I had a few moments to spare on my last day in Pristina, so I visited the museum. I ended up kinda wishing I hadn't. The museum itself is a lovely two-story building, a renovated Ottoman villa, in the center of town. (Pristina doesn't really have a center, but it's near that big intersection where there are, like, four mosques in a two-block radius.) From the outside, it looked pretty promising. Kosovo has no lack of history, goodness knows. So I was looking forward to... oh, I don't know. Stone Age fertility carvings? Roman coins? Ottoman rugs? Surely something interesting. Well, yes and no. There was only one exhibit in the museum. It was quite a large exhibit. You could spend a while looking at it. No Roman coins or Greek vases; no, just this one big exhibit. And that exhibit was... Can you guess?
Weapons. Swords. Muskets. Bayonets. Rifles. There were blades from the Ottoman days, and a lot of guns from WWI, and some more from WWII. But most of all, there were modern weapons, the kind used by the KLA to fight the Serbs. No, that's not right. Not "the kind", but the ACTUAL weapons used by the KLA. Some of them, anyway. They had AK-47s and hunting rifles and hand grenades. They had Bowie knives and 9 mm pistols. They had the terrible .50 caliber tripod-mounted sniper rifles, the ones that can blow a man's head off from a mile away. And then they had some more AK-47s. It might have been more interesting if the posters -- and they were quite elaborate -- had been in English. But they weren't. Only Albanian. So, in addition to reinforcing an unfortunate stereotype about Albanians, the whole thing got pretty boring. I mean, after the dozenth or so AK-47, they do sort of run together. There was one interesting thing. It was a glass case containing a pair of boots. They were nice looking boots, almost stylish. Something made me look twice, and there across the tongues was the label: Timberland. The boots were there, of course, because they'd been the standard boots of the KLA. But that begs the question: what were Timberland boots doing in a war in the interior of the Balkans? The answer is, they were sent there by the Albanian-American diaspora. The diaspora always supported the KLA, but after the massacres started -- especially the March 1998 massacre of the Jashari family -- they started emptying their pockets, contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars every month to keep the KLA going. Someone sent along some Timberland boots, and the guerrillas fell in love with them. Apparently 1990s Kosovo was still pretty retrograde in terms of boot technology. The local boots were either heavy, clunky, and chafing, or light, leaky, and prone to disintegrate. The Timberlands, though, were warm, watertight, light, comfortable, and lasted pretty much forever. The KLA guys were living hard and sleeping rough, hiking up and down icy mountains and fording streams swollen by rain, so good boots meant a lot. Once they got a taste of Timberland, they told their American cousins to go back and get another couple thousand pairs. Which the Americans did. And by the time the war was over, the KLA guerrillas had fallen so deeply in love with Timberland boots that they gave them the highest possible accolade... they put them in their exhibit of weapons, right next to the AK-47s. Strangely, the Timberland Company has not made use of this remarkable story of brand loyalty. Maybe someone should tell them. -- Oh, yeah. Those scary .50 caliber sniper rifles? Can you guess where they got those? American gun shows. Some people have used them to kill elephants, so they're classified as hunting weapons in the US. They're perfectly legal in almost every state. So the diaspora supporters of the KLA bought a couple of dozen of them and just shipped them to Albania. The airlines didn't care as long as they were in sealed checked luggage, and Albanian Customs didn't present any problems that a $100 bill tucked into your passport couldn't solve. They put the guns into four-wheel-drive vehicles, drove them up into the Accursed Mountains, and then took them over the border into Kosovo on the backs of men and donkeys. A .50 caliber sniper rifle... well, it's really more like a man-portable piece of light artillery. It will punch through the armor of anything lighter than a medium tank. It'll go through Kevlar body armor like a normal bullet through light cotton. You can use it to take out a truck by shooting it in the engine block. You can buy them at US gun stores too, but then you have to pass a background check, which can take up to three working days. At a gun show, you don't. Most of the Albanian-Americans could have passed the check, but they were in a hurry. So they just went to the gun shows instead. Timberland boots and .50 caliber sniper rifles. More reasons for them to love America, I guess.