A Brief State Visit

Ibrahim Rugova returned to Kosovo Thursday but was gone again within hours. But no other Kosovo Albanians are in charge either.

A Brief State Visit

Ibrahim Rugova returned to Kosovo Thursday but was gone again within hours. But no other Kosovo Albanians are in charge either.

Saturday, 17 July, 1999

Ibrahim Rugova arrived in Kosovo on Thursday to fanfares suitable for a Roman emperor - cheering crowds, children handing him bouquets of flowers, old women kissing him on the cheek. But unlike Caesar, he came, he saw and he left - returning later that evening to Rome.


Rather than returning to claim his presidential mantle, Rugova only left many people wondering why he came back in the first place.


Notably, Rugova arrived without his trademark scarf - which for many years he declared he would not abandon until Kosovo was independent. But all of this was overshadowed by the arrival the same day of Bernard Kouchner, special representative of the UN Secretary General and the undisputed interim leader of Kosovo.


Although Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) and the provisional government of Hashim Thaci's Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) are at odds, they are united by the fact both were created as defiance movements to Serb rule. But the LDK and Rugova appear to have disappeared from the political radar screen, while Thaci's young inexperienced government is trying to find a role for itself in the shadows of NATO, the United Nations, and the various relief agencies.


Rugova did not even attend the first meeting of the special council that will be Kouchner's link with the various political forces Thursday.


His paradoxical behaviour is making even the most ardent Rugova supporters to question their support. In Koha Ditore, the leading ethnic Albanian daily, Friday's headline read, "The Return of the Loser" over a photograph of Rugova with mouth ajar and looking slightly above the horizon. Two years ago such a headline would have brought the wrath of a thousand loyal Rugova supporters onto the paper's doorsteps.


For almost ten years Rugova managed to keep the ethnic Albanians idle. Applauded by the West, especially Washington, for his pacifism, Rugova managed to create a dictatorship of goodwill that paralysed Kosovo's political development.


LDK supporters would argue that he helped prevent a wider conflict and ensured some stability. But his critics say it was all getting Kosovo no where, while preventing the development of alternative political options within the province.


In the West opposition to Rugova was perceived as "radical" while in Kosovo it was perceived as being against the independence movement. The West also saw Rugova as the man to keep the Kosovo Albanians at bay until they came up with a policy on resolving the Kosovo issue. The locals saw him as a man who could communicate their concerns to the West.


Reality struck home for both the West and the Kosovo Albanians when Serbia attacked - the Kosovo Albanians overestimated the West's willingness to defend them from the Serbs and the West underestimated Belgrade's determination for war.


Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova has learned too late the danger of allowing an individual to become more powerful than the party. Blindly supporting Rugova for ten years, the once powerful LDK is scrambling to find a role and possibly a new leader - one that at least would be willing to actually live in Kosovo.


Bujar Bukoshi, the LDK's prime minister, is living in Germany while Rugova found shelter in Rome. Most of their time is spent trying to explain themselves - why Rugova met with Milosevic during the war, why he never visited the Kosovo Albanian refugees in Albania, and why he failed to acknowledge the massive effort expended by impoverished Albania to help the 520,000 Kosovo Albanians who took refuge there.


When these questions were put to him in Kosovo, Rugova calmly responded "that was in the past, we need to look towards the future." He expressed his willingness to cooperate with everyone, and his hope that Albanians could find a unified voice. But LDK members found themselves spending most of their time explaining why the emperor is not wearing a scarf, leaving the door wide open for practical political issues to the only major political party - Hashim Thaci's KLA.


Thaci at least gives the appearance of running a ruling party. He has set up his entire government in Pristina, comprised mainly of representatives of the KLA and the Democratic League Union (LBD).


Thaci's team is young and inexperienced and faces the challenge of trying to find a role for the KLA's 10,000 or more unemployed fighters. At the same time he must convince the general public that his government can play a role in Kosovo's future. At the moment, most Kosovo Albanians need food and building material for their damaged homes and shops that only the international community can provide.


Although elections in Kosovo are perceived to take place with 9 to 12 months, one thing is for sure: the Albanian political parties will remain hostage to the international community for some time to come.


Fron Nazi is IWPR Kosovo Project Director.


Albania, Serbia, Kosovo
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