Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

US Albanians Put Faith in Kerry

American-Albanians appear to hope Kerry victory will put Kosovo back on the foreign policy agenda.
By Stacy Sullivan

As Albanians gear up to cast their ballots in Kosovo’s upcoming elections, their compatriots here are busy fundraising for politicians in the hope that they may be able curry influence with Washington and draw more attention to Kosovo.


At a May fundraising event in New York City, the Albanian-American community raised 510,000 US dollars for the Kerry campaign, a substantial sum of money from an ethnic group that numbers roughly 500,000 people, and well above what the Serbian lobby has raised.


“Albanian Americans are always very smart about supporting candidates so that their concerns are heard,” said David L. Phillips, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has been active in Democratic fundraising.


“They weighed in early and contributed a lot of money. Their motivation is that Albanian issues have been seriously ignored by the Bush administration,” Phillips said.


Their hope, according to several campaign donors, is that a Kerry victory would put Kosovo back on the foreign policy agenda.


Indeed, Albanian politicians in Kosovo, as well as officials at the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, acknowledge that while the work of the soon-to-be elected government and the newly-invigorated UN administration in the protectorate will determine much about Kosovo’s future, renewed and vigorous US engagement in the region would play a vital role.


“It’s no secret that a lot hinges on the US election,” said a UN official in Pristina. “We can do whatever we want here, but if America comes in and wants something else, America gets it.”


The fundraising efforts undertaken by the Albanian-American community appear to be paying off. General Wesley Clark, who led NATO’s bombing campaign against Serb forces in 1999, and Richard Holbrooke, the former US envoy to the Balkans - both of whom would likely receive posts in a Kerry administration - were on hand to address the crowd at the fundraising event. Both promised that the Kerry-Edwards administration would take a more active role in determining Kosovo’s future.


On its website, the Kerry campaign blasts the Bush administration for ignoring the Balkans and lists Kosovo as one of its foreign policy concerns. “Kosovo’s future status should be decided as soon as possible…The people of Kosovo must be able to determine their own future, including how they want to be governed,” it states.


“That’s the way politics works in America,” said Florin Krasniqi, who runs a roofing company in Brooklyn and donated 2,000 dollars (the maximum individual donation allowed by US law) to the Kerry campaign. “You give them money and when they get elected, they pay you back.”


Keenly aware of how to cultivate political influence, as well as how divided the American electorate is, the Albanian-American community has also raised money for the Bush campaign. On September 20, just after the Republican National Convention, it held a Bush fundraiser in New York. Many of the same donors who gave to the Kerry campaign attended and donated to Bush’s coffers.


Neither the Bush campaign nor Albanian donors to it returned phone calls requesting to know how much money was raised at the event – but officials at the National Albanian American Council said the sum was considerably lower than what the community raised for Kerry.


“They wanted to cover their back in case Bush is re-elected,” Phillips said, “but it’s clear that their enthusiasm and hearts are not with the Bush administration.”


Several Republican donors from the Albanian community, who wished to remain anonymous, agreed with Phillips’ assessment. “I don’t want Bush to win, but if he does win, we don’t want to be the people who didn’t do anything for him, so I made a donation. But I gave to the Kerry campaign too,” said one contributor from The Bronx.


Thus far, the Bush administration has yet to address the Kosovo question on its foreign policy agenda.


Just as the Albanian community supported the Kerry campaign, the Democratic Party has also aggressively courted its vote. George Kivork, the Kerry campaign’s national director for ethnic outreach, has made key officials in the party available for interviews to the Albanian media in the US. Holbrooke, former State Department spokesman James Rubin, John Edwards’ wife, Elizabeth Edwards, have all given interviews to Albanian radio programmes in Boston and Chicago and to Illyria, a New York-based Albanian-American newspaper.


For the past two weeks, the Kerry campaign has taken out full-page advertisements in the newspaper.


The Bush campaign appears not to have even tried to court the Albanian vote. Popular figures such as former senator Bob Dole, who visited Kosovo in the early 1990s and introduced numerous resolutions in Congress condemning Serb rule in the region, have not reached out to the community. Neither has John McCain, once one of the Albanians most vocal Congressional advocates.


Stacy Sullivan is an IWPR senior editor and the author of Be Not Afraid, for You Have Sons in America:How a Brooklyn Roofer Helped Lure the US into the Kosovo War.