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October 1999
Volume 17, Number 10

The Postwar Home Front
by Morgan N. Knull

Although it went unobserved in media accounts, there was something for everyone in Mrs. Albright's splendid little war: the left can toast their humanitarianism, right-militarists can justify more "defense" spending, Nato has a new lease on life, the Serbs were rid of the Kosovars, and 10,000 ethnic Albanians received free passage and the option of permanent residency in the US. "Only in America!" as the saying goes.

Despite this formidable record of ethnic engineering, not until Bill Clinton and Madeline Albright commenced bombing Kosovo (in order to save it) was there an opportunity to import refugees (created by US imperialism) at taxpayer expense to the United States. The Clinton administration had originally announced that it would bring 20,000 of the Kosovars to the US, but Milosevic capitulated before the full contingent could be moved. Add that to his war crimes.

Kosovo is due to be rebuilt at Western taxpayer expense, but its refugees in the United States have until May 2000 to decide whether to remain or to return-again, at American taxpayer expense-to Kosovo.

If government figures can be trusted, it costs about $2,000 to fund each refugee's travel and initial resettlement, and would cost another $500 to return him to Kosovo. All told, $400 million is budgeted for the program.

And, as always with the Clinton administration, there's more: between now and May, refugees who go back to Kosovo but have second thoughts will be permitted to return to the United States, albeit at their own expense. "Refugees themselves will make the decision whether to return or to permanently settle in the United States," State Department deputy spokesman James Foley has explained.

This is a pretty sweet deal for everyone involved except taxpayers, who are just expected to pony up the necessary money. "All you did for us was so great, precious, and tremendous," refugee Aqim Shaqiri waxed in remarks delivered (in Albanian, of course) at the temporary Kosovo refugee village at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Presumably he wasn't referring to Mrs. Albright's bombing campaign.

Now the refugees are being disbursed around the country and resettled in cities by Catholic Migration and Refugee Services personnel. Considering that almost all of the Kosovars are Muslims with large families, that might seem an odd role for a Catholic agency, until one learns that the United States Catholic Conference has a plush contract with the State Department to perform resettlement work. Seen in this light, the agency would appear to be neither especially Catholic nor charitable. But it does have a savvy business sense. According to one news source, the Catholic Conference "is telling its staff that if Kosovar refugees here approach them about returning home, they should be counseled about the dangers and dire living conditions that still exist there."

When over 100 ethnic Albanians were dispatched to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the local director of Catholic Migration and Refugee Services explained, "With 100, hopefully they'll be able to build a good community." Many are off to a good start. Zylfi Latifi and his wife arrived with seven children ranging in age from 6 to 24 years old.

Provided with a federal rent and utilities allowance of $290 per person for the first 90 days of their resettlement, refugees will also receive counseling and placement services. Then, of course, there's welfare. Dozens of agencies looking for clients find easy pickings among those newly inducted into the political class of the officially poor. As refugees, they are eligible for a range of programs targeted to meet their special need for cash up front.

Ramadan Sulejmani and his extended family have settled into a three-bedroom house in a Baton Rouge suburb and enjoy their encounters with Americans. "The house is good, it's comfortable," he told reporters. "When I see these people-so nice, so friendly-I'm very, very happy. It makes me feel like I'm in my homeland." Except, of course, that he isn't: Ramadan is the only person in his 12-member family who speaks English and Baton Rouge isn't exactly an area renowned for its thriving Muslim culture.

The public school system established a special summer program for 22 Kosovar children, arranging for a school bus to pick them up for three weeks of classes. Just to sweeten the pie a little, the students were given "free" breakfast and lunch. Robert Strain, the school system's director of instructional programs for non-English speakers, describes the academic program: "It's amazing how a teacher who speaks English can teach to a class with [children who speak] seven different languages. You don't teach. You perform." Indeed. Language differences or not, such antics ought to be enough to tip off Kosovar parents about the mixed benefits of welfare clientism.

In Baton Rouge, there are plenty of impoverished blacks whose living conditions ironically mirror those which Kosovo's ethnic Albanians have fled. During one summer week alone, three were shot to death and another five were crushed mortally under a hit-and-run gangmobile. Similar events occur with such depressing regularity that they elicit not much attention, but surely they offer some lesson to refugees-and to the United States Catholic Conference-about the adverse consequences of government dependence. Like American Indian reservations, inner cities are appalling monuments to the nature of the welfare state.

"We just want to have our human rights," Ramadan Sulejmani explains, before adding that he wouldn't return to Kosovo unless ethnic Albanians regain political power there. He seems oblivious to the fact that though exercising political power may be a prudential goal it has nothing to do with human rights.

Despite the demonization of Serbians by the Clinton administration (which remains silent about Kosovar drug trafficking and attacks upon Kosovo's Serbian minority), political fanaticism is the real culprit behind the drama of the Balkans' prolonged implosion. A misbegotten child from the beginning-thanks to Woodrow Wilson-Yugoslavia's entire history knew only the politics of power, the wild but seductive desire to impose one's will on others through force. Now in the aerial bombing that compelled the political separation of Kosovo from Serbia, we have an appropriate memorial to Wilson's pompous and bloody effort to remake the world. Still, sometimes you can go home again (and off US welfare rolls) if you leave the destructive vision of Wilsonian idealism behind.

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Morgan N. Knull is a graduate student in political philosophy at Louisiana State University.


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