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Hitchens, a great friend of Kosovo

One of the world’s most enlightened public commentators has died, an extraordinary friend of Kosovo and all Albanians , who up to the last moments of his life, had time for the nation which he once called “the most long-suffering and persecuted of all Europe’s peoples”

Petrit Selimi

Last summer, I had the honor to host a dinner with the best historian of the Kosovo question, Noel Malcolm, human rights activist and fashion model, Bianca Jagger, as well as our excellent diplomat in London and unrivalled historian of Albanian documents, Bejtullah Destani. One of the topics was the subtle, but strong relationship between Kosovo and Great Britain. Naturally, a name was mentioned, that of the public commentator, Christopher Hitchens. Malcolm, as a former journalist and Ms. Jagger as an active participant in the cultural scene over some decades, both knew Hitchens. “A man with terrible and poisonous language” said Jagger. It is true that Hitchens was famous for creative phrases and sentences with a large number of words “engaged” that not a few people called hateful. As a committed atheist and author of the best-selling book “God is not Great”, Hitchens once called Mother Theresa a “thieving fanatical Albanian dwarf”; Henry Kissinger, former American Secretary of State, he called “odorous wast.
These two, together with the popes, Avigdor Liberman, Arab sheiks, the Orthodox Church and modernity’s leftists put up with page on page of the most creative verbal assaults by an author during Hitchens’ decades of work.

Encouraged by discussions with friends from Great Britain, I sent Hitchens an email, which initiated a modest correspondence with him. I knew he had cancer of the esophagus and couldn’t talk, but he wrote more densely than ever. Despite his illness and chemotherapy, he managed at the end of the summer to give a short contribution to Kosovo, writing a small review of the book by labor party member and former minister, Denis McShane. He wrote, “Kosovo’s people – ethnically cleansed Albanians and Serbs exploited by demagoguery - know who their friends are. This book will remain a monument to a difficult time and the humanity that survived it”.

For Kosovo, the Balkans and Albanians he had great sympathy. He called Serbs racist. Once, he wrote that, “it is a sin that in retrospective, it took us so long to diagnose the pathology of Serbia’s combination of arrogance and self-pity, in which what is theirs is theirs and what is anybody else's is negotiable.”

In 2010, after the ICJ verdict, Hitchens who is a close friend of the writers Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis made a very eloquent public call that Kosovo not be forgotten: “We lose something important if we forget Kosovo and the terrible events that brought self-determination in the end for its two million residents. Long deprived of the most basic national and human rights, sent at gunpoint towards deportation trains and threatened by real threats of mass murder, these people were saved very late by an intervention which said, very simply, that there is a limit up to which breaking the law will be tolerated and up to when conscience is shamed”. He laughed at those equalizing the situation in separatist Ossetia with Kosovo, as Kosovo was “the concluding act of the defeat of a crazy and evil plan. Albanians would not accept the restoration of Serb sovereignty, no less than the Polish would refuse unity with Russia”.

Hitchens wrote dozens of letters, correspondence and essays about Kosovo for eminent world publications, from Vanity Fair and the Washington Post to western periodicals, where he polemicized with old friends like Noam Chomsky about the justice of the war in Kosovo. Around the middle of 1999 he strongly attacked President Clinton calling him a traitor. Hitchens was worried that Clinton would betray Prime Minister Blair in the NATO war and that he would compromise with Russia by dividing Kosovo and forgetting Albanians. Great respect towards Albanians doesn’t allow me to repeat the words that Hitchens used for Clinton, always in strong defense of the question of Kosovo.

Hitchens often cited the memoirs of the famous communist, Trotsky, when he reported on Serb crimes toward Albanians during the Balkan wars at the start of the last century. Hitchens was known for his photographic memory and he knew more details about Kosovo than many Albanians.

A member of the British upper class, Hitchens, or as he was known, Hitch, was one of the most unorthodox characters of literature and public commentary. In his private life, he was sometimes homosexual (he said that he had slept with two conservative statesmen) sometimes heterosexual (“I’m so old and ugly that men don’t look at me”), and married twice. He was a leftist and Trotskyite all his life, attacking bastions of the right and its most eminent personalities, but in Kosovo he supported intervention and later, in Iraq, he set aside his youthful ideals to be a big supporter of George Bush. He dealt a lot with extremist Islam after the terrorist attack of September 11.

A formidable polemicist, he wrote his last polemic a few days before dying. Diagnosed with terminal cancer and suffering the effects of destructive chemotherapy, he expressed in the polemic his personal disillusionment with the popular saying, “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”, maintaining to the last his characteristic irony.


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