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Kosova: Breaking The Silence

For the past week, Albanians all over the world have joined in commemorating the fifth anniversary of the death of Adem Jashari and his family. As I reflected on the events of March 5, 1998—that fateful day when paramilitary forces from the Serbian Ministry of the Interior attacked the Jashari compound with heavy machine guns, canons, rocket launchers, and armored personnel carriers—I was struck once again by the tremendous courage of Adem, his brothers, and their families. In January of 1998, they fought off Serbian troops and yet they did not flee. When the Serb forces attacked Drenice on February 28, the Jasharis had to have known that they would be in a battle for their lives. Defiant in the face of overwhelming odds, the Jashari family’s heroic resistance and sacrifice brought the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) into full force and defined its spirit.

As I prepared my remarks for a commemoration hosted by UCK’s Atlantic Battalion, I began to think about what it really means for us to honor the legacy of Adem Jashari. Now more than ever, I think it means that we cannot afford to simply talk about the independence of an undivided Kosova, but we must work actively for it. To do this, I think that we must be honest about what is going on in our community and have the courage, as Jashari and UCK did against the Serbs, to take a stand. Unfortunately, the Albanian American community is divided not just because of partisan political party intrigue, but also because many Albanians are uninformed, and some are deliberately collaborating with the forces that are trying to criminalize UCK and to undermine the Albanian national cause for their own political or economic benefit.

For the past one hundred years, the Albanian experience has been marked by anti-Albanian racism, arrest, torture, imprisonment, mass expulsion, and genocide at the hands of hostile Slavic regimes in Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro. There is probably not an Albanian anywhere in the world who has not lost friends and family members. But, as every Albanian knows, the Albanian experience is also about resistance and about bearing witness to those who died so that future generations might live. If we want to honor the legacy of Adem Jashari, then I believe we must give our besa to the dead by making sure that what people suffered and fought for does not get compromised or diminished in any way. To do this, we must confront what is really going on in the Albanian American community and in the Balkans.

It is not just the efforts of the Serbs and the Macedonian and Montenegrin Slavs, supported by the Greeks, the Russians, and some Western governments to bring Kosova back under Serbian domination with which we must contend. Unfortunately, some Albanians are deliberately working against Kosova’s independence through active collaboration or complicity through silence. To honor the Jashari legacy is to oppose collaboration by breaking the silence. Last week in Prishtina at a conference on the historic significance of the March 2, 1998 protests against the Serbian occupation and the attack on Drenice, Kosovar historian Hakif Bajrami said that, “We are the ones who are creating the obstacles for one another. If we continue to be silent, as we are doing, one day Serbia will bring thousands of soldiers and police to the border. Our silence is all that Serbia needs to begin.” If this is true in Kosova, I believe that it is doubly true in the United States and in other Western countries where Albanians reside in large numbers.

In the United States, the Albanian American Civic League has been on one track—namely the independence of Kosova and the resolution of the Albanian national cause—beginning with Joe DioGuardi’s successful efforts in the U.S. Congress over fifteen years ago to internationalize the oppression of Albanians in the Balkans. The Civic League was the first organization in America to publicly support the Kosova Liberation Army, and we prevented the criminalization of UCK on March 12, 1998, when, through our diplomatic efforts, Special Envoy to the Balkans Robert Gelbard was forced to retract his labeling of the KLA as a “terrorist organization” at a highly publicized hearing before the House International Relations Committee. And just recently, one of the most important developments occurred for Albanian freedom, when Joe DioGuardi and I made our sixth trip to postwar Kosova. Alarmed by the unemployment rate of more than 60 percent and the Serbian attempts to partition Mitrovice, we decided then and there that we had to convince our friends in the House of Representatives to introduce a resolution in support of the independence of Kosova—without conditions—in order to break the silence about the realities on the ground. The introduction of the Gilman-Lantos resolution, which in the new Congress in January 2003 became the Hyde-Lantos resolution, H.Res. 28, was a shot heard around the world and, as we had intended, it caused everyone concerned with the Balkans to reveal where they stood.

We of course expected Serbian Deputy President Nebojsa Covic, arguably the most dangerous man for Albanians in the Balkans today, and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic to oppose the resolution. What the Civic League was not prepared for was the opposition that came from some members of the Albanian diaspora and their allies in Washington, as well as the lack of support from some Kosovar politicians. With the international community stating repeatedly that the final status of Kosova is something that cannot even be discussed, no less acted upon, I think we should recognize that the only force standing in the way of the pro-Belgrade tide is in the U.S. Congress because of the willingness of Henry Hyde, the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, and Tom Lantos, the number one Democrat, to introduce House Resolution 28 and to take a stand against the majority opinion in the State Department.

In Kosova, Ramush Haradinaj, one of the most important figures in the Kosova Liberation Army, broke the silence when he mobilized his party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosova, to introduce a similar resolution in the Assembly in support of the independence of Kosova. And so far he is the only member of the coalition government who has had the courage to stand up to the international community in opposing premature talks with Belgrade. Unfortunately, Ibrahim Rugova, Bajram Rexhepi, Nexhat Daci, and Hashim Thaci all signed a declaration prepared by UNMIK Administrator Michael Steiner endorsing dialogue with Serbia. Make no mistake about it, the proposed talks will turn into “negotiations.” There is no such thing as a “dialogue with neighboring countries about technical matters,” because almost any technical matter in Kosova cannot be resolved without final status. For Covic and Djindjic, establishing a dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina is a ruse to open one-sided negotiations that they hope will lead to the partitioning of Kosova.

If we are to honor the legacy of Adem Jashari, then we should insist that there should be no negotiations whatsoever on final status with Belgrade, because Serbia has forfeited its right under international law to determine Kosova’s future. And before Kosova enters into bilateral talks with Belgrade about trade, customs, the return of noncriminal Serbs to Kosova, and the parallel transfer of Albanians and Serbs to their respective homes in Mitrovice, Serbia must publicly apologize to the Kosovars and to the Bosnians for crimes against humanity and genocide and the international community should recognize Kosova’s sovereignty.

The international community, including Serbia, Russia, and Greece, is embracing the UN demand that Kosova meet certain standards before its final status can be resolved in order to fool people into thinking that Kosova has not earned its independence and is not ready for democracy. “Standards before status” is a slogan meant to seduce Western political opinion into responding to Serbia’s demands, even though Serbia is still not a democracy, committed genocide against Albanians, Bosnians and other non-Slavs for a decade, and is reaching out to grab Mitrovice and permanently partition Kosova. Incredibly, Zoran Djindjic, who was assassinated on March 12, announced on March 7 that Kosova should be divided into Serb and ethnic Albanian parts and a federation established along the lines of Cyprus (a model that the rest of the world is seeking to bury not to copy).

If we are to keep faith with Albanian heroes like Adem Jashari, then we have to vigorously oppose all attempts to misrepresent Kosova on the world stage as a pretext for carving it up. And I think that there is no better place to begin then to oppose the criminalization of UCK and the recent indictment of Fatmir Limaj, Haradin Bala, and Isak Musliu by the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. These men have been charged with crimes allegedly committed before the war. Bowing to pressure from Serbia and its allies, The Hague is creating a false parity between UCK freedom fighters struggling for the liberation of a people and Serbian war criminals who committed state-sponsored terrorism, occupation, and genocide. We must educate the West about this travesty of justice, and we must also expose the Albanians who have collaborated in these arrests.

If we are to stop the criminalization of UCK, it is imperative that this be done not through violence, but through diplomacy. The Civic League has often made this point, but unfortunately some members of the diaspora have tried to confuse the Civic League’s message, claiming that we did not continue our support of the Kosova Liberation Army with support for the National Liberation Army in Macedonia. As we told Ali Ahmeti in 2001, Albanians cannot appear to be armed aggressors without first explaining to the world why they need to take up arms. For more than a decade, we made the case for Kosova and then for the KLA, and this is a major reason why UCK succeeded. The world joined the side of UCK and then NATO joined forces with it in driving out the Serbian army. In the case of Macedonia, the U.S. government and the European Union blamed Albanians when violence flared up in Tanusha in February 2001 because they believed the Slavic propaganda that Macedonia was a democracy. It took the Civic League almost all of 2001 to change minds in Washington, which also included lobbying to get Ahmeti and other former UCK fighters off the “black list.”

Albanians in the Balkans can always pick up guns in self-defense, but many Albanian lives will be lost and the liberation of a people will be threatened until we understand the importance of public relations and lobbying in Washington and in Europe to resolve the Albanian national question. The struggle of oppressed peoples for self-determination and independence will be the defining factor in world politics in the twenty-first century. If Albanians are to ensure that the unfinished business of Kosova’s independence, which began on the battlefield, is at the forefront of the international agenda, then a proactive diplomatic effort must commence in Washington—the only place where ultimately it can be completed. To truly honor the legacy of Adem Jashari and all of the Albanian heroes and martyrs who preceded him, all of us must take the next step. Are we willing to break the silence? Are we willing to work for the independence of Kosova, unconditionally, now?

Ossining, New York March 11, 2003

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