Ibrahim Rugova; the ‘Father of the Nation’ who led Kosovo towards independence but passed away on 21st January 2006, just 2 years before the country declared its independence. He was the first president of Kosovo, serving from 1992 – 2000 and again from 2002 until his death in 2006. He advocated a policy of peaceful resistance of Serbian rule in his campaign for a free and independent Kosovo and modelled himself on Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
Born on 2nd December 1944 in eastern Kosovo. His Father and Grandfather were killed by Yugoslav communists during World War II.
He studied Philosophy at the University of Pristina in the Department of Albanian Language and Literature and later continued his studies in Paris. During the 1970’s he was active as a journalist, working for a student newspaper and a magazine, as well as working for the Institute for Albanian Studies in Pristina as editor-in-chief of its Albanian Research periodical.
Rugova formally joined the Yugoslav Communist Party during this period of his life. He was making a name for himself, publishing works on literary theory, which helped earn him recognition as a leading member of Kosovo’s Albanian intelligentsia. He was elected the chairman of the Kosovo Writers’ Association, allowing him to become active in the media as an advocate of the rights of Kosovo Albanians and challenged the Serbian and Yugoslav communist rule of Kosovo at a time when political conflict was beginning in Yugoslavia.
The beginning of Rugova’s political career started in 23rd December 1989, when he together with associates established a new political party; the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK. Of which he was elected as chairman. A position he filled until his death for over 16 years. His political goal was for a free and liberated Kosovo. He would often be seen in public with his trademark red scarf, which he declared he would stop wearing only when Kosovo was independent.
The LDK opposed the nullification of Kosovo’s autonomy within Yugoslavia and pursued independence for Kosovo via peaceful means, with 90% support of ethnic Albanians. In May 1992, an unofficial vote for a president and parliament was staged by Kosovo Albanians. This was the first presidential election in the republic of Kosovo, an unrecognised state and a vote which was declared in secret by members of Kosovo’s former assembly within Yugoslavia.
Rugova was elected President of Kosovo, yet the parliament never became operational. Serbia, under Milosevic’s control remained in power of Kosovo but did not have the cooperation of the Albanian population. Instead the LDK established a shadow government, providing basic government and social services to the Kosovo Albanian population. This parallel state included the provision of education and health care.
Increasing Serbian aggression against ethnic Albanians led to the formation of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) as proponents of armed resistance. Despite this, Rugova as president continued to support the non-violent path to independence. His parallel system of government had won widespread support among Albanians until they Dayton peace Agreement. Kosovo’s status was ignored in the peace talks between Milosevic and western leaders and disillusion started to set in.
As a result, the KLA gained support by 1998 as the dominant resistance organisation in Kosovo as many people lost faith in Rugova and his peaceful methods. His reputation suffered as he was televised meeting Milosevic in 1999 during the height of the NATO bombing campaign and again when he fled to Italy with his family. Rugova remained president of Kosovo although Hashim Thaci, the former KLA commander, had been leading a provisional government since April 1999. Regardless, the UN had effective power of the land.
In 2000, after the war with Serbia had ended, the first free elections in Kosovo were held. Rugova and Thaci agreed to give up their positions and work on creating provisional institutions of self-government until Kosovo’s final status was decided. Under Rugova’s leadership the LDK took control of the majority and in March 2002, Rugova was elected President of Kosovo whilst the UN Mission in Kosovo administered the province.
As the new President of Kosovo, formally recognised by the international community, Rugova continued to peacefully campaign for Kosovo’s independence. Tensions between LDK and KLA continued but Rugova named Ramush Haradinaj as prime minister in 2004 in an effort to promote national unity. Haradinaj was one of the top commanders of the KLA during the conflict.
In 2005 he sought treatment in Kosovo and later USA before announcing that he was suffering from lung cancer. He continued as President of Kosovo whilst undergoing chemotherapy and planned to attend UN talks scheduled for February 2006. It was expected that he would successfully bid for a self-governing Kosovo without UN involvement, but sadly died at the age of 61, in January 2006 before he could realise his dream of an independent Kosovo. He is buried in Sunny Hill, Pristina with the highest honours of the people of Kosovo, awarded for acts of courage for the freedom and independence of Kosovo.