by Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi
With signals coming out of the Contact Group that the Prishtina-Belgrade negotiations will soon consider the issue of Kosova’s final status, there has been much jubilation in Albanian circles. Almost seven years since war’s end, elation about the prospect of ending Kosova’s political, social, and economic limbo as a UN protectorate is understandable. Nevertheless, it may also be premature.
As Kosova moves closer and closer to becoming an independent state, the Serbian lobby in Washington (including the Serbian Unity Congress and representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the United States, Belgrade, and Kosova), have intensified their efforts to derail Kosova’s independence. Knowing that the Contact Group and other international bodies are prepared to impose a solution if final status talks break down this summer (and I believe they will), the Serbian lobby is waging a war in the press in a last-ditch effort to sway official and public opinion in the United States in its favor.
Their goal is to secure the partition of Kosova—which has always been Belgrade’s endgame—by instilling fear in the United States, especially in the U.S. Congress in a post 9/11 world, that Kosova’s Albanian majority represents a Muslim, potentially terrorist, force in the heart of Europe. In reality, Kosovar Albanians, like Albanians everywhere, are largely secular Muslims,Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox Christians who have lived together in harmony for centuries. Albanians, who see themselves first as Albanians and second as people of faith, pride themselves on their religious tolerance. This has been given no better expression than in the fact that Albania (with help from ethnic Albanians in Kosova, Montenegro, and Macedonia) is the only nation that can claim that it rescued every Jew who managed to get inside its borders during the Holocaust.
Serbia’s media war is a dirty war—not only because it is spreading anti-Albanian racism and misusing religion to gain political advantage in the West—but, above all, because it is placing news reports and op-eds in major U.S. newspapers that are written purportedly by “neutral” political and religious analysts, who are actually connected to the Serbian lobby and their well-known law-lobbying firm in Washington, DC. In what follows, I will attempt to expose the leading actors in this effort (which is directed at winning over unwitting American readers) and establish their interrelationships. In my opinion, it behooves the political leaders and all the people of Kosova (the Albanian majority and the Serb, Roma, Turk, and Ashkalli minorities), the Contact Group, the United Nations, and the European Union to oppose Belgrade’s efforts to undermine the international effort to bring peace to Southeast Europe once and for all.
The Venable Law Firm Contract with the Serbian National Council of Kosovo and Metohija
On April 24, 2006, in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call and on May 1 in the “Full Disclosure: New and Notes from K Street” section of the Legal Times, the first reports appeared that Venable, LLP, one of the premiere law-lobbying firms in Washington, had "inked a deal in March with the Serbian National Council of Kosovo and Metohija , a group representing displaced Serbs whoremained in Kosovo after the 1999 NATO intervention.” Both papers said that Venable would receive US$600,000 over a six-month period for providing the group “with strategic tactical planning on foreign policy matters before the U.S. government.” The announcement in Roll Call indicated that Venable would receive an additional $100,000 per month if the contract were extended.
On inspection, the contract filed on March 22, 2006, with the U.S. Department of Justice, under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, between Venable and the Serbian National Council of Kosovo and Metohija, c/o Abbot Simeon (Vllovksi) at the Banjska Monastery, is signed by James Jatras, and includes the following points: The arrangement encompasses “providing strategic counsel and tactical planning on foreign policy matters before the U.S. Government (Executive and Legislative branches) and related media work.” Venable’s services to the Serbian National Council “will include those of the media service, Global Strategic Communications Group (GSCG), acting at Venable’s direction to include media preparation and outreach, assistance in crafting policy statements, op-ed and editorial placements, electronic information stream, media monitoring, formation and administration of an American policy council, crafting and placement of paid media, and reporting and advice.”
“Media preparation and outreach”: Venable’s Principal Offering to Belgrade
On April 14, just a few weeks after the Serbian National Council signed its contract with James Jatras at Venable, David Hammer of the Associated Press released an article on AP’s “Worldstream,” entitled “Serbia wants U.S. Congress to help put brakes on Kosovo’s independence.” The article stated that Serbia was “urging the U.S. House of Representatives to follow the Senate’s lead and say that the breakaway province of Kosovo is not now ready for independence.” Albanian journalists in the Balkans reacted negatively to the description of Kosova as a “breakaway province,” in view of the fact that Kosova was annexed by Serbia after World War I. Meanwhile, the Associated Press failed to comment on the fact that the Congressional resolution introduced by Congressman Steve Chabot (R-OH) in December 2005 (H.Res. 634), in support of S.R. 237, introduced by Senator George Voinovich (D-OH), had been ignored by the House Committee on International Relations, where the leaders, Congressmen Tom Lantos and Henry Hyde, had earlier introduced H.Res. 24, which calls on the United States to recognize Kosova’s independence now.
In the AP article, Vuc Jeremic, Serbian President Boris Tadic’s chief foreign affairs adviser, was quoted as saying that, “Congress could provide important political cover for Serbia’s centrist coalition leadership if it would emphasize Kosovo’s failures to meet the requirements for independence [emphases mine].” But this is not what has happened. In May 2006, the United Nations Mission in Kosova publicly stated that the Kosovar government was meeting its obligations under the plan of standards implementation. Meanwhile, the international mediators in the Prishtina-Belgrade talks announced that they would begin to lay the groundwork for final status talks later this summer.
The Washington Times:
In addition to miscasting Albanians as a terrorist Muslim force in Southeast Europe, the Serbian lobby has been pouring a lotof energy since the end of the 1999 war into painting Albanians as the leaders of organized criminal networks involved in trafficking human beings, drugs, and arms in the Balkans. On May 9, The Washington Times published an opinion piece by James “Ace:” Lyons, Jr., entitled “Kosovo Consternation,” in which he deemed the fight against trafficking as an “integral part of the war on terror,” and cited Kosova as a center of illicit activities in Southeast Europe, dating back to the Kosova war of 1998-1999. Lyons, a retired admiral in the U.S. Navy, denounced the Kosova Liberation Army as a body with “criminal and terrorist inclinations tied to operations of the Albanian mafia across Europe.” What the Washington Times failed to mention in publishing Lyons’ article is that the author is not an expert analyst, but a member of the advisory board of the “American Council for Kosovo,” a front organization for the Serbian lobby created by Venable and their in-house Global Strategic Communications group.
The American Council for Kosovo—Venable’s “American foreign policy council”
The American Council for Kosova is identified on its website (www.savekosovo.org) as “an activity of Venable, LLP, and Global Strategic Communications, both of which are registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act as agents for the Serbian National Council of Kosovo and Metohija.”
The website of the American Council for Kosovo lists the articles that the organization has placed in the Western media over the past year, including the May 9, 2006, article by James Lyons in The Washington Times that opposes Kosova’s bid for independence and casts it as a criminal and Islamicized state.
Interestingly, the list of the Council’s Advisory Board members includes not only James “Ace” Lyons Jr., but also Doug Bandow, who resigned on December 15, 2005, as a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, and as a syndicated columnist who frequently appeared in the pages of The Washington Times, after admitting that he had accepted payments for the past decade from lobbyist Jack Abramoff in return for publishing articles favorable to Abramoff’s clients. This raises questions about Bandow’s record as a “neutral” observer of the Balkan conflict. In March 1999, Bandow was one of five witnesses, including former UN Ambassador Jean Kirkpatrick, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Senator Bob Dole, and me in my capacity as Balkan Affairs Adviser to the Albanian American Civic League, who testified before a House International Relations Committee hearing chaired by Congressmen Tom Lantos and Ben Gilman regarding whether or not to deploy U.S.ground troops in Kosova. Kirkpatrick and I vigorously supported the deployment of U.S. ground troops to save the lives of Kosovar Albanians under attack from Serbian military and paramilitary forces; Kissinger and Dole were willing to support the U.S. Congress in whatever choice it would make; and Doug Bandow staunchly opposed sending U.S. ground troops to Kosova for the same reasons that the “American Council for Kosovo” puts forth today to block Kosova’s right to self-determination.
In addition to James “Ace” Lyons, Jr., and Doug Bandow, the Advisory Board of the American Council for Kosovo includes Ambassador James Bissett, Andrew G. Bostom, Thomas Gambill, Julia Gorin, William J. Murray, the Rev. Canon Keith Roderick, Wanda Schindley, Sir Alfred Sherman, and Robert Spencer. (The community of journalists should investigate whether these advisory board members are paid by the lobby for their publications on its behalf.)
William J. Murray, chairman of the Religious Freedom Coalition, deserves special attention here because, at the behest of the Serbian lobby, he led a “fact-finding mission” to Kosova in the wake of the March 2004 riots. Although the conflict in Kosova is not religious, but political and economic in nature, Murray concluded that there was a“jihadist hatred against all Christianity” on the part of all Albanians. His report, which he coauthored with Institute on Religion and Public Policy President Joseph Grieboski, has been widely circulated on Capitol Hill.
James Jatras—Venable’s Representative for the Serbian National Council
James Jatras, a Greek American with a long history of pro-Eastern Orthodox and anti-Muslim activism in the Balkans and formerly senior foreign policy analyst for the U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee (1998-2002), signed the agreement between Venable and the Serbian National Council of Kosovo and Metohija (SNV) on March 22, 2006. Far from being a neutral observer of Balkan affairs, Jatras is a paid lobbyist for the SNV and an Orthodox extremist with deep connections to the Serbian Unity Congress. Jatras has written numerous articles aimed at warning Americans about the threat of militant Islam in Southeast Europe, several of which appear in a magazine connected to Bosnian Serb groups called Chronicles. (Srdja Trifkovic, Chronicles’ foreign affairs editor, was formerly the official spokesperson for indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic.) Jatras was the keynote speaker at the 9th Serbian Unity Congress and a principal in the Serbian-American-made propaganda film, Yugoslavia: The Avoidable War” produced and directed by George Bogdanich. And during the Kosova war, it was Jatras, in his capacity as senior foreign policy analyst for the U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee, who commissioned and circulated Yossef Bodansky’s outrageously spurious report in the House and Senate, entitled “Kosovo: The U.S. and Iran’s New Balkan Front,” in an effort to block Congressional support for intervention in Serbia’s war against Kosova and to discredit the Kosova Liberation Army.
The Baltimore Sun—Misrepresenting the Kosovar Serbs
On May 10, an article by Christopher Deliso, entitled “Botched Kosovo intervention dims hopes for peace,” appeared in The Baltimore Sun. Whether Deliso, an American freelance journalist who runs Balkanalysis.com out of Skopje, Macedonia, is connected with the Jatras/Venable contract is not known. Nevertheless, Deliso clearly identifies with the Serbian lobby’s frenzy to undercut final status resolution in Kosova by painting Kosovar Serbs as a community under siege who “will flee as nationalist militants remobilize to purge Serbs and annex Albanian inhabited areas of Macedonia and Montenegro,” as soon as Kosova becomes independent. The truth is that most of Kosova’s Serbs, like Kosovar Albanians, simply want to live in peace. Walk through the streets of Gjilan today, for example, and you will see Albanian women purchasing goods from Serbian women in an outdoor market. As the international community has made clear since the negotiations between Prishtina and Belgrade commenced this winter, it is Serbia, not Kosovar Albanians, that is obstructing the integration of Kosova’s Serbs into Kosovar society. The NATO troops who will remain in Kosova after final status resolution to monitor protection of minority rights will discover that independence is the key, not the obstacle, to peaceful coexistence among ethnic groups.
The Danger of Albanian Silence
Albanians have continued to underestimate the need for public relations and competent lobbying in the United States, and have failed to respond to Serbian propaganda out of the belief that it represents a fringe element and that the case for Kosova’s independence is a just one that will succeed on its merits. Recent events (as well has the historic treachery against Albanians emanating from Belgrade) have shown that this is a mistake. Left unchecked, the fringe can easily become the center, especially when backed by the kind of resources that the Serbian National Council has put in the hands of Venable and Global Strategic Communications. Until Albanians provide valid information about Kosova, no one should be surprised if the American public and their political representatives, consumed by the war in Iraq and the energy crisis, believe the false reports that they receive in the press emanating from Belgrade. And no one should underestimate the potential impact of those reports when final status negotiations commence.
The time has come to refocus international attention on the victims of Slobodan Milosevic’s ruthless drive to rule a greater Serbia—the 300,000 Bosnian Muslims and Kosovars who died and the four million who were displaced in the course of four brutal wars.
Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi is Balkan Affairs Adviser to the Albanian American Civic League