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  • 41


     
    Lantos, the Greater Albaniac
    General; Posted on: 2007-04-29 11:23:00 [ Printer friendly / Instant flyer ]
    Albanian American Civic League

    Press Release: Tom Lantos Pledges His Active Support to the Albanians
    of Montenegro: The Albanian American Civic League Brings Congressman
    Tom Lantos to Detroit. Detroit, Mich.: Albanian American Civic Leagu
    (AACL) (www.aacl.org), October 1, 2002.

    On Sunday, September 22, the greater Detroit chapter of the Albanian
    American Civic League, in conjunction with the Albanian community in
    the State of Michigan, hosted a dinner reception and forum with
    Congressman Tom Lantos, in support of his daughter, Katrina Swett,
    who is running for Congress in New Hampshire’s 2nd district. The
    event, which was coordinated by Marash Nucullaj, owner of the
    Belleville Grille and Dimitri’s Restaurant, with the help of Michigan
    co-coordinators Prenk Ivezaj and Enver Jusufi, was held at St. Paul’s
    Albanian Catholic Church in Rochester Hills. Former Congressman and
    AACL President Joe DioGuardi and Balkan Affairs Adviser Shirley
    Cloyes DioGuardi in New York initiated this meeting with Congressman
    Lantos as part of the Civic League’s continuing effort to keep the
    Albanian dimension of the Balkan conflict at the forefront of U.S.
    foreign policy concerns at a time when other issues, such as Iraq and
    the Middle East, increasingly dominate Washington’s agenda.

    Prior to the event, Congressman Lantos, the DioGuardis, Marash
    Nucullaj, and Dr. Luke Gjokaj from Montenegro attended mass at St.
    Paul’s, at the conclusion of which Fr. Anton Qira introduced
    Congressman Lantos to the congregation and publicly thanked him for
    all that he has done to free the Albanians of Kosova and for his
    current efforts on behalf of Albanians in Montenegro. He then
    addressed the congregation, urging them to contact their families in
    Montenegro in advance of the elections on October 20 and to tell them
    to vote for Albanian, not Montenegrin, parties. To underscore his
    point, he said that it is inconceivable that Albanians in Macedonia,
    for example, would vote for a Macedonian party. If Albanians are to
    survive in Montenegro, they must not be afraid to vote for Albanian
    parties and they should affirm their proud and great history,
    culture, and language. Now is the time, Fr. Qira said, for Albanians
    from Montenegro to unite and to recognize that, while we have the
    help of great friends in Washington like Congressman Lantos and the
    DioGuardis, we also need to help ourselves.

    Marash Nucullaj opened the forum with Congressman Lantos in the
    Church’s social hall with a moment of silence for the war dead in
    Kosova and the victims of 9/11. After Fr. Qira gave the invocation,
    Nucullaj invited Frank Gjoka and Gjovalin Lumaj, two artists
    originally from Albania, to recite a poem about the history and hopes
    for the future of Albanians in Malesia.

    In his opening remarks, Nucullaj rightly questioned why Montenegro is
    unwilling to comply with international human rights conventions that
    protect minorities throughout the world, and he called for changes in
    Montenegrin government policy to "restore the rights of Albanians
    before it is too late." Joe DioGuardi then talked about the Civic
    League’s efforts to keep Albanian issues on the front burner in
    Washington through key members of Congress like Congressman Lantos
    and Senator Biden who have responsibility for foreign policy, at a
    time when the U.S. government is preoccupied with Iraq and the war on
    terror.

    DioGuardi introduced Dr. Luke Gjokaj, a physician, human rights
    activist, and the head of the Malesia branch of the Democratic League
    of Montenegro. Dr. Gjokaj gave an overview of the historic oppression
    and episodes of mass murder of Albanians in Montenegro under the
    former Yugoslavia. He said that, because those Montenegrin Slavs
    responsible for killing many ethnic Albanians who were involved in
    anti-Communist demonstrations in 1981 are today "living in freedom,
    with government benefits, near the execution sites," Albanians in
    Montenegro "are afraid that torture and killing can resume at any
    time." As a result, he explained, Albanians lack confidence in the
    Montenegrin government and are motivated to immigrate to other
    countries. Dr. Gjokaj then presented the common platform that
    Albanian political parties in Montenegro recently ratified as the
    first phase of an effort to preserve Albanian cultural, political,
    and human rights. The key points of the platform include the
    restitution and organization of the commune of Tuzi; the opening of
    an Albanian-language teachers college, either in Tuzi or Ulqin, as
    part of the state university system; the establishment of a maternity
    clinic in Ulqin; the opening of the border between Montenegro and
    Albania in the Cemi Valley; and the freedom to research and publicize
    the history of ethnic Albanians in Montenegro.

    Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi introduced Congressman Lantos by stating
    that, "there are very few people in Congress today with Tom Lantos’
    wisdom, courage, and knowledge of the Albanian people. Cloyes
    DioGuardi gave the highlights of Lantos’ background: As a Hungarian
    Jew who resisted the Nazis and then narrowly escaped the Holocaust
    for America, Lantos entered the House of Representatives in 1980 and,
    a year later, joined the House International Relations Committee,
    where today he serves as the ranking ("number one") Democrat. In
    1984, he founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus (with
    Congressman James Porter), and in this context he was the first
    Member to respond to then freshman Congressman Joe DioGuardi’s appeal
    to expose the plight of Albanians in the Balkans. Lantos joined with
    Senator Bob Dole in facilitating DioGuardi’s first, dangerous mission
    to Belgrade and Prishtina in November 1989.

    When DioGuardi returned with ample documentation of Serbian
    atrocities, Lantos held a hearing, over the objections of the State
    Department, about human rights abuses in Kosova in April 1990. A
    month later, Lantos and DioGuardi focused international attention on
    Serbia’s brutal occupation of Kosova by traveling to Prishtina to
    confront the Milosevic regime and police force in front of the Grand
    Hotel. When they responded by tear- gassing and beating the Kosovars
    who came to see him, Lantos vowed to DioGuardi that he would make the
    Albanian cause for human rights and self-determination one of his top
    issues in Congress. From Prishtina, they traveled by car to Tirana to
    meet with Ramiz Alia in an effort to help bring democracy to
    Communist Albania. They were the first U.S. government officials to
    visit the country in fifty years. The trip to Prishtina and Tirana
    marked the "beginning of the end of Slobodan Milosevic," Cloyes
    DioGuardi explained, and "the start of the diplomatic effort on
    behalf of Albanians in the twentieth century."

    After discussing Congressman Lantos’ accomplishments for Albanians
    since 1990, Cloyes Page 3/Congressman Lantos in Detroit

    DioGuardi stressed the courage that he has shown this summer in
    cosponsoring H.Res. 467 with Congressman Ben Gilman at a time when we
    are being told that we should not even discuss the final status of
    Kosova, no less act on it. She concluded by talking about Congressman
    Lantos’ forthcoming visit to Montenegro after the Congressional
    elections in November and about the need to support his daughter,
    Katrina Swett as someone who "will continue in the tradition of her
    father to support Albanian issues."

    Congressman Lantos began his speech by congratulating Fr. Qira and
    his congregation for creating the new Albanian church and praising
    Fr. Qira for "his leadership in getting the people to build a church
    of such beauty and magnitude." He then thanked Joe and Shirley
    DioGuardi "for creating a movement of historical proportions" in
    which he and his wife, Annette, have been glad to play a part. He
    told the audience that it was "a privilege to stand up for the rights
    of Albanians on the floor of Congress and on television at the time
    of the most brutal and bloody suppression of Albanians by Slobodan
    Milosevic," and that Milosevic’s imprisonment was an example of
    "justice in action," and, as such, one of the "great joys" of his
    Congressional tenure.

    Turning his attention to the Albanian people as a whole, Lantos said
    that he came to Michigan "not only as a friend, but as one who
    admires Albanian achievements. Albanians in any society are the most
    hardworking, decent, and public-spirited group one could find. You
    are an enormous asset to the United States, and you are one of the
    great civilizations of Europe, and what you are capable of doing will
    be respected and valued across the globe."

    Lantos then spoke about how the Albanian struggle fit into the broad
    struggle for human rights around the world. All over the world—for
    reasons of ethnicity, language, religion, and politics—people "are
    not given a fair shake, not given support to use their God-given
    talents. They are being left behind, not because they are inferior,
    lazy, or incompetent, but because they have not been given an equal
    chance to succeed." Congressman Lantos pledged his commitment, and
    that of his daughter, Katrina Swett, to help Albanians wherever they
    live in the Balkans to overcome their historical disadvantages in
    order to succeed, prosper, and live with dignity. "Your cause is
    just, and the human rights community needs to respond to your plight."

    In reflecting on his forthcoming trip to Montenegro, Congressman
    Lantos said that his 1990 visit to Prishtina "started the ball
    rolling," and his visit to Montenegro "will have to do the same" for
    Albanians there. He added that we "we will have achieved our goals
    when the Albanians of Montenegro have equal status."

    In response to concerns expressed by the audience about the massive
    emigration of Albanians from Montenegro to other countries in search
    of work and the failure of the Montenegrin government to allocate
    foreign aid money to Albanian communities, Congressman Lantos said
    that, as co-chairman of the Congressional committee dealing with the
    European Union, he would raise the issue of equitable distribution of
    funds in Montenegro, at a series of meetings in October. He also
    promised to contact the new U.S. Office in Montenegro to investigate
    why they had employed only Slavs from Montenegro and no Albanians. "I
    understand your problems. We are on the same side, the side of
    protecting people, and I pledge to you my best efforts," he
    concluded. (Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi Ossining, New York. Published in
    Illyria on October 1, 2002).


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