kosovo refugees albania
A little girl from Kosova looking out the window of a bus leaving the refugee camp in Blace for Germany. 6/1/1999. UN Photo/Roger LeMoyne

Our Fierce Urgency of Now

Dino Korca, Director

Dino Korca, Director

March 24, 2022

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. This dictum from Viktor Frankl remarkably summed up the conundrum that Europe has found itself in for the past four weeks.

While people across Europe are rightly moved by the extreme plight of the Ukrainian people, and our hearts go out to them as they fight for freedom, the same hardships – the same pain and sorrow; the same loss and anguish; the same and worse suffering inflicted by a barbaric neighbor, the same struggle for peace, the same yearning for freedom – have experienced the people of Kosova, my people, a quarter of a century ago, and still to this day, who also and equally deserve our compassion, our empathy, and our support.

We can – and must – salute solidarity, while also resolutely condemning and exposing unequal treatment, discrimination, and bias.

Kosovar refugees fleeing their homeland.
Some 1.5 million Albanians, mostly women and children, fled their homeland, the largest exodus in Europe at that point since World War II. Kosovar refugees forced to flee their home. UN Photo/Roger LeMoyne

Yet to this day, five EU member states still refuse to recognize reality and find themselves trapped on the wrong side of history. Moreover, the visa liberalization for the citizens of Kosova remains an unfulfilled promise and a flagrant denial of their rights. Singled out and isolated in the heart of Europe.

Let us be clear: it is not only a denial of visa liberalization. It is also a denial of inherent dignity to the citizens of Kosova.

I call on European leaders to reflect on that great principle that is lodged in the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and its affirmation that recognition of the inherent dignity, and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family, is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace.

And let us remember Dr. Martin Luther King’s enduring words that “oppressed people, cannot remain oppressed forever”, neither can they remain isolated. “We need to feel the fierce urgency of now”. The people of Kosova have the right to live their lives as freely as possible with as much joy and dignity as possible.

Europe’s broken promises and constant excuses for inaction no longer do. Or we will have no legitimate memory of what Europe hopes to be.

Women fleeing conflict are at far greater risk of experiencing violence and abuse. Kosovar refugees fleeing their homeland. UN Photo/Roger LeMoyne

This crisis calls out for a united Europe to rise to the challenge and realize it’s promise, not just despite the missteps and neglect in recent years, but because of them. Great progress often comes at times of great adversity. True peace is not merely the absence of war, it is the presence of justice. The people of Kosova need peace now. The world needs Europe to serve as a beacon for human dignity and human rights — for all those yearning to breathe free.

A quarter of a century on, and Serbia’s proneness to engage in war is still a fact. Our dangers have not diminished, and permanent deployment of troops cannot remain the only solution. NATO’s Article 5 security guarantees for Kosova is absolutely necessary. The European security to defend itself directly depend on it. There’s such a thing as being too late and that hour is upon us.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan
A 100-year-old Albanian woman refugee from Kosova comforted by the Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Mrs. Nane Annan in Blace, at the official border crossing between Kosova and Macedonia. Tens of thousands of refugees from Kosova were denied entry by the Macedonian government, and remained in the squalid conditions, living in tents and rationing water and food for months, stuck in "no man's land" between the two borders. Date: 5/19/1999. UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

This brings me to one other point. The fierce urgency of now is also a call to face the truth. It is long past time for Serbia to confront its past, and the war crimes committed on the innocent people across the Balkans. Reckoning with the past remains not only imperative, but also where our best hopes for humanity living in peace lie. The Nobel Laureate and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou, illustrated this brilliantly in her stirring inaugural poem, On the Pulse of Morning. She said:

History, despite its wrenching pain
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

The future of Europe in peace depends entirely on that. The future of Serbia depends on that. “An invented past can never be used”, in James Baldwin’s words, because “it cracks and crumbles under the pressure of life like clay in a season of drought.”

Today, as the world inches closer to the precipice, we all are asking of ourselves and each other, what can we do? And what can we do now? We’ve come a long way, but we must prepare to do more. How well has President Kennedy once said that: “A nation’s character, like that of an individual, is produced partly by things we have done and partly by what has been done to us.” This is a moment to renew our responsibility and remain committed, each of us, in our own ways — as one people, with one destiny, because our power lies in each other.

Here we are, and we have a chance to be better. The human spirit, stumbling, failing, falling, rising, falling again, but somehow miraculously always rising. I’ll leave you with the uplifting words of Maya Angelou from her poem, Still I Rise:

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

I rise

I rise

May the resilience of our people over the generations be available to all those who will need it now.

children-dancing-kosovo UN
The children of Kosova perform Albanian traditional dance during a show to mark International Children's Day under the shadow of the Albanian national hero, Gjergj Kastrioti, in the Skanderbeg Square, Prishtina, Kosova. 6/1/2007. UN Photo/Afrim Hajrullahu

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” — Viktor Frankl.

Dino Korca is director of Albanian Institute, has served as president Europe’s network of national cultural institutes and diplomatic missions in New York. He is a graduate of University College Dublin School of Law, and lives in Berlin and New York.

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