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Remarks by Ambassador Muhamet Hamiti

At the Screening of the Documentary “Rescue in Albania” - The British Parliament, London, 19 October 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear friends,

The documentary that we will view together in this august edifice of democracy is self-sufficient as a work of art. It does not need an explicator, and certainly I will not want to pretend I am one of them. I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the authors, Mr. Islami and Mr. Gashi, for having produced an exceedingly good film.

I would like to share briefly with you a few facts about the history of the Jewish presence in Kosovo, which draws mainly from Noel Malcolm’s seminal History of Kosovo, published in 1998. Existing evidence proves their arrival in the fifteenth century, although Kosovo probably had maintained contacts with Jews since the ancient times. As merchants and professionals in Prishtina and other cities, including coin-minters in Novo Bërda early in the 15the century, their numbers probably swelled after 1492, when Jews were expelled from Spain and Portugal. The Jewish presence survived in Kosovo during the Ottoman rule. By the end of mid-nineteenth century there were 600 Jews in Gjakova alone. [The Gjakovars have been generally perceived, certainly in affirmative terms, to have shared Jewish features in terms of their character, especially with regard to their economic prowess .]

There were over 300 Jews in Prishtina at the end of the nineteenth century, and around 3000 in all of Kosovo by 1910, two years before the brief liberation of Kosovo from Ottoman rule and the subsequent conquest by Serbia.

The documentary dwells on the plight of Jews in their darkest period of history, during WWII, in Kosovo and Albania. The Italian occupation of most of Kosovo in 1941 gave the Jews in Kosovo and Albania a sort of a relative shield from Nazi persecution.

One of the prominent Kosovar families who played a crucial role in hosting and saving Jews was a family by the name Rezniqi. The Rezniqis helped more than 40 Jewish families in the Kosovar town of Deçan during the war. The Jews saved by the Rezniqis were from other parts of Yugoslavia and other European countries. Lekë Rezniqi was quoted earlier this month as saying in Prishtina that \"Albanians in Kosovo helped Jews to reach the promised land, as they called Albania during World War II”.

The Yugoslav Communists, under whose rule Kosovo fell after World War II, levelled down a Catholic Church and a Jewish synagogue in Prishtina, capital of Kosovo, during the 1950s. This was done in the name of building a new, Socialist nation in the former Yugoslavia.

For people of my generation, born in mid 1960s, the memory of a Jewish existence in Kosovo had been fatefully erased.

With the fall of communism and the emergence of the democratic struggle of Kosovars for freedom and independence in late 1989, efforts started in the newly-emerging Kosovar polity in the 1990s to restore the very fabric of society, but also of national history which had been buried in the Yugoslav communist ruins. Our historic independence leader, Ibrahim Rugova, spearheaded this unique movement, which reaffirmed the older ties of Kosovo to the West and indeed to the ancient history. It was under Dr. Rugova’s leadership and indeed his deeply humanist ethos that good care was taken of the Jewish cemetery in the capital Prishtina in the1990s. The Serbian occupation authorities were busily engaging in ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo at the time, when the father of the Kosovar nation (in the political sense of the word, of course) was tidying up the Jewish cemetery, thus rekindling the memory and the ties underpinning an old people that had been battered badly by occupation and ideology, including the most criminal ideologies of the 20th century, Nazi and Communist ones.
Let us cherish the values and memories of the everlasting human in us, mortals, here and everywhere, now and forever.

Thank you very much for your attention.