Martin Vulaj

(A conversation that should serve to calm us all down)


By Martin Vulaj

America stands as a unique phenomenon in the development of mankind’s political evolution. In choosing to create a Constitutional Republic rather than a kingdom, the founding fathers ensured that power would rest in the citizen. Unlike Parliamentary democracies where power is concentrated in political parties and their leaders, in America there likely are no more than a handful of people who even know the names of the party leaders. Moreover, they created a system by which the active citizen can gain access to the very levers of power. It is this system that is the key to the success of the Albanian American community’s ability to influence U.S. policy toward Kosova. Gjevalin Gegaj is our latest example.

As a longtime activist for Kosova and a longtime Republican, he decided to reach out to the Trump campaign to try and have a conversation about Kosova. He managed to organize a meeting with the head of the Trump campaign for the state of Michigan with community representatives from various organizations, houses of worship and media. In a state that was won by Donald Trump in 2016 by only 10,000 votes, the campaign learned that there are 43,500 U.S. Citizens of Albanian descent in Michigan, 35,000 of them registered to vote! This of course got their attention. The meeting went so well that, incredibly, Gjevalin was invited to a special meeting with Vice President Pence who was visiting Michigan two weeks later. He would be one of only twelve in the meeting!

At the meeting, Gjevalin, with his unique graciousness, patiently waited for his opportunity to speak. When it came, he told his story of what the Serbian government had done to Kosova: how they killed 13,000 people, used rape as a weapon of war, killed children and burned villages including his own. The Vice President was so moved that he asked Gjevalin to put this in a letter to him along with the community’s concerns and gave Gjevalin his word that he would read it, telling his staff to make sure he got it.

Armed with this opportunity, the community leaders of Michigan had a letter drafted (not to be confused with a more recent letter released by a large number of organizations last week) to Vice President Pence that reflected their concerns about the dialogue process asking for, amongst other things, assurances that there would be no partition, no Bosniazation of Kosova and more financial support. Then Covid hit.

With the Vice President having been put in charge of our Covid strategy, it seemed extremely unlikely that anything would be done regarding this letter. But America is unique and the citizen is empowered. Gjevalin gets a call from the Trump Campaign and is informed that, in light of the Covid situation, a call has been set up for him to speak with Gary Tripmacher from the Office of the Vice President as well as Amanda Ahlers, who is currently the Balkan Director at the National Security Council but who also worked with Special Envoy Richard Grenell at the Department of State! Such is the power of the active citizen in America.

On the call, Ms. Ahlers conveys the following:

• There are no plans for troop withdrawls
• There will be no bosniazation of Kosovo
• U.S. will send increased aid following an agreement between Kosova and Serbia that they expect will result in mutual recognition.
• They have asked the U.S. embassy in Belgrade to increase pressure on the Serbian government regarding the execution of the Bytyci brothers.
• The U.S. will work with any government that is created through Kosovo’s Constitutional process.

I would hope that this is a conversation that should calm us all down. It is incredible to think given the last two decades of U.S.-Kosovo history, that there exists a single Albanian that would doubt U.S. intentions and start looking to Europe for answers! It was the U.S. who led the NATO campaign; after leaving the dialogue process to Europe for 8 years, it was a frustrated U.S. that said enough is enough and made Kosova independent; it was the U.S., against Europe’s wishes, that created the Kosovar Army and it is the U.S. that has taken the lead on closing the chapter on Kosova’s statehood, getting her into the U.N. and into NATO. One can argue that the U.S. has done more to get Kosova into Europe than Europe has. Indeed, one can argue that not one significant development has occurred for Kosovo that did not involve U.S. leadership. A divided Europe cannot even provide a visa to Kosovo.

Let us not fool ourselves, however, that the U.S. is doing all of this for us because we are that deserving and that good. Clearly, if not before, we are showing ourselves now to be, in fact, not that good. But fate has smiled on us and made us a small part of the security interest of the United States. The U.S. is ripping Kosova, Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia out of the civilizations respectively allotted to them by Samuel Huntington in his seminal work, The Clash of Civilizations, and, one by one, bringing them into the security web of NATO. Kosova can expect, amongst other things, accelerated NATO accession following a final peace deal with Serbia. This has to be led by the U.S., Europe has clearly demonstrated that it is incapable of a unified voice when it comes to Kosova. A strong and consolidated Kosova is in the national security interests of the United States.

Recently, in an address to students of Harvard University, Acting Prime Minister Kurti gave Europe a roadmap for peace in the western Balkans. He said that Europe should integrate all six nations at once and they should provide a mini Martial Plan for their economic development which would facilitate their full integration. Until Europe makes such bold steps they will necessarily be relinquished to a very junior role compared to the U.S. that has the political will to get things done and has demonstrated it over and over. “with America and with Europe” is the right policy for Kosova to pursue. But America has demonstrated that it is with Kosova. Europe, so far, hasn’t. America has given us no reason to doubt, and Europe has given us no reason to believe.

To any who would continue to look for a hidden American agenda after all of this history, I would remind them of Cassius’ famous line in Shakespeare’s Julius Ceaser: “The fault dear Brutus lies not in our stars but in ourselves.”

From the meeting with Vice-President Mike Pence, in Michigan.