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Intervistat
 
Interview with Mr Joseph Dioguardi, president of

Albanian American Civic League

 
 
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Albemigrant : First, considering the capacity and patriotism of the latest generation of Albanian emigrants abroad, could you talk about the Albanian American Civic League (AACL) and its relations to this generation of Albanian immigrants in the United States and Canada?


Mr Dioguardi : One of the most difficult challenges that Shirley and I have faced since we got together in 1993 (four years after I left the U.S. Congress and formed the Albanian American Civic League in 1989) is connecting with the large Albanian diaspora in North America and around the world. We have traveled from Alaska to Australia, from Washington to Brussels, from Toronto to London, in addition to our many trips to Albania, Kosova, and the Albanian lands in Presheva, Macedonia, and Montenegro. Why? In order to meet with the Albanian people there to let them know (and through them to wake up their political leaders) that an independent voice—the AACL—was working in Washington and in other parliaments around the world for human rights, democracy, freedom, and self-determination for all Albanians in the Balkans. Since Albanians, even in the United States and Canada, are not unified when it comes to national, political and civic objectives (whether at home or abroad), reaching out to them and getting them to participate has not been easy and only partly successful. To succeed in spite of this difficult challenge, the AACL has focused its main activity on gaining independence for Kosova through our work with powerful friends in the U.S. Congress, and we are very close to accomplishing this, which has been our most important objective for the past twenty years.


Albemigrant : Thanks to modern communications, it seems that the Albanian diaspora is progressing. The intellectuals, in particular, are more conscientious about the fact that they need to do something to influence and change for the good opportunities for all Albanians. Could you elaborate this point, based on your personal experience?


Mr Dioguardi : The good news is that the Internet has enabled the AACL, with its employment of sophisticated technology and many young, educated Albanian volunteers, to build an electronic list of almost 20,000 Albanians to which we regularly send professionally edited videotapes, announcements, press releases, and articles on subjects that we deem important to the Albanian national cause—primarily the independence of Kosova. As more and more Albanians from the Balkans get educated in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, they are contacting the AACL through our website (www.aacl.com), and they are joining us as members and helping us respond to the Serbian lobby’s lies and well-financed, propaganda machine in Washington and Western Europe. One great example of this growing phenomenon is Faton Bislimi, born and raised in Gjilan, who reached out to me and Shirley over five years ago as a student at Texas Lutheran University, where he was majoring in computer science and math. We asked him to represent the AACL (and the youth of Kosova) in European youth conferences in Brussels and Prague, where his presentations on why Kosova should be independent (using the logic of our AACL Congressional Resolutions in Washington) won him the top award and many friends and supporters among some of the best students in Europe. These students knew practically nothing about the Albanian perspective on why Kosova must be separated from Serbia as the final stage in the dissolution of the Former Yugoslavia, as a failed confederation of eight equal juridical units that included Kosova. Faton went on to study at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He graduated with honors last May, and he returned to Kosova in June, where he is now working in a key position with UNDP. He continues to help the AACL build an international following among Albanian students in universities around the world, as one of our most active volunteers. Three of our most recent volunteers (to give just a few more examples of this positive emerging trend for the AACL and the Albanian national cause) are Arben Skijvani from Gkajova, now in the United States working and studying in Alabama, Sation Sema from Albania and now in New York, and Altin Lepaj from Albania and now in London.

The AACL will continue to reach out to Albanian college and graduate students in

the Balkans and around the world in order to educate and activate a new generation for the Albanian national cause, which we continue to define as:

 

  • Independence for Kosova

  • True and fully functioning democracy in Albania

  • Full equality for Albanians in Macedonia under the Oher Agreement

  • Full equality for Albanians in Montenegro and Presheva under international law and the standards of the Council of Europe

  • Full equality and recognition of the national identity of Albanians in Greece, and restitution for Chams

  • Worldwide recognition and respect for the Albanian people for their tolerance for all religious beliefs and for their heroism in saving all Jews from the Nazis in Albania and Kosova during World War II.

  • Reminding our Italian brothers and sisters of the important role that Albanians have played historically for them in saving the Kingdom of Naples from the French (House of Anjou) in 1443 and 1461, as well as the many cultural, educational, and civic contributions of the Arberesh to Italy over the last 500+ years.


Albemigrant : Regarding the politics in Albanian lands, do you think that the Albanian diaspora has the right to speak out?

Mr Dioguardi : President John F. Kennedy said to the American people at his inaugural address in 1961: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” To Albanians in the diaspora, I would say something similar: “Ask not what Albanian politicians are doing for you and your families in Albania, Kosova, and in other Albanian lands. But ask yourselves what you are doing, as part of the large Albanian diaspora in the United States, Canada, Europe, and around the world, for the empowerment and good image of the Albanian nation of seven million people in the Balkans and at least another seven million around the world, including five million in Turkey and more than a million in Greece—most of whom have no national identity or language rights as Albanians and who are being assimilated, against the precepts of international law, everyday. Freedom of speech is one of the basic human rights cited in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. But it is also a universal God-given right that should be exercised by all Albanians everywhere—especially for their national cause and identity. Every right implies a responsibility to act, especially when the rights that all humans are endowed with are violated, as they have been for centuries in the case of Albanians under Communism in Albania and the former Yugoslavia, under brutal occupation at the hands of the Serbs, the Montenegrins, and the Macedonians, and due to egregious treatment and forced assimilation by the Turks and the Greeks. The AACL has provided the vehicle for all Albanians to speak out in Washington for their freedom, self-determination, and universal human, civic, economic, and political rights. Unfortunately, not enough Albanians are participating in our “collective” voice in the United States and Canada against the lies and the outrageously bad propaganda of the Serbian and Greek lobbies.

Albemigrant : President Bush promised the independence of Kosova. Can Albanians “sleep” now, or is the road to full independence not yet finished?

Mr Dioguardi : When it comes to freedom, preserving true democracy, and protecting one’s national identity in the face of neighbors who have proven to be persistent and dangerous adversaries, Albanians can never “sleep.” One of our great U.S. founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, once said that “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” I think that it is very meaningful and appropriate that the Albanian national symbol is the double-headed eagle—facing two ways, but looking in every direction—north and south, east and west. Since the Roman era, when the Illyrians, our Albanian ancestors, finally succumbed (after 200 years) to the overwhelming strength and discipline of the Roman legions in the first century BC, and became an important part of the Roman Empire (while never surrendering their unique language and national customs and identity), Albanians have valiantly resisted their oppressors. Who can forget the successes of Gjergj Kastrioti in the fifteenth century against the Ottoman Turks? Even, after his unfortunate death to illness in 1468, after which the Turks gained momentum and overran Albania in 1488, Kastrioti’s hard and clever defense for twenty-seven years against the Sultan’s armies took a terrible toll on them, irreparably weakening the Ottoman Empire’s ability to take over Western Europe. And who can forget Ded Gjo Luli, Azem Galica, Ismail Qemali, Bishop Fan Noli, Faik Konica, Sami and Naim Frasheri, Mother Teresa, Adem Jashari, and Ramush Haradinaj/KLA? They and many other patriots have provided the example for all Albanians to follow—to get involved in some way to further the complete freedom of the Albanian people—especially now that the U.S. is actively supporting the independence of Kosova against the geopolitical machinations of Russia, Serbia, Greece, and some European countries. We do not want to see a State of Kosova so compromised by Europe that it becomes a failed, ethnically carved state like Bosnia, which is going nowhere but down, economically and politically.


Albemigrant : You know Albanians very well. If you have to make wishes to our children for preserving our traditions and values, which of them would you emphasize?

Mr Dioguardi : It would be a great shame if, after so many centuries under occupation, Albanians would forget their great history and lose their values and traditions in a time of emerging freedom and democracy, especially now with the support of the United States (the most important country and democratic system in the world for the Albanian people). I think of my own father and his Arberesh family and forefathers and foremothers in Katundi Greci in Italy near Naples. They arrived there with Kastrioti’s army in 1461 to defend the Kingdom of Naples against the French at the request of Pope Pius II. And since then they have preserved their language, culture, and tradition for almost 550 years—while separated from Albania and Albanian lands. My father, Giuseppe, came to the United States in 1929 as a poor and relatively uneducated farm boy speaking only two languages, Albanian and Italian. He was only fifteen and had to learn English and work hard to financially support his mother and sisters with little help from his father, who was ill at the time. He raised me with those same, time-tested European and Albanian values that allowed him to survive and allowed me to become very successful as a businessman and then U.S. Congressman—hard work, family values, honesty, and trust. My father kept his besa with his Albanian ancestors by not letting me forget that I was no ordinary Italian American in the Bronx Italian community where we lived, but that I was Arberesh with an ancient history and special language and traditions. I will never forget his greeting when he met others for the first time after hearing them (accidentally) speak Arberesh or “Albanese.” He would grab them and hug them, saying “Gjaku i Sphresur” (roughly translated as my lost or dispersed blood). When, as a new Congressman in 1985, I saw my father speaking to Albanians from Yugoslavia—not Italy—I knew for sure that I was really Albanian and that I had to keep my besa with my father’s people on both sides of the Adriatic Sea as an activist, advocate, and lobbyist for their national rights and self-determination. So, in conclusion, I would advise young Albanians to follow my example (and my father’s) by keeping their besa with their history by working hard, getting a good education, and by getting involved in the work of the Albanian national cause.


Albemigrant : Referring to the long history of AACL activities, could you tell which moment impressed you the most?

Mr Dioguardi : The most significant moment for me personally, since we formed the Albanian American Civic League in January 1989, was bringing Congressman Tom Lantos with me to Kosova in May 1990 to confront the military and paramilitary forces of Slobodan Milosevic in front of the Grand Hotel in Prishtina. A few days later we flew to Albania to confront the Communist regime of Enver Hoxha’s successor, Ramiz Alia, urging him to open the borders of Albania and let the winds of democracy, spreading from Russia to Berlin to Eastern Europe, into Albania almost a year after the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. I must also say here that the most important work of the AACL occurred in Washington, where the many Congressional Resolutions, statements, and hearings over twenty years have prepared the way for the independence of Kosova and the emergence of the Albanian nation as an important part of the European Union and NATO.


Albemigrant : What would be your message to Albanians, if they want to help the Albanian national cause and the Albanian American Civic League?

 

Mr Dioguardi : The best and easiest way for Albanians to help their national cause is by supporting and participating in the historic work that I began in Congress in 1985 and continued with my wife, Shirley Cloyes, from 1994 until today. The AACL is a membership organization with a board of thirty-five Albanian American businessmen, who have provided a large part of our annual budget for lobbying, public relations, and political campaign contributions to the elected officials that support our issues, interests, and concerns in Washington. The other support comes from Albanians who become members (see our website at www.aacl.com) and from Italian and Jewish friends who understand the historic importance of Albanians to Italy and to the Jewish people. My short answer is: Become involved, because we need more Albanians and other friends and supporters. Don’t forget what our great hero, Gjergj Kastrioti Skenderbeg, once said, “TRIMI MIRE ME SHOK SHUME!”


 

Prepared for albemigrant.com by Ajet Nuro
Translated in Albanian by Faton Bislimi

Copyright albemigrant.com

Albemigrant interviews

 

   
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Biografi e shkurtër
Joe DioGuardi
  • Lindur më 20 shtator 1940, në Bronks të Nju Jorkut.
  • Profesioni :Llogaritar - Politikan
  • Karriera politike : Anëtar i Kongresit Amerikan nga 3 janari 1985 deri më 3 janar 1989
  • Themelues dhe President i Ligës Qytetare Shqiptaro-Amerikane më 1989
  • I martuar me Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi këshilltare për çështjet e Ballkanit
  • Ka një vajzë, Kara Dioguardi, artiste, këngëtare, producente
  • Faqja zyrtare e LQSHA


Nė videon e mėposhtėme zoti Dioguardi shpjegon origjinėn e tij shqiptare dhe lidhjen e tij me kėtė origjin (English)

Videoja e mëposhtëme është prova e përpjekjeve të jashtëzakonëshme të zotit Dioguardi për të bërë të njohur në Kongresin amerikan, çështjen e Kosovës. Bile Milosheviç e akuzon zotin Dioguardi si shkaktar të konfliktit mes shqiptarëve dhe serbëve në Kosovë (English)


Online Videos by Veoh.com

Në videon e mëmoshtëme, Milosheviç në përpjekje për të shpëtuar lëkurën, akuzon diasporën shqiptare dhe zotin Dioguardi si nxitës të separatistëve shqiptar në Kosovë. (English)