Remarks by Patricia M. Engel at the Albanian American Women Organization 25th Anniversary Gala
Patricia M Engel was recognized by AAWO for her contribution to empower the women’s role in the society and her tireless support for the Albanian Cause.
Thank you—and Congratulations on the 25th Anniversary of the Albanian American Women’s Organization!
And thank you all for this great honor and beautiful Award.
For me, this all started about 30 plus years ago; our family became aware of the terrible things happening in Eastern Europe. As we were learning about these awful events (and making comparisons to Hitler), my husband, Congressman Eliot Engel, met a Bronx businessman named Harry Bajraktari, who visited Eliot in Washington to discuss what was happening in Eastern Europe—specifically this lovely little place in Yugoslavia called Kosova. This was happening in about 1989!
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, the reports started coming and our shock and dismay began.
When our youngest was born, we moved everybody to Washington D.C., because 3 kids will rock your world! The children were about 13, 8 and 1-year-old and not yet aware of what was happening. As the children got older and started to understand some of the work daddy does, the level of appreciation developed with age.
During these years, the diaspora from Kosova were demonstrating in every country. It was so loud, the chanting could be heard almost everywhere: “Free Ko-so-va!”
No matter where my husband traveled he could hear the chants and see the demonstrators. One thing leads to another, and Eliot had the opportunity to speak with then President Clinton and General Wesley Clark and encouraged the use of military force in the area known as Kosova.
Meanwhile, in our home, the daunting task of opposing tyranny wasn’t enough! There was always some explanation and discussions with the kids at each turn of events. During the winter of 1999, when our eldest, Julia, was about 17 and able to accompany her dad overseas, Eliot delivered a speech in a little town called Ramboulliet, France. That was the first time our daughter saw her dad treated like a rock star! Albanians by the hundreds had gathered to cheer on Congressman Eliot Engel as a great demonstration of support.
The time of the writing of the Kosova Constitution was the time frame when Jonathan and Philip, our second oldest and youngest, started to pay closer attention. This became another conversation in our house and later on, Jonathan was able to accompany his dad on a trip to Kosova, Albania and Montenegro. It was an experience I know he recalls very fondly.
Later, when Eliot and some staff returned to Kosova as Election Observers, it was Philip who had questions. And there was yet another opportunity to explain and discuss the formation of a country.
So now, G-d bless, we have a country—Kosova! Pardon me as I say “we” because in my heart I feel like it’s just a tiny bit my country, too! And congratulations, I understand the Kosova legislature has voted to form its own Military!
Now, the UN needs to recognize Kosova! We hope this will happen sooner—not later. Other countries, one by one, are being requested and encouraged to recognize this beautiful place as a republic with the right to its own sovereignty.
The struggles of today, while not over, are so much different than it was 30 plus years ago. Today, it is about growth and economic development. We have not lost sight of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, but the day-to-day goals are related to political and economic issues, rather than life and death, as it was at the beginning of this story.
Please believe it is truly my honor to drive the kids, cook the meals, and run the household while my husband is able to make such an immense difference in this world. To help shine a light where there is unfair mistreatment of people in this world. To make the world take note that injustice will not be ignored and certainly will be punished.
Just one more concept that I want to express: while my kids and I were missing their daddy, and learning about the formation of a new country, the children of Kosova were running for their lives, and learning the awful reality that someone wanted to, and was murdering them and their families. So, while we simply gave up time together, so many others made that ultimate sacrifice at the hands of an evil tyrant.
I want to take one more moment to thank our dearest friends and recognize that we have dignitaries in the audience this evening: our dear friends, Harry Bajraktari and Lisa Milicaj; Gena Morina and Vehbi Bajrami; and Teuta Sahatqija and Besiana Kadari. The Honorable Mark Gjonaj has joined us as well.
I also want to take a moment to recognize my newest friends from Kosova, who were the same ages as my children when they were able to escape to Brooklyn: Vlora Nikci and Armend Bakolu, and their families who are both here in the U.S. and back in Kosova. We are also joined by Vlora’s brother and sister-in-law, Valon and Vjose Nikci.
These friendships and the stories of survival are very precious to me. In all these years, this is the first time anyone has honored me like this. Thank you to the American Albanian Women’s Organization and to Beti Beno and your Board of Directors, from the bottom of my heart, for this exquisite honor.
This speech may not be translated, reproduced or used without permission of the writer, Patricia M. Engel.