Want to know how to knock the socks off a group of foreign dignitaries? Just extend a greeting to them in their native language. That’s exactly what I did when the President of Kosovo and several of her top officials visited Johnston. At a recent reception the city held jointly with the Iowa National Guard, I began my remarks to our foreign guests by saying “good evening” in Albanian.
Prior to President Jahjaga’s visit to Johnston, I knew very little about Kosovo. What I have learned in a few short weeks has convinced me that Kosovo, the country, and its people are truly amazing. Kosovo just declared its independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008, 4 ½ years ago. Kosovo’s declaration of independence, recognized now by over 100 U.N. member countries, makes it the newest democracy in the world.
The population of Kosovo is about 2 million – 60% are 25 years old or younger. The President is a 37 year old woman who worked her way up through the forces of the Kosovo Police – and was elected to lead her country in April, 2011. Like Iowa, Kosovo’s economy is agriculturally based. Their primary products include corn, beef and sheep, wine and some fruits and vegetables.
The Iowa National Guard has had a military partnership with Kosovo for several years. General Orr’s vision is to expand the military partnership with Kosovo to other areas including the creation of a sister city relationship between Johnston and a city in Kosovo. Last week, the Iowa National Guard hosted a three day seminar and invited representatives from Iowa state and local governments, business, economic development, education and health to meet with their Kosovo counterparts. Iowans shared their knowledge and experiences and the Kosovars reciprocated. At the conclusion, all were committed to building on the relationships that developed.
Over the next several weeks, we will be exploring the steps necessary to identify a city and establish a sister relationship with a city in Kosovo. Doing so will require the involvement of residents and organizations throughout our community. Watch for announcements about how you can become involved in this exciting new initiative.