In his absence, the presidential medal was received on Hyland’s behalf by Ambassador Avni Spahiu
Christopher Hyland was recognized today by the President of Albania, Ilir Meta, with the prestigious title: Knight of Skanderbeg Order.
In his absence, the presidential medal was received by Ambassador Avni Spahiu who knows Christopher Hyland from 30 years ago when he was Deputy National Political Director of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. Spahiu became later the first Ambassador of the Republic of Kosova to the United States.
Hyland’s work with ethnic communities in New York and later throughout the country has been credited as one of the factors that secured Clinton’s first victory in the Democratic primaries and later in the general elections.
It was in that period that a strong friendship was forged between Hyland and the Albanian-American community. Hyland did not only help introduce the community to the Clinton’s team and vice-versa, but he became passionate in his support for a peaceful solution in Kosova.
Almost thirty years later, the story of Hyland’s role and contribution was revealed to a younger generation by Illyria, the New York-based Albanian-American newspaper. It prompted among other things, this recognition by the President of Albania.
Below are the comments of Mr. Christopher Hyland upon receiving the presidential title Knight of the Skanderbeg Order.
28 July 2021
Honored guests, fellow honorees, Your Excellency President Ilir Meta,
I am pleased that Ambassador Avni Spahiu, whom I met thirty years ago with President Rugova, and who was Kosova’s first Ambassador to the United States, is, in my absence, reading my comments to you.
While very much regretting that I am unable to be with you in Tirana, please know that in spirit I share this honor, for which I am most appreciative, with countless Albanian Americans throughout the United States who find their family origins in Kosova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Greece, Albania, and elsewhere. It has been a great pleasure to know and work with them, their love of America and the Albanian world laudatory.
The Albanian American community, during a successful 1992 American Presidential Campaign for which I served as Deputy National Political Director, opened their minds and hearts to me as I sought to understand their concerns during a critical, often tragic, period in recent Albanian history, and as I sought their increased, ultimately decisive and influential, involvement in American Presidential politics. From my first contact Jim Xhema onwards, they championed American and Albanian causes, importantly at the time, that of Kosova. Stepping into history, they fully embraced the robust, democratic American political process, their journey reported, then, and ongoing, in great detail by the Albanian American newspaper Illyria, currently published by fastidious chronicler Vehbi Bajrami. To them I am forever grateful.
Albanian American community members, and Albanian homeland leaders who I interacted with during the acrimonious 1990’s, generally espoused restraint, balance, and strength in good measure. Mine was early on a lone voice, assiduously carrying their diverse messages forward. In the process I was often castigated by those who should have been attentive. In an August 31, 1992 memorandum to Clinton leadership I clearly stated, “The war in Yugoslavia began in Kosova and could end in Kosova. It behooves us-however complex the situation-to make a statement on the issue of the status of Kosova.” I repeated the same directly to then candidate Clinton during dinner with him in Atlanta at the height of the campaign, with a follow up memo to him. However slow the progress, nevertheless, those messages, combined with others, formed a foundation of information upon which a body of awareness emerged, such, when called for, positioned to foster decisive action.
Leaders’ clarion calls for attention to grave matters were often met with disinterest in many important quarters, only to be addressed when, in the eleventh hour, massive, heart wrenching human displacement occurred. Such need not have been quite the case, as the powers that be were well informed regarding the likelihood of tragic eventualities: there could not be another Rwanda. To a person, the tenacious Albanian leaders of whom I write, however arduous the passage to attaining similarities of interests, persevered, seizing countless sequestered moments of opportunity, some found-as Washington did-even in retreat, incrementally parlaying them into increasing levels of success.
When, in the 1990’s, I interacted with Bujar Bukoshi, and Ibrahim Rugova, then shadow Kosova leaders, Prime Minister and President respectively, they thought creatively, occupying the plains of greatness. Rugova’s equitable thoughts were eloquently expressed to me in French as if, I recall thinking, homage to the Age of Reason which he personified. Though set backs were persistent, often fostered by external interests and those interests’ insidious interlocutors, many of whom benefit both financially and geo politically from perpetual instability in the Balkans, I felt that I was among leaders who, at their finest hour, were seeking, when possible, cooperation. On July 15, 1992 Bujar Bukoshi wrote in a position paper, requested by me, sent to then candidate Clinton by way of my desk, “…recognition of Kosova as a subject of international law, outside the jurisdiction of Serbia, will establish the proper foundations for a permanent solution…”. History, with the support of the USA and that of the Albanian community caught up to the equitable solution.
I am honored to have, in the early 1990’s, encouraged the propagation of the now decades old Rugova vision, one which espouses engaging initiatives to realize pragmatic, permanent cooperation on many levels between Albanians of all backgrounds and locations, interacting with Serbs of all backgrounds and locations.
Ultimately, when each of us is afforded the opportunity to enter history, it is most rewarding to serve the greater common good, to work towards equity. The Albanian world afforded me that opportunity, for which I am grateful.
I am pleased that Kosova attained independence. I am pleased to have been part, early on, of the Clinton engagement in the Kosova narrative, an engagement that overtime, increasingly, and then decisively, contributed to Kosova attaining freedom and independence.
Your Excellency, thank you, and thank you to the diverse Albania communities, very much for the honor you bestow upon me.
Christopher S. Hyland
Former Deputy National Political Director
Clinton Gore Presidential Campaign, 1992
Christopher S. Hyland
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