STAUNTON — The city of Staunton remembers him as its “hometown boy.”
Americans remember him as the 28th president of the United States who served during World War I.
History remembers him as the man behind The League of Nations and The Fourteen Points.
But, to the people of Albania, Thomas Woodrow Wilson was nothing short of a humanitarian hero.
On Friday morning, a delegation from Albania was welcomed at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum to recognize the 100th anniversary of the Paris Peace Conference, which was a meeting to set the terms for peace after World War I.
Wilson represented the U.S. at the meeting, with Prime Minister David Lloyd George of Great Britain, French Premier Georges Clemenceau and Italy’s Premier Vittorio Orlando.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that if it had not been for the intervention and the policies of Wilson, the Albanian people would probably not exist at all today,” said Jahja Lluka, who is advisor to the Prime Minister of the Republic of Kosovo, through an interpreter.
Recently, the Republic of Kosovo, North Macedonia and Albania each issued stamps in their countries honoring Wilson.
Lluka said that for many years, Albanians did not understand from where came the roots and the foundation of the American support for an independent Albania, until Thursday when the delegation visited WWPL and learned “what made this man tick and how he came to help the Albanians.” The Albanian delegation learned of the man Wilson, who was born Dec. 28, 1856, in Staunton on North Coalter Street.
Skender Asani is director of the Institute for Cultural and Spiritual Heritage of Albanians-North Macedonia. He lives in Skopje, Macedonia, where Mother Teresa was born.
“Sometimes small places give birth to some of the greatest men and women,” said Asani Friday morning through an interpreter. “From your city, Woodrow Wilson was born, and he changed the world.”
Asani said that World War I began to destroy the world, then Wilson changed the world with his Fourteen Points, not just for Albanians, but for the world.
“But the Albanians saw these 14 principles as the only way that they could be saved,” Asani said.
By the end of World War I, Albania did not have a recognized government in control. Parts of the country were controlled by Italy, the Serbs sought control of the northern section of Albania and Greece sought southern Albania.
During the Paris Peace Conference, Wilson blocked the agreement, and expressed support for an independent Albania.
“We have thought long and hard to honor the 100th anniversary and the government of Kosovo, to come here to the place of his birth to thank the American people,” Asani said.
Earlier in the ceremony, Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, said the Virginia General Assembly will celebrate its 400th anniversary at the end of July in Jamestown.
“It is a special time certainly in representing the Shenandoah Valley, and other parts of rural Virginia in Richmond,” said Hanger. “I really am proud of Staunton.”
WWPL President & CEO Robin von Seldeneck then pointed out that Hanger’s middle name is Wilson. Hanger said he is named after his father, who was named after Wilson when he was born in 1915.
Staunton Mayor Carolyn Dull presented Lluka, Asani and Hosaflook each with a copy of a proclamation by Staunton City Council recognizing their visit Friday.
“This is really a great occasion for us,” said Dull. “We are so honored to have our guests here from Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia. We’d like to have more visits from you.”
In the proclamation, Dull read that “the Albanians have never forgotten President Wilson’s commitment to justice, freedom and peace in the Balkans.”
Dr. David Hosaflook, director of the Institute for Albanian & Protestant Studies, has dual citizenship in Fairfax, Virginia and Albania, and spoke before Lluka. He served as interpreter for Lluka and Asani. Hosaflook has lived in Albania since 1992.
Hosaflook said that even before World War began, Albania’s population was divided, which is why three delegations came to WWPL this week to represent Albania.
“Albanians may be the most pro-American people on Earth,” said Hosaflook. “Yes, even more pro-American than Americans.”
He said in Tirana, Albania, an area is called Wilson Square, and a statue of Wilson stands in the square. Many children in Albania are named Wilson, even though the Albanian language does not have a w. The letter u or v is used in place of a w.
“We really wanted to say thank you personally, and, when we learned about [WWPL], we wanted to do this [anniversary celebration] here,” Hosaflook said.
At the end of Friday morning’s ceremony, von Seldeneck said that sometimes the city of Staunton forgets “the significance of our hometown boy, Woodrow Wilson, who really changed the world, and changed the world for the better. And sometimes we take him for granted here, so I want to thank you for reminding us of the importance of such a wonderful man.”
The Albanian delegation presented WWPL with copies of the stamps issued in each country, two copies of the 1919 book “Albania: The Master Key to the Near East” by Albanian author Christo Dako, and a plaque honoring Wilson and the 100th anniversary of the Paris Peace Conference. All of the items will be added to the museum’s collection.
According to Hosaflook, 250 copies of Dako’s book were sent to the delegates at the Paris Peace Conference, including one for Wilson.