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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 21:19 GMT 22:19 UK
Rugova: Kosovo's political survivor
Kosovo leader Ibrahim Rugova
Rugova is a man of letters turned politician
The election of Ibrahim Rugova as President of Kosovo two months ago reinforced his position as the "comeback kid" of politics in the province.

There was a time not long ago when many people wrote off the man known as the Gandhi of the Balkans for his pacifist stance towards Belgrade.

That was in the period between the deployment of Nato peacekeepers in the summer of 1999 and the arrival of the United Nations mission to Kosovo shortly after.

A crowd cheers Rugova's return to Kosovo in 1999
Ibrahim Rugova has long been regarded as a political leader
There was a political vacuum to fill, and the fighters-turned-politicians of the Kosovo Liberation Army were eager to fill it, creating an interim administration, and sowing up local and central administrations.

The end of the war found Dr Rugova abroad - in Italy - where he had gone after having blotted his copy book by meeting his arch enemy - Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic - at the height of the Nato air campaign.

The meeting, shown on television, caused consternation in Kosovo - not least because the man who, for years, had called for Western intervention appeared to be urging Nato to stop the bombing.

Most Albanians were furious - some accused him of treason, others said his remarks were irrelevant as he was a "hostage".

It looked like the career of the self-styled "Kosovo president" was over.

Advantage

But Dr Rugova had at least two attributes which stood him in good stead in the subsequent race for the presidency.

Firstly, he had longevity. Long before the KLA arrived on the scene in the mid 1990s, Dr Rugova led the parallel government which the Albanians declared at the start of Mr Milosevic's brutal crackdown.

His Democratic League of Kosovo, the LDK, was as much a party as a popular social movement. He built the loyalty and trust of the people, which lasted the course.

Secondly, he came from a different stable to his other main rivals, both of whom were newer on the political scene, and people evidently found that reassuring.

Dr Rugova is a French-educated academic with a passion for poetry, mineral rock samples and Sar mountain dogs from the southern Kosovo border area. In his trademark silk scarf, he cut a very different figure.

Man of letters

Born in western Kosovo in 1944, he is the son of a shopkeeper who was executed after the war by the advancing Yugoslav communists.

Nevertheless he prospered and eventually went to Paris where he studied linguistics at the Sorbonne. He then became a professor of Albanian literature and a writer.

Dr Rugova was drawn into politics in 1989 when he was elected head of the Kosovo Writers' Union, which became a breeding ground for opposition to the Serbian authorities.

This hardened after Belgrade stripped Kosovo of its autonomy later that year, and led to the establishment of Mr Rugova's LDK.

During the race for the presidency, all the Albanian main parties campaigned on the independence ticket. At the time it was dismissed as electioneering.

But just a day after the vote, Mr Rugova declared that his first priority as the leader of the victorious party would be to press as fast as possible for sovereignty, and then attend to the economic reconstruction of a province still shattered by war.

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