succeed in changing the status of the overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian Kosovo, “Sooner rather than later, you’ve got to say enough is enough, Kosovo is independent.”
“There just cannot be continued drift,” Bush said, insisting on the need for a deadline. “I’m worried about expectations not being met in Kosovo.”
In Fushe Kruje, a town about 30 minutes from Tirana, the president was nearly manhandled by townspeople lining the two-lane main street. They whistled, cheered, applauded and shouted “BOOSH-Y BOOSH-Y.”
They grabbed his arms nearly up to his shoulders. They reached around him to pull him toward them from the back of his head. Secret Service agents held him around the waist to keep him from falling into the fevered crowd.
The reception, said some of those waiting to see him drive through Skanderbeg Square in the center of Tirana, reflected support for the pro-democracy message Bush promotes, notwithstanding the criticism he engenders elsewhere for the Iraq war. That message is a vivid contrast to Albania’s wretched postwar history, when for four decades it was a Stalinist enclave run by dictator Enver Hoxha. It reflected, as well, his support for Kosovar Albanians’ effort to gain independence from Serbia.
The international effort to move Kosovo from its status as a province of Serbia to independence is built on a United Nations plan that would give it “supervised independence.” The U.S. government enthusiastically supports the move, but Russia just as adamantly opposes it, in part because it would set a precedent for other republics or ethnic regions that might seek to break from Moscow.