Kosovo Ambassador Headlines AIS at Spy Museum
By Anna Gawel
Kosovo’s dynamic young envoy to the U.S., Vlora Çitaku, talked about her young nation’s evolution since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and its declaration of independence in 2008; its “complicated” relations with the U.S., Europe, Serbia and Russia; as well as her personal history growing up as a refugee of war in a wide-ranging discussion at the International Spy Museum hosted by The Washington Diplomat on Feb. 21.
Over 100 people attended the sixth Ambassador Insider Series (AIS), an exclusive program that allows Washingtonians to network with diplomats in an intimate setting. One of the city’s most unique venues, the Spy Museum is the only public museum in the U.S. dedicated solely to the tradecraft, history and contemporary role of espionage.
From left, The Washington Diplomat publisher Victor Shiblie and managing editor Anna Gawel join Ambassador of Montenegro Nebojša Kaluđerović, Ambassador of Monaco Maguy Maccario Doyle, Ambassador of Kosovo Vlora Çitaku, Ambassador of Albania Floreta Faber, Ambassador of Iceland Geir Haarde and Ambassador of Croatia Joško Paro at the Ambassador Insider Series discussion featuring Çitaku at the International Spy Museum.
One-third the size of Maryland with a population of 1.8 million, Kosovo was once an autonomous province of Serbia until the 1998-99 war, which ended when NATO intervened and drove Serb forces out. Today, 113 countries have full diplomatic relations with Kosovo, though Serbia, its ally Russia and countries fearful of restive movements within their own borders continue to oppose recognition of the fledgling republic, 90 percent of whose citizens are Albanian-speaking Muslims (also see “Kosovo’s Journey” cover profile in the February 2017 issue of The Diplomat).
“Kosovo is the youngest democracy in Europe — with the youngest demography,” Çitaku told Anna Gawel, managing editor of The Diplomat. “We are two years younger than Twitter,” noted the ambassador, who herself has nearly 70,000 Twitter followers.
Dr. Vince Houghton, historian and curator at the International Spy Museum, welcomes guests to the Ambassador Insider Series hosted by The Washington Diplomat.
“We have been blessed historically to have bipartisan support. We were liberated during the Clinton administration and we got our independence under the Bush administration,” she said of U.S. relations. “We are by far the most pro-American nation on the face of the Earth. We have a Bill Clinton statue and a George W. Bush boulevard.”
And Çitaku expects this pro-American sentiment to continue despite President Trump’s isolationist “America first” rhetoric that has put the transatlantic alliance on the backburner.
From left, Ambassador of Slovenia Božo Cerar, Ambassador of Monaco Maguy Maccario Doyle, Ambassador of Montenegro Nebojša Kaluđerović and Ambassador of Iceland Geir Haarde attend the AIS discussion with the ambassador of Kosovo.
“We have absolutely no reason to believe this will change — quite the opposite,” she declared. “Our initial contacts with the Trump administration … demonstrate that this commitment and this very special bond between the U.S. and Kosovo will continue.”
And despite the populist tide that has inundated both sides of the Atlantic, Çitaku expressed confidence that Europeans will ultimately resist the xenophobic, nationalistic fears driving some of these movements, noting that “there is no alternative” to the European Union.
“We are a generation of people who have seen war, who have lived war. We know very well what it means when extremes become mainstream.”
Lendita Haxhitasim of the Embassy of Kosovo, Ambassador of Kosovo Vlora Çitaku, Frymezim Isufaj of the Embassy of Kosovo and Edita Buçinca of Cardno Emerging Markets attend the AIS discussion with the ambassador of Kosovo.
On that note, when asked about Kosovo’s relationship with its rival Serbia, Çitaku likened it to the popular Facebook status update: “It’s complicated.”
“The biggest challenge Serbia has is not its relationship with Kosovo but its relationship with the truth and its own history,” she argued, referring to Serb President Slobodan Milo?evi?’s campaign of ethnic cleansing during the Balkan wars.
Eric Shimp of Alston & Bird LLP and Ambassador of St. Kitts and Nevis Dr. Thelma Phillip-Browne attend the AIS discussion with the ambassador of Kosovo.
It is a history with which Çitaku is painfully familiar. Describing the issue of refugees as one that is “closest to her heart,” the ambassador said that “just 18 years ago, I was a refugee.”
“I will never forget the day when Serbian police forces came to deport us as part of their ethnic cleansing campaign,” she recalled. “Me and my sisters were separated from our parents, and I remember carrying my little sister in my arms, walking empty-handed, separated from everything I knew and loved, not knowing where I was going.”
Ambassador of Montenegro Nebojša Kaluđerović, managing editor Anna Gawel, Ambassador of Albania Floreta Faber, Ambassador of Croatia Joško Paro, Helen Salazar of the George Washington University Hospital International Patient Program and Ambassador of Slovenia Božo Cerar attend the AIS discussion with the ambassador of Kosovo.
Yet she counts herself as one of the “fortunate” ones, as opposed to the thousands who died, went missing or were raped during the conflict.
“Atrocities of this magnitude expose not only the worst, they also display the very best humanity has to offer,” she said, citing the compassion offered by Albanians from Macedonia, where she settled and eventually reunited with her parents. “History cannot be changed, it cannot be rewritten,” she said. “Geography cannot be changed. We will be living next to [Serbia] for the rest of history, so the sooner we find a common ground, the better it will be.”
Anna Gawel is the managing editor for The Washington Diplomat.