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Senator Joseph Biden: An Independent Kosova is Inevitable

On Sunday, September 15, the Chicago chapter of the Albanian American Civic League, in conjunction with the Albanian community in the State of Illinois, hosted a reception and forum with Senator Joseph Biden at Diplomat West banquet hall in Elmhurst, Illinois. Members of the Civic League chapter in the greater Milwaukee, Wisconsin, area also participated. The event, which was coordinated by Pajazit Murtishi, owner of Illyria Travel in Chicago, with the help of former Congressman and AACL President Joe DioGuardi and Balkan Affairs Adviser Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi in New York, was part of the Civic League’s continuing effort to keep the Albanian dimension of the Balkan conflict at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy concerns.

On Sunday, September 15, the Chicago chapter of the Albanian American Civic League, in conjunction with the Albanian community in the State of Illinois, hosted a reception and forum with Senator Joseph Biden at Diplomat West banquet hall in Elmhurst, Illinois. Members of the Civic League chapter in the greater Milwaukee, Wisconsin, area also participated. The event, which was coordinated by Pajazit Murtishi, owner of Illyria Travel in Chicago, with the help of former Congressman and AACL President Joe DioGuardi and Balkan Affairs Adviser Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi in New York, was part of the Civic League’s continuing effort to keep the Albanian dimension of the Balkan conflict at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy concerns.

The Civic League views Senator Biden as the key link for making foreign policy changes in the U.S. government that will impact the future of Albanians in the Balkans in a progressive way—not only because of his position as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but also because of his in-depth knowledge and appreciation of the Albanian people. For this reason, the Civic League has been making a concerted effort to introduce Senator Biden to Albanian communities across the United States and to demonstrate to him that we do not take for granted his past and present contributions to bringing justice and freedom to all Albanians and to Southeast Europe.

Following the singing of the American and Albanian national anthems and a moment of silence for the victims of 9/11 and the Kosova war, Joe DioGuardi opened the event; Pajazit Murtishi and Iljaz Kadriu welcomed Senator Biden on behalf of the community; Taip Besiri presented the community’s concerns to him in the form of prearranged questions about the status of Albanians in Kosova, Macedonia, Presheva, Montenegro, and Chameria; and Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi introduced the Senator.

In her introduction, Cloyes DioGuardi talked about the Civic League’s presentation of the its 2nd annual Balkan Peace Award to Senator Biden (the first was presented to General Wesley Clark) on June 18, 2002, in the presence of Nexhat Daci, Speaker of the Kosova Assembly. Cloyes DioGuardi pointed out that the Civic League created the award to honor people who “do not simply talk about our issues, but who do something to get the job done.” Senator Biden, she said, “has consistently and forcefully insisted that the United States must not abandon the Balkans to Europe and that we must not leave the region until there is peace and economic security for all.”

In his remarks on June 18, Cloyes DioGuardi said that Biden drew a striking contrast between the vision of Robert Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts—a book that falsely identified the source of the Balkan conflict in the 1980s and 1990s as centuries of ethnic hatred instead of the consequence of Slobodan Milosevic and his genocidal warfare—and the work of Joe DioGuardi, whom Senator Biden called the “Balkan Beacon,” because Joe had kept a contant focus, a “beacon of light,” on the possibilities for peace and justice in Southeast Europe since 1986. Cloyes DioGuardi then stated that the same could be said about Senator Biden: “If Joe DioGuardi is the ‘Albanian Balkan Beacon,’ then Senator Biden is the ‘Congressional Balkan Beacon.’ For more than fifteen years, he has been disinfecting

the problems of the Balkans in his light and insisting on a just solution when others averted their eyes as thousands died. While the Albanian community is quick to credit former President Bill Clinton with dropping the bombs on Serbia, the bombs would never have been dropped and Milosevic’s genocidal march across Europe would not have been halted if it had not been for Joe Biden. He has earned our respect and our support.”

Cloyes DioGuardi concluded by praising the members of the greater Chicago and Milwaukee communities for “following and supporting both ‘beacons’ and acting on the message that diplomacy is now more important than armed struggle when we have the United States on our side.”

Senator Biden delivered a powerful speech, in which he began by stating that it was important for Albanian Americans to become deeply engaged in a political structure. “It is difficult to get the attention of the president and the U.S. government today because so many other issues overshadow ours, and so “we must be able to make our case.” (He refreshingly and repeatedly referred to Albanian issues as “our issues” throughout his speech.) The problem does not lie in a person or institution “being anti-Albanian or anti-engagement when it comes to U.S. foreign policy,” explained. “The problem lies when America has a different focus and it leaves Albanian and Balkan issues behind. The spotlight must stay on us.” Senator Biden praised the Civic League for keeping the spotlight on the gross injustices against Albanian people that must be remedied in the Balkans, and he praised Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi, in particular, for “marshaling the facts and presenting the case that has gained the attention of the U.S. government.”

Biden noted throughout his address to the Albanian American community from Illinois and Wisconsin that he had come to the Albanian issue “not in an academic way, but in an emotional one.” His Irish great grandparents could neither read nor write, but if they had been literate, the British of the nineteenth century would have killed them. Biden explained that it was because of this personal understanding of oppression and his meeting Joe DioGuardi (with Senator Claiborne Pell in 1991) that he spoke out on the Senate floor against the arms embargo that was penalizing the Bosnian Muslim victims of aggression at the hands of Slobodan Milosevic. In his subsequent report, “Lift and Strike,” Biden called for lifting the arms embargo and striking Serbia. Later, in 1998 and 1999, he introduced Senate resolutions condemning Serbian attacks on Kosovar Albanians and calling for the bombing of Serbia to end Milosevic’s genocidal warfare.

Throughout his foreign policy work in the Balkans, Senator Biden said that his aim was “to change five hundred years of history.” As long as the Balkans are viewed as “a backwater and an appendage of Europe,” Biden observed, “the world will not care if seven million Albanians are being persecuted.” As long as the Balkans remain isolated, its peoples will be at the mercy of external powers, adding that the Europeans must stop making Albanians “pawns that can be moved on the chessboard by others.” To the extent that the Robert Kaplans of the world can sell the message that the people of the Balkans are “uncivilized, not cultured, and not capable, we will lose,” Biden said. He appealed to

Albanians in the audience, and through the Civic League, to be the people who move the world’s perspective in a different direction.

Returning to the image of the spotlight, Biden expressed his grave concern that the “light that had shone brightly” during the NATO bombing campaign was “beginning to fade.” He emphasized that, “To the degree that the world does not shine light on the plight of Albanians, their condition will become dire.” To prevent this fate and to make Albanian freedom a reality, Biden said that Albanians must become part of Europe. Simultaneously, Biden expressed his strong conviction that the U.S. government must remain involved in the Balkans for integration to happen. The United States must have its “arms and rifles and boots on the ground,” he said, if there is to be “ultimate security for seven million Albanians through integration into Europe.” He added that the kind of functioning multiethnic societies that the West would like to see in the Balkans cannot occur in the absence of physical security and economic growth.

Biden was candid in his criticism of the Bush administration for “exaggerating progress in the Balkans” in order to allow Americans to disengage prematurely from Kosova, Macedonia, and Bosnia. He cited Serbia as an example. While acknowledging that the government of Kostunica and Djindjic was certainly better than the Milosevic regime, Biden said that he and many others in Congress would continue to insist that Serbia, as the “prime mover of the insane genocidal warfare of the 1980s and 1990s,” must meet all of the conditions necessary to receive U.S. assistance. Specifically, he said that Belgrade must cease its negative interference in Kosova and Bosnia; that it must end the de facto partition of Mitrovice and let displaced Albanians return to their homes in the north and Serbs to theirs in the south; that it must turn over all of its war criminals to The Hague; and that it must publicly apologize for its genocidal campaigns in Kosova, Bosnia, and Croatia. Like the Germans of the Nazi era, Biden argued that it was important for Serbs to shed the mythology that they are victims—a mythology that has enabled them to justify their acts of aggression against others—so that new generations do not repeat history.

Biden also examined the situation in Macedonia, calling it “an explosion waiting to happen.” He said that the United States could ill afford to leave Macedonia to Europe or abandon it before there is genuine peace. For years, the international community overlooked the institutionalized racism and police brutality against Albanians, while

Albanians participated in the Macedonian government. Now, the Ohrid agreement has to be fully implemented, Biden insisted, “if we are to have any hope.” If Ohrid fails, he expressed his fear that violent extremists on both sides will take over. The “racist, right-wing Interior Minister Boskovski” has recently tortured Albanians in Gostivar and is “itching to turn his goons loose on defenseless Albanians in Macedonia,” Biden observed. But, while the Senator deplored the violence of Slavic Macedonian extremists, he expressed his deep disappointment that the “overwhelming small Albanian National Army” has a “siren song.” He called AKSH’s approach, in which they denounce as traitors politicians who support the Ohrid agreement and kill policemen, as “sheer insanity.” Through their actions, they allow the world to characterize Albanians “as thugs, no different from those who are Slavs.”

Biden next discussed Albania, citing its political system as “anything but free and fair.” He said that, even though the selection of Moisiu as a unity candidate for President was a sign of progress, the new post-Communist Socialist Party is still “saddled with old hacks from the Communist era.” He proposed that the Bush administration “offer the carrot of NATO membership” to Albania in return for cleaning up its “corrupt political system” and becoming a democracy.” He cited genuine social change in countries such as Romania and Poland that came about because they wanted admission into NATO. He also pointed out that the history of enmity between countries in Western Europe, such as France and Germany, ended because they had to meet certain standards to join NATO and the EU. “Why do we think that people in the Balkans would be impervious to the same kind of process?” Biden asked rightly. “People have to have a stake in the outcome so that they will not take a chance on upsetting it,” he said. “We should tell Albania to meet the conditions for NATO membership and join us, or remain in the backwater of the Western world for another century.”

Moving on to Kosova, Senator Biden said that he wanted to “make it impossible for George Bush to deny an independent Kosova as part of Europe.” To achieve its independence, he said that Kosova must demonstrate to the world that it has the capacity to run a government and to operate by basic European standards. “If you do (and he added that the Kosovar leadership is demonstrating this), an independent Kosova will become inevitable.” In the face of selfish European interests, this is the only path, Biden asserted.

In discussing the relationship between the Bush administration and UNMIK, between America and Europe, Senator Biden said that he was upset about the recent indictment of Ramush Haradinaj. He viewed it as an example of UNMIK administrator Steiner’s “entering inappropriately into a political debate by trying to tilt the scales” in a way that will end up by exacerbating “the problem of political divisions in Kosova.” As Biden sees it, Steiner wants the ultimate settlement of Kosova to happen on his watch, but that he no longer has the time to encourage Kosovar politicians to show that they can govern. Now that the Bush administration wants to get out of the Balkans as soon as possible, Steiner has discovered that his timetable has been moved up. “He does not want to be left holding the bag,” Biden argued, knowing that there will be another war if everyone leaves, and so he is trying to “jumpstart the process” in a way that is not working. In the final analysis,

Biden believes that President Bush, by pressuring Steiner, is “perverting the in-together, out-together” arrangement that we have with Europe. Biden explained that Bush is telling the Europeans that they must get out when we do, so that the United States “does not look as if we are the only ones who walked away.”

The prospects of the United States disengaging from Kosova and Macedonia have increased substantially in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Today, because of the focus on terrorism and Iraq, we witness “the dimming of the spotlight on an area that it has taken five hundred years to focus the spotlight on,” Biden said. Nevertheless, he assured the audience that the “naked self-interest of the United States rests on the 21st century beginning with a whole, undivided, and unified Europe,” because every time Europe plunges into chaos, “our sons and daughters die, our economy falters, and we pay the price.” Moreover, “by culture, history, and inclination, we are unable to dissociate ourselves from what happens in Europe.” The United States must now create stability in relation to two simultaneous phenomena that impact the Euro-American relationship: the passing of fifty years of the Iron Curtain and the reassertion of the Balkans after five hundred years.

Senator Biden concluded his remarks by asserting that the fate of the seven million Albanian people in the Balkans, although relatively small in number by world standards, is also “critical to our naked self-interest.” If the “ethnic legitimacy of the Albanian people is not recognized and protected,” he said, “all of the pieces in the region will fall apart, and if we do not stabilize the Balkans, we will pay dearly.”

Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi

Ossining, New York

Published in Illyria on September 20, 2002

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