Though the Serbian conflict in Kosovo is just over a year and a half in the past and anything but forgotten, Kosovar political leader Dr. Alush Gashi spoke of a potentially promising future for the region Wednesday morning in Healy Hall.

Once a self-described impartial, “innocent physician looking to help others,” Gashi quickly became a political leader, serving as an adviser to the prominent Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova and a member of the Prishtina-based Kosovo Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms. He played a fundamental role in working to end the genocide, war crimes and torture inflicted upon Kosovars by Yugoslav President Slobodan ilosevic’s forces.

A target to the Serbs because of its rich natural resources and wealth, as well as its 90 percent ethnic Albanian population, Kosovo is striving to be the next of the regions to gain independence from Serbian rule and earn the right to statehood, Gashi said. For almost 10 years, the region, in the southwestern part of Yugoslavia, has been a “divided society,” segregated between Serbs and ethnic Albanians after Serbs closed down all media and separated schools by ethnicity.

“It’s going to be very hard, almost impossible, to force [normal interaction between the ethnic groups,]” Gashi said. He said he “believe[s] freedom and peace and justice in Kosovo” are crucial to the well-being of Europe and important to the world.

Gashi said he remembers cheering for the NATO pilots bombing Serbian forces because they were the Kosovars’ “only hope, coming from the free world,” fighting for people they had never met, but fighting for the global goal of freedom.

With Milosevic’s forces out of the region, Kosovo is far from the level of autonomy it desires, he said. Establishing a self-governed democracy would help repay those people who risked their lives to rescue the Kosovars, Gashi said. If Kosovars invest for the next few decades in democratic institutions, he believes the nation would benefit for generations to come.

Additionally, he said “it would be very good to bring investment [into Kosovo] and [with this economic investment] will come security” for the area. Despite their intense reluctance to release the area, Gashi said he did not “believe Serbs care for Kosovo,” at least apart from their own economic interests. Furthermore, he said, “Serbs are not helping us at all.” He then cited the fact that approximately 70 percent of Serbs living in Kosovo voted for Milosevic in the last election, further highlighting the need for a self-governed, undivided Kosovar nation.

Much credit must be given to the Americans initiating NATO air strikes in 1999, Gashi said. Kosovars firmly acknowledge, “without American leadership, there is no trust among Albanians in Kosovo,” for with or without reason, Kosovars, as a general rule, are very reluctant to trust others, he said. Americans gave Kosovars “hope that people cared” and followed through on promises of support and aid to the Kosovars. “They established our so-called democratic institutions,” Gashi said. Even today, if they withdraw from the country he said he believes there will be war again.

In a time of intrusive foreign policy and morally debatable international intervention, he said Americans made the ethically right, yet obvious decision, responding to the call of desperate need. In the aftermath of the Serbian presence in Kosovo, mass gravesites are still being found and innocent lives lost due to ethnic cleansing as well as those lost fighting are painfully remembered, Gashi said.

Gashi said that he is committed to Kosovo statehood, the safety of the ethnic Albanians and the return of refugees to Kosovo from surrounding areas. Although the war crimes and genocide of this region can never be revoked and the Kosovars’ plight against ethnocentric murder cannot be forgotten, Gashi sees the future that lies before them, centered around their own autonomous region.

Gashi’s speech was sponsored by the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies.

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