By Fatos Bytyci
SOJEVE, Kosovo (Reuters) – On a busy road in Kosovo, brand new signs have been put up ahead of a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, showing the 35-km route in the southeast of the small Balkan nation that has been renamed after his late son Beau.
Naming streets after U.S. officials is becoming something of a tradition in Kosovo, whose population is mainly ethnic Albanian and which considers the United States its savior since 1999 NATO air strikes halted killings by Serbian troops.
Beau Biden worked in Kosovo after the 1998-99 war ended, helping train local prosecutors and judges for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The former Delaware Attorney General died in 2015 of cancer. He was 46.
“If it hadn’t been for the help of America, all Albanians would have been expelled, no one would be left here,” 54-year-old Naser Sojeva said in the village of Sojeve, where Biden and his wife Jill will on Wednesday take part in a ceremony to dedicate the road to Beau.
“If I see Biden on Wednesday, I will tell him: ‘Thank you for what you have done for us’,” said Sojeva, who worked for 12 years as a civil contractor at a U.S. military base and rents out a shop to a local businessman selling souvenirs and U.S. flags. “We owe them so much.”
There are avenues in the Kosovo capital Pristina named after former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and many more celebrating U.S. politicians and army generals throughout the country of 1.8 million.
The United States keeps a few hundred troops in Kosovo from the thousands in the early years after the war. Many in the mainly Muslim, overwhelmingly secular country which declared independence from Serbia in 2008 see their presence as important to preserve peace.
“We still need U.S. support. We are where we are now thanks to the help of our friends and we need their help to go further,” said 37-year-old government worker Bejt Bejta.
The welcome is likely to be more chilly in Belgrade, which Biden visits on Tuesday. Resentment is still high over the NATO bombings of the city in 1999, still visible in the city center with the shelled out former Defence Ministry buildings.
When Kosovo declared independence, the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade was set ablaze in a fire that killed one person.
Biden is expected to push both Serbia and Kosovo to do more to speed up EU-mediated talks to normalize their relations, a condition for Serbia in its European Union accession talks.
While an ultra-nationalist party is calling on social media for Serbs to take part in a protest in Belgrade against Biden’s visit, there are no such qualms in Kosovo.
“The North Atlantic alliance led by the United States saved Kosovo from exodus, extinction and destruction,” Kosovo Prime Minister Isa Mustafa wrote on Facebook on Saturday.
(Additional reporting by Ivana Sekularac in Belgrade; Editing by Ingrid Melander)