By Nate Tabak
In early April, political squabbling over who would be the next president of Kosovo threatened to bring down the government for the second time in six months. It was just three years into the Balkan state's independence.
Then, US Ambassador Christopher Dell stepped in. He appeared on television with some of Kosovo's top political leaders to announce a solution. They named a presidential nominee, a respected female police commander whom many people had never heard of. Kosovo's parliament overwhelmingly elected Atifete Jahjaga the next day.
The scene — with Dell alongside the prime minister and two political party leaders — didn't sit well with Fisnik Ismaili.
"I myself was sick when I saw it," said Ismaili, an advertising executive.
Three years ago, Ismaili created the symbol of optimism for the newly independent Kosovo, a sculpture in Pristina that spells out "Newborn" in giant yellow letters.
Ismaili became increasingly angry as he watched the TV news conference with Ambassador Dell. Then he noticed something — a resemblance between the ambassador and a character from "The Simpsons" called the Comic Book Guy. The Comic Book Guy is the oversized nerd who's voiced by Hank Azaria on the animated series.
Ismaili decided to register his contempt for what he saw as the hijacking of Kosovo's democracy. But he had something more in mind than a Tweet or a simple Facebook status update.
"I took that character and some other characters from the Simpsons, put them together in a mock-up parody of 'The Simpsons,'" Ismaili said. "I called it 'The Pimpsons' because I consider these people to be the pimps of Kosovo."
Ismaili, who's active in a nationalist opposition party, posted his digital comic strip on Facebook.
More than 40 editions later, "The Pimpsons" has become something of an Internet sensation in Kosovo. The Facebook page boasts more than 11,000 fans. One fan even produced a batch of cigarette lighters emblazoned with "The Pimpsons" logo.
'Chief Pimp" of Kosovo
In "The Pimpsons," Ismaili spares almost no prominent political figure in the country. Dell is the "Chief Pimp" and "Monarch" of Kosovo. The comics are chockfull of profanity and sexual references, and they offer a biting satirical look at political events in a kind of comic-strip version of The Daily Show.
"It's a totally new way to express free thoughts about negative phenomena in Kosovo," said Krenar Gashi, who runs the Kosovar Institute for Policy Research and Development. He said "The Pimpsons" gives voice to the growing anger over the US ambassador's public role in politics.
"He was creating the news, making the news," said Gashi. "The US policy in Kosovo was being conducted publicly, and for the first time the public had more insights in the diplomatic interventions into policymaking in Kosovo."
The US has been revered in Kosovo ever since it led the 1999 NATO intervention here against Serbia. But Ismaili said Dell's actions could damage the US image.
The US Embassy in Kosovo didn't respond to requests for an interview for this story. But others have weighed in. Petrit Selimi owns the comic-themed café Strip Depot in Pristina, and he's a big "Pimpsons" fan. However, he's also a member of the ruling political party, a prime target for "The Pimpsons."
"It's very hilarious. The characters are spot on in terms of visual identity, "Selimi said. "But it terms of political message, it's a little bit off from what actually happens in Kosovo's political landscape."
Selimi also takes issue with the portrayal of Dell as Kosovo's puppet master. He said the ambassador did Kosovo a great service in breaking months of political deadlock.
"I have no qualms about the involvement of the US ambassador in Kosovo politics — I think it's all good."
Ismaili clearly doesn't agree. He's convinced that Simpsons creator Matt Groening would see things his way, too, though he's never actually contacted Groening, let alone asked to borrow his characters.
"If he could understand what I write, and if he could understand the political situation in Kosovo, he would probably send three or four people to help me out," Ismaili said.