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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Former Kosovo president serves as Montgomery Fellow

Tiffany Zhai/The Dartmouth Senior Staff
Tiffany Zhai/The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Former president of the Republic of Kosovo Atifete Jahjaga, Kosovo’s first female president and active advocate for women’s rights, is serving as this term’s Montgomery Fellow.

Jahjaga finished her term as president in April of 2016, after serving in office since April of 2011.

The Montgomery Fellow Program has hosted 240 fellows at the College since 1977, according to Montgomery Fellows program director Klaus Milich.

“The Montgomery Fellows Program is one of the most distinguished long term fellowship programs we have,” Milich said. “We have our fellows here for an entire term so that they really can engage with the students and with the faculty over a long period of time, instead of coming for a performance or a lecture.”

Jahjaga said it was an honor to be invited to spend time at Dartmouth as a Montgomery Fellow. She said that while she is here, she is trying to maximize her time to meet with the Dartmouth community, including professors and graduate and undergraduate students.

Milich said that the program’s longer term engagement is part of the core mission of the program.

The other aspect of the mission is that life is larger than academia itself, as academia proves its own value only in the real world, Milich said. The Montgomery Fellows Program invites people from a variety of different fields, including politics, journalism, the arts and performing arts, healthcare and social work, so that students do not only get an insight into those fields, but also get information on the most distinguished people who have had an impact in their fields.

Past fellows have included former United States President Gerald Ford in 1986, Yo-Yo Ma in 2001, Toni Morrison in 1982 and 1986, J. William Fulbright in 1979 and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. in 1983. All the fellows stay at the College for a Dartmouth term.

During her time at the College, Jahjaga is trying to explore more ways to expand relationships between Kosovo’s institutions, especially the University of Pristina in Kosovo’s capital city Pristina, and Dartmouth.

For two years, a program between Kosovo and Dartmouth called the Transformational Leadership Program has allowed 13 Dartmouth professors to teach in Kosovo and many students and professors from Kosovo to come to the College.

“I am very much looking forward to how we can expand so that we can learn more from Dartmouth, and enable students and professors of Dartmouth to learn more about Kosovo,” Jahjaga said.

Milich echoed Jahjaga’s interest in engaging with students.

“We were very fortunate with President Jahjaga because she said to me from the very beginning that she would be delighted to get involved with the students to learn about their perspectives, to have discussions with them, to interact with them,” Milich said.

He said that in addition to learning about Kosovo, Europe and the wars in the Balkans, because Jahjaga is very warm-hearted and approachable, students have a wonderful experience meeting her on a more human level.

“It is really a delight on a very personal level to have her here,” he said.

Since being here, Jahjaga has hosted the Young African Leaders Initiative fellows at the Montgomery house and a luncheon for graduate students, visited several classes and given a public lecture titled “Women’s Empowerment – Women’s Leadership” on July 14.

During the lecture, Jahjaga focused on the difficulties and hardships women have faced in Kosovo, particularly during the wars in her country during the 1990s. She discussed tangible initiatives her administration did to help these women, such as meeting sexual assault survivors and creating a commission to offer them support, and her less tangible stated mission to blaze a trail to help other women create impact on the world through leading by example and having an impact herself.

“I found her discussion of the campaign to take skirts of survivors and skirts donated by supporters of the movement and display them in a large stadium to be incredibly powerful, and a message about how women can help each other to speak out against hideous human rights violations,” Charlotte Blatt ’18 , who attended the lecture, said.

Blatt is currently studying humanitarian intervention in Kosovo in one of her government classes.

Jahjaga believes that investing in women and younger generations is the key to advancement in every society. She said that this has been one of her main focuses since before she became president and will continue to be one of her main focuses now that she has finished her mandate.

“When investing in women, you don’t only invest in an individual. You invest in a family, you invest in the child, and you invest in the future of the country,” she said.

Jahjaga said that this investment should not only include education but also economic empowerment, political participation and opening up every field to women in every country.

“I will try to use all of the moral authority I have inside and outside my country to advance the role of women,” she said. “I will not spare myself even a second to give everything possible so that young women, not only in Kosovo but elsewhere, will not have to go through what I have gone through or the generation before me.”

Kosovo and Dartmouth have a long history of collaboration beyond Jahjaga’s term as a Montgomery Fellow.

Former dean of the Geisel School of Medicine James Strickler ’50 received the Mother Teresa humanitarian medal in 2012 for his work in Kosovo, which he said a number of his colleagues contributed to as well.

Strickler and his team have done several projects in Kosovo over the years, including working to improve primary care and establishing a student exchange between Geisel and the University of Pristina’s medical school. About 30 students have gone back and forth each way since 2000, right after the wars ended. There are now exchanges involving faculty and students from all parts of Dartmouth, including the College, the Tuck School of Business and Geisel.

Strickler initially became involved in Kosovo during the wars in the 1990s, when he was the chair of the executive committee of the International Rescue Committee, an international humanitarian aid organization. He visited Kosovar refugees several times during and after the war doing work on IRC programs. He then got a Dartmouth team involved with rebuilding Kosovo’s health education programs and medical education.

Strickler was also a founding trustee for a foundation with the mission to improve the health of women in children in Kosovo called Action for Mothers and Children in 2008. Jahjaga has been supportive of the foundation and has helped to build and raise money for it both in Kosovo and the United States, he said.

Milich cited several reasons for why Kosovo has played a central role as a country in the past and will continue to do so in the future, including its place in the heart of the Balkans, the current politics around its hope for integration into the European Union and its potential major role as a mediator between the Islamic world and so-called Western world due to its high Muslim population.

Strickler said that he thinks that Dartmouth can have a tremendous impact over time by nurturing a relationship with Kosovo.

“What we’re trying to do is help them build leadership and as a component of that, to help them develop women leaders,” he said.

Jahjaga’s final message to students at the College was addressed to young leaders. She told students to believe in themselves, their abilities and their capacities, and to invest in them.

“The rest of the world, we need you,” she said. “We need young, intelligent, open-minded leaders.”