Last week, Donald Trump was perhaps falsely accused of ‘apologizing’ for NATO interventions that twice stopped the mass murder, which includes crimes of genocide, of more than 100,000 innocent civilians in the former Yugoslavia. The incident distracted from Mr. Trump’s long-held objection to the NATO intervention in Kosovo that likely saved thousands of lives. Furthermore, it is impossible to ignore Mr. Trump’s insulting reticence to disavow the support of one of the most prominent war criminals from those wars, Vojislav Seselj.
As American citizens who fled from those wars and former representatives of the United States government, authors, human rights activists and academics who concern themselves with the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and its effects, we find Mr. Trump’s statements on these matters to be deeply disconcerting.
In 1999, Mr. Trump favored a ground invasion and likely occupation of Serbia to NATO’s targeted, albeit imperfect, bombings. This summer, he indicated that as president, he would not intervene when repressive regimes slaughter their own citizens. It is important to note that Bosniaks (Muslim) from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albanians from Kosovo and Croats were targeted and systematically killed during the Balkan wars. For the survivors among us who are Muslim, Mr. Trump’s statements calling for a ban of Muslims from entering the United States, if applied when we fled our homes, would have surely ended in our deaths.
More recently, he has not distanced himself from Vojislav Seselj, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. During the Bosnian War, Seselj inspired terror in the hearts and minds of men, women and children during his militia’s violent invasions of villages carrying out a campaign of murder, rape and torture in Eastern Bosnia.
Today, Seselj is a member of the Serbian parliament and likely to run for Serbia’s presidency in 2017. In September, Seselj ‘welcomed’ Vice President Joseph Biden to Belgrade with a well-publicized political rally in support of Mr. Trump. He had previously called upon Serbian-Americans to vote for Mr. Trump. His platform continues to focus on violent rhetoric, the creation of a ‘Greater Serbia,’ slowing Serbia’s progress toward joining the European Union, and he espouses closer ties to Russia. He routinely burns NATO flags in public. He has also politically exploited state-sponsored murder in the unresolved case of Ylli, Agron, and Mehmet Bytyqi, three Kosovar Albanian American brothers who were executed and dumped on top of a mass grave in 1999.
Apparently, Vojislav Seselj sees Donald Trump as an ally in his cause. Mr. Trump has done nothing to disavow Seselj’s endorsement.
Because Mr. Trump seeks one of the most powerful positions in world, we take this opportunity to remind him that his policies would have been catastrophic for all of Southeastern Europe. The United States and NATO acted as a force for good in these interventions, although perhaps tragically late in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Indeed, even more alarming to us, Mr. Trump’s position on NATO dovetails with that of the Russian Federation, which opposes NATO and its expansion in the region, including Macedonia and Montenegro. For those among us whom are survivors of terrible wars led by belligerent autocratic leaders, Mr. Trump’s professed admiration for Vladimir Putin is alarming, given Putin’s increased engagement with leaders of Serbia and the Bosnian Serb entity who refuse to take responsibility for past crimes, including genocide. Russia has actively blocked Kosovo’s membership to the UN. Putin’s demonstrated disregard for human rights is self-evident with respect to a domestic crackdown on Russian civil society. Thus, a Donald Trump presidency aligned with Russian and Balkan extremists would not serve U.S. interests and could throw an already fragile region into full-blown crisis.
Therefore, we call on Donald Trump to disavow the endorsement by Vojislav Seselj, and his past statements on NATO’s intervention in the former Yugoslavia. He should embrace policies that saved many of our lives and can prevent human catastrophe.
Ajla Delkic, Bosnian American human rights advocate
Richard Lukaj, philanthropist and public policy advocate
Tanya Domi, adjunct professor, Columbia University; former spokesperson OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina
Praveen Madiraju, human rights attorney
Amb. (ret.) Robert L. Barry, former head of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina
Amb (ret.) Richard D. Kauzlarich, former U.S. Amb. to Bosnia and Herzegovina, adjunct professor, Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University
Amb. (ret.) John K. Menzies former U.S. Amb. to Bosnia and Herzegovina, former chief of mission in Kosovo
Amb. (ret.) William E. Ryerson, former U.S. Amb. to Albania, 1991–1994.
Shawn M. Byrnes, senior Foreign Service officer and chief of the U.S. Diplomatic Observer Mission in Kosovo (1998-99) and of the U.S. Diplomatic Mission to the Republic of Montenegro (1999-2002)
Jim Hooper, independent consultant and former Foreign Service officer
James Zogby, president, Arab American Institute
Kurt Bassuener, founder and senior associate, Democratization Policy Council
Ken Biberaj, public policy advocate
Mirsad Hadzikadic, professor, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Valbona Karanxha, Ed.D. New Haven Public Schools, Yale University research fellow
David L. Phillips, Institute for the Study of Human Rights, Columbia University
Shinasi Rama, Ph.D. clinical professor of international relations NYU
Grid Rroji, lecturer of international relations NYU, editor for Bletashqiptare.com
Gerard Toal, Virginia Tech, National Capital Region
Samuel Totten, professor emeritus, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
Sarah Wagner, associate professor of anthropology, George Washington University
Dr. Paul R. Williams, Rebecca I. Grazier professor of law and international relations, American University
Martin Shkreli, former chairman of the board for the National Albanian American Council
Adisada Dudic, attorney, human rights advocate, Srebrenica genocide survivor
Meto Koloski, Macedonian American human rights advocate
Elmina Kulasic, human rights advocate
Steve Rukavina, Croatian American activist
Klara Buda, former head of the Albanian Department of Radio France Internationale, Paris, March 1999-2010
Erol Avdovic, former president of the United Nations Correspondent Association and Senior UN Diplomatic Correspondent
Nancy Y. Bekavac, lawyer and president emerita, Scripps College