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Honoring Our Heroes

Remarks by Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi at the Ded Gjo Luli Celebration

Bronx, New York, April 5, 2008

We are gathered here tonight in the name of Ded Gjo Luli, one of the great Albanian revolutionary heroes in the fight for Albanian freedom. And we are gathered here just a few days after another great Albanian hero, Ramush Haradinaj, was released from jail.

It is important to honor our heroes. But if we really want to honor our heroes, I think that we must be careful not to get trapped in talking about them and in talking about the past. Instead, I think that we need to get energized about talking about our present and the challenges that lie ahead of us. And, after that, we need to get beyond the talk and begin working to address the problems that must be resolved to fulfill the national cause.

I am sure that everyone in this room would agree with me that one of the biggest challenges that we face is that Albanians in Montenegro are not free. In 2001, after Slobodan Milosevic was safely in The Hague, I made the decision that the Civic League had to enter Montenegro. (We could not think about this before the indictment and extradition of Milosevic, because Joe [DioGuardi] had been banned by Serbia.) I knew that the problems faced by Albanians in Montenegro, like the problems faced by Albanians anywhere else in the Balkans, could not be solved without help from the U.S. government, specifically from the U.S. Congress. I also knew that, because no one in Congress in 2001 knew anything about the realities of Albanians in Montenegro, we had to start by educating Members of the House and Senate and our media about the subjugation of Albanians in Montenegro and their century-long struggle to overcome waves of expulsion, genocide, forced assimilation, and economic and political marginalization at the hands of hostile Slavic-dominated regimes.

There is no time to go into detail tonight, but what ensued were five years of work (and by the way, the Civic League works on a completely volunteer basis; no one gets paid) that included writing articles, lobbying Members of Congress, organizing and sending two Civic League-sponsored Congressional delegations to Albanian lands in Montenegro (one with Congressman Tom Lantos in 2003 and another with Congressman Dana Rohrabacher in 2005), a Congressional hearing on “The Future of Albanians in Montenegro,” followed by a vigorous effort, with Congressman Lantos, to fight, albeit unsuccessfully, the passage of the Capital City bill and to restore the communal status of Tuzi.

If it were not for all of this, the reality of Albanians in Montenegro would have remained off the West’s foreign policy radar screen altogether. Not surprisingly, the Montenegrin government has fought us at every step of the way. But, tragically, their American surrogates in Washington and Albanian collaborators have also fought the Civic League’s efforts to bring freedom to Albanians in Montenegro at every step of the way. And that battle continues to be played out in our struggle to free the fourteen Albanians who were arrested, tortured, and jailed in Montenegro in September 2006. Regrettably, our State Department appears to be acquiescing to Montenegro, even though four of the prisoners—Kola Dedvukaj, Rrok Dedvukaj, Sokol Ivanaj, and Doda Lucaj—are Americans.

Our job is not yet done. And Albanian Americans have a special opportunity to help, because none of us have the power to solve the problems of Montenegro on the ground in Tuzi, Ulqin, Ana e Malit, Kraja, and Plave-Guci, but we do have the power to influence the U.S. government, without which Kosova would not be independent today and Albania would not be joining NATO. Each of us has the power to make a difference, and no struggle for freedom can succeed without each of us revealing this power everyday. This is the best way to honor Ded Gjo Luli and all of our h

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