The former Deputy National Political Director for the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign calls on Albanian-Americans to vote for Donald Trump.
By Ruben Avxhiu
Christopher Hyland was the first Bill Clinton Campaign official who tried to inform the new Clinton Campaign, and then new Clinton Presidency on the issue of Kosova, and the person who reached out successfully to bring Albanian Americans to support Bill Clinton in the now, seemingly, distant year of 1991. Clinton would write in his book, “My Life”, that “Chris…organized ethnic groups across the country, making an important contribution to victory in the general election, and lying the foundation for our continuous unprecedented contact with ethnic communities once we got to the White House.” One of the groups Hyland successfully worked with was the American Albanian community who assisted him in his efforts contributing to the victory Clinton referred to. Ultimately access to the White House contributed to President Clinton assisting Kosovo in the late 1990’s when it was needed the most, thanks in large part to efforts begun by Hyland. Elsewhere in this issue of Illyria Hyland makes it clear why he is supporting Trump for President.
At the time of Hyland’s involvement, Albanian-Americans had been working hard to lobby for the cause of Kosova, a region that had been suffering under the oppression of the Serbian Milosevic regime in a time when the rest of Eastern Europe was shedding the old communist system and embracing freedom and democracy. The community had made inroads especially among the Senate Republicans led by Bob Dole, but also with Rep.Tom Lantos, a leading Democrat in the US Congress. Most of the Albanian lobbying was made, in those early years, through the Albanian American Civic League founded by former congressman, Joseph DioGuardi. However, representatives of Kosova were establishing their own offices in United States to make their case. Almost everyone was eager to make connections with the new team of Governor Clinton, who seemed to be dominating the Democratic Primary: Hyland made that happen.
As luck had it, Mohammed didn’t have to move because the mountain came first to him in the form of Christopher Hyland-a school friend of Bill Clinton who helped the future President campaign for student body president at Georgetown University-who joined Clinton beginning in 1991, this time to successfully help him win the Presidency. Hyland built for Clinton probably the first comprehensive, in depth national ethnic outreach in the Democratic Party, a system that now has evolved to an almost perfect mechanism.
As Clinton himself describes in his autobiography, “My Life”, Hyland began by buying copies of 30 ethnic newspapers in New York City, read them carefully, and identified the local and national community leaders. Among the periodicals was Illyria, which Hyland has aptly described as “the Albanian-American newspaper of global record.” It was through Illyria that he came to know the leaders of the Albanian American community, initiating contacts with them.
He went to their meetings and rallies and wowed them with his sincerity and his intellectual curiosity about the issues they cared most about.
When Bujar Bukoshi, Prime Minister of Kosova in exile, came to New York, Hyland spoke at a rally of thousands of Albanian-Americans, aware that it was a good opportunity to introduce himself to the community and to spread the word about Clinton. Hyland promised them that a Clinton Administration would be much more aggressive and bolder, and engaged when it came to the Balkans. The then Governor of Arkansas did, in fact, speak in much clearer terms when it came to the new war that was enveloping the Yugoslavia Federation, of which Kosova was very much a part.
Hyland made quite an impression among the Albanian-Americans, a community with traditional Republican ties during the Cold War, but who were especially put off by the Bush Administration‘s lethargy toward the Yugoslavian conflict, in particular the suffering of the ethnic Albanians. They were the third largest nationality in Yugoslavia, but none of the six republics represented their interests. Rallies demanding the status of Republic for Kosova had been crushed by Serbian/Yugoslavian tanks in 1981 and ethnic Albanian leaders imprisoned or exiled. In 1989, Serbian Milosevic regime had stripped Kosova of its autonomous status as well. Albanians made 90% of the population of Kosova, but were then living in an apartheid state.
Hyland pressured the then Clinton Campaign foreign affairs team, and later the Clinton White House, to show support for the Kosovar people, recommending that Clinton support independence for Kosovo. He argued that ignoring the growing Kosovo issue would not make it disappear, that eventually it would have to be addressed. Clinton, with a humanitarian catastrophe pending, was eventually forced to deal with the Kosovo issue in 1999, fearing a repetition of the Rwandan or the Bosnian nightmares.
One of the Albanian-Americans Hyland respects the most is Jim Xhema, whom he described as the living embodiment of the American Dream. Hyland, during an interview with Illyria, recounted that, “Jim came to America with nothing and built a fortune through perseverance and hard work. He used his economic success to help others and improve communities all over America.” It was through Jim Xhema that Hyland met the leader of Kosova, President Ibrahim Rugova. They soon discovered their common love for the French language and were able to discuss a variety of issues. During a rally for Kosova in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York, the crowd of more than 5,000 Albanian-Americans went wild when Hyland high-fived Rugova, who had traveled from his country to present his new peace plan to Washington.
Hyland, having studied the Balkans conflicts and learned of Serbian national myths and of Serbian spiritual connection to religious sites in Kosova, asked Rugova to consider an autonomous status, similar to Mount Athos in Greece, in an independent Kosova. Much to his pleasure, Rugova found Hyland’s proposal, as well as others, reasonable and viable. Recognizing the significance of the possibility for a breakthrough, Hyland approached the Clinton political and foreign policy team several times to foster these concepts. He introduced Albanian community leaders to Clinton before the New York Primary and at other times.
Before the National Democratic Convention that would nominate Clinton, Hyland hosted a major fundraising event for the candidate with 950 leaders of American ethnic communities at the New York Sheraton. The former president mentions Hyland’s dinner in his memoir. Clinton credits Hyland with his campaign’s great success in reaching communities that often are indifferent to the elections. Based on Hyland’s calculations those votes tipped the balance in Clinton’s favor in states that were crucial for Clinton to win the Presidency. In October just before the General Election, Hyland proposed, and a major foreign policy speech was given, by Clinton in Milwaukee, community leaders from around the country having been invited.
Clinton won the presidential election in November, and Christopher Hyland became Assistant Deputy Director of the Clinton Presidential Transition, hosting 11 Presidential Transition Conferences. In December 1991, he hosted an Eastern Europe Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas where the new Administration was being planned. He invited 50 leaders from American ethnic communities, including two Albanian-Americans: Harry Bajraktari founder of Illyria newspaper and Elez Biberaj from the Voice of America. It was a chance to connect and present the Albanian case to the upcoming Clinton Administration. Hyland furthered peace initiatives for the Balkans. He sought to bring to the attention of the new Clinton Administration the vital role Eastern European Americans played in victory in the Important Electoral College states, contributing to Clinton winning the election. Just liberated Eastern Europe was open to interaction with America.
Hyland may have played a crucial role in helping Clinton get elected, but he was quietly left out of the new Administration, where he would have agreed to serve in a number of positions, especially as Chief of Protocol. A main reason for this betrayal was probably the fact that he was in an open gay relationship with his business and life partner Constantino. The Clintons were slow to embrace the gay rights movements in full. Even more than 15 years later, Hillary Clinton dodged the issue when she run for President.
Four years later, after the Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the war in Bosnia, President Rugova tried to revive Hyland’s Peace plan, hoping to bring Serbia to the negotiating table. Serbia rejected the offer. The international community appeared to prefer the status quo. Hyland very much regrets that he was not afforded the opportunity to work with Rugova who he firmly believes understood the vital part economic issues, and others, play in driving establishing common interests even among enemies.
Whereas Hyland had great results working with the Albanian community to gain votes for Clinton, he did the same with more immediate policy results with the Irish American community. He built strong relations with the Irish-American community, breaking taboos as early as 1991 by supporting and positioning support for issuing a U.S. visa for controversial Northern Ireland Irish Republican leader Jerry Adams. In 1997, Clinton achieved the highest peak of his presidential foreign affairs record with the Good Friday Agreement that ended the conflict in Northern Ireland. Both US Senator Mitchel who operated as Clinton’s special emissary on this issue and Christopher Hyland, who laid the ground work, were both recognized with Saint Patrick’s Awards for their role in promoting peace in Ireland. The Irish Voice newspaper wrote a long article, “The Unsung Hero of the Irish Peace Process Steps Back Center Stage”, on Hyland’s involvement, also referring to his efforts to save the Saint Patrick’s Parade.
Two years later, Clinton led US and NATO in an intervention to stop Serbia’s fourth war within a decade. This time it was in Kosova and the international community was determined to avoid the campaigns of mass massacres and rapes they had seen in Bosnia. Emerging after Dayton as a Man of Peace, Milosevic reverted to his old ways once he understood his dismal electoral fortunes. Many believe, today, as Hyland and others professed, that Kosova could have avoided the war if it’s independence had been recognized, years earlier, when Clinton advocated independence for Slovenia and Croatia. Doing so was a step to far for Bush Sr and then for Clinton. Bush Sr. threatened Milosevic with military intervention in his famous December 1992 Christmas Warning, if he brought war south to Kosova. Bush worried regional escalation could engage eventually Macedonia, Greece, and Turkey. Clinton repeated the same warning when he entered the White House. That red line was clearly crossed in 1998 and in Spring 1999 NATO intervened. After liberating Kosova, the Alliance tuned the region over to the United Nations which ruled it until 2008, when Kosova declared independence. It is recognized today by the United States, UK, Japan, Canada, 22 out of 27 members of EU and more than 100 countries around the world.
The Serbian religious sites in Kosovo’s sovereign territory do, indeed, today, enjoy the level of self-government that Hyland proposed to President Rugova. Other Hyland ideas, some embodied in the recent Kosovo Serbia Agreement, once so much ahead of their time, now have life. During the interview for this article Hyland emphasized the pleasant irony of watching Ambassador Richard Grenell, the first gay member of a President’s Cabinet in the history of the United States, so successfully take over the issue of Kosova and deal with it with the same sense of pragmatism that Hyland had employed long before everyone saw the light.
Then a Clinton early supporter, now, strongly rooting for Trump
It is important news well beyond Illyria and the Albanian-American community that the former Deputy National Political Director for the 1992 Clinton for President Campaign is now calling on our community and others to vote for Donald Trump.
The same man who almost three decades ago contacted the Albanian community to make the case for Bill Clinton and in turned made the case to Clinton world for Kosova is now back with a different political leadership perspective. Or maybe the world changed, not him. Clinton was then the outsider Trump still claims to be even after four years in the White House.
Hyland was moved to write an op-ed for Illyria after he followed the recent White House Kosovo Serbia agreement. He writes, in his op-ed piece, “President Trump deservers much credit for decisively negotiating, however difficult some of the aspects might be, a successful, much needed Kosovo Serbia Agreement, part of a way forward towards prosperity and peace.” He continued, “Signed at the White House on September 4th, Special Envoy Ambassador Grenell having worked hard to make it happen, the Agreement is a substantial step forward in normalizing relations between the two countries. President Trump’s and his Kosovo and Serb counterparts’ success in achieving agreement, for this writer, brings to further, positive, conclusion a personal interest of mine in pursuing peace in Kosovo, one which began in 1991 when I worked very hard contributing to Bill Clinton winning the Presidency.”
Reminding Albanians of their tragic suffering under the communist regime, Hyland wrote: “America need never be ruled by a party, even vaguely reminiscent of, or espousing extremist ideology, akin to Maoist Albania, Communist Yugoslavia or Soviet Russia. We want an ever better, prosperous, tolerant and inclusive America.” To Hyland, “President Trump is leading us in that direction, still further along our exceptional journey in history creating equity for all citizens, a cause for which we are all an important part.”
A bipartisan community
Targeting the Albanian-American community during a Presidential election makes a lot of sense. Ours is one of the most bipartisan communities in the United States and a swing vote battlefield. Albanians live in key battleground states Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, among others.The Trump campaign has recognized this fact, especially in Michigan, a state that President Trump carried by only 10 thousand votes, the 34,000 Albanian votes making a potentially huge difference. Endorsements such as Hyland’s, given his history with the Albanian American community, make a difference.
The Democratic Party, however, is more organized and has a long tradition, much enhanced by Hyland groundwork, of ethnic outreach. An Albanian-American Ilir Zherka worked as a Director of the Democratic presidential campaign outreach in 1996, doing work similar to Hyland. Groups of Albanian-Americans have been working on both sides of the upcoming electoral battle. In Michigan, Gjevalin Gegaj, a life-long Republican, approached the Trump Victory Campaign in the beginning of the year, meeting with Vice-President Mike Pence. Other groups in Michigan, New York, Florida and elsewhere have been trying to organize for Trump. On the other hand, Joe Biden is well remembered by Albanians because of his attention to the conflicts in the Balkans. “’A friend in need is a friend indeed’ Vice President Biden has been a strong advocate of Albanian issues, both in the US and in the Balkans. He has earned our support, and I strongly endorse we vote for him,” says Avni Mustafaj, former Executive Director, National Albanian American Council. Albanian-Americans for Biden have run ads in Illyria newspaper and are hosting a zoom rally which will feature a number of high-profile Democrats. There is no doubt that Christopher Hyland’s endorsement of President Trump comes at the right time for members of the Albanian community who are establishing strong support for Trump in the election, very small numbers of votes in key states assuring Electoral Collage victory, just as Clinton recognized in Hyland’s contribution to his victory in 1992.
A renaissance man in love with New York
Together with Illyria’s owner and publisher Vehbi Bajrami, we had the pleasure to meet and interview Hyland in his legendary apartment in Chelsea., Mew York City. A gracious host, he regaled us with stories from his work in New York and several countries as a merchant of fine textiles that have awed architects, interior designers, and home decorators for decades in the Big Apple and beyond. He lives with Constantino who is also Executive Vice President if Christopher Hyland Incorporated. They have a well-behaved puppy Hudson. The apartment has been featured in numerous articles in magazines, television and newspapers over the years. It has been the site for numerous charitable and some political events.
From Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump, everyone is aware of Hyland s professional work and his wide circle of friends and acquaintances. His Instagram account, beside featuring professional interests, is a parade of past and current moments with notable people from various fields, including some featuring the Albanian community: one on President Rugova holds pride of place.
Son of a New England lawyer and a sculptress, Christopher Hyland, could have very well gone into politics or the foreign service. He speaks fluent French, having studied in Switzerland (Ecole Nouvelle de la Suisse Romande and the American School in Lugano, Switzerland). He received his Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service, B.S.F.S. in 1970 from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Washington, D.C., where he met and befriended Bill Clinton. He has three Honorary Doctorates. He was a member of the National Guard. Hyland opted for the business world, meshing his interest in the arts and commerce inspired by the pioneering, global trading history of his home town Salem, Massachusetts, some referring to him as ‘the last Salem merchant’. He focused on the finest quality, “ worldwide fabrics, wall coverings, rugs, lighting and other home furnishing products serving the residential and commercial needs of designers, architects and decorators across the United States and abroad,” as his professional website describes.
Hyland founded his own company now known as Christopher Hyland, Inc. which is located in the D and D Building, New York City and in which he serves today as President. His work has been featured in leading architectural and design publications like: Architectural Digest, Veranda, House & Garden, Town & Country, Interior Design Magazine, Design Times, Elle Décor, Traditional Homes, etc. Objects in Hyland’s apartment reflect his eclectic life, his involvement in humanitarian and political activities, his work as an avid furniture designer, photographer, digital magazine publisher, past television host of LXTV NBC, and CEO of WCLI/Hylandtown, an omni urbanist town project.
Despite the recent setbacks from the lockdown, the ensuing economic problems, the protest rallies, the growing distrust of institutions, and the short-comings of local leaders, his trust in New York is immense. “New York will never, ever, ever cease to be a brilliant, resilient City,” he says. “We need, however, a visionary and pragmatic leader who can relate to concerns coming from the left or the right, but one who is not hostage to old political interests, and stale narratives”. He believes that President Trump is that leader.
He has yet to see this kind of leader in the current crop of politicians that are running or preparing to run for office in New York. Asked if he’d consider running for Mayor or Governor, Hyland reveals that he’s been asked to run, but that that was not a decision he’d take lightly and, if ever it would be considered, the discussion best remains a subject for another interview. Hyland has, “…great gratitude for the Albanian community who made history, contributing greatly to both a new American Presidency and giving birth to a new, independent Kosovo and Montenegro, all efforts working towards a better world.”