By Rafaela Prifti-
I am grateful that we are able to have this conversation prior to your departure from your post as Head at the Consulate General of Republic of Kosovo in New York. This evening The Pan-Albanian Federation of America VATRA hosted a farewell event at its Headquarters. What is your message to VATRA as the oldest organization in the US diaspora and its leadership?
Ambassador Teuta Sahatqija: Four years ago, I began my tenure as the Head of Kosovo Mission to New York by visiting VATRA’s offices. It was an emotional visit, not unlike walking in a sacred historical site, full of history, glory, stories, and patriots who did so much for Albanians all over the world. VATRA is the organization that has synchronized the Albanian voice in the United States. I think that carries a special importance. VATRA can bring even more coherence in the Albanian diaspora, and coordinate efforts to strengthen the Albanian position in America and thus helping the Albanian cause in Albania, Kosova and around the world.
DIELLI: During the war, you and your family were forced out of your home. Your plight is described in the issue of The Diplomat Washington of March 1, 2019, as follows: “on April 5, 1999, Sahatqija fled her home in the village of Gjakova with her husband and their four children — ranging in age from 4 to 10 — as neighbors’ houses were burning and corpses littered the streets. “I found myself in the middle of the road with all the kids, not knowing where to go,” she said. “Without food or security, we were forced to flee through the mountains, and ended up in Albania — first in Krumë, a town near the border, then to Tirana.” Then the article characterizes you as a seasoned diplomat stating: “Sahatqija’s objective: to get as many nations as possible to establish diplomatic relations with Kosovo, and have her small, struggling country admitted to the U.N. — and eventually NATO and the European Union as well.” How do you feel you have met the challenges?
Ambassador Teuta Sahatqija: As Kosovo’s UN envoy, it is particularly challenging since Kosova is still not a UN member and there are some countries that very “diligently” strive to prevent Kosovo from being present and from participating in events and in meetings. In fact, I have several Protest Notes from Serbia and Russia for such participations.
DIELLI: It has been one month from the cancelation of talks between Kosova and Serbia in Washington in late June and the publication of the allegations by the Special Prosecutors Office. How would you describe the present situation?
Ambassador Teuta Sahatqija: The dialogue between Kosova and Serbia has started. It is very important that it continues and even more important that it finishes with mutual recognition. It will help Kosova to remove obstacles in its way toward full recognition in world political, diplomatic and professional stage. It will enable the country to join the UN, EU and other international organizations as well as allow Kosovo to focus on economic development. I believe that the interest for this dialogue between US and Europe is increased as the guarantors of proper comprehensive agreement.
As for the Special Prosecutors Chambers, there is no court in the world that can change the history and glorious fight of Kosovo Liberation Army for freedom. Our fight was the right one and justice will prevail.
DIELLI: Recalling the previous visit last February at Vatra’s Headquarters of Kosovo President Thaci, Her Excellency Ambassador Vlora Citaku and you. How do you remember it? What difference did six months make?
Ambassador Teuta Sahatqija: As always VATRA’s doors are open to all, high government officials and state dignitaries. It was welcoming and informative with regard to the developments and efforts in the United States by the community leaders. I do remember that some of the questions gave them a hard time. For me, I felt as a member in the Kosovo delegation and at the same time as part of the host diaspora delegation.
DIELLI: You are a diplomat representative of a non-member state of the United Nations and that is a challenging job. How have you managed to serve your country in the UN headquarters and under the circumstances that you have? In one instance, I recall the event in early 2019 held at the UN commemorating the contribution of the Albanian people in rescuing the Jews in World War II when you were not giving the floor. What can you tell us now about the episode?
Ambassasor Teuta Sahatqija: The task of the UN envoy of Kosovo which is not a member is particularly challenging. I have been involved and have participated in various events and commemorations. I remember the event honoring the selfless acts of Albanians who helped to rescue Jews during the WWII, in Albania, Kosova, Montenegro, South of Serbia or Macedonia. Helping the one in need is deeply ingrained in Albanian nation’s culture and tradition regardless of the country’s borders or rules of governments. The commemoration at the UN Conference Hall is an unfortunate event where I was not allowed to take the floor. Not being a UN member entails a number of obstacles for Kosova, but at least friendly UN members try to compensate that lack of presence by invitation to discussions and other ways of participation.
DIELLI: What are your most cherished memories from the time you served in New York? With your experience in political life of Kosova, what did you bring to the position as Head of the Consulate of Kosovo in New York? And what do you want your predecessor to know about the task that they have to carry?
Ambassador Teuta Sahatqija: One of my main tasks in New York was communication with UN Missions. I was Kosovo’s Envoy to the UN. I aimed to make Kosovo present within UN community, receiving and delivering diplomatic messages to my counterparts, participating in countless activities at the UN. It was a formidable and stimulating task since Kosova is still not a UN member and there are countries that work “diligently” to prevent Kosovo from being present and active on the world stage. I have several Protest Notes from Serbia and Russia for such participations.
I have been blessed with many friends among Ambassadors who invited me to conferences, asked me to deliver remarks, arranged meetings with Ambassadors of non-recognizing countries through lunches or dinners or invited me to receptions where I could network on behalf of Kosova. Those friendly Ambassadors helped reduce the frequency of UNMIK reporting to Security Council about Kosova from four times down to two times a year. They helped block some efforts of Serbia for de-recognitions and much more.
I would like to say to my successor to be aware that the Mission in New York could probably be the most difficult diplomatic mission of Republic of Kosova in the world. But it is also an honor to serve your country. I would like to tell my successor to make as many friends as possible and to never give up.
DIELLI: You have been a very outspoken advocate of the rights of survivors of sexual assault of the Kosova war. In January 2020 you co-organized an event at National Committee on American Foreign Policy titled: Silent No More: Perspectives on Combating Sexual Violence in Conflict. Your presentation laid out important campaign goals for survivors. There have been numerous events and rallies where you have championed the cause for justice on behalf of survivors. Are you proud of advancing the voice of the women that still feel stigmatized in Kosovo’s society? What can you tell us about the mission as you move forward?
Ambassador Teuta Sahatqija: The topic of sexual violence during the war has been one of my priorities. In Kosovo, as Member of Parliament, I worked with the survivors through several women organizations. I worked on the legislature to recognize the survivors and also provide them with the economic tools to empower themselves. In New York, I advocated to seek justice for them, to try to include Kosova in the annual report of Secretary General of UN for Sexual Violence during the conflict. I have continued to speak up with UN diplomats, through different organizations as NCAFP in NYU, speeches at Harvard, CUNY, Baruch and elsewhere. I am dedicated to stand with the survivors as I serve in my new position as Deputy Minister and shall do so throughout my career.
DIELLI: What are some of the most enduring memories during your mandate? And do you have any regrets as you take your next post?
Ambassador Teuta Sahatqija: I am going back to Kosova after four years with very fond memories, with a lot of new friends, a lot of achievements and pride. Could I have done more? Probably! I shall continue to serve with dedication in my new position as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora. I will serve my country, work the best I can and live the post in better condition than I found it.
DIELLI: You have prioritized issues of social justice, gender equality and women’s rights while being a staunch supporter of the arts and culture including the culinary heritage of Albanians. As the Head of the Kosovo Consulate General in New York, you have hosted numerous art exhibits and the office space has accommodated shows and has been transformed into an art gallery with intense frequency. There must be a record number of shows, exhibits, book promotions, culinary festivals, movie-screenings launched and hosted by you in New York and around the country. You clearly value the impact of the art and culture. Can you please share your thoughts?
Ambassador Teuta Sahatqija: I am proud to have accommodated art shows at the Kosova Consulate. We have hosted six artists’ exhibitions in a span of two years, and numerous classical, jazz, popular music concerts that provided opportunities to young artists to perform for the community. We hosted or co-hosted numerous film premieres and plays. The moment Kosovo produced wine was placed at the Security Council table by Japan Ambassador, I knew we needed to organize wine tasting events. We had four such popular editions and it became an attractive event for the UN diplomats who joined with anticipation.
Also, seminars for Albanian language and culture were held in VATRA’s offices and on premises at the Kosovo Consulate. I send books to Albanian schools in New York and all over the country. We have launched book promotions and signings, business gatherings for Kosovo and American businesses and investors. We have had performances by Albanian school children. Every time Kosovo Consulate’s offices invited the Albanian diaspora, I always welcomed them with the same words: “Welcome home!”- “Mire se erdhet ne shtepine tuaj”!
DIELLI: Thanks to concerted efforts, Kosovo has gained international exposure through the education and business initiatives such as the orientation of RIT Kosovo (AUK) presentation last winter, and your keynote speech at a Convention in the US on telemedicine industry which has been set up in Kosova in 2002.
Ambassador Teuta Sahatqija: The telemedicine industry connects the needs of the healthcare system and the technological advancements to better serve the people in Kosovo. I have received the President of the RIT Kosovo –AUK and supported the fundraising events, as well as donated to KAEF to benefit its scholarship program.
DIELLI: You are the Head of Consulate General of the Republic of Kosovo in New York, a diplomat and very savvy in Public Relations. You are also a wife, a mother, sister, daughter. How have you been able to balance all of it?
Ambassador Teuta Sahatqija: I take every job very seriously and dedicate myself to do it well. I dedicate 100% of my energy and time and I do it with a lot of love and passion. My family is so supportive in all my efforts. I try to leave my post in better condition than I found it. I think that is my recipe.
DIELLI: You have a great record in terms of relations with the community and the media. In recognition of such rapports, Kosovo General Consulate has awarded recommendations for members of the community and members of the press. Vatra and Dielli have been consistently acknowledged by the office and the government institutions of Kosova. To what do you attribute your good relations with the community?
Ambassador Teuta Sahatqija: Albanian community in America deserves eternal gratitude from Albanians in Albania, Kosova and wherever Albanian live. Albania and Kosova effectively became countries thanks to enormous efforts, the dedication and diligence manifested in the diplomatic and financial aspects. The least I could do was to show gratitude for all the work done in the past and present. Vatra and Dielli are the strong pillars, the beacons of Albanian presence in America, guardians of the glorious history that makes every Albanian proud regardless of where we live. The very first visit I made when I started my mission four years ago was at VATRA. I do close my mission in New York by visiting VATRA among friends I made during my tenure.
I have a lot of respect for the Albanian diaspora and I have committed to make them an important part of my work. My last event on the occasion of Kosovo Independence Day was co-organized with Albanian Diaspora organization and I am so proud of it.
I would like to wholeheartedly thank the journalists, media and Albanian press in New York and America who covered the events, reported the meetings and informed the diaspora and the people back home of the work of the team of diplomats in New York. Thanks a lot!
DIELLI: Thank you for the interview! Good luck!