The National Albanian American Council (NAAC) is one of the best-organized and best-run single-issue lobby organizations in the United States. They are very effective and very good at what they do. They have been promoting the interests of Albanians (or the Albanian nation as they like to call it), primarily those living in the Balkans, for five years now, and have an impressive record of success.
The Albanian American Civic League (AACL) is a similar organization, though less popular, and actually quite at odds with the NAAC. The AACL has been around since 1989 and is led by former Congressman Joe DioGuardi (and, as his web site proclaims, "A Strong Man on the Side of Kosovo"). Along with their supporters inside and outside of Congress, these lobbying groups have been pulling the collective wool over the eyes of the world for the past several years, even more so, since the Kosovo issue exploded.
What led me to finally put these thoughts down on paper was the recent departure of Illir Zherka, three-year president of the NAAC who resigned his position at the end of 2001 "to explore new opportunities." His note made me think again about the NAAC, the AACL and others and how they have, successfully, achieved their goals over the years. And even though they have accomplished their goals, this writer believes that their tactics of support for all things Albanian have been unfortunate for they degrade the use of proper dialogue and debate while at the same time increase fear, hate and division. To be brief, the NAAC, the AACL and their supporters use the politics of hate, repetition, distortion of arguments and outright lies to support Albanians and demonize their opposition.
Although I hope that the NAAC hasn't actually borrowed this page out of the Moscow Central Committee's handbook, they are using the same tactics. Three examples make a case and there are many more. The first is their consistent repetition of the word "country" to describe the Yugoslav province of Kosovo. It turns up in their literature, in their debates, in their media appearances and even, occasionally, in the mouths of international organizations which profess to be neutral.
The second repetition case, coupled with the demonization of the enemy, is their use of the terms, "Slav-Macedonian" or "Slavic" to describe ethnic Macedonians. You will never see them describe Serbs as "Slav-Serbian," despite the fact that Serbs are of Slavic descent whereas the ethnic background of Macedonians is mixed. They are simply attempting to connect Macedonians to a word which, in the West, has negative connotations due to the early success of the Albanian lobby and which the Macedonians themselves do not identify with. Their press releases are littered with such references. The point of such usage of terms is to attempt to demonize and de-legitimize the Macedonians, their history and their culture.
The third case, although the NAAC doesn't do it, is the constant use of the term "FYROM," to refer to the Republic of Macedonia when they know well and good that it is deeply offensive for most Macedonians.
The NAAC, the AACL and Albanians in general, are very good at sticking to the party line in repeating the daily mantra of independence for Kosovo, the evilness of Serbs, Macedonians, Greeks and other non-Albanians, the claim of universal support from the USA, and the goodness of all Albanians. The association, after enough repetition, is becoming a "fact."
Alexander Solzhenitzyn wrote that "to destroy a people, you must first sever their roots." In Milan Kundera's book, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, a character states that, "the first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have someone write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was."
But how does one sever the roots of an entire people or erase its memory? How do you destroy an entire nation's books, culture and history? In the case of the Macedonians, you begin by constantly stating that they are a fictitious or artificial creation in the first place. You continue by stating that they do not have their own history, language, culture, etc. and that it is either made up or borrowed. Dismiss the Macedonian heroes, language and Church, and claim they were Bulgarian, Serbian or something else and demoralize the Macedonian people. How many times have I heard Albanians dismiss Macedonians and their claims because "they are an artificial" nation? Ah, let me count the ways.
Again, the use of the term "Slav" in conjunction with Macedonians is an attempt to do just that. In the case of the Serbs, the Albanians have been dismissive of any Serb claim to anything in Kosovo. The NAAC, the AACL and many Albanians, are guilty of this. The international community is only guilty of denying Macedonia its own name and identification. (One could logically argue that the culture and history of the Serbs and Macedonians is being destroyed by the Kosovo Liberation Army/National Liberation Army/Albanian National Army in their destruction of Serbian and Macedonian churches - but I won't argue that point here).
Another egregious example of the NAAC's politics of hate can be found in their meeting last year with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski. Halfway through the meeting, which occurred in Washington, DC during President Trajkovski's May visit to see President Bush, Mr. Zherka was asked by President Trajkovski why he and the NAAC didn't at least offer their condolences to the Macedonian delegation (which graciously agreed to meet with the NAAC), on the death of eight Macedonian soldiers who had been ambushed and killed only days before [at Vejce] (to which President Bush, Lord Robertson and a host of others did offer their public sympathies as well as condemnation of the act). Mr. Zherka's response was that "the circumstances are in dispute." And no offer of sympathy or condemnation. Throughout the same meeting, Mr. Zherka continued to refer to the Macedonian town of Bitola by its older name, frequently used by the Albanians, "Monastir."
Even the Government of the Republic of Albania gets into the act here as well. Two more recent examples are the New Year greetings sent by President Meidani of the Republic of Albania to President Trajkovski and a resolution passed by the Albanian parliament on the situation in Macedonia last year. In both, the term "FYROM" was used. President Trajkovski, justifyably hurt by supposed friend and neighbor Albania, returned the greetings. The resolution was condemned by the foreign policy parliamentary commission in the Republic of Macedonia.
But this is a typical tactic used throughout the ages. There has been no condemnation of the activities of the National Liberation Army in Macedonia (on the contrary, there has been NAAC praise for its leadership) or the new Albanian National Army, let alone the UCPMB in southern Serbia or the continual attacks against non-Albanian minorities in Kosovo itself. And of course the Kosovo Liberation Army, despite being branded once as a terrorist organization by US Ambassador Bob Gelbard, was hailed as a liberating force by Albanians worldwide. Even worse, and mainly for them, is the failure of Albanian leaders to confront the problems within their own communities. They refuse to take responsibility for the problems affecting them, be they prostitution and drug running or be they unemployment and health care.
When it comes to Albanian-on-Albanian violence, the NAAC is loath to make a statement for fear of discrediting their cause and their people. During the early days of NATO's entry into Kosovo, Albanian-on-Albanian violence was extremely high, though it received scant mention, if any, by the NAAC or the AACL. There are simply too many credible Western news accounts of the violence perpetrated against Albanians by Albanians in Kosovo, Macedonia, and other areas inhabited by Albanians to refute the point. And just last month Mr. Samajl Hajdaraj, an ethnic Albanian member of the newly elected Kosovo parliament hailing from Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) was gunned down by several assailants. The silence coming from the NAAC has been deafening on this incident as has it been from leading Albanians in the region. (I'm sure it has nothing to do with NAAC support of Hashim Thaci and his PDK).
This failure to condemn was most recently exemplified by the protests in Kosovo against the arrest of three ex-KLA members by KFOR. The three were arrested on January 28th. NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson subsequently said this showed that in a democracy "no citizen is exempt from the rule of law." However, there were, as of this writing, four protests by the local population of these arrests, the last one on February 8, which turned violent. Again, no condemnation from the NAAC or the AACL of the protest or hailing the arrest of internationally wanted criminals.
In Macedonia the same has proven true, and little, if anything, has been said by the NAAC or the AACL about the ancient blood feuds in the Republic of Albania. The truth of the matter is that the NAAC and the AACL refuse to face up to the fact that there are indeed, bad Albanians, just as there are in every society and culture. But time and again they refuse to take responsibility for their kith and kin and instead blame others for their lot in life.
In his valedictory note, Illir Zherka states that "we do not involve ourselves in either Albanian or American politics." Technically true, but disingenuous. The NAAC's own web page states that it "seeks to persuade the White House, Congress, foreign policy experts, the media, and the American people that the United States can and should exert leadership in helping to address the plight of the Albanians."
Of course when it comes to American politics, the NAAC is a 501(c)(3) organization which cannot, by law, lobby or seek to influence public officials. At the end of the day, the NAAC was essentially established on the single issue of Kosovo as was the AACL. The NAAC was formally launched on October 1, 1996 (about six years after the Republic of Albania opened up and 11 years after Enver Hoxha died). Although their initial web site stated that the NAAC "is committed to strengthening the friendship between the people of the United States and the Albanian people living in the Republics of Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and Greece," the NAAC is by and large only committed to the issues of Kosovo and now Macedonia, which keeps their coffers full. As Illir Zherka wrote in his departing note, the NAAC "played a pivotal role in convincing the United States to enter the war in Kosovo." He also goes on to mention their role in Macedonia. It is of parting interest to note that while the NAAC has an office in Pristina, it does not have one in Tirana.
The NAAC, the AACL and Albanian leaders claim to commit themselves to strengthening friendship between the people of the United States and Albanians living throughout the Balkans. If this is the case, then I believe their goals would be better served by focusing on establishing positive relations and avoiding the politics of hate and personal destruction which has gone on for far too long in the Balkans without their help.
(Jake Marley is a pseudonym for a Western observer who has lived and worked in Macedonia for several years.)