Wednesday, May 5, 1999 Published at 20:45 GMT 21:45 UK
Ibrahim Rugova: Pacifist at the crossroads
Rugova grew up during years of harsh repression. Following the war, Kosovo was run by mostly Serb communists who ran the province on a tight leash.
Like almost every single other leader in the former Yugoslavia, Rugova was a member of its old communist party. He was expelled after joining others in demanding changes to Serbia's constitution.
Building a political movement
With the formal end of one party rule in Serbia Rugova was elected to head the first non-communist party in Kosovo, the Democratic League of Kosova ( *see notes below), the LDK.
The LDK was founded just after Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic had abolished Kosovo's autonomy and at a time of great political ferment. Over the next few years though the Yugoslav crisis, which had begun in Kosovo was to shift northwards. By 1991 the war which was to destroy the old federal republic had begun.
Change of strategy
As the Croats and then Bosnia's Muslims took on the Serbs, some Kosovo Albanians argued that they should "open a southern front" to win their own freedom.
Rugova argued that this would be an appalling mistake. After hundreds of thousands of people had been driven from their homes in Croatia and Bosnia, he feared the same could happen to Kosovo's Albanian population.
Under Rugova's guidance then, the LDK and other Kosovo Albanian parties pioneered a unique experiment. They declared independence and began setting up parallel structures of government, health care and education.
Rugova was elected president in semi-underground elections while a "government-in-exile" shuttled between Germany, Switzerland, Albania and Macedonia.
Teachers, doctors and others were available in large numbers ever since they had been sacked or resigned from their jobs after Mr Milosevic's clampdown in 1989.
It is widely believed that the Serbs more or less permitted Mr Rugova's activities as he was immensely popular and if Albanians did not have him to look to for guidance then they would search for leadership amongst other more hardline candidates.
Dayton accord shatters consensus
Albanians who had followed Rugova through the difficult years of repression and harassment were shocked that the 1995 accord, which ended the war in Bosnia, did not deal with Kosovo. It became increasingly clear that western countries would not support its demand for independence.
From that time on Rugova's position came under increasing scrutiny. Some began to argue that their leader's pacifism was tantamount to passivity. Quarrels with the government-in-exile lead to a cut off of funds from abroad.
The increasing prominence of the KLA showed this was not the case.
Mr Rugova's trademark is a silk scarf that he wears wherever he goes.
With the launch of the Nato air campaign and the mass exodus of Kosovo Albanians it is now unclear just how popular he remains.
Some analysts believe that if Mr Rugova could make a compromise deal with the Serbs, the vast majority of Albanians who are now armed would lay down their guns and follow his lead.
However he lost support when he was shown on Serbian television holding talks with President Slobodan Milosevic after the Nato bombing campaign began.
He also signed an agreement with Belgrade at the end of March paving the way for more peace talks on the province.
With his release by the Yugoslav authorities and arrival in Italy he clearly intends to play a role in the search for peace in Kosovo.
Whether it is a significant one remains to be seen.
(*1) Kosova is the Albanian name for the province. The word 'League' was chosen specifically to make reference to the League of Prizren, the first Albanian nationalist movement which was founded in 1878.