THE FUTURE OF KOSOVA
A Report of the May 21, 2003, House International Relations Committee Hearing
by Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi
The May 21 House International Relations Committee hearing on “The Future of Kosova” was convened by Congressman Henry Hyde, Chairman of the House International Relations Committee, and Congressman Tom Lantos, the Committee’s ranking (number one) Democrat, at the urging of the Albanian American Civic League, led by former Congressman Joe DioGuardi and AACL Balkan Affairs Adviser Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi. The hearing was the result of more than a year of work on the part of the Civic League, which began with the introduction of House Resolution 28, calling on the U.S. government to declare its support for the unconditional independence of Kosova now. Congressmen Ben Gilman (now retired) and Tom Lantos introduced this resolution at the end of the last Congress. Congressmen Lantos and Hyde reintroduced it at the opening of the new, 108th Congress on January 27, 2003. In opening the hearing Chairman Hyde verbally recognized the instrumental role that Joe DioGuardi had played in the introduction of H.Res. 28.
The May 21st hearing, held before a packed audience, was a milestone in the history of the quest for Kosova’s independence and Albanian freedom. Congressmen Hyde and Lantos, the Republican and Democratic leaders, respectively, of U.S. foreign policy deliberations in the House of Representatives, once again demonstrated their commitment to the new reality in Kosova. With oversight responsibility for the State Department, they showed their willingness to challenge State’s “standards before status” policy, which was represented at the hearing by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Janet Bogue and was supported by U.S. Institute of Peace Balkans Initiatives Director Daniel Serwer.
Both Congressmen Lantos and Hyde spoke forcefully about the need to declare the unconditional independence of Kosova now and made clear their objection to State Department policy. Congressman Lantos stated in his opening remarks that, “Achieving genuine, long-term political and economic stability in Kosova and in the Balkans requires more than reconstruction assistance. It also demands the resolution of the final status of the area, and that means independence for Kosovars.” After describing the oppression of Kosovar Albanians at the hands of Serbia under Slobodan Milosevic and Kosova’s present-day economic impoverishment and political marginality as a UN protectorate, he asserted that, “Those who argue that we must put ‘standards before status’ are applying a double standard to Kosova. Kosova deserves independence for the same reasons that the other constituent, autonomous parts of the former Yugoslav Republic did. Security, democracy, and pure justice demand it. …We must give Kosova its independence, and we should do it now.”
In a significant and penetrating rebuttal of administration policy, Congressman Lantos illustrated what he meant by applying a “double standard” to Kosova, when he asked Deputy Assistant Secretary Bogue to tell him what the following, twelve nations had in common: Andorra, Dominica, Kiribati, Liechtenstein, Marshall Islands, Monaco, Nauru, Palau, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Seychelles, and Tuvalu. When she was unable to provide the answer, Congressman Lantos gave it: All twelve nations are independent, are recognized by the U.S. government as such, and have populations numbering less than 100,000. Kosova, meanwhile, has a population of two million, lacks sovereignty, but is as ready as any of these nations to be recognized.
He then asked Deputy Assistant Secretary Bogue if East Timor were better equipped than Kosova to function as an independent state. When she deferred to his and others’ expertise on this point, Congressman Lantos replied that, “Kosova does not exist in a vacuum. I strongly support the independence of East Timor—a very tiny, very poor, and incomparable entity to Kosova, yet one that we view as an independent country. The United States has an ambassador and an embassy in East Timor. At the same time, we “establish unreasonable criteria for Kosova.”
Janet Bogue argued that there are a “unique set of circumstances in Kosova,” including the 1999 ratification of UN Resolution 1244, which stipulates that there will be “a process for deciding the final status of Kosova.” Bogue went on to say that the U.S. government supports UNMIK administrator Michael Steiner and the “eight benchmarks” that he has put in place to “help resolve problems in Kosova.” The benchmarks will make Kosova’s final status resolution “a stabilizing and not a destabilizing factor,” she said.
When Congressman Lantos asked for a “ballpark timeline” for the completion of the “benchmarks,” sadly Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Bogue said that she could not provide an estimate. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican representing Southern California, contributed one of the most memorable ideas to this hearing, when he asked Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Bogue, “How many of these benchmarks did the United States meet before it gained its independence?” He argued that, “If benchmarks are the issue, then today the United States should not be independent from the British.” Congressman Rohrabacher concluded his remarks by saying that, “We are prolonging the conflict in the Balkans because State Department policy is captive—at the expense of the people of Kosova—to a concern about the feelings of the oppressors and of Europe.” Instead, he said, our policy should be “based on the principles of our founding fathers: liberty, democracy, and justice.”
Former Congressman Joe DioGuardi, the volunteer president of the Albanian American Civic League, in summarizing his statement to the Committee, emphasized “the betrayal of both Albanians and Americans by the State Department, which has continued to advocate keeping a rump Yugoslavia together at all costs, now in the form of Serbia and Montenegro and once again on the backs of the Albanian people.” He described this reality as part of a “failed foreign policy that will only serve in the long run to destabilize the Balkans.” DioGuardi criticized the “revolving door” between the State Department and the private sector, in which high-level government officials, such as former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Lawrence Eagleburger, “are allowed to engage in commercial activities with governments like Serbia’s, without disclosing the financial benefits to their firms and their behind-the-scenes support for the likes of Slobodan Milosevic. This is clearly not in our national interest.”
In the remainder of his testimony, former Congressman DioGuardi drew a sharp contrast between the criminal activities of Serbian political leaders, such as Vaso Cubrilovic, Aleksandar Rankovic, and Slobodan Milosevic, and the tolerance of the Albanian people, which was epitomized by their saving every Jew who made it to Albanian lands during the Nazi Holocaust. DioGuardi submitted Rescue in Albania, a book on this subject with a Foreword by Congressmen Tom Lantos and Ben Gilman, for the Congressional Record. He summed up his remarks by stating that, “We do not need to repeat in Kosova the mistakes that we made in Iraq, where our failure to respond led to a second war. The purpose of this hearing is to wake up the American people about the possibility of renewed conflict in the Balkans if we do not grant Kosova its independence now.”
DioGuardi also asked the U.S. government to support Congressman Lantos’s call for an investigation into the execution of three Albanian American brothers, Agron, Mehmet, and Ylli Bytyqi, after the war in Kosova. Their bodies were found in a mass grave in Serbia in July 1999. James O’Brien, a member of The Albright Group, who testified at the hearing and who was employed by the State Department’s Office of Policy Planning during the war in Kosova, expressed his support for this effort.
In her statement before the House, Shirley Cloyes stated that, “The United States shares a moral imperative with the world after the Nazi Holocaust to prevent the resurgence of fascism and ultranationalism in Europe, and that it is in the vital interests of the U.S. government to further peace and democracy in the context of a united Europe.’ She affirmed that “resolving the Albanian dimension of the Balkan conflict, which begins first and foremost with the independence of Kosova, is essential to lasting peace and stability in Southeast Europe.” In addition, she asserted that until we recognize Kosova’s sovereignty, the United States “will continue to recycle the failed foreign policy of the past at our peril—risking renewed conflict in the Balkans at a time when we can least afford such an outcome amid a full-blown crisis in the Middle East and dangerous instability in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Cloyes stated that her point of departure for evaluating U.S. foreign policy in the Balkans is “its impact on the reality that Albanians have faced for 125 years: namely, arrest, torture, imprisonment, occupation, ethnic cleansing, mass expulsion, and genocide at the hands of hostile Slavic regimes.” She discussed the West’s role in suppressing this history and its complicity in the decade of wars waged by Slobodan Milosevic that left more than 300,000 men, women, and children in the Balkans dead and four million displaced.
Cloyes explained that the U.S. government is “operating according to Belgrade-engineered myths about the Serbian-Albanian conflict that serve to demonize Albanians and to rationalize their destruction.” She argued that, “It is time to ask the principal question: “Why is U.S. foreign policy still Belgrade-centered? Why are we refusing to confront the main issue—which is the need to de-Nazify and democratize Serbia? This has been the issue ever since Milosevic came to power, and it can no longer be concealed in the wake of the tragic assassination of Zoran Djindjic, which has revealed the massive and longstanding collusion in Serbia between war criminals, organized crime, and the ruling establishment.”
Cloyes called the UN’s “standards before status” approach to Kosova a ‘mantra’ that has less to do with democracy building and more to do with Europe’s desire to postpone final status resolution in Kosova.” She concluded by stating that she did not believe that the Bush administration is prepared to give Kosovar Albanians the assurance they need that they will not be brought back under Serbian state-sponsored terrorism and be at risk of genocide once more. “The American endgame,” Cloyes said, appears to be granting Kosova ‘substantial autonomy’ under Serbia—an act that will simply reinforce Western European economic and political ties to Belgrade that have been cemented with more than a century of anti-Albanian racism and Albanian blood.”
Former Ambassador William Walker, the head of OSCE’s Kosova Verification Mission in 1998-1999, expressed his full support for the independence of Kosova in his remarks to the Committee. He added that he was “not confident that the present Serb leadership has fully learned the lessons of the Milosevic era. If you want a people to belong to your nation, then you do not do everything possible to humiliate, repress, and exterminate them. In my opinion, any attempt by the international community to reconnect Kosova with Serbia, however thin that connection, however loose the federation, however ample the conditions of autonomy, stands no chance of success.” Ambassador Walker and National Albanian American Council Executive Director Martin Vulaj were added to the docket of witnesses at the hearing at the request of Congressman Eliot Engel.
Chairman Henry Hyde closed the hearing by stating that the testimony presented had made a major contribution to the debate about why we need to explore the independence of Kosova now. The Albanian American Civic League believes that the May 21 hearing has sent an unambiguous signal to the international community that the leaders of foreign policy in the U.S. House of Representatives support the unconditional independence of Kosova now.