Ati Kombit
Ibrahim Rugova
Official portrait, 2001
President of Kosovo
In office
25 January 1992 – 21 January 2006
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byFatmir Sejdiu
Leader of Democratic League of Kosovo
In office
23 December 1989 – 21 January 2006
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byFatmir Sejdiu
Personal details
Born(1944-12-02)2 December 1944
Crnce, Democratic Federal Yugoslavia (now Kosovo)
Died21 January 2006(2006-01-21) (aged 61)
Pristina, Kosovo under UN administration
Political partyLDK (1989–2006)
SpouseFana Rugova
ChildrenMendim Rugova
Ukë Rugova
Teuta Rugova
AwardsHero of Kosovo

Ibrahim Rugova[a] (Albanian pronunciation: [ibɾahim ɾugova]; 2 December 1944 – 21 January 2006) was a Kosovo Albanian politician, scholar, and writer, who served as the President of the partially recognised Republic of Kosova, serving from 1992 to 2000 and as President of Kosovo from 2002 until his death in 2006. 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.

He founded the political party Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) in 1989. The LDK, which had the support of 90% of the ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo, advocated for Kosovo's independence by peaceful means. The party established a shadow government that provided basic government and social services to the Kosovo Albanian population, including education and health care, in effect creating a parallel state. In May 1992, Rugova was elected President of this parallel state. In March 2002, with the United Nations Mission in Kosovo administering the province, he was elected President of Kosovo. He held this position until his death in January 2006, and was posthumously declared a Hero of Kosovo. He is sometimes referred to as Ati Kombit ("Father of the Nation") in Kosovo.[1]

Family and early life

Ibrahim Rugova was born on 2 December 1944 to a family that is a branch of the Kelmendi Albanian clan.[2] 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 from 1943). Yugoslav control was re-established towards the end of November 1944 when the area was liberated by the Bulgarian Army and Yugoslav 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 Peja,[2] graduating in 1967.[citation needed]

He strongly emphasized the heritage of ancient Dardania, an independent kingdom and later-turned Roman province 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 and formally joined the Communist League of Yugoslavia. 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.[citation needed]

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.[2] 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.[2] 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.[2] 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).[citation needed]


Rugova seated in 2003

As president, Rugova continued to support his non-violent path to independence even as proponents of an armed resistance formed the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) 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 of that year, shortly after the end of the war.

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.[3]

Political career

Further information: Kosovo War § Abolition of autonomy (1990–1996)

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 Milošević shattered Kosovo's autonomy by reverting it to its pre-1974 status.[4] A harsh system was imposed, leading to widespread violations of human rights and the repression of dissenters.[5] An estimated 130,000 Kosovo Albanians were sacked from their jobs[6] and the police in particular were almost completely purged of Albanians.[7] There were numerous reports of extrajudicial beatings, torture and killings, attracting strong criticism from human rights groups and other countries.[8][9]

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 Kosovo, the Republic of Kosova, 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

The Kosovo Albanians boycotted Yugoslav and Serbian elections on the grounds that they would legitimise the Milošević government, they also questioned its veracity. 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.[citation needed]

In 1991 the Yugoslav wars began following Slovenia and Croatia declaring themselves independent 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.[10]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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. On 1 September 1996, Rugova and Slobodan Milošević signed the Milošević-Rugova education agreement in an attempt to resolve issues regarding the education of Kosovo Albanian children.[11]

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.[12]

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.


Rugova with former U.S. senator Bob Dole in 2003

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 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.

Rugova in 2004

As the new President of Kosovo – this time formally acknowledged as such by the international community – Rugova continued to campaign for Kosovo's full 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.

Flag of Dardania, a flag which Ibrahim Rugova introduced during his time as President.

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.

Imams conducting funeral prayer in front of Rugova's grave

There have been rumors that Rugova converted to Catholicism just before he died. These rumors have never been confirmed by his family nor other source, and one of his closest associates, Sabri Hamiti, in an essay published on the first anniversary of his death, refuted them. He said that Rugova referred to himself as a ‘symbolic Muslim’.[13] The Chancellor of the Catholic Church of Kosovo, Don Shan Zefi, in an interview for Kosovo's national television,[14] said that there is no evidence of Rugova's conversion to Catholicism or baptism. Zefi denied that he had baptized Rugova. Though he had a state funeral service, the head of the Islamic Community of Kosovo, together with many imams conducted Islamic funeral prayers for Rugova. His grave, located at a hilltop in Prishtina, is oriented perpendicular to Mecca, in accordance with Muslim tradition.[citation needed]

Ukë Rugova

His son, Ukë Rugova is also active in politics and took part as a candidate in the 2010 Kosovan parliamentary election.[15][16][17][18][19][20]

Books by and about Ibrahim Rugova



  1. ^ Albanian spelling: Ibrahim Rugova. Serbian Cyrillic spelling: Ибрахим Ругова.

See also


  1. ^ Plus, Kult (21 January 2023). "Poezi nga Ibrahim Rugova të botuara në 'Rilindje' kur ai ishte vetëm 18 vjeç". KultPlus (in Albanian). Retrieved 11 July 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d e Vreme 767: Vera Didanović: Ibrahim Rugova: Umeren političar, ekstreman cilj[dead link]
  3. ^ "Kosovo leader Ibrahim Rugova dies", BBC News, 21 January 2006.
  4. ^ Backing Request by Serbia, General Assembly Decides to Seek International Court of Justice Ruling on Legality of Kosovo’s Independence Belgrade’s unilateral decision in 1989 to remove Kosovo’s autonomy
  5. ^ Human Rights Watch World Report 1989 – Yugoslavia Archived 2012-10-17 at the Wayback Machine "These violations range from the suppression of speech, including censorship of written materials, and the imposition of prison terms for attempts to express nationalist sentiment or to engage in ethnic association, to outright murder, as happened when government troops opened fire indiscriminately on a crowd in Pristina, Kosovo in early 1989, killing approximately thirty ethnic Albanians"
  6. ^ Hans Das, "Regularizing Housing and Property Rights in Kosovo Archived 2006-05-03 at the Wayback Machine". United Nations Centre for Human Settlements.
  7. ^ Zoran Kusovac, "Another Balkan Bloodbath? Part One". Jane's Intelligence Review, February 1998.
  8. ^ Ivana Nizich, "Human Rights Abuses in Kosovo 1990–1992". Human Rights Watch, October 1992
  9. ^ "Serbia/Montenegro Human Rights Practices, 1993 Archived 2007-08-08 at the Wayback Machine". United States Department of State, January 1994
  10. ^ Ibrahim Rugova – Obituaries, News – The Independent[dead link]
  11. ^ (Kola 2003, p. 316)
  12. ^ ‘PHANTOM MEETINGS’ OF RUGOVA AND MILOSEVIC. International Court of Justice, 13 March 2009
  13. ^ "Rugova: Memento për Rugovën". Archived from the original on 6 October 2016. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
  14. ^ "Don Shan Zefi: Kam dilema nëse Ibrahim Rugova është konvertuar në katolik". Gazeta Tema. Archived from the original on 25 September 2013.
  15. ^ "Pre-election overview from Kosovo, 2010". Foreign Policy Journal. 14 December 2010. Retrieved 10 July 2013.
  16. ^ "IFIMES predicts PDK victory in generanl elections :: EMG :: Business news from Serbia 2010". Archived from the original on 6 March 2012. Retrieved 10 July 2013.
  17. ^ "Study predicts PDK victory in Kosovo's nap elections".
  18. ^ Journal Of Turkish Weekly Archived 25 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Wahlen im Kosovo: Die Stunde der Tatubrecher – Ausland – Politik – FAZ.NET
  20. ^ "Parlamentswahlen: Kosovo hofft auf Neuanfang" (in German). Retrieved 10 July 2013.
  21. ^ "Exiled Writers Ink ! – Writers". Archived from the original on 11 March 2010. Retrieved 10 July 2013.
  22. ^ "Previous Recipients of the Homo Homini Award". People in Need. Archived from the original on 1 May 2011. Retrieved 17 April 2011.




Political offices New titleRepublic declared President of Kosovo 1992–1999 Republic abolished Placed under UN administration New titleRecreated within UN administration President of Kosovo 2002–2006 Succeeded byFatmir Sejdiu