On Friday, December 12, members of the Albanian American Civic League board of directors met with Congressman Ben Gilman, President Bush’s representative to the United Nations General Assembly, and U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte for an in-depth discussion of the political and economic situation in Kosova at UN headquarters in New York City. The meeting was attended by Civic League President and former Congressman Joe DioGuardi, Balkan Affairs Adviser Shirley Cloyes, Agim Alickaj, Zef Balaj, Luan Bukolla, Arslan Cekaj, Gjergj Dedvukaj, and Nasi Kajana. AACL Advisory Board members Sydney Huckvale and Manina Urgolo-Dunn also participated.
Based on earlier meetings with Shirley Cloyes and Joe DioGuardi, Congressman Gilman arranged a private meeting for the Civic League Board with Ambassador Negroponte to discuss the looming crisis caused by the blocking of privatization and the lack of access to World Bank lending in Kosova. The Civic League appealed to Negroponte to convince the UN Security Council to open the doors to infrastructure and economic development in Kosova, where the unemployment rate is staggering and final status remains unresolved.
Shortly after the war ended in 1999, Cloyes and DioGuardi met with then Congressman Ben Gilman to discuss a strategy for getting Kosova, a UN protectorate, access to Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) lending. Because of the Civic League’s lobbying, Gilman was able to convince the U.S. government to waive the sovereignty requirement for OPIC lending. In bringing this precedent to the attention of Ambassador Negroponte, DioGuardi said We understand what it means to be part of Europe>’s future: It is to be united, to be democratic, and to be a competitive economic force. The current process in Kosova is not allowing this to happen, and one of the major reasons that we are here today is that what the UN decides will prevail in Kosova.“Our biggest problem is that Serbia takes every opportunity to interfere in Kosova’s affairs. This interference started with the Serbian occupation of Mitrovice, aided by the French and the Russians, in violation of UN Resolution 1244. As a result, we have a de facto partition in Kosova. Now, in blocking privatization, one of the little advantages that the Albanians would have had to put people to work has been taken away.” Stressing the problem of 70 percent unemployment in a country where 70 percent of the population is under the age of thirty, DioGuardi asked how it was possible to implement all of the standards that the UN had set forth for Kosova if privatization remained blocked. He quoted Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, who stated publicly in Manhattan in December 2002 that, “Standards before status is a ‘cart-before-the-horse’ attitude that is in danger of creating another Gaza Strip, this time in the heart of Europe.”
Shirley Cloyes opened her remarks by referring to the lawsuit filed by the Serbian government in a New York Court against the UN, UNMIK, and the Kosova Trust Agency (KTA) in an effort to stop Kosova’s privatization of formerly State Owned Enterprises. Because, the KTA, unlike the UN, lacks immunity and is afraid that lawsuits in other foreign courts may follow, the head of UNMIK Pillar IV Nikolaus Lamsdorff and some members of the KTA board of directors blocked the privatization effort from proceeding on October 7. As a result, Cloyes stated, “There is a huge contradiction that the international community can no longer afford to ignore. “On the one hand, the United States and Europe insist that Kosova must fulfill certain standards in order to achieve final status. On the other hand, it is impossible to achieve all of the standards if economic progress cannot be made. It is my understanding that the UN Legal Office can insist that privatization proceed and that the United Nations can receive World Bank loans on behalf of Kosova. Until this happens, Kosova will continue to be an aid-dependent economy. Most Kosovars are surviving because of foreign aid and the generosity of the diaspora. But what will happen when the aid dries up and the international community leaves Kosova in the next few years? If Kosova is prevented from developing its economy, we will begin to see deprivation, even starvation. I very much hope that the UN will prevent this dire scenario from unfolding.”
Regarding the fulfillment of standards before status, Cloyes cited the lack of candor about the intentions of the U.S. government and the European Union at the end of this process, projected for 2005. In this connection, she quoted a statement that had just appeared from USIP’s Daniel Serwer in the Kosova daily Zeri. Voicing surprise about why Belgrade opposed the UN’s plan for the fulfillment of standards, Serwer said: “I think that the conditions that were laid out in this plan are relatively harsh. I don’t believe that any sovereign country in the Balkans could meet all of these requests.” Cloyes pointed out to Ambassador Negroponte that this kind of statement intensifies Kosova’s fears that it will never be able to achieve the standards and hence its independence. When the Albanian community continues to see that most of the international community bows to the demands of Belgarde, even after Zoran Djindjic’s assassination established the collusion among organized crime, war criminals, and members of the ruling elite in Serbia, it is difficult for Kosova to trust the process. Albanians are looking to the international community to end Serbia’s racist policies, which led to a decade of war in the Balkans. If Kosova is going to be thrust back under Serbia—the extreme example—there is not a single person in the Balkans who would say that renewed conflict will be averted,” Cloyes concluded.
Agim Alickaj and Luan Bukolla Rexhepi, members of the Civic League board from Kosova, reinforced this point. Bukolla Rexhepi made it clear that Kosova will never go back under Serbia after Milosevic’s attempt at genocide. Alickaj warned of the dangers posed by Belgrade City’s interference in Kosova. “Because the international community is maintaining the status quo, it is strengthening Belgrade’s hope that it will regain control of Kosova and diminishing Albanian hopes for independence. If the United States and the UN Security Council do not make Albanians believe that they have a future apart from Serbia, there will be no solution,” he said.
In the course of a lengthy and open exchange, Ambassador Negroponte stressed that the Balkans—“one of the big issues before the international community and in the United Nations over the past decade”—is “still very high on our agenda,” in spite of the worldwide focus on Iraq and Afghanistan. He cited the importance of the outcome in Bosnia and Kosova, as well as the question of what is happening inside Macedonia, “because of the political situation there.” In discussing his familiarity with the debate on Kosova’s final status, he acknowledged that, “Standards before status was a way of deferring that discussion until a future point, although there seems to be a date to start talking now.”
Ambassador Negroponte asked for and received the Civic League’s confirmation that the NATO intervention “saved Kosova,” but that “of course Kosova was not interested in merely surviving.” In this connection, he clarified the Civic League’s concern that, “After all that Kosova has been through in the 1990s, you are worried that in the next few years the international community may lose interest, that the situation will erode, and that then you could be faced with the same situation requiring intervention.” He summed up his interaction with the Civic League by stating that, “You have made me interested in the Balkans again,” and expressing his gratitude at having an opportunity to talk with Civic League members deeply versed in what is happening on the ground in Kosova.
After meeting with Ambassador Negroponte, former Congressman Gilman took the Civic League on a tour of the United Nations and then to a meeting with Hans Corell, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and the UN’s Legal Counsel. In this long closed-door, off-camera session with Corell, the Civic League discussed unblocking privatization and the Kosova Assembly’s vote to abolish discriminatory 1989 laws. The Civic League plans to provide the appropriate information to the appropriate members of the Kosova Assembly for their information and followup with UNMIK, the European Union, and the U.S. State Department.
Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi is Balkan Affairs Adviser to the Albanian American Civic League.