Statement by James George Jatras Regarding Allegations of Misuse of Funds to Support Lobbying in the United States on Behalf of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija
In connection with the suspension of His Grace, Bishop ARTEMIJE, from supervision of his Eparchy, allegations have been made to the effect that funds allocated for other purposes (variously reported as earmarked for humanitarian relief or for repair of churches) instead were used to pay for lobbying service by two firms with which I have been associated, Venable and Squire Sanders. To the best of my knowledge, this was first raised in Blic yesterday. Later that same day, an item appeared in a website purporting to be that of the Diocese of Ras and Prizren and Kosovo and Metohija, denouncing me for beginning circulation of an open appeal in defense of Vladika Artemije, which started yesterday.
I will address the accusation of the alleged misuse of funds in due course, below. But first it needs to be made clear what is going on here: that a concerted effort is being made to destroy the man who, more than anyone else, has become the symbol of Serbia’s resistance to amputation and annihilation of Serbia’s most important spiritual and national patrimony. Can anyone doubt that should it succeed what would be the consequence for the Serbs of Kosovo and Metohija and for the whole Serbian nation? Even if there are legitimate questions to be asked about administrative matters in the Diocese, everyone can see the methods being used to obliterate Vladika Artemije’s public witness and to terrorize and intimidate his supporters. Who benefits from that?
With regard to my contract for lobbying services on behalf of Vladika Artemije and of the Serbian people of Kosovo and Metohija, I have and always will regard the fact that His Grace asked me, and not someone else, to perform this task in Washington as the great honor of my life. It should be kept in mind that beginning with my work at the U.S. Senate, and subsequently during my testimony as the trial of Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague, I have tried to be conscientious regarding both the damage my own country was doing to itself through its misguided Balkan policy (and particularly support of radical Islamic elements in Bosnia and Kosovo) and the obscene unfairness of the demonization the Western powers, especially the United States, attached to the Serbs during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. For that, well before being engaged by the Serbs of Kosovo, I was attacked from many quarters, notably by Islamic organizations and the Albanian lobby. Perhaps for that reason, when Vladika Artemije decided that something on a professional basis needed to be done on behalf of his people, he selected me knowing that it would not be just a “job” performed by a “hired gun” who could just as happily represent Serbia’s enemies but someone committed to his cause.
In March 2006, I signed on behalf of Venable an agreement with the Serbian National Council of Kosovo and Metohija (SNC), under the signature of its president, Mr. Dragan Velic. It should be kept in mind there was then no official Serbian government lobbying effort in the United States, at a time when the U.S. government clearly was moving towards a ”final solution” of the province’s status. (Several months later the government did sign an agreement with another firm but not, as far as I know, with specific reference to Kosovo.) Vladika Artemije concluded that if no action was going to be taken by official Belgrade, he had no choice but to try to do something himself as the centerpiece of a professional effort to put the truth about Kosovo in front of the face of the American people and decision-makers. This is the same decisiveness and courage he displayed when I first met him, when I was working at the Senate, during the period 1997-1998, when he was, as far as I know, the only Bishop willing to speak against Milosevic and to come to Washington on a mission of peace.
Upon signing of the March 2006 agreement with the SNC, Venable immediately launched the American Council for Kosovo. Our goal was to provide a real American voice against the wrong-headedness of our country’s policy of supporting a group of Islamic terrorists and organized crime organizations (the KLA) under the command of the criminals Thaci, Ceku, and Haradinaj; and to show that far from perpetrators of genocide in Kosovo, Serbs are the victims. We knew we were starting a fight with an entrenched policy position in Washington, which held that all the merits were on the Albanian side and none on the Serbian side. We also were fighting against an Albanian lobby that had been active, literally, for decades, and which had vast sources of funds (of course, including criminal proceeds), the amounts of which can only be speculated, and which lavishly gave to American politicians’ campaigns.
The reaction to our beginning operations was hysterical. One of the Albanian-American groups accused us of trying to “hijack American policy toward Kosova,” to which, of course, the Albanians were accustomed to full and uncontested enjoyment. (It is quite meaningful that the information in the Blic article is taken almost word-for-word from this Albanian-American site.) They hacked our website. They launched a phony mirror site (which even fooled some people into thinking we were working for the Albanians too!). They denounced us as racists, extremists, etc., for pointing out the truth of Kosovo and the “friends” America had adopted there. We believed we could win only by changing the terms of debate. When we began, “Kosovo” meant only “the place where America stopped genocide of peaceful Albanians by evil Serbs.” Due to our efforts, for many, many Americans “Kosovo” now means “the place where our government insanely helps jihadists and gangsters terrorize Christian Serbs.”
Were we successful? Let us remember that when we began our efforts Washington fully expected smoothly to arrange the “final status” of Kosovo well before the end of 2006. The architects of American policy expected minimal resistance from Belgrade and were sure the Russians were not serious in their opposition to independence. And of course there were virtually no dissenting voices in the United States. While our efforts may not have been early enough to have accomplished a reversal of American policy, I am confident that if not for this campaign under Vladika Artemije’s guidance and direction Washington would have moved much faster than it did to “resolve” the issue. Instead, we threw enough sand in the gears that contributed to a delay of almost two years, by which time the Russian position had become rock-solid and it had become impossible for anyone (openly, anyway) in Serbian politics to consent to losing Kosovo. Even when Washington did make its move in early 2008, in concert with the KLA kingpins and with unprecedented bullying of our European allies, they did so with the increasingly desperate knowledge they were losing ground and that it was “now or never.” The result – the ongoing, unresolved crisis – is not one anyone wants to see but is far better than what likely would have been the case if we had not moved when we did at Vladika Artemije’s initiative. I sincerely believe we helped give Serbia a fighting chance, which it is still her option to take advantage of or not.
With respect to the money, there is a curious assumption behind the accusation that moneys were “diverted” to lobbying: that while Serbia’s enemies should take full advantage of all the influence money can buy, Serbs should rely solely on goodhearted, voluntary, nonprofessional efforts. That assumption is a large part of why Serbia and Serbs ended up where they did in the propaganda wars of the 1990s. It is an assumption Vladika Artemije wisely understood he had to reject if he was to have any hope of saving his flock. In any case, the cost for services in the agreement signed between SNC and Venable in March 2006 was for an initial six-month period for $600,000, and continuing thereafter unless cancelled at the same rate of $100,000 per month. Any search of lobbying records for international clients shows that is this is well within the range of such services, with two provisos:
First, that the payments under the SNC/Venable agreement were inclusive of out-of-pocket costs (like media buys, travel, conferences, etc.), and was not just for professional fees to the firm for its work. This is not usual. In most agreements the contract amount is what goes for the work, with costs added on top. This means that out of the SNC/Venable contract from one-third to up to forty percent of the funds paid went not for professional fees but for things like ads in papers read by officials, like Roll Call and The Hill; in well-read political sites like DrudgeReport and Daily Kos; conferences at locations like the Capitol Hill Club (Washington’s most well-regarded Republican gathering place); for travel around the U.S., Britain, Germany, Russia, India, Israel, Belgium (EU), Rome, and other locations; and similar expenses. This also means that the actual amount paid for the work of Venable’s professionals was far exceeded (by a factor of two or three times) by the amount of time devoted to the mission.
Second, that funding ($600,000) for the initial six months, which was paid out over the period March-December 2006, virtually exhausted the sources available for support of the representation. In February 2007, because I had changed firms, the agreement with Venable was reassigned to Squire Sanders Public Advocacy, under the signature of Fr. Simeon (Vilovski), continuing at $100,000 per month, though by then no further funds were available. Notwithstanding, the work continued at the same intensity throughout 2007 and 2008, and into 2009. Since then, it has been necessary to scale back the work but it has never fully ended despite having, in effect, ceased to be professional effort and transformed into essentially a volunteer activity.
So, that means that since the signing of the March 2006 contract, that initial $600,000 for six months has bought almost four years worth of work of varying levels of intensity. That’s an average of about $12,500 per month, of which, as noted above, a sizeable portion went to costs.
None of what is related above is a state secret, however. As noted, all of this has been public record since March 2006, and in a sense it is absurd and insulting to have to explain it. How, then, to understand the sense of breathless discovery by those trying to discredit Vladika Artemije? When all is said and done, there is only one legitimate question than can be asked that relates to the lobbying issue: did the funds for it come from some specific source for which it was absolutely impermissible to be used for any other purpose, such as lobbying? Not being party to the Eparchy’s ledgers, I would strongly doubt it. First, money is fungible. If money is given to the Eparchy for various purposes and then is spent for a number of legitimate activities, how is it determined which money went for what purpose? Second, I categorically reject any suggestion that Vladika Artemije, Fr. Simeon, or any of the monastics and laity associated with him would perform any clearly improper action, financial or otherwise. If, on the other hand, we are talking about questions of judgment, that should be left to the Bishop’s discretion. For example, if Vladika Artemije decides that instead of spending a dollar to help restore a damaged church (so the Albanians can attack it again) it would be better to spend it to help ensure churches won’t be destroyed, who better than he to be the judge of it?
In any case, such questions can be asked in a reasonable and humane way. That is not, however, what we see before us today, which can only feed the sense that something else is at work. It is hard to escape the conclusion that what really is unfolding is a political agenda reminiscent of the Milosevic era, to silence Vladika Artemije’s courageous and irreplaceable voice that is so offensive to some in Washington, Brussels, and Belgrade.
In closing, I note that the item posted on the “new” Eparchy site accuses me not only of hypocrisy but of attacking the Holy Synod. To appeal respectfully but firmly is not to attack. So, once again, I appeal to His Holiness, Patriarch IRINEJ, to the Holy Synod, and to the whole Serbian people, that this unjust and unjustified persecution of Vladika Artemije stop at once and that he be restored to authority over his Diocese.