The USA and the Kosovo question (4): Bitter debate between Ambassador Kovacevic and the Albanian lobby

Dragan Bisenić
Source: Print Screen/RTS

Writing for Kosovo Online: Dragan Bisenic, journalist

In June 1988, DioGuardi and his followers organized the first large-scale Albanian demonstrations in New York, in front of the UN building, and in Washington, in front of the White House and Congress. Senators Bob Dole, Tom Lantos, and Alfonse D'Amato continued to support DioGuardi in his campaign against Yugoslavia despite DioGuardi losing his seat in Congress. They also addressed the US Vice President and the next President, George Bush. Bush replied to DioGuardi's letter on September 27, 1988. Bush stated that it was necessary to "encourage the Government of Yugoslavia to do everything it can to ensure the preservation of the political rights and autonomy of all national groups in Yugoslavia."

Bush wrote that he shared DioGuardi's enthusiasm for "current trends in Slovenia" because it was clear that "the republic's movement towards a liberal economic and political climate is most welcome", and that he "remains concerned about the Albanians in Kosovo" who were "proud and brave people, whose rights must be protected".

"It is important that all nations follow the recommendations of the Helsinki Acts and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I hope that Yugoslavia, its signatory, will do so. I think it is in the interest of the US to encourage the respect and preservation of human, political, and civil rights. It is necessary to stand up to those who seek to stop it," Bush wrote in his response.

On the same day, a letter of "welcome" was sent to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Yugoslavia, Budumir Loncar, whose visit was just expected. In the letter, the signatories are "very worried" about the latest events in Yugoslavia. "Recent reports indicate a growing potential for conflict among ethnic minorities there, and we believe that the federal authorities of SFRY should do everything to protect the human and political rights of minorities in your country. We are particularly disturbed by the recently published reports that the current, positive trends in Slovenia toward a pluralistic economy and political system are appalled by the Army. We are very concerned about the large demonstrations calling for the abolition of the political rights of the semi-autonomous provinces of Vojvodina and Kosovo. Any change in their status will clearly displease the majority in those provinces,” it was stated in the letter addressed to the Yugoslav Embassy.

Two weeks earlier, on September 15, 1988, from 11:00 a.m. to 12:10 p.m., there was a discussion between the then Ambassador of the SFRY Zivorad Kovacevic and the Kosovo Albanian lobbyist in the office of Senator Tom Lantos. Senators Tom Lantos, Ben Gilman, Bill Brumfield, and DioGuardi were present at the meeting, while Ambassador Kovacevic came with adviser Milutin Rogic. Senator William Brumfield was already known for his proposals for resolutions asking the Soviet Union and Gorbachev to fully respect human rights, to allow dissidents to leave the country, or for Gorbachev to respond positively to Reagan's initiative to open the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

At the beginning of the conversation, Kovacevic said that the Serb protests were a new phenomenon in Serbia and Montenegro as if the Serbs and Montenegrins were dissatisfied with the lack of success in Kosovo and were even more dissatisfied with the expulsion from Kosovo by Albanians, pointing out that even Albanians protested with Serbs and Montenegrins from Kosovo. Kovacevic also cited a number of cases of rape and crimes committed by Albanians in Kosovo. When Senator Gilman asked who was committing the crimes, Kovacevic said that it was an "indisputable fact" that they were Albanians.

DioGuardi reacted quickly, claiming that the presentation had been "one-sided", since the reports "of Albanians in New York and Detroit confirm widespread prejudice against the Albanians in many areas, especially in education and economic opportunities", and that "limits on family size and school completion are equal to genocide". He continued his presentation by demanding that the USA could not demand lower standards from Yugoslavia than from the Soviet Union in terms of human rights and requested "dialogue as a representative of the Albanians and as an Albanian." With annual inflation of 200 percent, Albanians can only be victims in a disgraced economic and political situation. "My concern is not geopolitical. Rather, it refers to the equal treatment of all ethnic groups in Yugoslavia as stated in your Constitution and the Helsinki Agreement. Everything I see and hear leads me to believe that there is a gap between the Serbs and the Albanians in human, civil and economic rights in favor of the Serbs," DioGuardi concluded. Senator Brumfield added that they were "deeply concerned" because "the demonstrations are getting bigger and bigger".

Apparently annoyed by DioGuardi's style and way of talking, Kovacevic told the Congressman that he was "completely uninformed" since he had not mentioned a single case of violence against the Serbs and Montenegrins, or the distribution of the Greater Albania map. He advised them to invite real experts to discuss the real situation and then retorted that the threat of taking away the status of the most favored nation in trade was harmful to the USA because it was in surplus. "We don't need your trade," Kovacevic said.

DioGuardi continued by asking Kovacevic why he denied that a large number of the Albanians were in prison and asked what had happened to Adem Demaci who had been imprisoned only for speaking, and Kovacevic replied that Yugoslavia was the only Balkan country that strived for national tolerance.

Tom Lantos joined the conversation and said that "we are not talking about your national borders, but about our concern for the full and equal enjoyment of human rights." For him, "the list of crimes committed by the Albanians is predictable because Kosovo is an "Albanian territory". He then asked the question of whether there really was an effort to "economically help the Albanians". Announcing his arrival in Yugoslavia, Lantos said that he would raise the question of the status of a republic for Kosovo with "responsible people".

Addressing DioGuardi, Kovacevic said that Demaci asked for violent secession and asked if the absence of the status of a republic really restricted Albanians' basic rights. He stated that he did not want to add fuel to the fire and asked his hosts to inform themselves better and listen to others, "except the Albanians you listen to". To that, DioGuardi replied that it was necessary to "urgently do something for the Albanians", because "recent events tell us that we cannot wait any longer". For Ambassador Kovacevic, it was already too much and he warned DioGuardi not to "threaten". DioGuardi replied that he was not threatening, but that he only wanted the Ambassador to convey a message to the "Serbian President who is stoking the fire of Serbian nationalism against the Albanians". In his opinion, the demonstrations of the Serbs from Kosovo at that time could quickly "escalate into violence" and he proposed to visit Yugoslavia as soon as possible. Kovacevic retorted that the demonstrations had already been condemned in the press, but that a "formal fact-finding mission" could not be allowed, that Congressmen, however, were welcome, but that interference in internal affairs could not be allowed. DioGuardi then stated, "The Serbs are trying to put Kosovo under their domination and are creating a constitutional crisis." The basic premise of the Government is mutual trust with the people. How can a situation be created where the Albanians feel they have equal chances and trust the Serbs? The Albanians are forced to violence. It is a clear attempt by the Serbs to take away their provincial status and make them second-class citizens.

Ambassador Kovacevic asked if the congressman could cite one example of violence by the Serbs against the Albanians, because "the Serbs in Kosovo must protect themselves", and then added that everything he heard was "one-sided", and that there would be another verbal conflict with DioGuardi. The Congressman stated that everything would be included in the congress minutes and that he did not agree with Kovacevic's assessment. "The facts you stated have already been disputed by the very famous scientist Sami Repishti, which will be included in the congress minutes for balance and fairness." That's the American way," DioGuardi said. Kovacevic again angrily told DioGuardi not to threaten, but Senator Lantos intervened in the discussion. Lantos announced that the Albanians could go further in their actions. "Imagine that all of us suddenly become disinterested in the Albanian issue. My judgment is that the American Albanian community has only recently appeared here with its own identity. The Albanians are now learning how to act in the political system. I believe that today American Albanians act moderately. The next step will be to hire the best public relations firms to present their case to Washington and escalate things further. I want to avoid that. I am a conciliator", Lantos said at the end.

Tomorrow: Senators want "Kosovo - a republic"