The Debacle of Serbia's "Lobbying" in Washington

By James G. Jatras
Friday, 26 Feb 2010

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 The lobbying contract between the Government of Serbia and Milan Petrovic's firm appears still to be in force, but it is hard to be sure since there are no discernable activities being performed. And of course that is the real scandal, in which the “yellow” press organs in Belgrade obsessed with my work for Bishop Artemije seem to take no interest.  Since the suspension of Bishop Artemije of Ras and Prizren from administration of his Eparchy, efforts have been made by some to use my role as a lobbyist in Washington on his behalf as a weapon in the campaign against him. I already have addressed elsewhere the questions, first raised last week by Blic (parroting an Albanian-American source), about the source of the funds used for lobbying in the U.S. and whether their use for that purpose was legitimate application of the ruling Bishop’s discretion. 
   But the more damaging thing about these attacks is the notion that lobbying for Serbia’s right to keep Kosovo was somehow a “waste” of money, and that there were no results from it. This is more than a belittlement of the efforts that were expended by my firm and those working with us. It is, rather, a suggestion that it is immoral and futile for Serbia to struggle for her interests by lobbying to change US policy. 
   When we started in the spring of 2006 we were the only professional (as opposed to volunteer) activity lobbying on behalf of the Serbian cause. Our activities, through a US nonprofit organization we created, the American Council for Kosovo, were not confined to narrowly focused lobbying in the form of quiet meetings with American officials and Congressmen. More importantly, we knew we had to change the terms of debate on Kosovo, from a place where the noble West saved innocent Albanian Muslims from evil Serbs, to a place where the criminal, terrorist UÇK was committing genocide of Christian Serbs. Most of our activities in the U.S. and elsewhere (Britain, Germany, Israel, India, Italy, the EU, Russia, etc.), often
in cooperation with The Lord Byron Foundation and with the support of other volunteers, were focused on public opinion. We forced people to look at "the other side" of the Kosovo story, to the outraged howls of the Albanian lobby that we were trying to "hijack" US policy.  While we were not able to overturn an American policy misinformed by decades of Albanian (and Croatian) anti-Serb propaganda, I believe were successful in helping to delay Washington’s final push for almost two years, giving Serbia a chance to fight back.  Our contract, only a part of which was ever paid, was for $100,000 per month, including (about 40% of the total) cost of advertising, conferences, travel, and other expenses.
   In evaluating our degree of success, it might be useful to make a couple of comparisons.  A few months after we began our effort under the direction of Vladika Artemije, the Serbian government (under Prime Minister Kostunica) hired another firm, Barbour Griffith and Rodgers, to lobby officially on its behalf.  That contract was for $60,000 per month, plus costs. As far as has been publicly disclosed, they were not specifically tasked with lobbying on Kosovo, but such concentration can be inferred. Their activities were entirely closed-door meetings, and they did no public activities to make Serbia’s case. They were dropped soon after the UDI in February 2008.
   In the summer of 2009, Belgrade (the current government) hired another firm, Chicago-based Advanced Practical Solutions, for $85,000 per month, plus most costs. As a professional lobbyist, I don’t generally like to throw rocks at a competitor, but APS seems an odd choice. They have no active website and apparently not even a Washington office. APS’s President, Mr. Milan Petrovic, is known mostly as a top fundraiser for former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. According to press reports, when "Blago" was governor APS did a nice little business steering state contracts to its clients, mainly in the healthcare field. The operation fell apart with the Antoin "Tony" Rezko bribery conviction, Blagojevich’s resignation, and Petrovic's withdrawal from the Indiana bar to avoid imminent expulsion. Maybe APS was hired by the Tadic government because it’s a "Serbian firm," although that in itself means nothing. But an online search of US political campaign records finds several contributions to candidates (all Democrats: Blagojevich, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama) by an APS employee named Shqipe Osmani, which doesn’t sound Serbian. 
   The APS contract appears still to be in force, but it’s hard to be sure since there are no discernable activities being performed.  And of course that's the real scandal, in which the “yellow” press organs obsessed with my work for Bishop Artemije seem to take no interest. I wonder why.
   I’m sure these figures for lobbying activities in the US must seem astronomical to readers in Serbia, where people are struggling to scrape by. The sad fact is, this is the kind of money it takes to array a battery of experienced media and lobbying professionals, usually with experience as government officials, Congressmen, Senators, and (like me) Congressional staff. These are people who have the access to make a foreign country’s - or politician’s, or political party’s - case heard in Washington’s corridors of power.  
   Many countries a lot poorer than Serbia have made the decision it’s an investment they need to make, if only for self-protection. It is a choice Bishop Artemije, to his credit, made when no one else on the Serbian side was willing to step forward. And now there are those who seek to punish him for it, and punish Serbia too. That's not just a crime, it's a blunder.

An edited version of Mr. Jatras's piece will be published next week by the Serbian-language newspaper 'Vesti'