Trump lake: First bomb, then humiliate Balkan nations

In Kosovo, ‘Lake Trump’ lands with a bump

Locals aren’t happy and critics see a superficial White House approach to deep differences.

By Una Hajdari
October 6, 2020

LAKE GAZIVODE/UJMAN, Kosovo — For residents of this rural patch of northern Kosovo, the renaming of the local lake in honor of U.S. President Donald Trump came as an unwelcome surprise.

“We saw the news on Facebook before we noticed it right in front of our noses. No one who lives here was aware of this,” said Savo Dašić, 65, a former agricultural worker who lives in a wooden hut in the shadow of a bridge over the lake.

The lake straddles the territories of Kosovo and Serbia, who fought a war in 1998-99 and have yet to reach a permanent peace settlement. The two governments have refused to share the lake and they also use different names for it — the Kosovan side calls it Ujman while the Serbian side calls it Gazivode.

The lake and bridge were apparently rechristened after leaders of both Kosovo and Serbia endorsed the idea. Banners suddenly appeared with the new name late last month — an unlikely byproduct of a push by the Trump administration to encourage economic cooperation between the two sides, dismissed by many political analysts of the Balkans as underwhelming.

“I don’t accept that I live underneath the Trump Bridge, no matter what the banner on the bridge might say,” said Dašić.

On the lake, the agreement does not resolve the name issue or stipulate how its waters should be used.

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For critics of the Trump administration’s efforts, the renaming of the lake is emblematic of recent U.S. engagement with Kosovo and Serbia — high on publicity, low on substance, with local leaders too keen to curry favor with the White House while getting little in return.

The banners — put up under cover of darkness by unknown people, according to locals — didn’t last long. By the time POLITICO visited a few days later, the bridge banner had gone and another over a dam across the lake had been torn in half.

Dašić’s home — part of a row of huts hastily built two decades ago to house people forced to flee by the war — bears the scars of years of harsh winds common on the shores of this fjord-like landscape. It is a long way from the camera lights and wide smiles of the Oval Office, where leaders of Kosovo and Serbia signed documents in Trump’s presence last month meant to bolster economic cooperation and smooth the path to normalizing relations.