The Albanian American Civic League Meets with the People of Kosova
At the urging of Congressman Henry Hyde, the Albanian American Civic League traveled to Kosova this month in order to report back to the Congress on conditions there, as a follow-up to the May 21st hearing in the House International Relations Committee on the future of Kosova. We also used this opportunity to deliver the message of the hearing to the people of Kosova. The hearing was the culmination of the latest phase in the Civic League’s work on behalf of Kosova, which began when Civic League President Joe DioGuardi and Balkan Affairs Adviser Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi discovered on a trip to Kosova in June 2002 that 70 percent of the population was unemployed, that nothing was being done to put Mitrovice back under Kosovar control, that the former members of the Kosova Liberation Army were being criminalized, and that the international community was successfully blocking all discussion of Kosova’s final status.
The June 2002 trip led to the introduction in January 2003 of the Lantos-Hyde resolution (H.Res. 28) calling for U.S. government support for Kosova’s independence and the May Congressional hearing, at which Congressmen Lantos and Hyde opposed the UN and State Department policy of “standards before status” and backed independence now as the only way to peace and stability in Kosova and in the Balkans. This is the message that the Civic League delivered to Kosova at the beginning of July in a series of public meetings in Gjilan, Podujeve, Peja, Gjakova, Suhareka, Prizren, Prishtina, and Drenice. We accomplished our goals with the help of a student network established by the Civic League with the assistance of Faton Bislim, a young Kosovar working on his college degree in the United States, and with the help of Burim Thaci, the vice-president of the Veterans Association of Kosova.
The Widening Gap between Kosovar Albanians and the International Community
The most important theme that emerged from the trip was the ever-widening gap between the official version of reality in Kosova and the Albanian people’s perception and experience, including sharply divergent views about final status. Lutfi Haziri, the mayor of Gjilan, stated that “without independence, economic and social problems will persist, and our clash with UNMIK will increase in the coming months. The sooner that Kosova has independence, the better the conditions and the prospects for peace will be.” The need for final status resolution to bring large-scale foreign investment and jobs to Kosova was reinforced wherever we traveled. In a meeting with the leaders of the youth branches of the major political parties and local civic groups in Gjilan, we asked how Kosovars were surviving with 70 percent of the population unemployed. One student explained that the Kosovar tradition of strong solidarity among family members, “in which parents help children and siblings help each other,” often by working abroad, had sustained the community. Now, however, he said that survival “was becoming very difficult as more and more Kosovars were being forced out of Western Europe and the United States or losing their jobs in the diaspora.”
Catholic Bishop Mark Sopi of Prizren expressed his consternation at the seeming inability of the international community to realize that Kosova is “their best ally in the Balkans and that if given independence and even a nominal amount of investment monies, it would succeed rapidly.” He further stated that Kosova is the source of peace, not of violence, in the region. The greatest stumbling block to progress, in his opinion, was Serbia’s anti-Albanian propaganda campaign.
In Peja, an UCK veteran lamented what he called the international community’s “pacification program,” in which Kosovars were “gradually being worn down, so that they would accept the partition of Kosova or “substantial autonomy” under Serbia. Adem Demaci echoed this statement in Prishtina, and he praised the Civic League for challenging this outcome. “If you were doing something different, you would be doing the wrong thing,” he said. “Even if it does not bear fruit now, it will step by step, because the mentality of the people is changing. With fewer jobs everyday, the crisis is going deeper and deeper.” He said that the international community “wants leaders who put national interests aside, but we need leaders who put the national interests in front of everything else. Freedom is greater than anything else the international community can offer Kosova.”
Demaci stated that “the people are getting angrier everyday, because they notice that Serbia is becoming an authority again, both politically and financially. The international community does not understand that Albanians know what is going on and oppose it.” He objected to the fact that Serbs in Kosova are allowed to vote in Serbia’s national elections, that 20 percent of Kosova is under the control of Serbia, and that the international community “routinely violates UN Resolution 1244 in the interest of Belgrade,” but invokes it in an ironclad way whenever Kosovar Albanians try to defend the national cause.
At a meeting in the auditorium of the National Library organized by the student association at the University of Prishtina, association leader Gani Morina asked aloud, “Is there a democratic world, or has it fallen asleep? The United States and NATO made Kosova know that there was a democratic world, but this world is now being destroyed.” He cited as evidence the paralysis of Kosova’s institutions before the United Nations, Serbia’s efforts to “seize the land of its victims,” and the international community’s “denial of the right to Kosova to determine its own fate.”
Foremost in public statements made by international factors in Kosova during our visit was a push for talks between Belgrade and Prishtina and the return of Kosovar Serbs who had fled during the 1999 war. The international community believes that a “multiethnic society” is the goal and that achieving this requires the successful return of large numbers of Serbs and bilateral talks, initially on “technical issues.” The Civic League, however, found that most Kosovars (as opposed to some Kosovar politicians) do not want the talks between Prishtina and Belgrade to proceed without first grappling with a number of difficult issues, beginning with bringing nort hern Kosova back under Albanian control, and facilitating the return of Albanians, not only Serbs, to their homes in Mitrovice.
In a meeting with the “Mothers of the Disappeared” in Gjakova, chairwoman Nesrete Kumnova called for more pressure to be placed on Serbia and on the international community to account for the 3,500 missing Albanians at war’s end, including 663 men from Gjakova . “To enjoy its freedom,” she said, “Kosova gave a lot of its best sons and daughters, and not enough has been done to determine their fate.” Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi recommended that the political spotlight be placed on the problem of the missing before talks with Belgrade ensue. With very few exceptions, Kosovars believe that Serbia has no role whatsoever to play in final status discussions.
Finally, there was a clear division in the perspectives of the international community and Kosovar Albanians on the trials and imprisonment of former members of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). The international community insists that the justice system is functioning and that the trials and verdicts are free of political bias. Whereas Kosovars are incensed about what they view as the criminalization of UCK and a politically tainted, and in some instances corrupt, judiciary. The Civic League delegation, which attended the final day of the trial of Commander Remi and the Llap group, concurs with the Kosovar perspective. Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi spoke at length about the need to oppose the creation of a false parity between the Kosovar Albanian victims and the perpetrators of Serbian state-sponsored terrorism. In every city, but especially in Gllogovci and in Skenderaj, where both she and Joe DioGuardi were made “honorary citizens of Drenice,” she called for an international campaign to end the criminalization of the Kosova Liberation Army, which “carried the seeds of Skanderbeg.”
Reexamining the Role of the United States in Bringing Independence to Kosova
The Civic League encountered a widespread belief that the U.S. government will bring independence to Kosova, a belief that was expressed in adulation of former President Bill Clinton. Shirley Cloyes warned of the dangers of this belief and discussed the difference between the Administration and the U.S. Congress. Successive administrations failed to act in Kosova, until Clinton was finally forced to when Western diplomatic efforts failed to stop Milosevic’s killing machine, and UCK rose up to defend the Albanian people from persecution and death. She explained that many State Department personnel remain Belgrade-centered. Joe DioGuardi, as he did earlier at the May 21 Congressional hearing, recounted the history of the relationships developed with Serb politicians by U.S. State Department officials stationed in Belgrade as Foreign Service officers over the past thirty years. The best example of this, he said, is former Secretary of State Larry Eagleburger, who spent substantial time in Belgrade, speaks Serbo-Croatian, later served with Slobodan Milosevic on the Board of Banka Lubanska in Washington, and now is a partner in Kissinger Associates, which is reputed to have (and may still have) client relationships in Serbia.
Cloyes DioGuardi urged Kosovars to take advantage of the American system of “checks and balances” by standing behind their friends in the U.S. Congress. She said that
Congressman Lantos and Hyde needed to hear support from Kosovars for their pro-independence stance in order to effectively challenge an Administration policy that risks renewed conflict in the Balkans by keeping Kosova’s final status in limbo. In addition, she said that the Kosova Assembly had done an extremely important thing in passing the resolution in support of the war values and the liberation movement (which was introduced by AAK and then endorsed by all parties) and that the Assembly should now move to pass the pending legislation in support of Kosova’s independence.
In several television and radio interviews (TV-21, RTK, and Blue Sky Radio), Joe DioGuardi took on the difficult task of discussing Kosova’s unqualified support for former President Clinton. Bill Clinton’s decision to launch air strikes against Serbia was crucial for all Albanians, but this decision was not made, DioGuardi pointed out, without monumental pressure from the Albanian American Civic League, backed up by the Jewish lobby and members of Congress, such as Senator Joseph Biden. More important, DioGuardi identified five areas in which Clinton failed Kosova and Albanians throughout the Balkans. First, Clinton reaffirmed former President George H.W. Bush’s “Christmas warning,” threatening U.S. military action against Serbia if its dictator, now indicted war criminal, Slobodan Milosevic threatened Kosova. Clinton then proceeded to do nothing when Milosevic waged war on Bosnia and later attacked Kosova in February 1998. Second, Clinton allowed his Balkan Envoy Richard Holbrooke to make a deal with Milosevic to keep Kosova off the agenda and Albanians excluded from the table at the Dayton Peace Accords.
Third, DioGuardi observed, Clinton publicly announced his opposition to General Wesley Clark’s strategy to deploy U.S. ground troops in the war with Milosevic, before an American military victory was secured. As a result, he needlessly extended the war and suffering of the Albanian people. Fourth, under Clinton’s watch, the Kumanova Agreement, which ended the war in Kosova, allowed Serbia to retrieve all of its military equipment from Kosova and to move some 5,000 Kosovar Albanians to prisons inside Serbia and to ignore the fate of the missing (some of whom were later discovered to have been executed in Kosova and brought to Serbia in refrigerated trucks by the withdrawing Serbian army at war’s end). And, fifth, Bill Clinton allowed the United Nations and Europe (particularly France and Russia) to take the lead in postwar Kosova, thereby denying Kosova the U.S. leadership needed to bring independence to Kosova and peace and stability to Southeast Europe. DioGuardi reminded Kosovars that Clinton gave up the great opportunity as president of the United States to declare Kosova independent after the war and only voiced his support for independence four years later, in June 2003, in an apparent effort to gain credibility among Albanian Americans in New York.
Information: The New Battleground in the Struggle for Kosova’s Freedom
Adem Demaci identified the crux of the problem in the struggle for Kosova’s independence by stating that the international community was “getting the wrong information on Kosova, because our leaders are not providing them with the right information.” He identified the “new war” as a “war of information.” Shirley Cloyes and Joe DioGuardi made the same point, stressing across Kosova that the battlefield for the future of Kosova “is no longer on the ground. The new war will not be fought with guns and bullets, but in the press and the parliaments of the world.” For a brief period, from 1998 to 1999, Cloyes observed, “the major Western television networks and newspapers were focused on Kosova and on the Albanian question, when people were suffering, dying, and being expelled. Now, they are preeminently focused on Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East.” She argued that we need the help of all Albanians to refocus international attention on the Balkans.
Joe DioGuardi emphasized the importance of Kosovar leaders speaking “with one voice” about Kosova’s future. He warned of the consequences of “party building at the expense of nation building,” which had resulted in a dangerous fracturing of Kosova’s voice on the international scene. He cited Ibrahim Rugova’s weak public stance that Kosova has de facto independence and is simply waiting for international recognition and Hashim Thaci’s erroneous call for a moratorium on final status discussions. (Thaci, who said that he had expected the international community to respond to his idea with a date for final status resolution, appeared, in discussion with the Civic League delegation, to have dropped this approach.) Without a unified voice on Kosova’s future, DioGuardi predicted that peace in the Balkans and the resolution of the Albanian national question would remain elusive for generations.
It was clear to the Civic League delegation that the U.S. State Department apparently does not to understand, or does not want to acknowledge, the widening gap between the legitimate expectations of Kosovar Albanians and the vision of Kosova’s future imposed by the United Nations Security Council and the European Union. This was made very clear at the May 21 Congressional hearing on the future of Kosova in the stark contrast between the testimony by the State Department and that of Chairman Henry Hyde, Ranking Member Tom Lantos, and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, all supporting U.S. recognition of Kosova’s independence now. Their comments at the hearing forced the State Department to put its UN and European cards on the table for all to see. The conclusion that the Civic League drew from listening to people all over Kosova on its recent trip is that it has its work cut out for it, as the only registered lobby in Washington, DC, fighting for U.S. government recognition of Kosova’s independence now. The task is all the more difficult because of the collaboration of some Albanian Americans with elements in the State Department tied to Belgrade.
Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi is Balkan Affairs Adviser to the Albanian American Civic League. July 24, 2003