Named after Tony in the land where Blair is king
Saturday 10 July 2010
"A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country". How keenly Tony Blair must have appreciated the wisdom of those words on his visit to Pristina yesterday.
The streets in the Kosovan capital were covered with posters showing our former prime minister's beaming face and proclaiming: "A Leader. A friend. A Hero".
Were such posters to be put up in many other nations the words "A war criminal" would probably be graffitied beneath that list of achievements. But not in Kosovo, where Mr Blair is revered for his active support for the 1999 Nato military operation to defend the former Yugoslav province from Serbian aggression.
It was a day of multiple honours. Mr Blair was met by the Kosovan Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci, and serenaded by the Kosovo Ceremonial Guard. He was then whisked away to the main square in the capital to pose with a convention of what looked, at first sight, like a line-up of junior Milibands. These turned out to be nine "Toniblers" and "Tonis", ethnic Albanian children named after him.
There were, sadly, no little Cheriblers presented for inspection. Nor were there any Robincuks or Bilklintons. But perhaps it would have been rude to ask Mr Blair to share the credit for Kosovo's liberation with his late foreign secretary and the former US president. It might have also drawn attention to the fact that the Kosovans unveiled an 11ft statue of Mr Clinton last year, while Mr Blair (though streets have been named after him) is yet to be immortalised in bronze. The choir of Toniblers sang Michael Jackson's "We Are the World" – another bittersweet moment for Mr Blair as it perhaps struck him just how unlike the rest of the world Kosovo is in its appreciation for his efforts "to make a brighter day" for humanity.
"I did what was right. I did what was just. I did not regret it then. I do not regret it now," Mr Blair told the crowd. But, of course, no one suggests that Mr Blair should regret what he did in Kosovo in 1999. It was a different foreign intervention – four years later and in partnership with one of the most right-wing American presidents in history – that so many feel Mr Blair ought to regret.
Later, Mr Blair was awarded a golden medal of freedom by the Kosovo President, Fatmir Sejdiu. It will make a nice pair with his Congressional Medal of Honour if he ever gets around to picking that up from Washington.
Mr Blair finds himself in some unlikely company as a Briton celebrated in this part of the world. Norman Wisdom is a cult hero in neighbouring Albania. But this was Mr Blair's day alone. And now whenever he finds himself confronted by a mob with placards reading "Bliar", whenever he hears some intemperate attack on his record in office, he will be able to close his eyes and remember that there is one corner of the Balkans that will forever be grateful to Tonibler.
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