By: Martin Makaryan
Edited By: Kayla Goldstein
On Thursday, October 26th, the SAIS Europe & Eurasia Club hosted Donika Gërvalla-Schwarz, Kosovo’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, for an interactive conversation with SAIS students. Minister Gërvalla-Schwarz is the first foreign minister of another country invited to speak at the Bloomberg Center, the newly inaugurated SAIS campus in Washington, D.C.
Speaking to the SAIS Observer, Kayla Goldstein, the President of the SAIS Europe & Eurasia Club and one of the main organizers of the event, said that it was an “honor” to host Foreign Minister Gërvalla-Schwarz and her delegation at SAIS last week. “I’m incredibly proud of our team, their flexibility, efficiency, and willingness to collaborate to successfully bring prominent speakers to our SAIS community. SAIS Europe and Eurasia Club leadership expertly leveraged our skills to ensure an excellent, student-driven event, which I will certainly remember as one of the highlights of my tenure as club president,” she added.
Minister Gërvalla-Schwarz’s visit came at a time of heightened tensions in the region. The newest escalation in the region came after the shooting of a Kosovar police officer and violence at a local Serbian Orthodox monastery. Serbia and Kosovo exchanged accusations for the new flare-up, while the White House warned that the situation poses risks for not only Kosovo, but for the international NATO troops stationed in the country.
Kosovo is a partially recognized state in the Balkans which broke away from Serbia through a unilateral declaration of independence in February 2008. Kosovo’s independence came after Serbia’s brutal crackdown on the former autonomous region’s majority Albanian population during the bloody breakup of former Yugoslavia.
The United States led a NATO bombing campaign in 1999 to stop the humanitarian catastrophe and mass slaughter of Albanian civilians of the region, putting Kosovo under a UN administration that lasted from the end of hostilities until 2008. Serbia has refused to recognize Kosovo’s independence, insisting that the de-facto republic, recognized as independent by the United States and other major European states, is a Serbian province. A political solution to the conflict has not been reached despite the recent call by European leaders on Serbia to de facto recognize Kosovo.
Against the backdrop of a renewed threat of war in a region that has seen waves of violence and wars in the 1990s, Minister Gërvalla-Schwarz emphasized the role of the United States and key Western partners in ensuring peace and stability in the region. The memory of ethnic cleansing and war crimes was also evident in the Minister’s perspective when answering questions from the audience. During the conversation with SAIS students, moderated by SAIS Professor Edward P. Joseph and Europe & Eurasia Club Board Member Nick Kalams, the Foreign Minister drew parallels between the surge in violence in conflicts around the world, “from Israel to Nagorno-Karabakh,” and the potential of escalation in Kosovo, alluding to a global confrontation between civilizational forces.
Before arriving at the SAIS campus, the Foreign Minister met with several members of Congress, including the top Democrat on the powerful House Rules Committee and Co-Chair of the Congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Representative Jim McGovern. “The United States is the strongest guarantor of our independence and statehood,” the Foreign Minister told the SAIS Observer during an exclusive interview after the event, when asked about the purpose of her visit to Washington. Minister Gërvalla-Schwarz also highlighted the active diplomatic work of Kosovo’s other high-ranking officials who are similarly traveling to key Western capitals to garner support and call for sanctions on Serbia.
“Political engagement is perhaps even more crucial for your generation,” the Minister told the SAIS Observer when asked about her message to the student community at SAIS. “Being American also means taking responsibility for other parts of the world,” she continued, emphasizing the need for SAIS students, as well as learners and educators everywhere, to better inform themselves about important foreign policy development abroad, especially amidst widespread disinformation and misinformation which now characterize today’s social media landscape.
Foreign Minister Gërvalla-Schwarz’s visit was part of the Europe & Eurasia Club’s active efforts at creating opportunities for direct engagement with high-profile officials from this region, which in recent years has become a new battleground of geopolitical competition and confrontation. The event, held under tense circumstances around Kosovo, was a unique opportunity for students to hear from Kosovo’s chief diplomat who herself played a key role in Kosovar Albanians’ struggle for independence.
The visit was historic, not least for the fact that it was organized and hosted by a student-run club, and not by the university administration or Dean’s office. “Hosting this event was a historic moment for our club. As a newly established student organization, we successfully hosted the delegation of a foreign country, moderated a discussion on issues relevant to Kosovo, and fielded questions from our student audience. This opportunity was organized and orchestrated by students for students, which sets it apart from any other high-profile event organized by the university’s administration, Focus Area, or Faculty group,” the President of the Europe & Eurasia Club told the Observer.
Organizing an in-person event with high-level foreign officials requires significant effort and logistical coordination, and the SAIS Europe & Eurasia Club’s Executive Board deserves praise for a smooth and well-organized campus event. The leadership of the Club deserves credit especially given the hurdles of navigating the red tape related to event organization and logistics after SAIS moved to its new campus at the Bloomberg Center. Hopefully, this precedent will be an encouraging example for other clubs to take initiative and bring influential voices to campus for more interactive engagements with SAIS students.