I meant to post the following blog accompanying my piece last week about the Serbian Church upheaval. It is a shortened version of a February statement by James Jatras, exposing the double standards applied to the almost non-existent and ineffective Serbian lobby, which don’t apply to the much more well-funded and effective lobbies of Albanians, Croatians and Bosnians.

Statement by James George Jatras Regarding Allegations of Misuse of Funds to Support Lobbying in the United States on Behalf of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija (February 18, 2010)

In connection with the suspension of His Grace, Bishop ARTEMIJE, from supervision of his Eparchy, allegations have been made to the effect that funds allocated for other purposes (variously reported as earmarked for humanitarian relief or for repair of churches) instead were used to pay for lobbying service by two firms with which I have been associated, Venable and Squire Sanders. To the best of my knowledge, this was first raised in Blic yesterday. Later that same day, an item appeared in a website purporting to be that of the Diocese of Ras and Prizren and Kosovo and Metohija, denouncing me for beginning circulation of an open appeal in defense of Vladika Artemije…

I have tried to be conscientious regarding both the damage my own country was doing to itself through its misguided Balkan policy (and particularly support of radical Islamic elements in Bosnia and Kosovo) and the obscene unfairness of the demonization the Western powers, especially the United States, attached to the Serbs during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. For that, well before being engaged by the Serbs of Kosovo, I was attacked from many quarters, notably by Islamic organizations and the Albanian lobby.

[Note a relevant point from a subsequent interview between Jatras and Serbias Weekly Telegraf: “We have to remember how thoroughly Serbs had been demonized in Washington when the Yugoslav wars began in the 1990s. Almost no one in official Washington wanted to talk with a Serb, any Serb, even those opposed to Milosevic. Because I was one of the few exceptions, my office at the Senate became a regular stop for Serbian opposition figures visiting the U.S.]

In March 2006, I signed on behalf of Venable an agreement with the Serbian National Council of Kosovo and Metohija (SNC), under the signature of its president, Mr. Dragan Velic. It should be kept in mind there was then no official Serbian government lobbying effort in the United States, at a time when the U.S. government clearly was moving towards a “final solution” of the province’s status. (Several months later the government did sign an agreement with another firm but not, as far as I know, with specific reference to Kosovo.)

Vladika Artemije concluded that if no action was going to be taken by official Belgrade, he had no choice but to try to do something himself as the centerpiece of a professional effort to put the truth about Kosovo in front of the face of the American people and decision-makers…Upon signing of the March 2006 agreement with the SNC, Venable immediately launched the American Council for Kosovo. Our goal was to provide a real American voice against the wrong-headedness of our country’s policy of supporting a group of Islamic terrorists and organized crime organizations (the KLA) under the command of the criminals Thaci, Ceku, and Haradinaj; and to show that far from perpetrators of genocide in Kosovo, Serbs are the victims.

We knew we were starting a fight with an entrenched policy position in Washington, which held that all the merits were on the Albanian side and none on the Serbian side. We also were fighting against an Albanian lobby that had been active, literally, for decades, and which had vast sources of funds (of course, including criminal proceeds), the amounts of which can only be speculated, and which lavishly gave to American politicians’ campaigns.

The reaction to our beginning operations was hysterical. One of the Albanian-American groups accused us of trying to “hijack American policy toward Kosova,” to which, of course, the Albanians were accustomed to full and uncontested enjoyment. (It is quite meaningful that the information in the Blic article is taken almost word-for-word from this Albanian-American site.) They hacked our website. They launched a phony mirror site (which even fooled some people into thinking we were working for the Albanians too!). They denounced us as racists, extremists, etc., for pointing out the truth of Kosovo and the “friends” America had adopted there. We believed we could win only by changing the terms of debate. When we began, “Kosovo” meant only “the place where America stopped genocide of peaceful Albanians by evil Serbs.” Due to our efforts, for many, many Americans “Kosovo” now means “the place where our government insanely helps jihadists and gangsters terrorize Christian Serbs.”

Were we successful? Let us remember that when we began our efforts Washington fully expected smoothly to arrange the “final status” of Kosovo well before the end of 2006. The architects of American policy expected minimal resistance from Belgrade and were sure the Russians were not serious in their opposition to independence. And of course there were virtually no dissenting voices in the United States. While our efforts may not have been early enough to have accomplished a reversal of American policy, I am confident that if not for this campaign under Vladika Artemije’s guidance and direction Washington would have moved much faster than it did to “resolve” the issue. Instead, we threw enough sand in the gears that contributed to a delay of almost two years, by which time the Russian position had become rock-solid and it had become impossible for anyone (openly, anyway) in Serbian politics to consent to losing Kosovo. Even when Washington did make its move in early 2008, in concert with the KLA kingpins and with unprecedented bullying of our European allies, they did so with the increasingly desperate knowledge they were losing ground and that it was “now or never.” The result – the ongoing, unresolved crisis – is not one anyone wants to see but is far better than what likely would have been the case if we had not moved when we did at Vladika Artemije’s initiative. I sincerely believe we helped give Serbia a fighting chance, which it is still her option to take advantage of or not.

With respect to the money, there is a curious assumption behind the accusation that moneys were “diverted” to lobbying: that while Serbia’s enemies should take full advantage of all the influence money can buy, Serbs should rely solely on goodhearted, voluntary, nonprofessional efforts. That assumption is a large part of why Serbia and Serbs ended up where they did in the propaganda wars of the 1990s. It is an assumption Vladika Artemije wisely understood he had to reject if he was to have any hope of saving his flock. In any case, the cost for services in the agreement signed between SNC and Venable in March 2006 was for an initial six-month period for $600,000, and continuing thereafter unless cancelled at the same rate of $100,000 per month. Any search of lobbying records for international clients shows that this is well within the range of such services, with two provisos:

* First, that the payments under the SNC/Venable agreement were inclusive of out-of-pocket costs (like media buys, travel, conferences, etc.), and was not just for professional fees to the firm for its work. This is not usual. In most agreements the contract amount is what goes for the work, with costs added on top. This means that out of the SNC/Venable contract from one-third to up to forty percent of the funds paid went not for professional fees but for things like ads in papers read by officials, like Roll Call and The Hill; in well-read political sites like DrudgeReport and Daily Kos; conferences at locations like the Capitol Hill Club Washington’s most well-regarded Republican gathering place); for travel around the U.S., Britain, Germany, Russia, India, Israel, Belgium (EU), Rome, and other locations; and similar expenses. This also means that the actual amount paid for the work of Venable’s professionals was far exceeded (by a factor of two or three times) by the amount of time devoted to the mission.

* Second, that funding ($600,000) for the initial six months, which was paid out over the period March-December 2006, virtually exhausted the sources available for support of the representation. In February 2007, because I had changed firms, the agreement with Venable was reassigned to Squire Sanders Public Advocacy, under the signature of Fr. Simeon (Vilovski), continuing at $100,000 per month, though by then no further funds were available. Notwithstanding, the work continued at the same intensity throughout 2007 and 2008, and into 2009. Since then, it has been necessary to scale back the work but it has never fully ended despite having, in effect, ceased to be professional effort and transformed into essentially a volunteer activity. [In the Weekly Telegraf interview Jatras elaborates that expenses such as advertising, web site, travel, compliance with government reporting and tax regulations still had to be paid even when his firm was receiving no funds at all. ]

So, that means that since the signing of the March 2006 contract, that initial $600,000 for six months has bought almost four years worth of work of varying levels of intensity. That’s an average of about $12,500 per month, of which, as noted above, a sizeable portion went to costs. None of what is related above is a state secret, however. As noted, all of this has been public record since March 2006, and in a sense it is absurd and insulting to have to explain it…

I’ll close with just a few of the questions and answers from that Weekly Telegraf interview:

Q: What was the difference between lobbying for Albanians and for the Serbs?

A: The big difference is that the first is powerful and is everywhere, and that the second really didn’t exist on a professional basis until we got started on behalf of Vladika Artemije. I am not referring to the efforts of Serbian-American organizations, which were noble efforts but just not on the same level – by which I mean money – as what the Albanians can do. To be sure, the Albanians have sources of funds in their community that the Serbs don’t have (and decent people don’t want to have). Their fundraising for American politicians is massive, while that from Serbian-Americans is negligible. Also, the Albanians had been at it for decades, so the well had already been poisoned by their propaganda by the time we started work from a great disadvantage.

Q: How many lobbyists there are on Albanian side? What are their actions and results?

A: It’s hard to answer that for the simple reason that most of what they do takes place on an undisclosed level without compliance with the formal reporting requirements. For example, those attacking me because of my association with Vladika Artemije comb through the reports on the U.S. Justice Department website (to which I provided the links in my statement of February 18) to see what kind of information might be useful. Under American law, we probably didn’t even have to register with the Department, but we thought it best to be over-compliant, because we were dissenting from Washington’s policy and would be under a microscope. The Albanians, however, already owned Washington and could do pretty much what they wanted without registering or reporting to anyone. I could invite all those picking through the reports of the American Council for Kosovo to pick through the pro-Albanian lobbying activities. But they can’t for the simple fact that most of what they do was not registered at all.

Q: Did you have any problems with Albanian lobbyists?

A: I object to their contempt for the truth and their using my country as a weapon to achieve their unjust aims. I object to their contempt for American law in their lobbying activities, their campaign finance behavior, and in raising money for terrorists and even buying weapons in the U.S. [for terrorists]. But we have never attacked them personally, though they immediately started defaming me when we started working for the Serbs of Kosovo under Vladika Artemije’s leadership. They can be very nasty. (I’m sure this is a big surprise to your readers.) The messages we get to our website cannot be printed in your paper, they must be wearing out the “F” key on their keyboard. We do call the KLA “leaders” Thaci, Haradinaj, and Ceku terrorists and criminals, because that is what they are, as U.S. officials well know.

The fact is, Albanian-Americans (as we say here) put their money where their mouth is. Their tribal leaders tell them what their assessment for the cause is: “You, Mr. Pizza Shop Owner — $5,000,” “You, Mr. Roofer — $10,000,” and so on. And they pay it. Can you imagine trying to do that with Serbs? They’re too individualistic. They also are too confident that the truth will win all by itself, even when lies are supported with a lot of money. As far as whose campaigns the Albanians finance, about the only way you could track it down would be to go to www.fec.gov and look at each campaign and try to find Albanian names. By the way, just before the 2004 elections, there were news reports on arms purchases in the U.S. by people acting on behalf of the KLA, part of which showed the same people involved in the arms smuggling raising money for the John Kerry presidential campaign and many Congressional candidates, almost all Democrats. I called the Republican National Committee and the George Bush campaign to suggest they demand an investigation because of the ties of this money to people with obvious KLA connections, and also because it’s likely some of the donors were not U.S. citizens. They weren’t interested, maybe because a few of the recipients were Republicans, too.

Q: Many think that separation of Kosovo in Northern and Southern part is under way. What do you think about that and is it good for Serbia or not?

A: I don’t think it is happening and it would not be a good thing. If they can amputate part of Kosovo, even one hectare, they can amputate all of it. The Albanians and their foreign supporters are still trying to find some way to get effective control over the north, and we must be concerned about some provocations to “justify” use of force to that end. I am worried that the action against Vladika Artemije may in some way be connected to anticipation of such a possibility.

Q: How do you comment [on] statements of Kosovo politicians that Northern Kosovo should be exchanged for the southern part of Serbia?

A: It is a trick. They want the north of Kosovo — and Presevo too. And Tetovo and everything north and west of Skopje. And “Malesia” (Montenegro), which I’m sure Djukanovic will be all too happy to deliver when he is ordered to. And “Cameria” (Southern Epiros [in Greece]). They don’t even hide it.

[Regarding Serbia’s petitioning the International Court of Justice to rule on the legality of the Kosovo secession and in general on the point of separatists seceding from democratic states]: Of course I could be proved wrong when the decision comes out, but I still think it was a good move. One reason is the way Washington reacted to Serbia’s resolution in the General Assembly to make the referral. The U.S. could have supported the referral or even abstained (as did most of the countries that had recognized Kosovo). Instead, we voted No, with the support of only Albania, Palau, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Nauru. A mighty coalition indeed! Has U.S. standing in the world community ever been so ridiculously low? With the heavy weight of world opinion on Serbia’s side, the judges of the ICJ cannot fail to understand that if they say the UDI was legal, they will be throwing a deadly bomb into the international system.

The U.S. and Britain, in particular, are no doubt pushing hard to sway the judges. And maybe they will succeed, meaning that yet one more center of law and order has been subverted by power and politics, and the struggle must continue with that in mind. But, historically, judges on the ICJ cannot be counted on to rule the way even their own governments want. There likely will be some balance in the decision, but I believe the weight will be greater in Serbia’s favor. Again, I might turn out to be wrong, but I suspect the action against Vladika Artemije (like the “Quint” letter to Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic) is somehow connected to anticipation of a ruling unfavorable to the KLA and its sponsors.

[NOTE: The “Quint” letter refers to what the appeal on behalf of Artemije describes as: “The unwarranted threat, contrary to all diplomatic custom, by the foreign ministries of the United States, Britain, Germany, France, and Italy to Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic that he must ‘cool down’ his rhetoric on Kosovo and Metohija in anticipation of the advisory opinion expected soon from the International Court of Justice; evidently, for the Western powers, even verbal defense of Serbia’s territorial integrity is now entirely unacceptable.”]

Q: You said once that Serbs were bad guys in US public even before 1991. What was the reason for that, when we were then all in one state – Yugoslavia?

A: This was largely a result of early lobbying by the Croats and Albanians. They, together with a number of other communities that had supported the losing side during World War II were very successful in dominating “ethnic” lobbies in American politics, especially in the Republican Party, under the guise of “anti-communism.” Most “non-ethnic” Americans had no idea that what they were promoting was not America’s Cold War defense against communism but their own tribal agendas, usually anti-Russian but also anti-Serbian. […]