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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. Rugova fled Kosovo to Italy during the conflict, returning shortly after to a hero's welcome. The end of the conflict saw the KLA lose favour with the population, and Rugova was soon back at the top of the political pile. On March 4, 2002, Rugova was officially made president, and continued to play the passive hand, bringing together the various parties in the conflict and leading Kosovo along the path of independence. Still hugely controversial, the dapper and somewhat eccentric president, who was almost never seen without his trademark cravat and who would give items from his crystal collection away as gifts to foreign dignitaries he met, escaped several assassination attempts before skilfully bringing everyone to the negotiation table. In September 2005 Rugova announced that he was suffering from lung cancer, and died on January 21 2006, just before the final negotiations for independence were about to begin. The Muslim Rugova was buried in a secular ceremony (there were rumours that he had converted to Catholicism towards the end of his life) in Pristina's Park of Martyrs that occupies a substantial part of the side of Velania hill overlooking the city. His grave can be found just past the Martyr's Monument and some KLA graves. Rugova, who was married with three children, never got to see his dream of independence, but without him it's certain that the dream would be a lot further away than it is today.

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