By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
There's no reason to doubt it: At a recent fund-raiser in New York City, an NLA commander raised $500,000 in one evening. But Albanians in Dallas credited with fund-raising feats two years ago are now more hesitant to talk about it. George Kalaj, owner of The Rocket restaurant in Dallas, was said by The Dallas Morning News to have raised $40,000 in donations to the KLA to buy rifles. Now, in a recent Observer interview, he says he only brought $4,000 in donations to "poor people on the streets and in camps."
Perhaps because of the changing perception of the Albanians' role in the current conflicts, some of the Albanians aren't as eager to admit to such fund raising. That doesn't mean that the older generation will abandon defending its brethren, even if they are the ones sparking cross-border Balkans violence. "If the Macedonians started acting like Serbs, and they already started, the Albanians have to support each other or they're crazy," says Vraniqi. "Now they say we want a greater Albania. If these places are liberated, these places aren't a 'greater Albania.' They are the real Albania."
Over time, the drive for a "greater Albania" may be swallowed by compromise, diplomacy or violence. Meanwhile, Albanian-Americans are living out their version of the American dream, building a future in Dallas while keeping a wary eye on the Balkans. But as life gets more comfortable in America, the tight bonds might start to unravel. Ethnic Albanians have stared down many enemies, but American opportunities may be the most insidious and effective.
"I'm a patriotic Albanian type of guy, but I love this country more than there," says Roni Sulejmani, busy preparing for the grand opening of his pizzeria. "I know the country that I come from, but I am American, and this is where I come from. This is where I'll always be from, and this is where my family will always be."