|Sen. Bob Dole on a balcony outside his Minority Leader’s office at the U.S. Capitol in 1990. (Photo Michael Geissinger/Library of Congres)|
I could not have known at the time as I was too young, but in August 0f 1990, a Senator from Kansas named Bob Dole visited Kosova for the first time, staying only four miles of my rural Prishtina home. That historic day, like many others in his extraordinary life, Senator Dole brought a message of hope for the oppressed Albanian population of Kosova, like me, that “freedom is coming, democracy is coming, human rights are coming”.
It was the turning point for Kosova’s long road to freedom. Since then, Dole warned the world — and two U.S. presidents — the urgency of the need to take action on the ongoing human rights abuses.
“The United States cannot sit this out on the sidelines,” he said on Sept. 20, 1990. “We have a moral obligation to take a strong stand in defense of the individual rights of Albanians”.
One must wonder if the tragedies of the Balkans could have been avoided had anyone been seriously listening to Dole.
In 1992, Dole wrote an ultimatum to the Serbian tyrant “Stop the genocide or be prepared for NATO air strikes.” and concluded, “this letter may not convince you, but perhaps history will.”
And it did.
In the summer of 1999, only days following the NATO bombing, Dole returned to Kosova, greeted in the square of Prishtina by the cheering crowds, chanting “Doley! Doley!” and “U-S-A!”.
Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way.
Bob Dole did.
Three days before the 1997 inauguration, President Bill Clinton awarded Dole the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Ahead of placing the medal around his neck, President Clinton said of his former Republican presidential rival: “Son of the soil, citizen, soldier and legislator, Bob Dole understands the American people, their struggles, their triumphs and their dreams.” Fighting back tears, Dole said, “Mr. President, I will cherish it as long as I live.”
Upon President Abraham Lincoln’s passing, a colleague noted, “he belongs to the ages now.” So, too, does Senator Dole, whose life from battlefields to the halls of Congress, serving his country with courage and honor, bequests a legacy of justice, freedom and human rights champion for Americans and people around the world.
In a statement yesterday, the Dole family said that “America has lost one of its heroes; our family has lost its rock.” In Bob Dole, Kosova has lost both, one of its heroes and one of its rock.