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16 January 2002

U.S. Engagement in Kosovo Created Strong Ties with Albanian Kosovars

(Interview with Dr. Alush Gashi) (1070)
By Kiersten McCutchan
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- The United States' assistance to Kosovo when it was
threatened by the Milosevic regime has created strong ties between
Kosovo and America, and has given members of this Balkan community
insight into and sympathy for American values, says Dr. Alush Gashi, a
member of the newly elected Kosovo Assembly, a surgeon, and senior
advisor to Ibrahim Rugova, president of the Democratic League of
Kosovo (LDK).
In a recent interview with The Washington File, Gashi said he doesn't
believe American success in Kosovo is well known around the world and
that people who are hostile to America "just do not know for what you
stand."
Kosovo, with a population that is 75 percent Muslim, is an example of
truly positive Muslim-U.S. relations, Gashi said.
The United States came to Kosovo's aid in response to former Yugoslav
President Slobodan Milosevic's campaign of ethnic cleansing, which
sought to exterminate any non-Serb people from the province, said
Gashi, who is also Foreign Affairs Secretary of the LDK and a past
spokesman for Kosovo to the U.S. Congress and the former Clinton
Administration.
"American engagement in Kosova is unique," Gashi explained. "It was
continuous and in all phases, starting with prewar humanitarian aid
and diplomatic and political support."
"Without America's strong commitment, the western coalition [against
Milosevic] would not have taken place," he said. America sent its
"sons and daughters" to fight Milosevic and Serb troops to "save
innocent civilians, who happened to be Muslims of Western culture, and
to create conditions so Kosovars could return home, establish
democracy and reshape their future."
Gashi added that "under NATO protection Kosovars returned home, but
Americans and its allies did not go home. They stayed and continued
supporting peace-loving people who were building a postwar Kosova,"
building schools, hospitals, roads and mosques.
"I believe that Kosova Albanians love America because they are aware
of American values," he observed.
"America conveyed its ideals of democracy to Kosovo. It was the United
States of America that gave us the hope that, if we opposed violence,
worked for democracy, and stood for human and national rights for all
Kosova citizens, we would not be left alone. The United States of
America kept its promise to us."
"For many years now, we have not been left alone," Gashi continued.
"Frequent congressional delegations, diplomats, journalists, human
rights activists, humanitarian workers and religious leaders visited
us in Kosova and supported our sticking with a peaceful approach.
United States representatives worldwide helped us in raising our
concerns about violations of human and national rights. Diplomatic
support for peace and justice were evident. American institutions
received us on a regular basis."
When the Serbian regime closed down all Albanian language media, the
Voice of America (VOA) became "very important" for Kosovo, Gashi said.
"Human rights activists and political parties had very good access to
VOA to condemn the human rights violations and to promote democracy.
"The message of political leaders to the Kosova population was that
peace would work and we would gain freedom if we opposed violence and
built democracy -- and for that we had American support. In this
process Albanian-American support was very important."
Gashi said the U.S. Mission in Kosovo is very active in helping
Kosovars rebuild their country, with reconstruction efforts and with
the establishment of democratic institutions, which he calls "key
factors for stability and prosperity."
"We believe that the hard work of the American Mission in Kosova is an
essential factor to make a difference in Kosova and, as well, for
regional stability."
He said the investment of the United States and the international
community in democratic institutions "was crowned with very good local
elections" and Kosovo-wide elections last year.
Because of the successful relationship between America and Kosovo, the
Albanian Kosovar community can offer its support and a sympathetic
view of American values as well as a positive example of America's
relationship with Muslims, Gashi believes.
Kosovars show their support for the United States in many ways, he
said. There is "strong political and diplomatic support, and foremost,
there is love and care for Americans who are serving in Kosovo in
different capacities." Also, "there is strong support from Kosovars
for zero tolerance against terrorism."
Kosovars saw the attacks of September 11 not only as attacks on
America, Gashi said, but also as attacks on Kosovo and on the world.
"The pain was felt like a death in the family," he said. "Kosovars
believe in God and in America. They have not seen God. However, they
have seen what America did for Kosova. Kosova was shocked by the news
that its savior had been attacked. America had saved Kosova."
He described the Kosovars' response in those difficult moments after
four hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York,
the Pentagon in Washington, and a field in Pennsylvania. "We went out
into the streets of Kosova with candlelight and American flags and
visited our American friends who are in Kosova to help us to establish
strong democratic institutions. In our modest way we showed that we
care for America."
Gashi continued: "During all the years of repression we believed that
some day Kosova would be free like America. We believe that the aim of
the attack against America was to change the American way of life. We
do not want you to change. We do not want evil to prevail."
Kosovars also support America's military actions in Afghanistan in the
war on terrorism because Kosovo was terrorized by the Milosevic
regime, just as the Afghan people were by the Taliban, Gashi said.
Now "remarkable things are taking place in Kosova," he said. For
instance, many people do not realize that "the American-Jewish
community was engaged in rebuilding the mosques like one in the
village of Jablanica in the Gjakova Municipality of Kosova."
This story and similar stories deserve to be told, Gashi said.  
He believes that if people worldwide could reach out to each other a
little more -- and if audiences could tune into what the Kosovo
community has to say about the United States -- it might help "let
others understand the American sense of justice."
"The secret of Kosova's success is the continuous American engagement,
and foremost, an investment in democracy," Gashi concluded.
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)



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