For those who remember when Albania was a hermetically sealed communist dictatorship under Enver Hoxha, the spectacle of George Bush receiving a hero’s welcome in Tirana was a surreal one. An easy appeal to ethnic nationalism on the issue of Kosova was a sure way to win applause. “The question is whether or not there is going to be endless dialogue on a subject that we have made up our mind about,” Bush said while visting Prime Minister Sali Berisha June 10. “We believe Kosovo ought to be independent. There just cannot be continued drift, because I’m worried about expectations not being met in Kosovo.” But in a none-too-subtle equivocation on actual independence (and a warning against too strident demands for it), he called on Berisha to use his “good contacts” among Kosovar Albanians to help “maintain calm during these final stages.” (EU Observer, June 11)
In another surreal spectacle, Bush met in Prague on June 5 with Rebiya Kadeer, an exiled leader of the Uighur independence movement from China’s Xinjiang province. “Another dissident I will meet with here is Rebiya Kadeer of China, whose sons have been jailed in what we believe is an act of retaliation for her human rights activities,” Bush said in his speech before a Prague conference attended by dissidents from throughout the former socialist bloc. “The talent of men and women like Rebiya is the greatest resource of their nations—far more valuable than the weapons of their army or oil under the ground.” (UNPO, June 7)
As we have said before, the oppressed are entitled to take their allies where they can find them. But we hope that Rebiya Kadeer recalls the Bush administration’s betrayal of the Uighurs in 2002, when the separatist East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) was added to the State Department “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” list. This was an open bid to win Beijing’s cooperation with the Iraq invasion in the Security Council. Now that this is no longer an issue and Beijing is perceived by Washington unequivocally as an imperial rival, Bush is embracing the Uighur cause for reasons which are no less political—and cynical.
A particular irony which we hope is not lost on Rebiya Kadeer is that five Uighur militants who had been held at Guantanamo Bay were released just over a year ago—to Albania. This unlikely destination was a result of pressure from human rights groups, who warned that they could face torture if deported to China. As we noted at the time, the case indicates that, US-Chinese tensions notwithstanding, the two imperial powers still have some common geostrategic interests. We think the same can be said of US-Russian tensions and Bush’s supposed support for Kosovar independence—despite the notorious “neocons” and their now-languishing regime change offensive.