The only living member of the House of Representatives, featured in a national postage stamp
Eliot Engel was honored last week in Kosova with a special postage stamp featuring the congressman from New York.
He is the first ever living member of US Congress to be featured in a stamp anywhere in the world and the second living person to have this honor bestowed on him in Kosova after the great Albanian writer, Ismail Kadare.
Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj presented Engel with a commemorative sample of the stamp during a joint press conference in Prishtina, Kosova, after a special government session in honor of the US lawmaker.
It was a beautiful surprise for the distinguished guest who has been a dedicated champion of freedom and democracy for Kosova and the region.
Engel had traveled to Kosova to attend the official launch of the Millennium Foundation program in the country.
The issue of Kosova was barely known in US and the international arena in 1989, when Eliot Engel was first elected to US Congress. The young Jewish politician from New York cosponsored a resolution in support of the plight of Kosovars in that very first term in office. His involvement would grow and extend over the years, as he became a leader in the efforts to give a voice to the most oppressed society in post-communist Europe.
Engel supported the recognition of Kosova’s right for self-determination from the early 90s. When Milosevic prevented him from entering the country in 1996, his response was prophetic: the day will come, he promised, when the people of Kosova will be free and they will be the ones preventing the Serbian dictator from ever returning there.
In 1999, NATO intervened to stop a developing humanitarian catastrophe from happening in Kosova, as Milosevic had started the fourth war in the region within a decade. Congressman Engel was among those who influenced and encouraged President Clinton to take leadership and end once and forever the Balkan wars.
Indeed, Kosova was liberated and Milosevic never set foot in it again. Congressman Engel was greeted as a hero by the people, while the Serbian dictator was overthrown, arrested and was sent to The Hague Tribunal for Crimes Against Humanity in Yugoslaia.
In 2008, Kosova declared its independence and Congressman Engel once again promoted and supported its recognition by the administration of President George W Bush. More than 110 nations around the world, including US, Canada, Japan and 23 out of 28 EU members have now recognized Kosova.
A quarter of century since he first visited Kosova, Engel remains its strong supporter.
This year he saw another dream of his come true as Kosova qualified for a grant of $49 million from U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation, MCC, on energy and governmental transparency.
MCC’s Kosova Threshold Program supports the Government of Kosova’s efforts to lower energy costs and improve transparency and accountability. The project may expand if successful and will help in building “the pillars of a modern economy that benefits all people of Kosovo, advancing peace and prosperity in the region.” Kosova’s MCC team, headed by former Foreign Minister, Petrit Selimi, has worked hard to bring this program to Kosova, but it would have not happened without the crucial help of Congressman Engel. He had been working from 2008, when Kosova became independent country, to have it benefit from the advantages that MCC has to offer.
In this recent visit, Engel had a chance to attend a session of Kosova’s government, observe the second round of the local election, meet a forum of young entrepreneurs, and was introduced to Peace Corps volunteers from US. As he thanked PM Haradinaj for the postage stamp honor, he reminisced about his work on Kosova.
“When I was first elected to Congress in 1989, I knew very little about Kosova, but my good friend Harry Bajraktari, who was born here and immigrated to America as a teenager came to my office one day and spoke to me about what was happening in what was then Yugoslavia,” Engel said. “We worked with everything we had then and many people told us that freedom would never happen. But it did and I would like to congratulate the citizens of Kosova, the prime minister and everyone here for what has been achieved.
Harry Bajraktari, founder and former publisher of Illyria newspaper was among the Albanian-Americans who were present at the event together Rustem Gecaj and Frasher Maxhuni. They were joined also by a newly elected member of parliament from Albania, Rudina Hajdari, who graduated in the United States and interned in Congressman Engel’s office in DC. She is the daughter of the late Azem Hajdari, leader of the movement that brought down the communist regime in Albania.
Nowhere in the world is the United States more popular than in Kosova, a country with a Muslim majority and ancient Christian traditions. Kosovars credit America with bringing freedom and democracy to the region. There is indeed a street in the city of Peja that bears Eliot Engel’s name and one can find streets and boulevards in Prishtina, the capital, with the names of Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Bob Dole.
Engel praised the Albanian-American community and the principles of peace, freedom and democracy as the strongest links between the two countries, “the United States of America as the oldest democracy and Kosova, among the youngest in the world.”
He spoke more at length at a meeting with students from the American University of Kosova, where he responded to their questions in a lively discussion that was broadcasted live on Facebook.
Congressman Engel has been with the people of Kosova for almost three decades now. It has been a long journey, with some dark periods when it was easy to lose faith and hope. However the struggle paid off. Today Kosova is an independent nation, which strives to build a modern economy and a liberal democracy. He is determined now to push Kosova in the path of joining NATO, European Union and other major international institutions.
“You can always count on my encouragement and support”, he promised. (Ruben Avxhiu)