Kosovo

Kosovars you should know

Ibrahim Rugova
An estimated half million people turned out to bid farewell to the former president of Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova, as his coffin passed through the streets of Pristina on January 26, 2006, five days after the chain-smoking, so-called 'Gandhi of the Balkans' lost his fight with lung cancer at the age of 61. Born the only son of a well-off peasant family in the small village of Cerrcë near Istog on December 2, 1944, Kosovo's unlikely hero studied linguistics at the Sorbonne in Paris before pursuing a successful career as a writer and professor of linguistics.

His father was killed by the Communists at the end of WWII, a fact that must have had some influence on Rugova, whose rise through the ranks of politics and the intellectual elite found him being elected head of Kosovo's politically charged Writers' Union in 1989, the same year Slobodan Milosevic stripped Kosovo of its autonomous status and started the anti-Albanian regime that led to the 1999 conflict. In December 1989 Rugova and a number of other leading intellectuals and activists set up the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), of which he was elected leader. Boasting a membership of practically every adult Kosovan Albanian, the LDK established a shadow government with Rugova as its figurehead. Initially a hero for his passive resistance to Serbian rule, Rugova lost credibility after the 1995 Dayton Agreement, which effectively brought about the creation of the paramilitary Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in 1997, and the war two years later.

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