An Insult to Gandhi

Albanian Leader Ibrahim Rugova, Dead at 61

This week was supposed to mark the start of "negotiations" over the future status of the occupied Serbian province of Kosovo. According to the International Herald Tribune, some form of independence was inevitable. No meetings took place in Vienna today, however, and the process was postponed till mid-February. The reason for this was the death of Ibrahim Rugova, longtime leader of the separatist-minded Kosovo Albanians and "president" of the province under the occupation constitution.

However, though Rugova’s death postponed the Vienna talks, it is more than likely to propel the Albanian separatist cause to its final destination: an independent "Republic of Kosova."

Hustle and Flow

Rugova passed away Saturday, at the age of 61, surrounded by family, aides, and American doctors supervising his lung cancer treatment. His death prompted an outpouring of praise and sympathy last seen at the funeral of Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic: Rugova was a brave and noble defender of his people’s rights, democracy, freedom, peace…

There is plenty of evidence Rugova was none of these things. He was, however, acceptable to both the Kosovo Albanians and the Empire as a symbolic figurehead in the drive for separation from Serbia. His death prompted both condolences from Western capitals and fears that it might lead to vicious Albanian infighting that would jeopardize Empire’s agenda for the occupied Serbian territory.

Commenting on Rugova’s passing, the Economist claims that "the UN and diplomats" are working on containing the squabbling Albanian leaders until Kosovo becomes independent – an outcome that is a foregone conclusion of the delayed "negotiations."

This was corroborated by the current UN viceroy, Søren Jessen-Petersen, in the "Kosovo Parliament" on Sunday, when he "called for calm, reminding local political leaders that ‘the aim Rugova dedicated his life was that of a free Kosovo.’" Jessen-Petersen added: "It is a vision whose realization remains in the hands of you, Kosovo’s political leaders, whose unity and commitment to Mr. Rugova’s mission will be vital in the coming months." (IPS)

The Myth of Peace

Both the politicians and the media using Rugova’s death to advance the Albanian separatist cause are intent on describing the deceased leader as a larger-than-life historical figure. For example, EU foreign policy commissioner Javier Solana praised Rugova as "a historic leader who devoted his life to protecting and promoting the rights of the people of Kosovo … a man of peace, firm in the face of oppression, but deeply committed to the ideals of nonviolence."

Now, Solana was the secretary-general of NATO during the 1999 war on Yugoslavia on behalf of the Albanian separatists, so it isn’t unusual to see him "adjust" history and spout blatant nonsense. The only way his statement can even approach accuracy is if the "people of Kosovo" were only and exclusively Albanians. The Serbs, Roma, Turks, and other communities in the occupied province that have been targets of Albanian terror both before and after the 1999 occupation can hardly consider murder, rape, pillage, and ethnic cleansing to be "protection and promotion" of their "rights."

The notion of Rugova as a "man of peace … deeply committed to the ideals of nonviolence" was deliberately crafted by public-relations handlers the Kosovo Albanians hired in the early 1990s. The same people promoted the image of Rugova – a Sorbonne-educated, soi-disant writer with an affected Bohemian demeanor (complete with a ratty scarf he said symbolized "Serbian oppression") – as an Albanian Havel or Gandhi. Yet Havel and Gandhi both drew on the nonviolent elements of their native cultures and traditions, something utterly alien to the Albanians – who remain to the present day, for better or worse, a clan society that extols violence and practices vendetta.

Another compelling reason to present the Albanian separatist movement in Kosovo solely through the PR-coated lens of Rugova is that it conveniently ignores events prior to 1989, staying comfortably within the fabricated narrative of "evil Milosevic and his innocent Balkans victims." Expunged from history are stories of Albanian oppression of Serbs and others between 1974 and 1989, separatist riots in 1968 and 1981, the mass immigration from Albania after 1945, the massacres perpetrated by Greater Albanian authorities during World War Two, etc.

Last, but not least, painting Rugova as a "man of peace" allows the Empire to justify the terrorism of the KLA, which is presented as a popular revolt of Albanians tired of Rugova’s "ineffective" tactics in countering "Serbian oppression."

Hollow Man

Who was Ibrahim Rugova, really? From personal testimonies of those who knew him, he was an autocratic, self-centered, vainglorious poser with delusions of grandeur and no tolerance for dissent – but only to his fellow Albanians. One American official who met with him frequently described Rugova as "lazy and slimy … always servile and sucking up to us, as if he believed Vaseline was the best weapon for winning independence." (Cirjakovic)

It appears that the only principle Rugova ever stood by was relentless opportunism. In the days preceding his death, rumors began to circulate that he had converted to Catholicism. As apostasy is quite literally a mortal sin in Islam, and Rugova was at least technically a Muslim, it is not surprising that such rumors were never officially confirmed – but it was a way of scoring political points with the Holy See. His final act of political posturing will be the funeral, scheduled for Thursday at the KLA "martyrs’ cemetery."

Not a few reports commenting on Rugova’s death mentioned that "he was dubbed ‘the Balkans Gandhi.’" Aside from that fact that this moniker is pure PR fabrication, rather than an actual view attributable to an observer, such a comparison is a vicious insult to Gandhi.

Fait Accompli

In the outpourings of sympathy for the "father of the Kosovar nation," it almost escapes notice that the separation of occupied Kosovo from Serbia – something always couched in euphemisms and officially denied as late as last Friday – is now being mentioned openly, and as fait accompli.

It appears that Rugova will be far more useful to the Albanian separatist cause in death than he was in life. With even Belgrade sending condolences and speaking well of Rugova, the Empire has a perfect opportunity to force through an agenda of independence for the Serbian province and realize a century-old dream of Albanian "Kosova."

Contrary to the public billing, however, in this great historical drama, Ibrahim Rugova will not have been a protagonist, but merely a colorful extra.


Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.