Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A New Time and Age for European Diaspora Communites

In a world that is increasingly borderless, the role and sway of Diaspora communities has never been greater. Leaders of three unique Diaspora organizations gathered at the Washington, DC Chapter of the Society for International Development June 27 to speak of immigration trends from their respective nations and to describe the focus and influence of their policies.

Like many Diaspora Communities, The National Albanian American Council promotes peace, democratic values, human rights and economic development. It distinguishes itself from other organizations centered on Balkan reconstruction by serving as the unofficial embassy for Kosovo in Washington and the Albanian voice in the US capital. Executive director Avni Mustafaj highlighted the council’s success in fighting gender inequality by providing leadership training for Balkan women. Diaspora communities, argued Mr. Mustafaj, want to earn respect from all arenas without having to compromise their goals and dominion.

Garnering both American and European support for economic and government reforms in the Republic of Moldova is at the heart of The Moldova Foundation. Thanks in part to its internet-based news service, the foundation tells the Moldovan story in an international arena and consequently further defines the question of Moldovan identity. According to its President Vlad Spanu, the Moldova Foundation differs from other Diaspora Communities because members are mainly US citizens who support civil society in Moldova, not removed patriots.

Like Mr. Spanu, U.S.-Ukraine Foundation President Nadia McConnell insists that her organization is not your typical Diaspora community: many key players are US citizens and its efforts are regionally bipartisan and do not play favorites to specific cities or ethnic groups. Additionally, the US Ukraine Foundation keeps communication lines open between Ukraine and the US to facilitate “[peace building] and prosperity through shared democratic values.”

When asked to assess the future of their “Diaspora communities” in the US, panelists gave very different predictions. Mr. Mustafaj perceives an increased role of Diaspora communities in the coming years; however, he is also a little weary of this heightened presence, as the nostalgia uniting Diaspora members can easily bread extremist practices. Because his organization is quite young, Mr. Spanu explains that the only direction the Moldova Foundation can go is up. Ms. McConnell noted that she is both optimistic and pessimistic for the fate of all Diaspora communities. Despite their distinct forecasts, it is safe to say that all three leaders are making great strides in encouraging both domestic and international collaborations, and perhaps more importantly, translating the voice of the people to an unfamiliar audience.

Hosting Institute: SID-Washington: Europe and Eurasia Workgroup
Date: 27 June 2008
Time: 12-1.30 PM
Representative Attending: Elizabeth Caniano

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