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Ibrahim Rugova: Staying Alive

Ibrahim Rugova. Copyright by AFP
Ibrahim Rugova

Ibrahim Rugova, was the man who dominated Kosovo Albanian politics from 1990 to 1998 and was then to rebound as president after the war and until his death in 2006 had several distinguishing quirks and characteristics. His trademark was silk scarf, which he wore everywhere he went except in August when he did not wear it at all. He had a collection of rocks which he liked to show to foreign visitors and says Judah, "oddly for a man who commanded such fantastic loyalty from his people" was "extremely dull". Rugova was born in 1944. His father had been executed by the Partisans when they restored control over Kosovo at the end of the Second World War. He had studied at the Sorbonne and studiously cultivated a rather bohemian air, which included a penchant for drink. Like most of the other founder of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) he had been a member of the Communist Party, although he had been expelled for voting against amending Kosovo's constitution. He was not first choice to lead the LDK and often Kosovo Albanian intellectuals looked down their noses at him. He was however politically adept and far-sighted:

After Milošević had begun to destroy the province's autonomy, the arms which had belonged to its reserve Territorial Defence forces had been confiscated. So, writing on the eve of the Bosnian war in 1992, Rugova explained why the Kosovars did not have a military option. "We are not certain how strong the Serbian military presence in the province actually is, but we do know that it is overwhelming and that we have nothing to set against the tanks and other weaponry in Serbian hands." And then, prophetically, he added: "We would have no chance of successfully resisting the army. In fact the Serbs only wait for a pretext to attack the Albanian population and wipe it out. We believe it is better to do nothing and stay alive than to be massacred."

On 22 September 1991, Kosovo Albanian deputies voted for a resolution on independence. A referendum was then organised, which although illegal, the Serbian authorities did not make much of an effort to stop. It resulted in 87.01 per cent of eligible voters approving the declaration of independence, ie., since Serbs did not vote, 99.87 per cent of those who voted, did so in favour. On 19 October 1991 the, as far as the Serbs were concerned, the illegal parliament of Kosovo, declared the birth of the "Republic of Kosova". On the same day a government in exile came into being, first in Slovenia but then it moved to Bad Godesberg, a suburb of Bonn. In May 1992 elections were held and a Kosovo Albanian parliament and president were elected. Again, the Serbian authorities basically ignored the poll. However, from now on Rugova, as president, presided over a form of phantom state, the most important elements of which were emerging parallel health and education systems, plus taxes to pay for them.

[pp: 61-69]

Kosovo: War and Revenge. 2002, Second Edition. [Yale University Press]

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