A Kosovo Voice for Peace Falls Flat A Decade Ago, Ibrahim Rugova Was Kosovo's Hope for Independence from Serbia. but His Authority Has Eroded, Leaving a Lasting Political Deal for the Region Up in the Air

By Justin Brown, | The Christian Science Monitor, November 16, 1998 | Go to article overview

A Kosovo Voice for Peace Falls Flat A Decade Ago, Ibrahim Rugova Was Kosovo's Hope for Independence from Serbia. but His Authority Has Eroded, Leaving a Lasting Political Deal for the Region Up in the Air


Justin Brown,, The Christian Science Monitor


When Ibrahim Rugova became leader of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians a decade ago, he was a man of the people - a consensus builder, a peacemaker, and the very emblem of independence.

But Mr. Rugova has become a cloudy figure during this tumultuous year in Kosovo, which began with a Serb crackdown on the region that started in February and forced some 300,000 from their homes. After NATO threatened airstrikes, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic agreed to a cease-fire, though violence has still periodically erupted.

Amid this, Rugova is no longer unanimously accepted by the people, no longer synonymous with a liberated Kosovo. Rugova's transformation - caused by his own miscalculations, suppression from the Serbian regime, and sometimes misleading US policy - is now one of the primary obstacles to finding a political solution for the Serbian province of Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians are a 90 percent majority seeking independence. Furthermore, diplomats say, Rugova's inability to work with dissenters has contributed to the violence in Kosovo, where nearly 1,000 have died. "There is no coherent Albanian leadership for negotiations," laments a senior Western diplomat. "If there had been, something could have been achieved that would have been good for the Albanian people." Currently, US envoy Christopher Hill is trying to forge a lasting political deal for the region by working with Rugova loyalists, leaders in the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), and Mr. Milosevic. RUGOVA was a nondistinct Communist leader and literary critic before he became leader of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians. Then, in the late 1980s, Communist Yugoslavia was falling apart. Milosevic, then a rising star in Belgrade politics, blamed Serbia's turmoil on the ethnic Albanians and stripped Kosovo of its autonomy. While Milosevic consolidated his power in Belgrade, Rugova did the same in Kosovo. In the birth of a euphoric political movement, Rugova united two camps of Albanians: one, the former Communists like himself who had worked within the Yugoslav system; the other, more die-hard Albanian dissidents, many of whom had been political prisoners. They all agreed to seek independence for Kosovo. The result was the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), a party led by Rugova. Their tactic was passive resistance, hoping the US would back them. In April 1990, Rugova was invited to America by a group of United States congressmen. "It was an American-style spectacle that we had never seen before," recalls Hajrulla Gorani, a former political prisoner who in early 1990 was the first to break from the LDK. "We took a boat ride to the Statue of Liberty and a helicopter flew above, as if it were needed to protect Rugova.... It cemented the position of Rugova - but it was an illusion." For many Kosovars the trip was misleading. They thought that because the US supported Rugova, independence was also supported. Although it was not the case - the US never wanted an independent Kosovo - Rugova did not tell them otherwise. Later in 1990, Mr. …

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