Mother Teresa Kosovo

Mother Teresa Street in Prishtina, Kosovo

Almost everything in Kosovo boils down to politics, and this is true for soccer (yes I’m American) as well.  Kosovo is not in the World Cup, which is to be expected from a country that is only recognized by 65 nations and who is in a diplomatic stalemate with Serbia-which is in the World Cup- over its independence. With the majority 90% Kosovar-Albanian supporting independence Serbia is not likely to win too many World Cup supporters except for those from the Serbian enclaves.  So the question which country garners the most support? Make no mistake, just because they don’t have a national team in the tournament, it has not dampened the excitement in Prishtina as a hundred cafes, bars and betting halls play each match to crowds of supporters.

America and Kosovo souvenirs

Typical wares on Mother Teresa Street

To help answer my question, I decided to enlist the support of consumerism. I spent the day crisscrossing the winding streets of Kosovo’s hilly capital city in search of an American (for me) and a Japanese (for my wife) national jersey from the array of street venders selling pirated goods. I started off my day feeling optimistic, thinking an American jersey would be easy to come by. Kosovo has a love affair with the US that goes back to the NATO bombings in 1999. You can hardly walk 100 meters without coming across a US flag or assorted paraphernalia. If you are unlucky you’ll even pass the grossly ill-proportioned golden statue of Bill Clinton greeting visitors as they enter Prishtina on Bill Clinton Avenue.

I started off my search on Mother Teresa, a pedestrian walkway in the middle of town where street hawkers sell everything form knockoff Gucci belts to yapping Chinese electronic dogs performing back flips. As I walked under a banner of soccer balls and assorted national flags I assumed my search would be concluded early…leaving the rest of the day free to drink beer and cheer the second day of the tournament with the rest of the city in an outdoor cafe.

Reality was in fact quite different. I left the center of town disappointed and worried about my prospects. The closest I came to an American jersey came during this discussion.

Me: “Do you have an American Jersey?”

Seller: “I LOVE America! I lived in Arizona before.”

Me: “Great, so you have a jersey.”

Seller: “No, but I have an Argentina Jersey.”

Me: “Actually, that’s a Cameroon Jersey.”

Seller: “Yes, I love America. 13 Euro please.”

Soccer Jerseys in Kosovo

Street vendor in Kosovo

It was time to try a new tactic, so I headed to the outskirts of town to a large department store next to the K-FOR military base. K-FOR is the international military presence in Kosovo helping to keep the peace. With a large contingent from the US, as well as from all over Europe, it was my last great hope. I arrived at the four story complex catering to the nearby military personnel. You can buy anything you can think of there (all properly pirated and made in China), including a full outfit of North Face gortex clothing, fake Iphones, and DVDs for 1.5 Euro each. What they didn’t have was an American Jersey. By this point I would have settled for a North Korean jersey, but they didn’t have those either.

By the end of the day I resigned myself to supporting the US without proper clothing. I could have bought a full Celtics basketball uniform if I wanted but it seemed a bit off the mark (even though the Celts are in the NBA playoffs right now!). During my day of anthropological research I found the following teams: Brazil, Argentina, Cameroon (2nd most random), England, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Netherlands, and Israel (most random).

If you are still with me…are you?…you may be wondering what this all means. What I learned was that American flags, gratefulness for the military intervention and knockoff American clothing brands are one thing, football is another. Kosovars are happy to support any of the favored teams, particularly if they are European. However, the political and cultural support that America enjoys in Kosovo only goes so far and there is still a lot of work to be done before we see American Soccer supporters lining up to buy fake uniforms. With a tie to England in their first match, the US took one positive step towards earing some respect. It will need to take many many more before people are willing to shell out 13 Euro to support the US over Cameroon.

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15 Responses to “World Cup in Kosovo: politics and football”

  1. I haven’t noticed any American jersey’s here, and there are almost 40,000 Americans stationed in Korea. I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled. Lots of Korea shirts!
    Nancie (Ladyexpat)´s recent [type] ..Wanderfood Wednesday — Delicious Balinese Seafood

  2. Hey Todd, I live in Thailand where many fake soccer shirts are manufactured and I can’t say I’ve seen an American jersey, even when I went shopping and bought 5 different shirts before World Cup. I think the USA needs one really world famous amazing superstar, like a Ronaldo or a Messi in order to popularize the US jersey. I’m glad to see the Eto’o jersey on the street though!!
    .-= Migration Mark´s recent blog ..World Cup of Cuisine: 32 Culinary Nations Battle in South Africa 2010 =-.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Mark. Well, most of the jerseys here probably come from Thailand or China anyway. I agree we (the US) needs a superstar with a good brand before it can hope to dominate the fake t-shirt sales market. ;) Great post on the World Cup Cuisine, I hope my readers head over to your site.

  3. AmandaNo Gravatar says:

    A good read, and an interesting insight on how politics can be rolled into everything — including sporting events. I hope you find that U.S. jersey soon!
    .-= Amanda´s recent blog ..What in the World? =-.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks Amanda. I’m heading to the US for 2 weeks so I will have to bring back a bunch to sell on the streets :) We watched the North Korea game last night and when they scored everyone cheered. Good example of how politics can also be completely opposite for sports.

  4. BrianNo Gravatar says:

    Funny, I’m an American in Pristina too and went looking for a US Jersey the Saturday of the game. Unfortunately I and another American friend had no such success, but we did find a flag from a street vendor, which we bought for 10 Euros (he said it was nice material, and it is nicer than those cheaper flags). And watching the game there were a decent amount of England fans too! But as we (I am with a group of Americans) walked out of the bar after the game, everyone clapped for us, so yes, they do love the US but just don’t show it in soccer jerseys.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks Brian. If you find a jersey do let me know. We are heading to the Irish pub tonight to watch the Brazil vs DPRK game tonight. If you are there please stop by and say hello. It’s always nice to connect with new people here in Pristina.

      • BrianNo Gravatar says:

        Hey Todd – if you’re still around Pristina I and a group of Americans will be at the Irish Pub (O’brien’s) for the US game today at 4. I see you may be in the US now, but I’ll try to check this periodically to see where in Kosovo you may be.

        • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

          Hi Brian, thanks for the invitation. I am in the US at the moment and won’t be back to Pristina until June 29th. Hopefully the US will still be in the tournament by then :) I’m also going to find a US Jersey here if you want one. You can reach me by e-mail through the contact link in the navigation bar above.

  5. PPS My Serbian colleague didn’t care that Serbia lost, as long as her favorite team, Germany won!

  6. Nice one! I’m also surprised to see the limited support Kosovans have for the American team but then again they grew up in Europe watching the Cup for decades whereas the US and Americans have little connection over time with the World Cup…Us Europeans picked our favorite teams decades ago and have stuck by them ;) PS Agree about the fact that there is a helluva lot of pirated stuff….something absolutely not unique to Kosovo!

  7. VenetNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Todd,
    An interesting tale. What I wouldn’t agree on is the overemphasis on the pirated goods you seem to be mentioning. Firstly piracy is everywhere and yes even in US (street vendors in Baltimore sell all kinds of fake goods). Secondly, it’s probably true about the iPhones (which China is known for and exports them) however, I don’t see how can you pirate a t-shirt or a jersey.
    So, if you are enjoying your time in Pristina, keep doing so, but please tone down on the whole pirated thing.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Venet,

      Thanks for your comments. I really do enjoy my time here. I don’t see any issue with talking about the reality of a situation. If an official jersey is printed without permission it is technically pirated or copied, same with a DVD. Maybe I am wrong with the jerseys. and say fake or unofficial is better. I am not making any value judgments based on the presence of these items, and I agree they are found everywhere, but not usually in department stores.


  8. Very interesting. In fact, I just saw a picture of World Cup 2010 underwear (boxers) being sold in Malaysia…. How extremely fast people capitalize on moments like these are absolutely amazing.

    .-= David @ Malaysia Asia´s recent blog ..Malaysia Pictures – Travel photos uploaded live =-.

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