Marshall Memorial Fellowship Reflections: Dritan Karadaku
The U.S. continues to be the place where people go for various motives. I had the privilege to participate in the Marshall Memorial Fellowship program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. And from the outset, it should be noted that, in addition to the GMF program, which in itself is an extraordinary opportunity, the times we live are particularly interesting on both sides of the Atlantic. There seems to be a great disruption in what we are used to calling "Western Civilization"; the rise of the populism and the language of hate that is becoming more and more "normal", makes us rethink once again the old debate, does history really repeat itself? Do people really forget so quickly – what happened after the second world war? There is no better place to understand these questions than the U.S. these days. This nation is made up of a mosaic of nations from around the globe. This is the "new world".
Now, I do not know if the "new world" definition is correct. One of the things I learned during the trips to different cities and states within the U.S. is that it’s wrong to assume that the U.S. is relatively new in relation to other nations. It only has a short history of about three hundred years. This assumption is wrong because the U.S. carries in its tissue the histories and cultures of all nations of the world; and most importantly not in a museum form, but in a wholly alive form. With the pros and cons of the "old" world.
Yet there is a new history that starts in this country; this is the history of Democracy within the U.S. In this respect, visiting and staying in Washington was a great opportunity to understand the symbols and dimensions of this democracy. There is nothing stagnant in American democracy, apart from the injustices and anti-democratic attitudes of a part of the society that has remained mentally imprisoned in the nineteenth century; a part of the society for which skin color, gender, sex, etc., continue to remain substantial issues in determining a human being. Of course, these issues should have been overcome by a dynamic and vibrant society.
As for the reasons why such issues continue to divide the most developed democracy in the planet, I think that this is primarily due to the fact that the institutions of U.S. democracy are kept in a delicate balance between the union of the federal government and the local government of different states. The latter continues to be governed in accordance with their specific culture and tradition, which is often in open contradiction with the very fundamental principles of the Constitution. But each one finds the argument wanted in the U.S. Constitution. For one, it is fundamental that all people are created equal; with equal rights as citizens. For someone else, it is the right to hold guns and respect the special traditions of the states. This balance relies on paradoxes that become difficult to perceive as they are, from technical and bureaucratic points of view. An example: In the U.S., an illegal immigrant pays taxes and can open up a business, but remains illegal. Unlike apparently at first glance, I was struck by the impression that these "policies" promote the "illegal status of the immigrants", a kind of modern-day slavery. This dilemma brings to mind an important question: where does leadership come from? What does it mean to lead people? To rush over frustration and hate? Or to lead it to a comprehensive horizon of justice and humanity? This comprehensive horizon seems difficult to fully perceive from the beginning, especially from that part of the population living in the suburbs of the large cities.
Another impressive thing is the fact that there are different procedures in different countries to register as voters in the elections. All this is also justified through a series of bureaucratic procedures. It is difficult to understand why in the U.S. there no automatic registration of all individuals at the national level can be. In some of the conversations we had in Chattanooga and other cities, one has the impression that this form of voter registration intentionally aims the exclusion of an important part of them from the process; especially that part, the so-called "blue" vote. This is surprising when you think that this issue is solved even in countries with "experimental democracy" like Albania. Also, worth noting - especially during Cleveland's visit – was the extreme inequality between a beautiful and developing city and the neighborhoods of the African American people that seem to live in a forgotten reality for decades; these neighborhoods are often only a few kilometers from the city center. In addition, it must be underlined that it is very impressive to see how little interest there is at the local level in different states, on the U.S. foreign policy and even the policy at the federal level in DC. In the transatlantic relations, the role of the U.S. is the least essential; it is a role that no other country can play because no other country is like the U.S. The latter is "condemned" to be either a democracy model for the whole globe or one of the many empires that fill the history books.
Shall We Be Pessimist or Optimist?
We know it, if we feel pain, at least we are alive, and so is the U.S., and very much so. In Washington, New York, Cleveland, Chattanooga, Dallas, and New York, everywhere, there is a radical transformation of the neighborhoods. Civil society activists, dedicated people and strongly supported by a typical philanthropic tradition are leading society towards the new century. Transformational projects such as the MetroHealth hospital in Cleveland where a doctor, Akram Boutros, shows that a doctor can be far more than just a "doctor" in clinical terms; aim und and should be the agent of a radical transformation in the culture of caring for people. Also, the Jubilee Park Community Center in Dallas are examples of success and models not just about how a neighborhood can be transformed from being ruled from crime and social degradation into a human garden, as well as the transatlantic relations itself and the sense of leadership. Overall, I am bypassing many other successful and inspiring examples, but I have to mention the chef of the restaurant from Dallas, who has turned his place into an extraordinary example of how penitentiary institutions can be transformed all over the world. People need to be given a chance, he says, and be led with kindness and support. Actually, all Momentum Café and Restaurant employees in Dallas are young people and teenagers who just got out of jail. Everyone employed at this café is satisfied with the work they do and feel that they are accomplishing something positive.
I think that the U.S. itself at a global level should learn more from such people; more than books and theories. The "big" politics should lean into and humbly learn from people who transform communities and are not congressmen or presidents. Of course, I also want to mention a major debate: justice and equality versus philanthropy. This is an issue that requires another way of analysis, so I am limiting myself to say that whatever the correct answer is, the vital fact is that while we are moving towards a goal that can only be justice, equality, and all-inclusive democracy, we should also let philanthropy be welcomed and praised.
Last but Not Last.
A special thank-you to all the GMF staff, in Berlin and Washington, and in all the cities we visited. I say without hesitation: though their job was to make possible the program and this extraordinary experience, that we experienced as Fellows, they themselves are a model of inspiration, dedication, and leadership. Thank you!
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.