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Ibrahim Rugova

Ibrahim Rugova

Kosovar academic
The basics
Occupations Politician Writer
Countries Kosovo
Gender male
Birth December 2, 1944 (Crnce)
Death January 21, 2006 (Prishtina, Pristina District, Kosovo)
Politics Democratic League of Kosovo
Education University of Paris, University of Pristina
Authority ISNI id Library of congress id NNDB id Openlibrary id VIAF id
Ibrahim Rugova
The details

Ibrahim Rugova ( listen ; 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. 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.

Family and early life

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 November when the area was liberated by Bulgarian Army and 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 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. He studied literature at the University of Prishtina 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.

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).

Presidential Years

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.

Political career

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.

The 1980s saw escalating tension within Kosovo with dissatisfaction by Serbs regarding their treatment at the hands of the Kosovan authorities, and resentment from those same authorities towards the lack of powers devolved to them from Belgrade, Yugoslavia's capital. Since 1974, the Socialist Republic of Serbia's local authority had no constitutional rule over Kosovo. In 1989, unilateral measures taken by Serbian President Slobodan Milošević shattered Kosovo's autonomy by reverting it to its pre-1974 status. A harsh system was imposed, leading to widespread violations of human rights and the repression of dissenters. An estimated 130,000 Kosovo Albanians were sacked from their jobs and the police in particular were almost completely purged of Albanians There were numerous reports of extrajudicial beatings, torture and killings, attracting strong criticism from human rights groups and other countries.

Milošević's actions were strongly opposed by the Kosovo Albanian political élite (including the local Communist Party now stripped of authorities), by ethnic Albanians and by Milošević's counterparts in Yugoslavia's other republics. Members of the abolished Kosovo assembly met to declare an independent "Republic of Kosovo", which was recognised by Albania. The local Serbian government responded by arresting 112 of the 120 members of the assembly and six members of the Kosovo government and charging them with "counter-revolutionary activity." Journalists who reported the assembly's declaration were also detained and imprisoned. Kosovo's intellectuals also opposed the changes; Rugova was one of 215 signatories of the "Appeal of Kosovo Intellectuals" against Milošević's decision to change Kosovo's status. He was immediately expelled from the Communist Party in retaliation.

In December 1989, Rugova and a number of other dissents set up the Democratic League of Kosovo as a vehicle for opposing Milošević's policies. Rugova became leader after the first candidate, Rexhep Qosja, a prominent nationalist writer, refused the job. The new party was an overwhelming success and within months, 700,000 people – virtually the entire adult population of Kosovo Albanians – had joined. The LDK established a "shadow government" and a "Parallel Social System" to provide education and health services to the Albanian population, which was either excluded from or chose not to use the equivalent services provided by the Serbian government. An underground Kosovo Assembly was founded with Bujar Bukoshi acting as Prime Minister from the safe distance of Germany. The shadow government's activities were mostly funded by the overseas Kosovo Albanian diaspora, based primarily in Germany and the United States. However, Rugova's government was recognised officially only by the government of Albania.

The Kosovo Albanians boycotted Yugoslav and Serbian elections on the grounds that they would legitimise the Milošević government, they also questioned its veracity. This decision remains highly controversial because those 900000 Albanian voices could easy stop Milosevic long before war in Yugoslavia started. In May 1992, separate elections were held in Kosovo in which Rugova won an overwhelming majority and was elected President of Kosovo. Although there were questions about the fairness and propriety of the elections – they were held virtually in secret in Albanians' houses, there were repeated reports of harassment by state security forces, and there were allegations of vote-rigging – it was nonetheless generally accepted that Rugova was the legitimate winner of this election.

In 1991 the Yugoslav wars began with the secession of Slovenia and Croatia from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. By the summer of 1992, Yugoslavia was fully absorbed with the wars in Croatia and Bosnia, and had no spare military capacity to deal with conflicts elsewhere. Rugova supported Kosovo's independence but strongly opposed the use of force as a means of achieving it, fearing a Bosnia-style bloodbath. He instead advocated a policy of Gandhi-like passive resistance, stating on a visit to London that

The slaughterhouse is not the only form of struggle. There is no mass humiliation in Kosovo. We are organised and are operating as a state. It is easy to take to the streets and to head towards suicide, but wisdom lies in eluding a catastrophe.

The Serbian and Yugoslav governments subjected LDK activists and members to considerable harassment and intimidation, and argued that the shadow government was an illegal organisation. However, they did not try to shut down the LDK completely and they allowed him to travel abroad. It seems likely that Milošević saw Rugova as being useful in averting an uprising in Kosovo. The Yugoslav government would have found such a situation difficult to contain at the same time as supporting simultaneous wars in Croatia and Bosnia.

For his part, Rugova stuck to a hard line throughout the 1990s, rejecting any form of negotiation with Serbia's authorities other than on achieving outright independence of Kosovo. A compromise, or a setback in the eyes of his critics, came in 1996 when he reached an agreement with Serbia over educational facilities, under which the parallel shadow education system would not be integrated with that of Serbia.

The slide to war

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.

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. Rugova lived to see the Constitution of Kosovo adopted by a freely elected democratic Parliament.

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.

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.

Rumors about conversion to Catholicism

Imams conducting funeral prayer in front of Rugova's grave

There have been rumors that Rugova had converted to Catholicism just before he died. These rumors have never been confirmed by his family, nor by any other reliable source, and one of his closest associates, Sabri Hamiti, in an essay published on the first anniversary of his death, refuted them. He reminds that Rugova, in regard to religion, referred to himself as a ‘symbolic Muslim’. On the other hand, Chancellor of the Catholic Church of Kosovo Don Shan Zefi in an interview for Kosovo’s national television, said that he had dilemmas whether Rugova converted to Catholicism and that there is no evidence about his conversion and baptism. Zefi denied that he had baptized Rugova.

Though he had a state funeral service, head of Islamic Community of Kosovo, together with many imams conducted Islamic funeral prayer for the deceased. His grave, located at a hilltop in Prishtina, is oriented perpendicular to Mecca, as all other Muslim graves.

Ukë Rugova

His son, Ukë Rugova is also active in Politics and took part as a candidate in the Kosovan Parliamentary elections 2010.

Books by and about Ibrahim Rugova

  • Prekje lirike, [Lyrical Touches], essays, Rilindja, Pristina, 1971;:
  • Kah teoria, [Towards Theory], essays, Rilindja, Pristina, 1978;
  • Bibliografia e kritikës letrare shqiptare 1944-1974, [Bibliography of Albanian Literary Criticism 1944-1974], Instituti Albanologjik, Pristina, 1976 (together with Isak Shema),
  • Kritika letrare (nga De Rada te Migjeni), [Literary Criticism], anthology with commentary, Rilindja, Pristina, 1979 (together with Sabri Hamiti);
  • Strategjia e kuptimit, [Strategy of Meaning], essays, Rilindja, Pristina, 1980;
  • Vepra e Bogdanit 1675-1685, [Bogdani’s Oeuvre 1675-1685], monograph study, Rilindja, Pristina, 1982;
  • Kahe dhe premisa të kritikës letrare shqiptare 1504-1983, [Directions and Premises of Albanian Literary Criticism 1504-1983], monograph study, Instituti Albanologjik, Pristina, 1986;
  • Refuzimi estetik', [Aesthetic Rejection], essays, Rilindja, Pristina, 1987;
  • Pavarësia dhe demokracia, [Independence and Democracy], interviews and other occasional pieces, Fjala, Pristina, 1991;
  • Çështja e Kosovës, [The Kosovo Issue], (together with Marie-Françoise Allain and Xavier Galmiche), Dukagjini, Peć, 1994; translation of the original La question du Kosovo – entretiens avec Marie-Francoise Allain et Xavier Galmiche, Preface de Ismail Kadare, Paris, 1994;
  • Ibrahim Rugova: “La frêle colosse du Kosovo” , Desclée de Brouwer, Paris, 1999;
  • Kompleti i veprave të Ibrahim Rugovës në tetë vëllime [Ibrahim Rugova’s Oeuvre in eight volumes], Faik Konica, Pristina, 2005.
  • On the first anniversary of Rugova’s death, the Kosovo Presidency published a book entitled President Rugova, with a Preface by President Fatmir Sejdiu (‘The First Statesman of Kosovo’) and a long introduction by Sabri Hamiti (‘Memento for Rugova’). The book collects some of the President’s major speeches/addresses as a leader and statesman.
  • "Rugova: Vizioni nacional", a publicistic book by Vehbi Miftari, „AIKD”, 2007
  • "Rugova: The symbol of independence", a publicistic book by Vehbi Miftari „AIKD”, 2008
  • "Rugova – mendimi, kultura, politika", a book by Vehbi Miftari, 2010
  • The Winter Of Great Despair by Jeton Kelmendi


  • 1995 Peace Prize of Paul Litzer Foundation, Denmark.
  • 1996 Honorary Doctorate of University of Paris VIII: Vincennes—Saint-Denis, France
  • 1998 Sakharov Prize of the European Parliament.
  • 1998 Homo Homini Award for human rights activism, People in Need
  • 1999 Peace Prize, City of Münster
  • 1999 Honorary Citizen of the Cities of Venice, Milan and Brescia (Italy).
  • 2000 Peace Prize of the Democratic Union of Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain.
  • 2003 Prize European Senator of Honour.
  • 2004 Honorary Doctorate of Tirana University.
  • 2006 National Flag Order (posthumously), by President of Albania Alfred Moisiu
  • 2007 Order "Hero of Kosovo" (posthumously), by President of Kosovo Fatmir Sejdiu
  • 2013 R7 Motorway in Kosovo linking with Albania was named after him
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Family and early life Presidential Years Political career Rumors about conversion to Catholicism Ukë Rugova Books by and about Ibrahim Rugova Honours
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