by Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi
Last year, on February 14, 2019, as Balkan Affairs Adviser to the Albanian American Civic League, I published “Kosova Should Stay the Course” in portals around the world. In it, I stated that, I believe that the United States and Europe have overstepped their boundaries in calling on Kosova to repeal its 100 percent import tax on Serbia. In addition, I stated that it is a contradiction for the United States to claim that it respects Kosova’s sovereignty, while insisting that Kosova suspend the tax.
I also identified Serbia’s call for a land swap as an attempt to deny Kosova’s right to self-determination and to reopen discussion of Kosova’s status as a sovereign nation—a status that Serbia has worked to undermine ever since Kosova’s independence was recognized by President George W. Bush in 2008 and ever since the Prishtina-Belgrade talks began in 2011.
My perspective, along with the majority of the friends and supporters of the Albanian American Civic League, has not changed. I believe that Kosova must continue to stay the course until Serbia recognizes Kosova’s independence. If peace, stability, and the growth of Southeast Europe is to become a reality, the two countries must come to the negotiating table on equal terms.
Contrary to statements from some of the political leaders in PDK and LDK, taking this position does not threaten the historic partnership between Albanians and the United States. The Albanian people’s love for the United States is forever cemented in the actions of President Woodrow Wilson, who at the end of World War I insisted that the then so-called Great Powers—Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia—recognize Albania, because it was one of the oldest peoples of Europe.
The world also knows that when Slobodan Milosevic began his genocidal campaign against Kosovar Albanians (after killing a half million Bosnians), the US government—and to a great extent because of years of work on the part of me, Joe DioGuardi, and the Albanian American Civic League—brought Milosevic to a halt and eventually to trial in The Hague War Crimes Tribunal. In 2008 the United States and many other governments around the world recognized Kosova’s independence.
But now we are in a different time in US history. It has been well established by US mainstream media that President Donald Trump is bowing to the machinations of Russia and Serbia and putting Europe’s security in peril. The Kosova government cannot afford to bow, in turn, to the Trump administration’s insistence that they return to negotiations with a Serbian leadership that refuses to recognize Kosova as a sovereign state and is working hard to bring northern Kosova and Kosova Serb municipalities in southern Kosova under its control.
We are fortunate that Shaun Byrnes, a retired US diplomat who served as Chief of the US Diplomatic Observer Mission in Kosova from 1998-1999 has published a very important article in www.peacefare.net, entitled “A Bad Deal.” In it, Byrnes exposes the intense pressure that President Trump, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, US Special Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo Richard Grenell, and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, in collaboration with Kosova President Hashim Thaci, are placing on Prime Minister Albin Kurti to lift the tariffs on Serbia. Byrnes explains why Kosova must not concede.
I believe that Byrnes’ conclusions in his March 13, 2020, article are important for everyone who cares about the future of the Albanian people to read:
“Trump is looking for a quick deal to boost his reelection prospects that are looking dimmer because of the economic and health crisis spawned by the pandemic coupled with the collapse of the price of oil and the likelihood that former Vice President Biden will be the Democratic nominee.
“For his part Thaçi…would like to bring down the Kurti government to protect himself and his corrupt cronies from Kurti’s effort to root out pervasive corruption. Thaçi’s aim is to then forge a new coalition government composed of the LDK, Kurti’s current coalition partner, and the PDK, the party Thaçi founded.
“Trump’s intervention to take over the dialogue has given Thaçi the opportunity to do so. He is exploiting threats of US punitive action as a bludgeon against Kurti and is trying to rally the LDK and parliamentary opposition to demand the tariffs be lifted immediately. In public statements this week, Thaçi charged that Kurti’s actions threatened relations with the US and the “very future of our state,” an irresponsible charge.
“While the LDK’s leader supports Thaçi, for now the Assembly is not supporting Thaçi and the situation is at stalemate.
“It is worth reminding Kosovo leaders that no comprehensive deal will end Serbia’s hostility to its former province. Until Serbia acknowledges what it has done in Kosovo under Milosevic’s rule their relations will neither be normal nor friendly.
“Of more importance, we should remind Kosovo’s leaders that the US is and will remain a firm friend and that will not change regardless of what Trump, O’Brien, Grenell, Pompeo and Kushner may threaten. Kosovo should not be compelled to accept a consequential agreement with a hostile Serbia its politicians and public have not seen because of the self-serving motives of one politician.”
In a public declaration in March 2012, entitled “Save ‘The Republic’ of Kosova,” the Albanian American Civic League observed that, “There is an almost total submission of the political class and public to the will of the US State Department and other Western representatives in Prishtina. Also, the belief that the United States will take care of Kosova is often used as an excuse on the part of Albanian politicians and professionals not to work to resolve Kosova’s problems, and this must stop.”
The false belief by some Albanian politicians and professionals that the Trump administration will take care of Kosova has stopped with the decision by Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Parliamentary Speaker Vjosa Osmani not to bow to the demands of the first authoritarian presidency in US history, but to stay the course on behalf of Kosova.
Finally, let us not forget the message that a powerful friend of Kosova and now candidate for US President, VP Joe Biden, stated eighteen years ago—in 2002 at the 12th anniversary of the Albanian American Civic League’s work at the Sheraton Hotel in New York City. In his keynote, Biden, then head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said 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. By culture, history, and inclination, we are unable to dissociate ourselves from what happens in Europe. The fate of seven million Albanian people in the Balkans…is also critical to our naked self-interest. If the ethnic legitimacy of the Albanian people is not recognized and protected, all of the pieces in the region will fall apart, and if we do not stabilize the Balkans, we will pay dearly.”