Anita Susuri: What were these actions like? Can you describe your experience a bit?
Xhavit Gashi: Well, for example, my direct activities in the war were probably on the frontline in Vrella. That’s where the activities were. While I’m not known for special actions like some other young guys were. I mentioned, for example, Avni Elezi with a group of guys, they managed to break down not only the main criminal but also the main groups of his band who committed crimes throughout Dukagjin, Shaip Uka had another group.
So, I knew those guys on the frontline as well, but I was one of those guys who were really proud to belong to that generation who I know, I had the chance [to get to know them]. It’s unfortunate that they no longer live. But, I, yes, [I was] on the frontline in Vrella in those two-three critical days. And then, there were cases after a while when we withdrew from our area, the villages, Studenica, Vrella after the big Serbian offensive. After a while I took care of wounded people too, for example in the mountains of Kaliqan, Jabllanica, near Peja, Istog-Peja.
We were attacked again by 3000 to 4000 forces. They didn’t know the number of us. We were only 110 people, but they came… a large number of forces were informed that they’re around 3000-4000 forces, we were 110. Those forces were from Serbia and Montenegro, they came from the mountains and their intention was whatever they could find. The Serbian forces were already in the lower parts, but from the mountains they thought there were more of us and we would come from up there.
Then we were forced, when we were notified, to move from there. First to make sure that we saved the wounded and then we dispersed. Some of us, for example from our brigade, moved to some villages near Istog and the riverbed of Drin. While me and another group went and sent the wounded, but we were also notified at the base back then in the Dukagjin area in Maznik, where commander Ramush Haradinaj was.
But, me and my group were told that we had to wait for a moment when I would take an order and go back to the border with Montenegro. Back to the villages, above our villages. And it was a task that I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. But I was told only the day when I got the order to begin, there at a specific point I would meet with a person I knew, an officer, an official of KLA, who was organized and engaged, assigned the duty of supplying weapons.
So, we had to take care and get the weapons from them and follow them back to Maznik where he was. And of course we went through many ambushes, through many dangerous areas. But, to mention it, maybe it’s something worth mentioning, the moment right on the day when we got happy we got the supply of ammunition and weapons, plus an amount of uniforms. We got ready to follow it, because it was in limited supply but there was a large load of ammunition and we were really happy.
And above the Kaliqan village, there was a guy from the Kaliqan village, a soldier, he is fortunately alive. He knew those paths, because he had been a shepherd and took care of the livestock before in those mountains. And he said, “I know the way, I will lead until we cross to the road which connects to the other village.” To continue, for example, towards the villages of Peja and then the villages which connect to other villages where the groups were, other groups waiting for us to deliver the ammunition, weapons, and then come back to get the next supply.
He was, for example, walking, leading when one moment he saw, it was a little before it got dark in the evening and he saw some leaves and some tins. Freshly cut leaves which were a little damp and tins, beers there. That was like a sign to us that the Serbian forces could be near, because we didn’t have tins nor beers. Although we looked to see if there were any forces during the day, we didn’t see in that perimeter.
But from the moment when we looked and started off to go there, there were already some Serbian forces who had come near there. And right after that there was the trailer of a tractor, because there were many tractors, trailers in the mountains from when people tried to run away, until they could run up there and they left them there. And that’s where we saw them as soon as we passed by that trailer, for example, I stopped that guy, his name is Sadri. I told him, silently, I just signaled him to be silent.
My brother Sadri was there with me too, two other soldiers, Xhevdet and I don’t know who, I forgot his name. I just told them to wait there. I got in front of that trailer and I immediately faced four-five people. It’s fortunate that I had a weapon which was, we called it a hand cannon and that saved me. It’s very interesting because it was the first time I fired that kind of gun, it worked and we survived that day.
On the same day again, although there was reinforcement, we had to find a different way and to make sure that the weapons went to the right destination. Maybe I don’t have many stories of actions or something like…
Anita Susuri: I want to ask you…
Xhavit Gashi: Yes.
Anita Susuri: What kind of feeling was it to see someone getting killed? I mean, constantly at risk that you could be killed or… what kind of feeling is that?
Xhavit Gashi: The only luck was that I was 24 years old. For example, when you’re… because when you don’t have a lack of, when you lack military knowledge, security, defending, I mean we weren’t prepared to be soldiers. For the fact that I told you my whole life was organized around, a different lifestyle [speaks in English], a different life. So, I didn’t do anything although those patriotic feelings were always there, to do something for the country, we didn’t have the possibility of doing anything without some training or preparation for war, neither physical but also not exactly…
I wasn’t a problematic guy either, for example, getting into fights with people or, you understand, because someone was more like that by nature. But, fortunately I was 24 years old, I was more prepared, I mean, more mature in the general aspect and I am always thankful to the education I received from my father. And then, you understand the mission, the mission of war and I mean, you don’t relate your actions in war to murder, you relate them to defense. For example, I mentioned that I went to the frontlines, we defended and we knew that behind us there were thousands of civilians who were happy we were there, for example, there on the frontline and not even them [nor] us were aware that we didn’t have great powers to do the defending.
Unfortunately, it was obvious that we didn’t have the power to protect thousands [of people from] massacres, rapes. We had great will to do something about the country, but we weren’t prepared for that. It wasn’t easy. Now the other unfortunate thing is that after the war there were no state institutions to deal with people who went through war, especially those young people who were 16-17 years old. For example, it’s difficult for me too, but I was 24 years old. In a way, my father, or my mother didn’t force me to go to war, nor did I go because I was young, and I didn’t go to war for an adventure.
I don’t know if I can explain well [why I am saying] adventure, very young, for example, we saw cases of people who went and joined ISIS. Some of them, there was research done globally, that young people only wanted to feel like they are doing something cool [speaks in English], doing something, you know, interesting, fighting, killing, they played with toy [guns]. We didn’t have those kinds of toys for example. But we did something due to patriotism, to reach the light, to get out of the darkness, to not say centuries long, but for decades in a row.
We talked about the case, for example, I talked about my father, my father or my brother. But even the generations before them who, for example, suffered many challenges and sacrifices, they did it to get to this day. So, you don’t focus on that moment, how to put it, directly leading up to the murder. You are on the defensive, so the goal wasn’t to… and we didn’t go to war, for example, I am talking about myself, I wasn’t part of the operations just to go and kill somebody or to go and attack a unit. But, I was part of those… I value those who went, because that was a mission of our war, to neutralize the enemy forces.
But I, for example, was more on the frontline and managing situations when you fall into a puddle, in an ambush, and you have to find a solution. So we were ready to go anywhere together. I am, how to put it, happy that I belong to that history, but I know that that is history. The word history itself tells you it’s something in the past and I never focused, for example, on that. For example, until last year I didn’t even have a veteran’s card nor did I care about it. Now I am retired, but you understand. But after the war I always focused on, what do we do to achieve more? It was known that time belongs to history.
Anita Susuri: You told me about some operations you, I mean operations you had…
Xhavit Gashi: Activities, yes.
Anita Susuri: Activities. But when the liberation happened, how did you find out about that? Where were you?
Xhavit Gashi: Yes. The last activities I mentioned were those supplying weapons, so I mainly got to deal with logistics as well for a time in the brigade and with recruitment. But, again, during the last days of war they put me back to supplying. I returned there from Manzik and it was the end of May, beginning of June. And then it was the beginning of June when the second or third supply came if I haven’t forgotten, along with the supply there were two journalists from Newsweek, the Newsweek magazine, it’s globally known, and Sunday Telegraph if I’m not mistaken. There were three journalists from these two media outlets.
They also had, they had satellite phones, they had possibilities of connecting to the internet at that time and we got… and before they came, we had the possibility of sometimes getting information and communicating through some transistors, we had satellite phones or radio connections. We had them. Information would be spread about the discussions, the efforts to reach an agreement for stopping the war, you understand. But exactly during that time we had that mission of supplying weapons because we didn’t know exactly although there were talks that the war would stop, an agreement could be reached, the NATO forces could enter.
So, it found us right at the villages above Iston and Peja there, waiting for the other part of the supply. So, one of those supplies came through right on the day when the NATO forces entered [Kosovo]. So, how did we see them? We saw them, we were waiting, and then we heard about the agreement, but we saw the first helicopters, we knew that they weren’t Serbian, because Serbs didn’t dare to although they had helicopters, they didn’t dare [to fly] over those mountainous areas because they feared we would shoot them. They didn’t know where we were, they were afraid. And there were helicopters which maybe crashed because of our soldiers’ shots, and we know there were.
But when we saw a high number of helicopters around that area at Peja’s bath, which was about five-six kilometers in air space, you understand, where the troops arrived. And then, we tried to get closer, to talk to them, to tell them we were there. And those journalists were present with us. Then it was a very interesting feeling, you know, to have the feeling that the war ended. But it was a dangerous time because there were still Serbian forces here and there until they were evacuated.
And the people came back in a very big euphoria and the return was immediate. And then unfortunately, from what was perpetrated by the Serbian regime, then when the people came back they had nothing, they lacked everything. And people differ in character, for example, maybe someone didn’t know a device or piece of machinery wasn’t theirs, they thought it was theirs and took it home because it looked similar. When the other came they asked, “Why did you take this from me?” There were these aspects.
The first difficult part was heavy on me right after the war, it was digging and identifying our martyr friends. Whom we didn’t manage to take from the places they were killed unfortunately, and the Serbian forces managed to take their bodies to bury or throw somewhere. And then there was that request, our research [about] where those bodies could be, where they could find them and we explored, for example in graves of the villages around but we were also immediately informed that some graves in Peja, where they didn’t have names and it could’ve been the soldiers, some of our soldiers. A very interesting feeling, or… (cries)
So it was the identification, finding the bodies of those soldiers first, our friends. There were other international organizations who explored there, Doctors Without Borders and other organizations. But, for example, from our brigade it was me and Ramadan Dreshaj, he’s another soldier, he was there, he is maybe 20 years older than me, much more mature and we explored graves. But when I said we felt joy when we found the bodies of soldiers ourselves, but the joy their family members expressed when they were found is more interesting, they identified one body part of their family members (cries).
Anita Susuri: In connection to this, during the time you were in the war…
Xhavit Gashi: Yes.
Anita Susuri: In your operations, you were engaged in them for almost a year. Did your family know anything? Where you were? How you were?
Xhavit Gashi: Yes. At first I mentioned that in our home there was some kind of group about the brigade I had at the time, for example, my mother, sister, a niece and two of us brothers who participated in the war. So, we were at home. They were at home when we began our military activities, they knew. And of course it’s the feelings of a mother, those of fear, of care, but also pride because her sons wanted to be part of that movement. But, of course the advice always was, “Beware, be careful!” You understand.
But they knew every day even when I went to the frontline, my mother was home when we went to the frontline until the moment the big attack happened. At that point they left the house. Only for a few days, how to put it, we had to stay without my mother in the area of Istog, while the other days we were somewhere else. But, from that moment when they left, we didn’t have communication anymore. So, they never knew. They didn’t have news, because as you know there are many names in Kosovo Xhavit Gashi, Avni Gashi and when they heard that a Xhavit Gashi was killed somewhere, “This might be Xhavit.” You understand, they didn’t know.
And then after they returned to Kosovo after the war, we had the brigade in Vrella, in the village of Vrella. And I came back after an organization we did there, we came back home because they told me, “Your sister and mother and niece came back.” Our house was burnt. We had a part of the old house where you could still go, but we mainly stayed in the yard. And I can share some pictures that I brought of the burnt house there [addresses the interviewer].
And then they saw me, but they didn’t see my brother who was with me because he was in Vrella with the brigade and had other duties. Now they couldn’t even be happy for me saying, “They have killed Avni” (cries). It’s a feeling like that. But they always knew where we were. They didn’t know exactly where we were, but they knew we were at war.
Anita Susuri: After that, you continued that recovery, how to put it, you, like everybody else after the war…
Xhavit Gashi: Yes.
Anita Susuri: We tried to get together and continue forward, how did that go? I know that you continued your military career, despite having studied English…
Xhavit Gashi: Yes, that’s right. Yes, yes. A very interesting question, there are a lot of interesting moments to share here. When the war ended, of course I immediately thought of what I could do in the private sector. I thought for some time that it was too late for me to go into acting. But, maybe what I thought, I thought of, I maybe didn’t have a problem, I thought sometimes of a television show where I could do ads, announcements or, I thought of it for a bit. I mean, during that time, right after the war. Communication wasn’t a problem for me, for example, I thought I could do something with communication and… but my main goal was, I had two or three exams in the Faculty of English, to finish those first, but nothing related to the state yet.
There were some initiatives immediately after the war for me to become a deputy mayor, as it was called, after the war, when the municipality mayors were picked immediately by those KLA organizations before, I didn’t want to be in Istog. I immediately wanted to leave, I mean go abroad. The overseas sector because I didn’t see myself in the army, to tell you the truth. And it was around August, we had the organizational work again to take care of people who were coming back and stuff. But it was August when the commander of the area, Ramush Haradinaj, came to our brigade and gave a speech, he thanked the soldiers who stayed there during the war the whole time for our contribution, for everything.
He told us how NATO entered [Kosovo], how it was, how the United Nations work, how Kosovo was going to be administered temporarily. He didn’t know for how many years,but he knew that it was going to be administered for some years by the United Nations, the international organization. He talked about [how] they were going to help us build the country, the institutions. Kosovo’s Army would be one of these institutions. And he said to me, he said, “Kosovo’s Army, since we didn’t have an army before, it will be established from these groups, people like you.” He said, “And you have proved that you were there for your country,” this and that, “But now what’s needed from you, [is] to create the core of the army. Of course, this is a voluntary army and whoever wants to will have the opportunity of military development, in a military career.” He said, “I want to know which of you want to be a part [of it]? Who wants to be an officer of Kosovo’s Army?” And they, “Whoever wants to, step forward.”
At that time I was on duty [as a] company commander, I had organized the brigade alignment and everything and I didn’t step forward. And he came, I was surprised he knew my name, because for me, for example, during the whole war I had only seen Ramush twice, you understand. But maybe he remembered my name because of my appearance. And I will never forget, “Why,” he asked, “don’t you want to, Xhavit?” I said, “Commander, the war is over and I have some other intentions.” You understand, I really had some other dreams, I didn’t want to. He said, “Well, can you [become part of it],” he said, and I mentioned this to him as well, “I have two or three more exams in English. I want to finish university, and work with something else.”
Of course, I didn’t know what, but it would be something. “Okay,” he said, “well can you, can I ask something of you?” “What?” “Can you help us only for one more year?” And immediately, “Yes,” I said, “one more year. Yes,” I said [that] and we didn’t have anything and our house was burnt like most people. And I thought that maybe at first I could find a job at KFOR, or at an international organization since I knew English, I had some computer skills [as well].
But then he said, “Is there a need to help us with something?” It’s not like I would help him personally, but I would help the country, “Yes, for one year, I can,” you know. It was a transitional time, we had to take care of it, in English it’s called DDR, demilitarization, you know, reintegration, disarmament. And we worked together with IOM, with the international organization IOM. But, I was responsible for the brigade, a series of activities to make sure that this process goes well, so I was immediately engaged in that.
When I moved to that process, there I was given the opportunity to work for OSCE, I don’t know exactly [the amount] but they mentioned 1800 marka, so I would have an income. I didn’t have any income, because there was no payment. But then I took it as a mission to contribute for one more year. I said it and I was going to say, you understand, to help like that. And I was immediately appointed as Personnel Officer in the brigade, but I had told them that I wouldn’t cut my hair, “I will stay, but I won’t cut my hair.” They said, “Okay, keep it like that.”
They decided that I would stay in the army as I was. And I will never forget when we took the first oath in September of ‘99, in September, as a mid-level officer, there it was decided who would be captain. And back then it was, because Ramush moved to the General Headquarters in Pristina, while Daut Haradinaj advanced to commander of the area at the time, Ramush’s brother. And he had a reaction, he actually said, “You can’t with that hair,” I said, “If I can’t,” I said, “then I will go home.” In the meantime Ramush passed by, he said, “I, I,” he said, “allowed him.” It was exactly like that. I remained like that, an officer.
I will share some pictures from the first training sessions with NATO which I took and with other international organizations, about the basic and advanced course for officers in Peja, I completed them with Italians and Spanish people. But I had long hair like that, because I thought I would be there for a year and go. But what happened after, after, not even a year passed, I thought that maybe it’s best to stay longer.
There were two aspects, one was communicating with the families of my martyr friends and with many of them, when I told them…they were happy that they saw me there, still in uniform. And when I told them, “Only for one more year,” they told me, “No you will be here because when we see you we feel like we’re looking at our son.” They made me feel like I owed them and of course, I saw the need, at that time it’s no secret that only a few boys and girls maybe knew [English], maybe because of my studies in English, [there were few] who knew English on that level.
Right after, I focused on taking computer courses. I registered myself in a, there, it was like an internet cafe, like classes that were held in areas, but I also attended courses with KFOR. But that was an aspect and the other was my relationship with Valentina. I met Valentina and we decided to get engaged, to get married and that’s when I decided, okay, [I decided] to stay. To stay in the army and create a family. And then I had to change my style as well, I cut my hair too. And then, there was a question, “Who cut Xhavit’s hair? Valentina? Or the army?” Like that, anyway (smiles).
And I decided to continue my career in the army. Without knowing for how long, but first there were needs for the personnel department and I researched that, for example, regulations or directives of different armies on what they do for the personnel, human resources [speaks in English]. And then, after a year or so I was called to go and open, to establish the English Language Cabinet in Pristina for the Defense Academy and I was the first lecturer of FSK where I taught, I mean, the English language to the army officers, back then it was TMK.
But what continuously happened with my career development, which is very good and what kept me interested, because besides the service I continuously had training, education. Every level where I went, for example, from Istog once I followed all the training sessions with KFOR, and then before going to Pristina I went to a training for IP of Indiana Bloomington in the United States of America but the intensive program, for the highest level of English language.
And then immediately after I went to TRADOK I went to another program in Bloomington again, like, for method of teaching [speaks in English], about the methods of teaching. Parallel to this, I also completed further training which was about the security sector, whether with KFOR, with UNDP, with IOM, with embassies. I was immediately part of the training with all the institutions.
And then in 2003 I was called by General Çeku, at the time a commander of Kosovo Protection Corps, to serve as his military assistant. And he, to tell you the truth, I wasn’t going to there either, it was another moment when I told him, “Okay, we will only establish this English Language Cabinet, we will make it fully operational [speaks in English], operational and I want to withdraw, I want to be in the private sector.” Because back then I lived in Pristina with Valentina, under difficult conditions again, we only had 30 square meters. For around eight years I lived with Valentina and two children, Vala and Drin, first with one and then the other was born, but we lived in [a] 30 square meters [space] for more than eight years, a small apartment.
Again with the possibility that you could always find a better job everywhere, but we wanted to serve. Let’s create this one too, we will create with capacity too and we’re going, for example, those three years as a military assistant for General Çeku. Because of the needs the general headquarters had, I was appointed to five, six other duties. For example, besides the military assistant, I was a liaison officer with KFOR, liaison officer with the Kosovo Police and UNMIK’s [police], officer with all the international offices, liaison officer for training and education abroad although there was the Training Department, I had to deal with that as well.
All of these offered opportunities for my development too, but [I had] too little time for my family and of course, very difficult conditions at home. Sometimes we didn’t have power for several weeks, because we didn’t have money to pay for the electricity bill and everything. But, in the general aspect we had the opportunity to feel good because we were part of the contribution and I never had, not only didn’t I have problems, but I had the continuous support of Valentina, “It doesn’t matter that we’re doing bad, you continue doing what’s good for the country.”
In 2006 when General Çeku, at the time, became the Prime Minister of Kosovo, that was the other moment when I said, “All right, now I will leave.” There were some initiatives for me to lead the National Council of Security in the Government of Kosovo, but with the requests of both General Çeku and General Selimi at the time, they asked for me to remain head of the Cabinet in the General Headquarters of TMK for three more years. Parallel to that, I still covered international collaborations whether it was institutions, various governments, not only the Kosovo Government but also in training-education where I had the chance to benefit from the training, education.
And then with the disbandment of TMK and the formation of FSK I was like a leader of the group for the formation of FSK from the officers of FSK, which was a joint team with NATO. So, I worked on that and then after the transformation I was appointed the first director of the international collaboration, the Department for International Collaboration, where for three years we did around eleven agreements of collaboration with different countries, while I was the director of international collaboration.
In the very end as part of the military service, in 2011 it was decided for me to be appointed military attaché of Kosovo in the United States of America. And that again, not because I was, it was my request but it was a request from the institution for us to begin with the state military attache. And we were in a meeting at the Defense Department in the Pentagon together with Minister Çeku, back then Çeku was a minister.
Among the few requests that were made to the American government and to the Deputy Chief of Defense, he was called Miller, was for us to begin sending the military attaché and to have it. He said, “Well, if you have a prepared personnel, and ready, you can immediately begin with the procedures.” In that meeting the Minister or General Çeku addressed me, “Yes,” he said, “we have Colonel Gashi.”
Because of the prior communication I had in the department, I was known to the Secretary of Defense’s staff and to the Deputy Secretary and in a way they confirmed that I could go further with that job. But maybe it wasn’t my goal, but it is an honor to me that I was the first attaché and I tried to do my best as the first attaché of Kosovo to be appointed in a country. And of course, it’s an honor to be the first and start [collaborating] with the United States of America.
Anita Susuri: Was there, for example, anything interesting that happened at that time, during those diplomatic trips that you went on? I mean, it’s a country that is much, much more developed than us, I mean, a much more developed army.
Xhavit Gashi: Yes, it is, for example, for me, for example, sometimes it seemed like a dream. Of course, I am thankful to our [older] generations who with their effort and sacrifice, but also my generation but also the ones before who made it possible to get here, where I could be considered for being of service to my country but also to have the privileges of being, for example, the first one in that job. Not because of all my skills, but it was the first generation that had to start new institutions or jobs.
But to me it seemed very much like a dream, because I was a boy, a boy from the village of Studenica where I of course was raised in the spirit of patriotism and love of one’s country, but I couldn’t even dream… my dream for the army returned to me in eighth grade, I knew that there were no chances. But, my dream for serving was rekindled with the act of war to serve the country. But I thought that was only a mission for liberation, but I didn’t think I would become an officer. Even less so that one day I would be the person who would have full access in the Pentagon, full access to the State Department, to the American Senate, to the American Congress that I would go… these are some of the moments that maybe seemed like a dream.
And I tried to not take them as things given to me, but as a big responsibility that I have to do a lot of work to preserve them and use them in the most appropriate and best way possible to serve our collaboration with strategic partners, but also to build new connecting bridges that will serve the country longer. For example, that access was given, for example in the Pentagon for me it was like a dream, for example, to have access like at my [country’s] Ministry of Defense.
And then, the relations we built with the collaboration with the partnership with the International Guard of Iowa where I was treated like I was really a general of the American army, not a general from Kosovo. Where I had the chance, for example, besides being a partner to play a role as a leader of the National Guard of Kosovo as well, where I was asked for recommendations about how it should go, for example, the strategic plan for the development of the guard in certain aspects.
For example, I went for two weeks, I was like a Shadow Commander [speaks in English], like a shadow commander of General Orr in the army with the military, in preparation, in planning, in execution, in analysis of the training with three countries where there were almost 20 thousand troops. For example, for me to be asked which tools or which vehicles the transport should be done with, which helicopter. That was something that I can’t describe. And then, the last mission when I decided to retire from the army… the decision for retirement was taken when there was an opportunity about opening the Consulate in Iowa.
And after its opening, the approval from the two countries, the states of America and Kosovo about opening the mission, for three or four months there was nobody from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs interested to settle for the mission in Iowa. At that point I got a call from General Orr, I was in Washington and I got a call because, it was interesting because how do I put it, it affected me in that… what I wanted to do for the next two-three years, he changed the plan I had envisioned as a goal on what to do for the next two-three years a bit.
Of course, as I was one of the initiators that [made sure] the collaboration with Iowa to be developed to the level it is now and the opening of the Consulate, I made the efforts that belong to me in order for the Consulate to be opened. Of course, they have the support of the two governments and the other generals of the Kosovo Army and Iowa’s, of the ministers, of the presidents, of the prime ministers et cetera. But I played my role there. However, when there was nobody there for three or four months in the mission, that’s when the General called me.
He told me, “Xhavit, this is supposed to work two ways [speaks in English,” you know, “It has to work on both sides, not only one side. We have supported you, we found a good location for the Consulate.” They actually also secured the devices, the furniture for the offices, the local military and civil people which they placed there without us. I would go sometimes because of my official visits, three to five, seven times a year, I went there from 2011 but I never thought that I would be a general consul in a civil capacity in Iowa. But that was the moment when nobody went and I was, I told General Orr, “Okay, we will find a solution.” And it immediately crossed my mind, “Okay if they have nobody in Kosovo, then I will take them and establish the Consulate.”
And then I did the communications and, back then he was Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi, with the commander of FSK, minister of FSK, I talked to all of them first if anybody was… and Petrit Selimi I think was a Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. “Do you have anybody who is appointed or who was expected to go there?” “No, no, no, we don’t have anybody,” “Why?” “We can’t find someone. Nobody is interested.” And then I asked them, “What if I go? Can I go and open the Consulate, but I can’t stay more than two years. Two years until I make it operational and open the Consulate?”
My goal was because I thought that after my work as an attaché, at that same time I was graduating from the College of War where I did Strategic Studies Masters and my goal was more about coming and contributing after getting that education in building the vision and the army of Kosovo for three more years. So, I wasn’t thinking of retirement. I requested to be allowed to work for two years in transition, [I mean] transfer excuse me, from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, until the Consulate became operational.
In principle it was approved for me that I would really do both of the jobs from May to August. And I have the decision that was given to me, to do the job both as a military attaché in Washington, but at the same time to serve as General Consul on duty in Iowa. So, I did those two jobs parallel from Washington and in Iowa. While, unfortunately or fortunately, I got back information from the Ministry of Defense of Commanders, the General Secretary said, if I wanted to go to the consulate in Iowa, then I had to resign, to retire voluntarily from the army.
At that point, the procedures of my accreditation had started, the American government was notified in Washington, but also the authorities in Iowa that was I working on that duty and we had activities, we were doing a series of activities for that job. But it wasn’t approved for me to continue in the army if I took that. And I had to decide whether I wanted this, or that. So I could go back to FSK and continue my career for years longer, but there was nobody there. So, the duty was open.
Then of course I talked to Valentina again and she said to me, “I don’t want you to quit your uniform since you decided and have all this experience and education. It’s better if you go and contribute there.” And then after I explained what I could achieve with the mission in Kosovo, the collaboration, I was especially focused on education. I know that education in Kosovo still isn’t where it should be and we had built relations in the military aspect as well with all the colleges and universities in Iowa. They also had one of the five biggest Economic Chambers in America, it’s in Iowa, Greater Des Moines Partnership. We had built personal relations with them as well, friendship, not only institutional. And there I saw it as a potential that they could help even in the economic aspect in Kosovo.
And then it was sports, sports alliances, twinning of cities. We had already connected, we started doing the twinning of cities and we sparked interest for more cities to twin. We saw potential even in developing start-ups, innovation, these innovative initiatives. And I explained it to Valentina and I still thought, “Okay, I will finish two years and I will come back here in the army,” you understand. But, for example, with the opportunities we had to complete [tasks] for the state of Iowa I wouldn’t change it, I would never change it and do something else. So, I am very happy that we have these relations, these communications and I was only one instrument, one tool of creating these relations. Of course, [for] our country Kosovo with the American country but especially the state of Iowa.
Anita Susuri: And you have been retired for 17 years now, concerning…
Xhavit Gashi: In the army, yes.
Anita Susuri: And then you continued…
Xhavit Gashi: For three more years as a General Consul in Iowa.
Anita Susuri: What do you do today? Tell us a bit about that.
Xhavit Gashi: Yes. Today I work, firstly, I have registered a consulting company [speaks in English], so, it’s a consulting company for which I thought of working together with General Orr, who is retired. However, after COVID but also before COVID, they called him although he was retired to start working again in the Civil Sector in the Pentagon. And then I was given some opportunities to work with Cacttus. I was given an opportunity with Cacttus for a strategic development of businesses. So, [that’s] where I am now. And in the American Economic Chamber, as an external advisor.
So recently, a month ago I started after an offer I was made from the American University Kosovo RIT as well for me to lecture a military subject which is Four or two army leadership in a complex world [speaks in English], so army leadership in a complex world which connects to all of the experience I had from the beginning because in one way or another the world in which I worked and developed, where I developed, was complex. And the education I had, for example, especially my masters in the College of War, so it mainly focuses on strategic leadership preparation in the complex unpredictable environment with two meanings.
Anita Susuri: So besides your engagement, you mentioned your wife but I wanted to ask you how you met your wife? How did you meet her?
Xhavit Gashi: Yes, very interesting. It’s interesting with Valentina. Even Valentina knows, for example, I dated women before the war. I wasn’t adventurous, but for example I liked a girl, and we dated. It happened that it was decided, for a relationship, one of us decided to not be together anymore and like that. But as young people back then and like that. But, after the war, one of my other goals that I didn’t have was that I didn’t want to get married immediately. I didn’t want to get married, it wasn’t my goal.
A close family member of mine recommended Valentina, who in some way knew Valentina really well. And through her parents she was close to Valentina indirectly. It happened that maybe for two-three months I tried to tell that friend or relative of ours that I was not interested, nor did I want to meet her, you understand, I didn’t want to meet her, because I had no interest. First of all I didn’t even have, so I was in that phase when I had decided to stay with TMK for one year or that transformation. The other thing was my house as well, we didn’t have a house, for example. The other thing was, my goal was to not focus on marriage or relationships without finishing university. And I didn’t know what would happen to me after a year. What I would do.
But, after three months it happened to us that we met with Valentina and I liked her at first sight. But then even with discussions and dates with Valentina and then I was the initiator, when I saw Valentina, to hurry and get into a relationship and create a family quicker. Like that, yes. And I really am blessed with my family, with Valentina mainly, because she was a pillar. We always say in the army, “Regardless of what rank you have, your wife has a higher rank than you.” But we really saw it and heard it, but it’s not just a rhetoric in my case at least, to say that, for example, if I was successful or could do good work for the country it’s of course for my duties that were given to me, but without Valentina’s support I could never do all the things I did.
We live happily together currently, I am retired and I joke around sometimes, “I am not old,” but Valentina continues to support me in whatever I do, now in the private sector as well. Of course, her wish was for me to continue for a few more years in the army back then, but the circumstances were like that. But she is happy with my other decisions in life as well. I have three children, Vala is my daughter and my first joy, she now studies in the United States of America, [she studies] Psychology in Iowa. So, in the state that is dear to my entire family. Drin is a senior in high school, so in 12th grade. As a young person he changes his mind about his professional direction. He maybe wants to take the military direction, but who knows. While we also have our little one, Lis, who is six years old, he keeps us more active.
Anita Susuri: Very well. I wanted to ask you to finish, we are in 2021 and it is still a pandemic. How are you dealing with it and what was quarantining like for you in the beginning, and then the whole pandemic that is continuing? Do you have any difficulties? Did you have someone who was sick, or?
Xhavit Gashi: Fortunately we didn’t have anybody in our close family, but unfortunately like everybody else, we are surrounded by people who suffered from COVID. I know people in different ways, maybe not close friends, but I know people who were maybe even younger than me who died, who had the misfortune. It hurts [with] every case I hear that people are suffering a lot, whom COVID affects more.
At this time, for example, in the time of quarantine, we had the luck that we had an apartment there in Istog, where we spent most of the time and we couldn’t even move, at least the air was clean. But as soon as the measures started being lifted a little although there were restrictions, with the request of the Ministry of Health I was a small part of the contribution from a Council, [as] a counselor, the Counseling Board, where there were mainly doctors, professors, but it was only two of us who weren’t from the health sector.
So I, we, did research, analysis for the management of the security aspect more, of the emergencies and a professor, who was also Deputy Minister of Education who dealt more with the issues of education. But even though we weren’t directly hit, of course, what happens in society affects us and we hope that it passes as soon as possible and as few people as possible are infected or the ones who get infected get throughit easily.
Anita Susuri: If you have something to add in the end or something you forgot to mention, you can.
Xhavit Gashi: Thanks a lot for the opportunity, there is a lot to say, but I believe that it’s enough for this. Thanks a lot.
Anita Susuri: All right. Thank you.