Greek unwarranted “present” to Albania on its centennial celebration

ImageBy Ruben Avxhiu


A diplomatic mini-scandal of the Greek Foreign Minister canceling his participation in the festivities of the 100th anniversary of Albania’s independence was so typical of the Balkans.

The official reason for the Greek cancellation was that the Prime Minister of Albania had described the Albanian lands as extending well beyond the borders of Albania, down to Preveza a port in northern Greece.

Dimitris Avramopoulos said that Sali Berisha’s comments “do not contribute to creating a climate of friendship, confidence and good neighborly relations.”

It mattered little that Berisha’s “sinful” words were taken out of context and in what seems to be a matter of failing to understand the difference between direct and indirect speech from the Greek side.

Berisha was not making any territorial claim but merely quoting the Albanian leaders who proclaimed the independence 100 years ago, in November 28th 1912. In that time, they believed that the state of Albania would extend from Presevo (currently in South Serbia) to Preveza imagining that it would comprise the territories of the four villayets (large administrative units of the Ottoman Empire) in which Albanians were the dominant nationality. Within days, it turned to be a farfetched aspiration because of stronger neighboring countries combined with decisions of then Great European powers.

Berisha’s office took no offense at the Greek allegations and the cancellation of the official participation. “Friends shine in absentia,” was Berisha’s own comments when asked about the missing Greek high official in the ceremony. Meanwhile his office repeated that Albania has never and would never present territorial claims to its neighbors and that Berisha was talking about an historic context of 100 years ago.

The spokesman of the Greek Foreign Affairs responded to the office of Berisha that Albania should look 100 years forward to the future instead of 100 years behind. This reaction was particularly interesting, because it came from a country, which has filed an official protest against another neighbor, Macedonia, concerning Alexander the Great, a leader who lived nearly 2,500 years ago. Now, how is that looking towards the future?

As Albanians everywhere in the world celebrated the 100th anniversary of our independence, looking back 100 years ago when it all began is natural. On that unforgettable day of November 28th 1912, the historic flag of Skanderbeg was raised and almost 500 centuries of foreign yoke ended. What happened in the following days is also worth mentioning. Durrës, the main port of Albania was occupied by the Serbian military as landlocked Serbia was adamant to have some seashore on its newly expanded state, even though this was deep into central Albania.

Meanwhile Greece occupied the whole region of Ioannina, from the port of Preveza (mentioned by Berisha) to the important cities of Korca and Gjirokastra, within the current borders of Albania. They executed and imprisoned Albanian local leaders and painted local shops with the colors of the Greek flag.

On December 4th 1912, as the government of the new state of Albania gathered in its first historic session in Vlora, Greek ships bombarded the town from the sea and occupied the small Isle of Sazan.

Only in 1920, at the League of Nations, efforts from Greece and Serbia to divide the Albanian lands between them, officially failed and Albania won its international recognition. A determining role played the United States of America that finally had entered the European political stage, by making sure that independence of small nations was respected and recognized. It is one of the main reasons why Albanians love this great wonderful country.

Nevertheless, almost half of the Albanian-speaking territories were given divided between the neighboring countries and Greece received a quite a chunk, a territory known to Albanians as Chameria. After the World War II, “just in case”, a shameful campaign of ethnic cleansing of most of the local ethnic Albanian population of Chameria. Entire families, women and children were dragged in the middle of the night. Most of their men killed or jailed. They were forced to walk for several days towards the border of Albania. A journey in which, many old people and children died.

More than 200,000 Chams live today in Albania, forbidden from returning to the birthplace of their parents. Greece refuses to recognize their property return or retribution claims, and has yet to apologize for this crime against humanity.

Albania is continually declared that it has no territorial claims towards Greece or any other neighboring country. Therefore, in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its independence, Albania deserved respect instead of a lecture, especially from a neighbor that did all that it could to deny our country its very existence.

Nikolic’s irrational expectations in times of crisis


Serbian President, left, invited to a joint press conference with EU’s Barroso in Brussels.

By Ruben Avxhiu

In an interview to The Guardian, Serbian President, Tomislav Nikolic, said his greatest challenge was to fill the estimated $3bn hole in the budget. While he expects to solve this problem with the help of the international community he has warned creditors against making their help conditional on Serbia making concessions over Kosovo.

It is an interesting statement from the Serbian President. On one hand, his defiant pose is unnecessary as several Western officials, including some of the highest diplomats from the United States have made it clear publically that Serbian will not be asked to recognize Kosovo.

There are however expectations on efforts to resume the technical dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, with the aim to normalize the life of citizens on both side of the border, despite their ethnic backgrounds.

On the other hand, no matter what your position on Kosovo is, you can’t deny the existence of a clear contradiction on the Serbian expectations in regard to this claim for international assistance. Serbia is spending billions of dollars to sponsor parallel institutions in Kosovo. Situated mostly in the north of the country these institutions defy the government and the law of Kosovo.

Serbia claims that these institutions offer vital assistance to the Serbian community in the North which are forced to live in enclaves since the time when the Kosovar authorities took over. Kosovo claims that it is these institutions which in fact isolate the ethnic Serbs in enclaves. Prishtina says that the isolation is in fact imposed on the local Serbs by these Belgrade-sponsored organs. It seems that hundreds of employees of the Serbian Internal Ministry are deployed in the area to organize local ethnic militia. Kosovo says that ethnic Serbs in the northern part of the country who have dared to cross the line and find a job with the Kosovar authorities have been threatened, harassed, assaulted and sometimes even killed. Serbia offers an opposing view. The local people have organized themselves in units to defend themselves from ethnically motivated attacks from ethnic-Albanian Kosovars who would like to see them move to Serbia.

No matter whom do you believe in these clashing reports, there are two points worth making here.

First, there can be only one set of laws and that the situation in northern Kosovo needs to be clarified. Lacking the required attention, energy and determination to resolve the situation, the international community seems resigned to accept it as frozen conflict. Nevertheless, temporary technical agreements are needed for the normalization of life in this part of the Balkans. This is why the process of talks between Prishtina and Belgrade should resume and continue despite the opposition in both countries.

Second, Serbia has the right to pursue its policies on Northern Kosovo, but it cannot ask the West to sponsor this political adventure. The hole in the Serbian budget is cause by the money it sends to northern Kosovo. Practically, Belgrade is asking the world to pay for it. That is why as I said above, one does not need to be a partisan of Kosovo’s territorial integrity to question the rationale of offering loans to Serbia.

The European Union has deployed in Kosovo its largest law and order mission in history, EULEX, which costs the European taxpayers more than $2 bn per year. EULEX structures are sabotaged by the presence of the parallel structures in northern Kosovo. Imagine the irony of asking the European countries for loans which will be used to sabotage another project funded also by them.

Therefore Nikolic should expect some Kosovo-related pressure if he asks for international economic assistance. Serious creditors expect their money to be used in order to revive the Serbian economy instead of being thrown to the bottomless pit of the Serbian adventure in Kosovo.

Nikolic’s focus on the supposedly victimized Serbia ignores the reality of today’s world financial market. Instead of pragmatic and intelligent analysis, he offers futile nationalist poses.

“Maybe someone thought we were ready to make various concessions if we were poor. But we expect the international community and our friends to help us to recover the economy in line with their duties and obligations,” Nikolic said to The Guardian.

However, the creditors’ caution in this respect has little to do with what they think about Kosovo and everything to do with their responsibility to those whose money they are using, whether it is taxpayers or investors.

“We don’t want be treated like country cousins,” he concludes.

Fair enough, but if you don’t want to be treated like “country cousins”, the first requirement is to not act like one.


(Published in Illyria newspaper, in New York, on July 30th 2012.)

Peter Lumaj and the issue of a dangerous precedent in the Albanian-American community


Brian K. Hill, left, gestures during a debate for the seat being vacated by U.S Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., in Norwich, Conn., Thursday, April 19, 2012. From left are Peter Lumaj, Hill, Linda McMahon and Christopher Shays. Photo: AP

By Ruben Avxhiu


(Published by Illyria newspaper – June 4, 2012)
Peter (Pjerin) Lumaj ran for US Senate in Connecticut for the seat left vacant by Joseph Lieberman, a well-known name to many Albanian-Americans.

One of the main leitmotifs of Illyria newspaper throughout its 21 years in business has been to discover and promote Albanian-American success stories and it is one of our most important contributions to the history of the Albanian nation.

In this context, nothing would make us happier than to have finally an Albanian in some high level position in Washington DC. After many wonderful achievements in business, science, sports and a variety of professions, we’d love to see our compatriots make it in the field of politics as well.

Unfortunately, it did not seem that Peter Lumaj was on the way to break that glass ceiling. He was running only on paper as he was not even close to compete with the two main contenders within the Republican Party in Connecticut.

Ours is a community with limited resources and we in Illyria were alarmed when Mr. Lumaj claimed to have raised more than $100,000 from Albanian-Americans who were understandably enthusiastic about the idea of the “first Albanian-American Senator”, but who knew little about his electability. Most of them were in Michigan and New York with little understanding of Connecticut political scene.

Not surprisingly many Connecticut Albanians seemed to oscillate between Chris Murphy on the Democratic side and Chris Shays on the Republican one. Murphy came first in his party convention and has a good chance of replacing Lieberman in the US Senate, while Shays managed only to get a place in the ballot with the party machine openly siding with his main competitor, Linda McMahon. Lumaj, who was endorsed by only 22 delegates out of 1245, claimed that the vote was a “sham”, but to those who have followed the race it was clear long before the elections that he did not really stand a chance.

Albanian-Americans are both entrepreneurs and active in US politics, supporting particularly candidates with strong credentials in foreign affairs and who understand the situation in the Southeastern Europe. Albanians are staunch believers in American values as well. Not surprisingly most of the candidates they support are the best ones for America as well. However, despite the Albanian generosity, our funds are limited and therefore, we must learn how to use them in intelligent ways. As a newspaper we think that it is our obligation to educate and inform our readers about politicians, their views, positions and electability. In our view, Mr. Lumaj was not truly in the race and he had no chance in front of McMahon and Shays. Understandably, Mr. Lumaj did not like our analysis, but any political analyst in Connecticut, worth his mantle, would have reached the same conclusions.

Mr. Lumaj was presenting himself from strict ideological conservative positions. Connecticut, in state level, votes either Democrats or moderate Republicans. Mr. Lumaj was offering a vision more appropriate for Kentucky than Connecticut. It was a ready-to-wear political identity acquired and modeled after the nation-wide Tea Parties of 2010, instead of a reflection of the experiences, expectations and exclusivities of the people of Connecticut.

Of course, we’d rather see a genuine candidate who believes in his positions rather than a flip-flopper who adapts to polls. Mr. Lumaj was right to stand by his views but at the same time there was very little chance that the people of Connecticut would look at him as an appropriate representative for them in DC. In a way, he was running in the wrong state.

I also pointed in my analysis that when you run as a newcomer in this level of politics, you need one of the following three advantages (if not a combination of two of them): financial means, local party support or a great name from a distinctive success in some other field of life. In Connecticut, Ned Lamont comes to mind, when he challenged a veteran like Lieberman for the same post, a few years back. Unfortunately, Lumaj lacked all three of them.

He threw $50,000 of his own money and raised a little less than $200K in six months. I pointed out the Gulliver effect. He was not only in the wrong state but he was in the wrong race as well. With that money, he was a dwarf in the US Senate race, but he could have been a giant had he been running for a local position instead. I advised him in my article to adjust his aim. (He seems to have been offended by my advice and decided to aim against Illyria instead.)

He was unknown to most Republican Party local officials and made little way with them in the months of his anemic campaigning. Not long ago, in 2010, another candidate close to the Albanian community, Joseph DioGuardi was also snubbed by the leaders of the Republican Party of New York in the state convention, but his grass root support and the endorsement of small town, local Republican leaders in the end defeated the party machine and he received his nomination in the primary. Mr. Lumaj had received only one endorsement from a local party leader and there was no visible movement in his support. He was aloof and lacked a proper campaign organization. I followed his campaign website, his twitter communications, his schedule and his mentioning in the media for about three months before writing my analysis. His campaign barely existed. Maybe he had never participated in an electoral campaign before, at least in that level and he had clearly failed to hire professionals who have a modicum of idea on how to run a campaign. Or maybe he lacked the sources to hire them. I doubt that he was in just for the attention of the Albanian community or as what I call an “electoral tourist”, who runs just out of curiosity.

Finally, his name was not known to the public of Connecticut. He presents himself as a “civil rights attorney” and I believe he focuses on immigration cases, which is fine, but he had never led any movement or action that could have particularly drawn the attention of the people of Connecticut. His campaign did little to solve this problem. He was rarely in the radar of the local media. While Shays and McMahon were mentioned at least 4-5 times daily by Connecticut media sources, one had to wait for about two weeks for the name of Lumaj to appear somewhere. Most of the time was in the background of news, which focused on the other two candidates. With some rare exceptions, Lumaj was almost never given a chance to introduce himself to the general voter. He did relatively well in the two public debates, but by then he had nothing to lose there and everything to gain so it was an expected success, which would matter little to the race.

In my article, I did not exclude necessarily the possibility of Lumaj being the best candidate. However, I focused first on electability and explained to our readers why without name recognition, money and party machine support, it is impossible to get elected.

Apparently, Mr. Lumaj took my analysis as a personal attack. He called the office, threatened to “expose” us and tried to reach people whom he believed could influence us. However, my article was meant first and foremost to analyze the race. Over the last decade I have written hundreds of similar articles as I have made it my mission to explain to the Albanian community how politics works in the United States and how they can and should get involved. It was natural that I would offer my opinion on Peter Lumaj’s candidacy and not only I do not regret writing about it, but I feel now remorse for not having written sooner and in a more blunt style which could have probably saved Albanian-Americans some of their hard-earned money which were shamelessly wasted in his practically inexistent campaign.

After the publication of the article I was in fact still hoping to be proved wrong. I would have rather had that if it meant having an Albanian-American US Senator. After all, in more than two decades of writing career, it is natural to miss the target at times and we all learn by making mistakes. Greater names in journalism and major sources of media have erred famously in the past: Dewey was declared winner of presidential elections by Chicago Tribune in 1948, CNN and other major televisions wrongly projected Gore as winner in the 2000 presidential elections, to mention a couple of cases. Unfortunately, my analysis was confirmed by the results of the Republican state convention in Connecticut; Mr. Lumaj received less than 2% of the vote.

One main problem that I had with his failed attempt was that he left the community nearly a quarter of a million dollars poorer. This money could have been used in other races where well-known supporters of our cause in Congress were facing tough battles. For example, Jeanne Schmidt, co-chairman of the Albanian Caucus in the US Congress lost her primary battle within the Republican Party in Ohio. A percentage of the money that was wasted for Mr. Lumaj’s campaign could have made the difference there. Similar battles are still waging across the country and our community should find ways to inform and organize themselves better.

I have heard that Mr. Lumaj claims that he opened the way now for other Albanians to try their luck in the high level of the American politics. I believe that the opposite is true. I think that he made it harder for other Albanians to run in similar races. He benefited by the trust of his unsuspecting compatriots by raising funds for an unwinnable battle, thus setting a dangerous precedent. We have seen this happen in other aspects of life as well. False prophets have always preceded the true ones in our Albanian world. This community has been milked before by pseudo-artists and pseudo-activists of various fields, only to make it harder for the real talents when they showed up to ask for help.

I have only respect for much more known and successful leaders of our community like Ken Biberaj who is running for the City Council in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, or Mark Gjonaj who is running for Assemblyman in The Bronx. They also could have tried to impress us by running for higher offices. I wish they had been endowed with the funds made available to Mr. Lumaj, but there is still time and hopefully, the community will wise up and throw its support behind the real candidates and its genuine representatives.

Mr. Lumaj seems to be now in a revenge mood, not against the Republicans of Connecticut who were not impressed by his campaign, or his rivals who never saw him as a threat, but against the only voice that tried to sober him up and help him put things in perspective. He did a disservice to this community and to his political future as well, by opting to ignore our advice and listen to the unprofessional people he seem to have surrounded himself during the months of this senseless electoral adventure.

In a recent article to, a website he apparently has been using for years to sow the seeds of religious conflict among historically multi-religious Albanians, he throws against Illyria a bunch of misinformation which in his mind will damage our reputation. However, even here, he has done his homework with the same “talent” that he showed when doing research on Connecticut before running for Senator.

Nevertheless, the problem here is not the reputation of Illyria or its staff. We have nothing to prove to the Albanian-Americans. We are not asking for their vote or their money. Those who were not satisfied by our service have left for other means of information. Others have loyally been our readers, advertisers and supporters for more than two decades.

As for the claims in Mr. Lumaj’s article: I have never worked as a doorman (although at times, when I have to write this kind of explanations, I wish I had) or have tried to defraud the Voice of America (go figure!!) or have ever been sponsored by Mr. Sali Berisha the Prime Minister of Albania (another weird assumption of Mr. Lumaj). Illyria is probably the most unbiased nonpartisan newspaper in the entire Albanian world. It certainly does not accept money from governments and political parties. Furthermore, Leke Gojçaj is not and has never been publisher or part-owner of Illyria and this is easily verifiable. He is a respected leader of the community and a good friend of us and has explained this to Mr. Lumaj in person during the latter’s failed attempt to make us apologize for the article about him. (I never heard about apologizing for an analysis! However, we did suggest that Mr. Lumaj write a response with his view on his race and his chances of electability or that he become available for an interview to explain his take to our readers. Nevertheless, it would have hardly changed our opinion about his campaign at that point. My strong suspicion is that since the article was published in Albanian he may have missed the gist of the article has relied on others who described it poorly to him, but I may be wrong.)

To hundreds of thousands of Albanian immigrants who came to the United States throughout the last century no job was too insulting to take. From dishwashing to house cleaning, from heavy construction gigs to working in farms and factories, Albanians have made a name as hardworking individuals. Doorman sounds like a gentleman position to me compared to some other jobs Albanians have been employed. And although Mr. Lumaj may look down on it, I would have been proud to wear any of the uniforms which adorn hundreds of Albanians who are employed as doormen throughout New York and help to make this City a safe place to live. After all, it is people like them who have scrapped even their last penny to support candidates who over the years have understood the plea of the Albanian nation in the Balkans and have helped to steer the US foreign policy towards the principled positions it holds in that part of the globe. It is the hard-earned money of this kind of people that Mr. Lumaj cavalierly wasted with so much lack of understanding, of sensitivity and of responsibility.

A later, closer look, on Mr. Lumaj activity has made us believe that we were lucky after all that he could not make it in the Senate race. He has shown an increasingly disturbing behavior, which has nothing to do with his baseless allegations against Illyria. In 21 years of independent and principled reporting and opinionating, we have faced much heavier rants and accusations. It comes with the territory. However, the problems with Mr. Lumaj are of high concern to the entire Albanian community in US.

From badmouthing the Kosova Liberation Army as an “Islamic terrorist organization” (either by himself or via an assistant under the fake name Josif Mladic using the account, now documented by us) to portraying Albanian Muslims as radical extremists, from giving credence to the Serbian ludicrous claim that Ben Laden had been at some point in Kosova to accusing the Albanian government of being tied to the Iranian regime, despite the fact that Albania has been for years to be the most pro-American country in Europe.

It is hard for us to understand Mr. Lumaj’s agenda at this point. Why would someone asking for the vote and the money of Albanian-Americans subscribe to and promote such views on the Albanian nation, which is famous for its religious tolerance and harmony? I assume from his previous post in that as a lawyer he represents clients who are asking for political asylum on religious persecution basis and this distorted image of Albania may help win the cases and advance his business. It is of course only an assumption. Albania is a European Union candidate and already a NATO member and is under the microscope of domestic and international human rights organizations, so these allegations seem quite hollow. The Serbs have tried hard in the past to convince Washington that KLA was an Islamic organization, but they failed because the truth prevailed. Do we have to return to this old debate just because some Albanian dusted off old lies for reasons that only he can explain? Furthermore, not only is Prime Minister Sali Berisha a staunch supporter of the United States but he is one of the few if not the only leader in office who has called Ahmadinejad “a neo-Nazi”. These are all published facts and we don’t need to be sponsored by Berisha, as Mr. Lumaj assumes, to point this out. Nor do we need to be paid in order to defend our Albanian nation from baseless allegations. Does Mr. Lumaj need to be paid to make them? One does not even need to be a patriot to defend the truth. A minimal decency is sufficient.

Maybe Mr. Lumaj believes that by rounding a number of accusations against us and by trying to damage our reputation, we would backtrack from exposing the truth about these matters. We shall not. It is our obligation as journalists with a responsibility for the image of our Albanian nation, as people of integrity with respect for the historic truths, and as citizens of this great country called the United States of America.

German defense minister resigns

"I'VE reached the limits of my strength." With these words Germany’s most promising politician, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, resigned as defence minister this morning.

From The Economist:

“I’VE reached the limits of my strength.” With these words Germany’s most promising politician, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, resigned as defence minister this morning. He fell less than two weeks after revelations that large chunks of his 2006 doctoral dissertation had been plagiarised. At first, it looked as if his charisma and popularity would save him. The chancellor, Angela Merkel, backed him. So did voters, according to opinion polls.

But he could not survive the tsunami of outrage from Germany’s academic community and the internal contradictions of his position. Mr zu Guttenberg and his party—the Christian Social Union (CSU), which is the Bavarian branch of Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU)—stand for nothing if not for conservative values like personal responsibility. His downfall is a heavy blow for the chancellor, for both parties and for the health of politics in Germany generally.

Those in the Left who enjoyed his fall, better be warned. Once you open that can of worms, prepare to see plenty around.

It is rather obvious that no one would have cared about his plagiarism had he been a run-of-the-mill German politician. He distinguished himself and was brought down. However, as I said, once a political tool is introduced, its use will become frequent and for less important/interesting characters.

China and the Noble Prize Ceremony

I am not going to make moral judgments here on China’s decision, but I will say that by making all this fuss about the Nobel Prize, China inadvertently made Liu Xiaobo much more famous around the world.

This would have been a regular ceremony with its temporary fanfare and forgotten the next day, especially with all the buzz that Wikileaks is creating everyday.

It seemed to me that emotions and not practical reasons led the Chinese leadership this time around. But, they probably know it by now.

Norwegian Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland speaks during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo on December 10, in front of honoree, Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

Jeremic’s David and Goliath

Vuk Jeremic

“This is a fight between David and Goliath. We don’t nearly have that power, means and influence, but we have truth, international law and justice on our side. We will do everything to prevent new recognitions of Kosovo,” said Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremić, as he is trying to convince the African nations not to recognize Kosovo.

Isn’t Russia a bit too big to play David in this re-enactment?

Unless Jeremic truly believes that he himself blocked Kosovo’s recognitions. Oh the delirium.

Spain, thy name is justice

March 11, 2004 - a terrorist attack in Madrid inspired by Al-Qaeda

March 11, 2004 - a terrorist attack in Madrid inspired by Al-Qaeda

Just today I read this excellent article by Liat Collins, in Jerusalem Post called “My Word: Whose war is it, anyway?”

 “The UN, Spain, Latin America – everybody wants to tell us how to solve our problems,” she says explaining why she turned down an invitation for a UN sponsored conference in Brazil with the theme “Latin America and Peace in the Middle East.”

 You can’t blame her. Next, we will have an international conference in Darfur on how to resolve the conflict of the Middle East and a majority of the UN members are likely to participate.

 After all, who cares for the millions of people who die prematurely every year in Africa from AIDS, hunger, genocide and various easily curable diseases. As long as it is not Israel killing them, who really cares?

 Liat Collins writes that Spain would “prosecute Israeli leaders concerning the 2002 operation in which arch-terrorist Salah Shehadeh was killed, tragically along with 14 civilians.” A Spanish judge also started a process against US officials who have allowed “torture” at Guantanamo.

 She writes:

 The UN and the Spanish inquiries bring to mind the old Monty Python “Spanish Inquisition” sketch in which one character, on being asked a question, would declare: “I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition!” The “cardinals” would then burst into the room and the Michael Palin character would exclaim, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

It was easy growing up in Britain to ridicule the Inquisition, Monty Python-style. It’s less funny living in an Israel under threat not only of Kassams, Katyushas, Grads and Iran’s race for nuclear arms, but also with the feeling that any measure of self-defense will be investigated by some international court – bouncing like a kangaroo over the facts – in something resembling a parody. Now into all this will step the pope – not the Pythonesque character, but the genuine figure, with pronouncements of brotherhood and peace and the need to stop the “cycle of violence.”

 All this sense of self-righteousness that the leftist government and the politically biased judges have adopted in Spain is unbelievable. I don’t want to bring the old and gone past in this discussion, but I can’t help it. Latin America speaks Spanish today, because Spain colonized and exploited without giving anything back. It destroyed the culture of an entire continent.

 And don’t tell me this was a long time ago, because the only reason why Latin America is free today, it is not because Spain is a better country, but because it is a weaker one. If it was stronger you would have seen a different attitude.

Isn’t Spain the country that under this leftist (oh so peaceful government) mobilized its army against Morocco because of an empty island. This small piece of land is situated only a few meters from the African shores, but the Spanish say its theirs only because they’re stronger than Morocco? Give them some more strength and they will tell Chavez who the Venezuelan oil wells belong to.

Just see how much luck the Basques, the Catalans and all the others will have in winning independence from what is still part of or what is left of the Spanish Empire (the name is not used anymore).

Spain is weak and therefore nice. Its foreign policy is not based on principles. Therefore it shows the teeth to Morocco, but it whimpers in the face of Al Qaeda, Hamas etc.

The Spanish justices who are mobilized to prosecute Israel for the victims in Gaza have yet to prosecute Al-Qaeda for the terrorist attacks against the Spanish railroad station on March 11, 2004.

Since that fateful day when innocent Spanish blood was shed, Spain has changed dramatically its language against Israel, has withdrawn its troops from Iraq and has been nervously anti-American.

Terrorism apparently works.

Spain’s newfound submissiveness towards the terrorists, be them in Spain, in Gaza or in Iraq, is a betrayal to its allies. It is an invitation for the terrorists to bomb again in order to shape the foreign and domestic policies of the Western countries.

Of course, if Israel were to set up a couple of terrorist attacks in Spain, the Iberian country would turn again to be neutral in Middle East affairs. But because Israel is not going to do it, its former army leaders are likely to get an invitation by the descendants of the Inquisition. This time around though, religion is not the official pretext.

Will Africa Let Sudan Off the Hook?


Cape Town

THE expected issuance of an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan by the International Criminal Court tomorrow presents a stark choice for African leaders — are they on the side of justice or on the side of injustice? Are they on the side of the victim or the oppressor? The choice is clear but the answer so far from many African leaders has been shameful.

Because the victims in Sudan are African, African leaders should be the staunchest supporters of efforts to see perpetrators brought to account. Yet rather than stand by those who have suffered in Darfur, African leaders have so far rallied behind the man responsible for turning that corner of Africa into a graveyard.

In response to news last July that Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the court’s chief prosecutor, was seeking an arrest warrant for President Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, the African Union issued a communiqué to the United Nations Security Council asking it to suspend the court’s proceedings. Rather than condemn the genocide in Darfur, the organization chose to underscore its concern that African leaders are being unfairly singled out and to support President Bashir’s effort to delay court proceedings.

More recently, the Group of 77, an influential organization at the United Nations consisting of 130 developing states and including nearly every African country, gave Sudan its chairmanship. The victory came after African members endorsed Sudan’s candidacy in spite of the imminent criminal charges against its president.

I regret that the charges against President Bashir are being used to stir up the sentiment that the justice system — and in particular, the international court — is biased against Africa. Justice is in the interest of victims, and the victims of these crimes are African. To imply that the prosecution is a plot by the West is demeaning to Africans and understates the commitment to justice we have seen across the continent.

It’s worth remembering that more than 20 African countries were among the founders of the International Criminal Court, and of the 108 nations that joined the court, 30 are in Africa. That the court’s four active investigations are all in Africa is not because of prosecutorial prejudice — it is because three of the countries involved (Central African Republic, Congo and Uganda) themselves requested that the prosecutor intervene. Only the Darfur case was referred to the prosecutor by the Security Council. The prosecutor on his own initiative is considering investigations in Afghanistan, Colombia and Georgia.

African leaders argue that the court’s action will impede efforts to promote peace in Darfur. However, there can be no real peace and security until justice is enjoyed by the inhabitants of the land. There is no peace precisely because there has been no justice. As painful and inconvenient as justice may be, we have seen that the alternative — allowing accountability to fall by the wayside — is worse.

The issuance of an arrest warrant for President Bashir would be an extraordinary moment for the people of Sudan — and for those around the world who have come to doubt that powerful people and governments can be called to account for inhumane acts. African leaders should support this historic occasion, not work to subvert it.

Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

Three well-known experts evaluate the first year of the new state of Kosovo

Kosovars had reason to celebrate on February 17th but many challenges are still ahead


The situation with the international recognition of the new state, the opposition of Russia, the relations with the Muslim countries, the risk of partition, Haradinaj’s role as a negotiator in Uganda and the perspective of the second year, through the eyes of Soren Jessen-Petersen, Stephen Schwartz and James Hooper

Soren Jessen-Petersen


Kosovo became one year old last week. Do you think Kosovars had much to celebrate in their first anniversary? How do you evaluate this first year?

Jessen-Petersen: Kosovo should celebrate that it has been independent for one year – that is already good news. The first year has been marked by numerous provocations from Serbia and by a messy and confused international community. The response of the people and political institutions of Kosovo has been calm, mature and dignified.

Stephen Schwartz: I join Kosovars in celebrating the first year of partial, qualified, incomplete independence. Nevertheless, the new republic faces many serious challenges. These include, above all, the insecurity of the borders with Serbia, and provocative behavior by Belgrade’s agents inside the republic. We should be happy that the situation has not been irreparable damaged by Serbian imperialism. But much remains to be done. Our organization, the Center for Islamic Pluralism, is currently undertaking a critical examination of attempts by Serbia and its “international” allies to partition Prizren, a threat that must be definitively prevented.

James Hooper: Kosovo can celebrate several accomplishments. First, Kosovo has achieved a very large measure of self-rule since independence. If people like what the government is doing, they can reward it with increased electoral majorities; if they do not, they can vote it out of office. But the bottom line is that it is largely accountable for Kosovo policies, apart from issues involving EULEX. Second, it has a stable government able to make and enforce policies. Third, the issue of independence has been settled, which should not be forgotten. All of these taken together mean that Kosovars have been able to breathe more freely in the past year and relax somewhat because the tension regarding whether it would become independent has dissipated. I believe that the Kosovar people have needed a breathing space to decompress from the last ten years filled with war, international colonial administration of the country, and the question mark of final status.

A hot debated issue in Kosovo has been the pace of the international recognitions. What is your opinion on this issue?

Jessen-Petersen: Much more needs to be done by the political leaders of Kosovo to accelerate the pace and number of recognitions during the second year of independence. The consolidation of Kosovo’s independence depends, among other things, on a critical mass of recognitions. To reach that goal, we need 20-30 more recognitions.

Stephen Schwartz: The slow pace of international recognition, especially by the remaining members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, says more about the politics of most of the Arab states in the OIC than about the situation of Kosovo. The non-recognizing OIC countries give evidence that they are unconcerned with or even hostile to the future of a Muslim-majority European republic while Kosovo is clearly aligned with the United States and the Western democracies and represents moderate Islam and mutual respect between non-politicized religious communities.

The refusal of Spain to recognize Kosovo also reflects poorly on politics in Madrid. Spain claims to represent a progressive, multicultural position in Europe but has used its own minority national communities (Catalans and Basques) as a pretext to deny recognition of Kosovo. I recommend that Kosovo invest in a trade and cultural relations office in Barcelona (not in the Basque country) to monitor the Spanish situation and inform the Spanish public of the reality of Kosovar life. It is somewhat absurd to imagine that Macedonia and Montenegro have recognized Kosovo but that Spain has not.

Most absurd and dismaying, however, is the despicable position of Bosnia-Hercegovina in not only refusing recognition of Kosovo but in joining Serbia in the current customs boycott of the new republic. The delay in formal recognition of Kosovo by BH is understandable given the division of BH and capacity of the so-called “Serb Republic” to obstruct progress, but it is disgraceful that BH would refuse commercial transactions with Kosovo while Montenegro and Macedonia have normal relations with the new republic.

James Hooper: Kosovars can be proud of the 55 recognitions they have obtained but need to keep focused on the goal of acquiring many more recognitions. It should be a national priority to reach 80-90 recognitions by the end of 2009. That would deflate Belgrade’s continuing efforts to attempt to keep the Kosovo independence issue open.

Do you see possible scenario in which Russia would drop its opposition to the recognition of the new state?

Jessen-Petersen: In the short term no, in the longer term yes. Russia position has little to do with Kosovo but a lot to do with the broader international environment. If Russia feels that it is being taken seriously in the international arena, it would also have an impact on its position on Kosovo.

Stephen Schwartz: I see this outcome as highly unlikely. Russia is the main enemy of stability in the Balkans as well as in the entire former Communist zone of Eastern Europe, and further threatens the security of Europe as a whole. Having proclaimed its belief that Kosovar freedom is now a suitable excuse for the erection of mafia puppet states on Georgia’s territory, Russian imperialism will not give up this criminal form of behavior. The situation inside Russia has become much more dangerous than the West wishes to admit, and internal difficulties in Russia always aggravate tendencies toward external adventurism. Aggressive propaganda against Georgia continues and authoritative commentators warn that a second attempt to topple the Tbilisi government is being planned for this year. Russia has been, remains, and will continue to be the main enemy of Kosovo in the international arena and the enabler of Serbian imperialist pretentions.

James Hooper: No.

A positive shift from the Muslim countries would double the number of the states that recognize Kosovo. How do you explain their delay? What should Kosovo do?

Jessen-Petersen: We risk simplifying the discussion and the approach if we simplify this issue as one of religion. Each state has its own reasons for recognizing or not recognizing Kosovo. Kosovo needs to approach the issue of recognitions in a much more strategic way.

Stephen Schwartz: Answered above. I would only add that Kosovo can and should lobby the provably moderate Muslim governments, such as those of Morocco, Azerbaijan, and Indonesia for help in this area. Visits by Naim Ternava to the Saudi kingdom are insufficient to alleviate this situation. Gaining OIC members’ recognition is a many-sided task.

James Hooper: Kosovars who are Muslim—and of course there are non-Muslims in Kosovo—do not like to think of themselves as Muslims in the international context because of the way this term has been used in the Balkans by Serbs and others. However, to obtain broader recognition in the Islamic world, Kosovars have little choice but to exploit their religious affiliation. I would urge a stronger effort to woo the Organization of the Islamic Conference, including the establishment of a permanent representative to the OIC from Kosovo.

Many in Kosovo fear that the West gave up too much to Russia and Serbia by compromising a co-existence between UN and EU missions in Kosovo. Is there a true risk of partition for the new state?

Jessen-Petersen: As long as Serbia hangs on to its unrealistic hope of undoing the independence of Kosovo, there will be no partition. The risk is the day when Serbia finally realizes that Kosovo is lost. By then, I hope that the European integration process is underway for all countries in the Western Balkans. In that case, borders and partition, loses their relevance and meaning. Meanwhile, I trust that the US, EU and other governments stand firm on their principles, one of which clearly states that there will be no partition of Kosovo.

Stephen Schwartz: The obstinacy of Serbia and the machinations of Russia will not diminish quickly. Kosovars – indeed, the whole Albanian nation including its diaspora – must be prepared for a new and serious attempt to impose partition.

James Hooper: The danger of partition is real. The international community after the war ended in 1999 allowed the north to be de facto partitioned and apart from pious declarations have never made much effort to walk that back. The U.S. is much tougher than the Europeans in trying to prevent partition from being formalized. Kosovo needs to work hard to ensure that the U.S. sustains that position.

How would you evaluate the performance of the government of Kosovo during this first year?

Jessen-Petersen: I am not in Kosovo and it would be irresponsible to evaluate a performance that I have not followed closely.

Stephen Schwartz: The Kosovo government should have been and should be more active and committed in its opposition to external and internal Serbian provocations, and should be more critical and determined in its criticism of the bad politics of the international powers and foreign agencies.

Former Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj, is invited by the rebels in Uganda to become the international negotiator for a possible peace settlement with their government. He has agreed. What may this mean for his future? How do you see his involvement there?

Jessen-Petersen: I understand why they need him in other parts of the world. He is, however, more needed in Kosovo.

Stephen Schwartz: The Uganda invitation to Ramush Haradinaj is certainly diverting but from my perspective the former prime minister is needed in Kosovo, during the present difficult times, and his involvement in the affairs of a distant and, for Kosovo, irrelevant country, will probably not produce much of benefit to Kosovars.

James Hooper: I would encourage Mr. Haradinaj to move ahead with the mediation that he has been invited by some of the Ugandan parties to undertake. This could demonstrate that Kosovars are capable of stretching their talents and capabilities in a foreign policy sense beyond the Balkans and advance Kosovo’s reputation in Africa.

Finally do you dare to make a prediction of what we will see during the second year of the Republic of Kosovo?

Jessen-Petersen: A hope more than a prediction: Recognitions bringing us to a critical mass. And that the economy takes off creating much needed jobs.

Stephen Schwartz: I can describe what I hope for: establishment of an authentic army; full Kosovar control of the police; secure borders; no partition or schemes for partition disguised as false cultural protection; complete abolition of illegal Serb parallel structures, with establishment of total Kosovar authority throughout the republic, including in and north of Mitrovica; arrest and trial of criminals involved in the Serb parallel structures; sovereignty over Kosovar economic resources with adoption of a serious and well-founded development plan, including rational privatization; immediate and extensive upgrading of the Kosovar educational system; improved protection of labor rights and growth in incomes; expulsion of Wahhabi and other foreign radical Islamist elements from Kosovo (as well as Macedonia and Albania proper); removal of all international interference from the legitimate governance of Kosovo; replacement of Tina Kaidanow as a U.S. diplomatic representative in Kosovo; repudiation of the Ahtisaari Plan and the Six Points.

Along with a few suggestions of my own, these include the demands of the Vetvendosje! movement led by Albin Kurti, which, and whom, I fully support.

We may dream of the arrival of sanity in Belgrade and Sarajevo, and the beginning of normal diplomatic and trade relations between Serbia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, and Kosovo. But these seem only fantasies right now. Perhaps they may prove real. I also dream of the day when the real flag of Kosovo, the flag of Skenderbeu, replaces the banner of “Ahtisaaria.”

James Hooper: I believe that the next year is going to be dominated by the economic downturn that shows many signs of becoming a global depression. If that happens—and I believe we are going to experience such a depression which the world has not experienced since the 1930’s—it will make it more difficult for Kosovo to achieve the economic growth that Kosovars want. Instead, Kosovo may find itself struggling, like so many other countries, to limit the extent of the economic contraction they suffer. To build in some insurance against this, the government should immediately put together a package for the IMF/World Bank to provide assistance this year. My greatest concern, however, is that the economic downturn in the region will bring out the nationalisms that have never completely gone away, especially in Serbia, and lead to an escalation of tensions and perhaps worse. Kosovars must be on their guard for this and maintain the closest security cooperation with the U.S., EU and NATO to ensure that adequate protective measures are taken on a timely basis.

Soren Jessen-Petersen is former Chief of UN Mission in Kosovo and currently heads the Washington DC office of the Independent Diplomat organization. Stephen Schwartz is director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism and a well-known author and an early promoter of Kosovo’s independence. James Hooper “is a Managing Director of the Public International Law & Policy Group. He is the former director of the Washington office of the International Crisis Group (ICG), an independent non-government global advocacy organization that focuses on conflict early alert, prevention and containment.

(Interviewed by Ruben Avxhiu)

Israel: Fewer parties please

Knesset's floor - the parliament of Israel

It is only natural to dismiss any high expectations from these elections in Israel. Now we all know the story. Israel’s political life is so fragmented that building long-term functionable ruling coalitions is almost impossible. When the process of endless compromises end the result is always a weak government not only unable to carry a visionary foreign policy but often incapable even solving trivial domestic daily issues.

It is hard to find another country in the world that has a political scene more representative of its nation’s niches of interests. However, 18 parties sharing 120 seats in the Knesset is just too many for a country of this size. Actually, 18 is too many for a country of any size.

Israel does not need so many parties. They may be serving particular groups with some issues but they are making a bigger disservice to their own constituency by fragmenting the national political scene of the country.

Can this electoral system change, by including elements of the majority system (choosing candidates not only parties) or/and maybe raise the bar a bit so not everyone with a bunch of votes gets in Knesset?

I am not sure whether this is the moral thing to do in Israel today, but it certainly is the practical choice. Israel needs a solid government and the coming years are bound to be troubling for the entire world, with the economy gloomy perspective, the Iran dilemma, the post-American Iraq etc.

This has nothing to do with SHAS making impossible for Livni to govern. With fewer parties in parliament, different interests groups will be more inclined to create their  friends and allies within the main parties rather than run to create one of their own and complicate farther the situation in Israel.