Albanian American Diaspora
|[Deck] The Albanian American Diaspora is uniquely positioned to impact US policy through lobbying, diplomacy, and by providing professional expertise.
From the end of WWII until the late 1960’s when people began arriving from the former Yugoslavia – Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro – very few ethnic Albanians immigrated to the US. In the 1980’s-’90’s, the wars during the breakup of Yugoslavia and the exodus after the fall of the dictatorship in Albania brought hundreds-of-thousands of ethnic Albanians to the US, both legally and illegally. Relatively speaking the Albanian American Diaspora is new and young, as the majority are either first or second generation US citizens today. Many Albanian Americans were born in the Balkans or came here in their youth, and have family there which they often visit, so they feel very connected to their roots. They are dispersed throughout the US; employed at some of the most respected companies and institutions; attend some of the most prestigious universities; and have established numerous non-government organizations and schools in the various communities.
From migrants to lobbyists
The war in Kosovo 1999 fundamentally changed Albanian Americans from recent immigrants into active participants in the American democratic process. The Diaspora became a powerful voice not only for Kosovo, but all Albanian issues at the White House, Congress, State Department, the UN, in media and even in the streets with massive demonstrations. They developed friendships with important ambassadors, administration officials, diplomats, scholars, human rights organizations, aid organizations, and with individuals at key think tanks in Washington D.C. that focus on the Balkans. These people became known as “Friends of Albanians”, and their contributions to favorably shape US policy towards Albanians are immeasurable.
Through experience the Albanian American Diaspora learned how to effectively lobby US Government foreign policy on Albanians issues. Being geographically dispersed and as tax paying citizens, Albanian Americans have voted for and made financial contributions to candidates for US President, Senator, and Congressman who in turn supported and promoted our issues and concerns. In DC, this group became known as the “Congressional Albanian Issues Caucus”. Congressman Eliot Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has served as the Co-Chairman, along with a Republican colleague to have bipartisan support. Since funding comes from the Congress, the Albanian Issues Caucus has extremely powerful influence over defining and implementing US policy through congressional hearings, Resolutions, appropriation of funding for economic, military cooperation and aid.
Hiring an effective lobby firm is an important part of influencing US policy. These firms can provide added value through their contacts and by implementing specific projects, though they can be very expensive. However, a critical part of their success is based on access to members of the Albanian Issues Caucus. So without the Albanian American community, there would be no Albanian Issues Caucus, and the government of Kosovo does not have the financial resources to compete in this arena.
Within the past decade, thousands of ethnic Albanian students have immigrated to the US to pursue their education. Some have graduated from the finest Universities here and today are working at World Bank, UN, US Congress, think tanks, well known financial institutions, law firms, IT and more.
These gifted individuals can provide tremendous knowledge and guidance to help the Kosovo government design more effective strategies with those institutions and to expand needed expertise. Since many of these individuals were raised in the Balkans and then educated in the United States, they offer the unique advantage of having an international perspective and expertise, combined with local know-how.
Some could effectively serve in key positions in every ministry, even a Minister, but they need to be more than “advisors” that can easily be marginalized. Some can also be a part of strategic advisory councils, whether in Kosovo or abroad. Additionally, there are many educational scholarships and grants for students and professionals requiring that they work in the public or civil society, and engaging them in a meaningful way could be a tremendous benefit to the government and society.
The Kosovo government should identify key strategic short-term and long-term national strategies and then identify members of the Diaspora to help develop and implement stated goals. In certain cases, some can be hired full time to have both a local and international presence, or be given a stipend to for specific projects.
A specific strategy must be implemented to appoint more women to executive positions, not just to meet gender quotas, but as agents of change. Women offer unique talents and skills and often forge closer working relationships, especially with the international community.
The Kosovo government must see the Albanian American Diaspora, indeed the Diaspora at large, beyond just remittances and the amount of money they contribute to the economy during tourist season. Throughout the US, and EU countries, talented and educated ethnic Albanians are passionate for an opportunity to return home to contribute in a impactful way. The Diaspora discovered their own voice by learning to galvanize people, raise awareness and collect funds to affect US foreign policy. However the Kosovar government must develop a policy for actively seeking out and involving this vibrant diaspora. Perhaps each ministry could have a Diaspora department, as well as providing staff and funds to the embassy to facilitate these connections.
The Government of Kosovo’s ability to integrate the vast wealth, knowledge, talent and network of the Albanian American Diaspora could have a profound impact on it’s future as a modern state.
Avni Mustafaj is the Former President and Executive Director of National Albanian American Council (NAAC); He served as a Director of Hope Fellowship, a USAID funded Women’s Leadership and Empowerment Program focused on increasing the leadership capacities of women professionals in the Balkans. Mr. Mustafaj was also the Deputy Director of RIT/AUK between XX years; He served as Vice President of Kosova Relief Fund, and Executive Director of Open Society Foundation for Albania between XX years.