Meet our 2018 Featured Speaker: Vlora Çitaku
After 1989, when Kosovo was stripped of its autonomy by a Serbian regime, a decade of human rights oppression unfolded. Then in 1998, the situation erupted into a violent war. The Kosovo Liberation Army fought to free the country and the people from atrocities committed by Serbian Army, police, and paramilitary groups that led to ethnic cleansing. Around 1 million Kosovars found themselves seeking refuge in neighboring countries. Among those refugees was Kosovo’s future ambassador to the United States, Vlora Çitaku.
Separated from her parents and forced from their home, Çitaku and her sisters temporarily resettled in Macedonia until the end of the war in 1999. Through those three months of fear and uncertainty, Çitaku stayed hopeful that she would one day return to Kosovo and reunite with her family, living in a land not of war but of democracy and peace. Her work since has largely focused on maintaining peace, independence, and prosperity for all communities within Kosovo—one of the world’s youngest democracies—and protecting minorities’ and women’s rights is a priority for the ambassador so that the horrors of the war are not repeated.
Çitaku has said that as a young girl being politically active was not a choice, it was a way of survival. In her words, “Freedom is a precondition for the creation of any other value.” Determined not to let the oppression and indignities of war diminish her ambitions, Çitaku became an interpreter and reporter for Western news outlets and later entered into politics to work toward a free and independent Kosovo. Immediately after the war, during her two-term service as a member of the Kosovo Assembly, she played a key role in independence negotiations for her country. Since then Çitaku has represented Kosovo in several diplomatic positions, and prior to her current position she was consul general of the Republic of Kosovo’s mission in New York.
The war brought atrocities to communities all over Kosovo, but it was particularly harsh for women. Rape and other forms of sexual abuse were used as tools of war, and the pain caused by these actions carried over long after the conflict ended. In her work for the betterment of Kosovo she insists that women take a front seat at the table because “how can you build peace if you exclude half of the population?”