Ibrahim Rugova

2 Dec 1944
21 Jan 2006
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Ibrahim Rugova About this sound listen (help·info) (2 December 1944 – 21 January 2006) was the first President of the partially recognised Republic of Kosova, serving from 1992 to 2000 and again from 2002 to 2006, and a prominent Kosovo Albanian political leader, scholar, and writer. He oversaw a popular struggle for independence, advocating a peaceful resistance to Yugoslav rule and lobbying for U.S. and European support, especially during the Kosovo War.

He strongly emphasized the heritage of ancient Dardania, the independent kingdom and later province of the Roman Empire that included modern-day Kosovo, to strengthen the country’s identity and to promote his policy of closer relations with the West. Owing to his role in Kosovo’s history, Rugova has been dubbed “Father of the Nation” and “Gandhi of the Balkans,” awarded, among others, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and posthumously declared a Hero of Kosovo.

Rugova was born to an Albanian family in Yugoslavia Yugoslav communists executed his father and grandfather while Rugova was still an infant. He studied literature at the University of Pristina and the University of Paris, and received a doctorate with a dissertation on Albanian literary criticism.

As a student, he participated in a civil rights movement for the Albanians, although he formally joined the Communist League of Yugoslavia to secure career advancements. Thereby, he worked as editor of prestigious literary and scholarly publications and research fellow at the Institute of Albanian Studies; in 1988, he was elected president of the Kosovo Writers Union.

Rugova entered politics in 1989, when he assumed the leadership of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), a newly formed political party that opposed the nullification of Kosovo’s autonomy in the former Yugoslavia. In 1992, Rugova won the first presidential election in the Republic of Kosova, an unrecognised state declared in secret by members of Kosovo’s former assembly within Yugoslavia.

Serbia, led by Slobodan Milošević, retained effective power in Kosovo throughout most of the 1990s, but did not secure the full cooperation of the Albanian population. The Republic of Kosova collected donations from Kosovars at home and abroad and set up parallel institutions, including independent, albeit often clandestine, educational and healthcare systems for the ethnic Albanians.

As president, Rugova continued to support his non-violent path to independence even as proponents of an armed resistance formed the Kosovo Liberation Army to counter increasing Serbian oppression on the ethnic Albanians. In 1998, Rugova secured a second term as president, but was placed at odds with the KLA as the Kosovo War broke out. In 1999, he participated in the failed Rambouillet talks, as a member of the Kosovar delegation, seeking an end to the hostilities.

Having resided in the capital Pristina during his entire presidency, Rugova was taken prisoner by the state authorities after NATO began its U.S.-led aerial campaign against Yugoslav atrocities in Kosovo. Rugova was exiled to Rome in May 1999 and returned to Kosovo in the summer that year, shortly after the KLA and NATO occupation.

Rugova remained nominal president of the republic with Bujar Bukoshi as his prime minister; meanwhile, Hashim Thaçi, a former KLA commander, had been leading a provisional government since April that year.

Effective power, however, was in the hands of the United Nations administration. In 2000, Rugova and Thaçi agreed to relinquish their positions and to work on creating provisional institutions of self-government until Kosovo’s final status was decided.

Rugova was elected president of Kosovo by the newly formed parliament in 2002 and again in 2005. While his pre-war popularity had certainly diminished, he remained the most powerful leader in the country until his death from lung cancer in 2006.

Ibrahim Rugova was born on 2 December 1944 to a family that is a branch of the Kelmendi Albanian clan. At this time, the major part of Kosovo was unified with Albania (controlled by Benito Mussolini’s Italy since 1941, and later by the Germans since 1943). Yugoslav control was re-established towards the end of the war when the area was liberated by the partisans who defeated Albanian collaborators.

His father Ukë Rugova and his paternal grandfather Rrustë Rugova were summarily executed in January 1945 by Yugoslav communists. Rugova finished primary school in Istok and high school in Peć, graduating in 1967.

He moved on to the newly established University of Pristina, where he was a student in the Faculty of Philosophy, Department of Albanian Studies and participated in the 1968 Kosovo Protests. He graduated in 1971 and re-enrolled as a research student concentrating on literary theory.

As part of his studies, he spent two years (1976–1977) at the École Pratique des Hautes Études of the University of Paris, where he studied under Roland Barthes. He received his doctorate in 1984 after delivering his thesis, The Directions and Premises of Albanian Literary Criticism, 1504-1983.

Rugova was active as a journalist throughout the 1970s, editing the student newspaper Bota e Re (“New World”) and the magazine Dituria (“Knowledge”). He also worked in the Institute for Albanian Studies in Pristina, where he became the editor-in-chief of its periodical, Gjurmime albanologjike (“Albanian Research”).

He formally joined the Yugoslav Communist Party during this period; as in many other communist states, Party membership was essential for anyone who wanted to advance their careers. Rugova managed to make a name for himself, publishing a number of works on literary theory, criticism and history as well as his own poetry. His output earned him recognition as a leading member of Kosovo’s Albanian intelligentsia and in 1988 he was elected chairman of the Kosovo Writers’ Union (KWU).

He was Roman Catholic at the time of his passing.

Rugova’s strategy of passive resistance attracted widespread support from the Kosovo Albanian population, who had seen the carnage wrought in Croatia and Bosnia and was wary of facing a similar situation. However, the Dayton Agreement of 1995, which ended the Bosnian War, seriously weakened Rugova’s position.

The agreement failed to make any mention of Kosovo and the international community made no serious efforts to resolve the province’s ongoing problems. Radicals among the Kosovo Albanian population began to argue that the only way to break the impasse was to launch an armed uprising, in the belief that this would force the outside world to intervene. They blamed Rugova’s policy of non-violence for Kosovo’s failure to achieve independence.

In 1997, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) emerged as a fighting force and began carrying out attacks and assassinations against Serbian civilians, paramilitia and security forces as well as Albanians deemed to be “collaborators”. The Serbian response was, as the KLA had predicted, forceful and often indiscriminate. By 1998, the KLA had grown into a full-scale guerrilla army, 100,000 Kosovo Albanians were refugees and the province was in a state of virtual civil war.

Rugova was re-elected president in the same year and was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament. However, he was by now clearly being eclipsed by the KLA. This was highlighted in February 1999 when he was passed over in favour of the KLA’s political chief Hashim Thaçi, who was chosen by the underground Kosovo Assembly to head the Kosovo Albanian negotiating team in the discussions on the aborted Rambouillet Agreement.

At the end of March 1999, after negotiations at Rambouillet had broken down, NATO launched Operation Allied Force to impose a resolution of the Kosovo War. Rugova spent the first few weeks of the war under virtual house arrest, along with his family, in Pristina. At the start of April 1999, Rugova was forcefully taken to Belgrade, where he was shown on Serbian state television meeting Milošević and calling for an end to the war.[11]

Rugova was allowed to leave Kosovo for temporary exile in Italy in early May 1999, not long before the war ended. He attracted further criticism for his slowness to return to Kosovo – it was not until July that he arrived back in the province. Nonetheless, he received a hero’s welcome and returned to political life under the new United Nations administration in Kosovo.

Despite the political damage suffered by Rugova during the war, he soon regained public esteem and won a decisive victory against his political rivals in the KLA. The guerrillas had been welcomed as liberators by Kosovo Albanians but subsequently alienated many by the perception that they were engaging in organised crime, extortion and violence against political opponents and other ethnic groups in Kosovo. When elections were held in Kosovo in October 2000, the LDK won a landslide victory with 58% of the vote.

Its nearest rival, Hashim Thaçi’s KLA-linked Democratic Party of Kosovo, polled only 27%. On Monday, 4 March 2002, Rugova was appointed as President by the Kosovo Assembly, though this only took place at the fourth attempt after lengthy political negotiations. In October 2002, Remzi Cakolli and Rev. Dr. Femi Cakolli of the Messiah Evangelical Protestant Church introduced Rugova to Bishop Rev. Dr. Terry Jobst from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. In 2003 Rugova reintroduced the lighting of the Christmas tree and celebration of Easter at the encouragement of Mother Teresa biographer Msgr. Dom Lush Gjergji and the bishops.

Jobst was active in the resettlement of five-thousand Kosovarn refugees that came to the US in June, 1999. Roman Catholic Bishop of Kosovo Marko Sopi authorized Jobst to baptize and confirm Rugova in 2004. In 2005, Pope John Paul II, President G.W. Bush, and all the bishops prayed for Rugova’s recover from lung cancer. With the sudden death of Sopi on 11 January, 2006, Jobst came from the US to give last rites to Rugova and present Mrs. Fana Rugova the crucifix her husband wore under his neck scarf.

Jobst was the only cleric to officiate at the silent burial service watched by millions of Europeans. Jobst encouraged President Bush to keep his word to Rugova that the US would recognize Kosovo as an independent nation before Bush left office. Rugova lived to see the Constitution of Kosovo and adopted by a freely elected democratic Parliament. Jobst continues his communication with Cakolli and Gjergji as the Mother Teresa Cathedral and Messiah Evangelical Protestant Church near completion.

As the new President of Kosovo – this time formally acknowledged as such by the international community – Rugova continued to campaign for Kosovo’s independence. However, he insisted that it had to be achieved by peaceful means and with the agreement of all parties. He also pursued a policy of very close relations with the United States, as well as with the European Union.

His incremental approach was criticised by radicals, but he sought to bring along the supporters of the former KLA; in November 2004, he appointed Ramush Haradinaj, the former commander of the KLA, as Prime Minister. The following month, Rugova was again elected President by the Kosovo Assembly. Nonetheless, he still encountered violent opposition. On 15 March 2005, he escaped —unhurt —an attempted assassination when a bomb exploded in a waste container as his car passed by. Bishop Jobst was the only one injured in the attack.

Rugova demonstrated a number of unusual traits during his time as President. He was readily identifiable by the silk neckscarf that he wore as a display of oppression in Kosovo and was known for his habit of giving visitors samples from his rock collection.

His presents were carefully graded; the size of a crystal could reflect Rugova’s feelings about the outcome of a meeting, prompting diplomats to compare notes afterwards about the size of the rocks presented to them. He was also a chain-smoker, and it may have been this habit that caused his eventual fatal condition.

On 30 August 2005, Rugova left Kosovo and went to the United States Air Force Landstuhl Military Hospital in Germany for medical treatment after earlier treatment in Pristina and Camp Bondsteel, the main US base in Kosovo and the second-biggest in Europe.

After a week at Landstuhl he returned to Kosovo. On 5 September 2005, he announced that he was suffering from lung cancer, but said that he would not be resigning from the post of President. He underwent chemotherapy, conducted by U.S. Army doctors, at his residence in Pristina but the treatment failed to resolve the cancer. He died four months later, on 21 January 2006. He was buried without religious rites on 26 January at a funeral attended by regional leaders and a crowd estimated to number one and a half million people.

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