BRONX, N.Y. -- "Defending the National Cause and Human Rights of
the Albanian People," reads the poster at the entrance of the
Kosovatours International travel agency here.
Directly beneath the poster are cut-out logos of the resorts
Sandals and Beaches. As suggested by this display, the agency's
president, Agim Alickaj, is both a political activist and a regular
An Albanian emigrant from Kosovo, Yugoslavia, he is a member of
the Albanian Civic League, a lobbying group based in Washington; he
also sells Sandals and other Caribbean resorts to his clients,
comprising a mix of 90% Albanians and Bronx and nearby Yonkers
But trips to Sandals are not a current priority for Albanians.
"The good times, they are not now," said Alickaj. "We don't have
something to celebrate or time to have vacations."
This former resident of the village of Decav is in mourning with
the rest of his people. He had to interrupt his interview with
Travel Weekly to discuss arrangements for a memorial service for
three of his second cousins (aged 22, 30, and 65) who were shot in
front of their house in Peja.
According to Alickaj, the Serbs were conducting a mass round-up
of Albanians, telling everybody they had half an hour to leave --
when they arbitrarily shot his cousins.
Although the shooting occurred in late March, the family didn't
know until four days later exactly what had happened. Finally,
Alickaj heard the news from a man in Yonkers whose relatives, also
from the same town, were part of the mass exodus. "There was no
time to bury my cousins," said Alickaj. "They were left in front of
their house because everybody else was told, 'You'll all be killed
if you don't leave.'
"There are so many things we don't know" about what's really
going on, said Alickaj -- and that uncertainty is what's really
disturbing. I know my aunt was killed, but I don't know the
details. My best friend, who's like my brother, is unaccounted for,
and I don't know where he is."
The conflict in Kosovo also affecting the local Albanian
community tradition of holding long memorial services. These days
the services are cut short because there are so many of them, said
And there's no doubt that Kosovo's grave situation is affecting
the agency. Currently, 80% of his business is gone, said Alickaj.
The only people traveling to the Balkans right now are people en
route to help their families, and major airlines have canceled all
of their flights to Kosovo.
Alickaj sends Kosovo-bound clients on a route that involves
flying to Rome and connecting there to an Albanian Air flight to
Tirana. Flights are frequently canceled, Alickaj said. "You're
never sure you can make it on the flight. Last week I sent a group
and eight of them got stuck in Rome for three days."
Although no Americans are visiting Kosovo now, ironically,
Alickaj once had a job promoting the province as a tourist
destination. He was a deputy director of the Yugoslavia tourist
office stationed in New York from 1985 to 1990.
His office, in fact, is decorated with posters from that era,
showing Kosovo as a place full of breathtaking scenery and people
dressed in folk costumes. Alickaj went back home in 1990, but
disgusted by the Serbs' aggression, (note: I'm checking with him on
how to put this correctly) he decided to return to the U.S. He
opened a travel agency, setting in the Bronx, a major Albanian
Alickaj is optimistic that he can grow the 10% of his client
base that is non-Albanian, especially since he moved to a new
storefront location six months ago, which has been attracting
His optimism that business will get better is tempered by a
sense of gravity for the plight of his people. In fact, while
posing for a picture, he said, "I don't want to laugh -- though
sometimes that's all that you can do in a bad time, laugh."