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January 25, 2006

Rocks and All, A Moderate Gone
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

It's worth pausing a moment over the death of Ibrahim Rugova this past weekend, before you hurry back to Iraq, Iran and domestic spy scandals.

Rugova was President of Kosovo; he was also, as Laura Rozen recalls over at, a Sorbonne-educated Shakespeare scholar. 

He was famously eccentric and indecisive -- and even more famous for handing out chunks of Kosovo's native rock to foreign visitors.  (For a while, the size of your rock -- no, I am not kidding -- was a real status question in the Clinton foreign policy establishment.)

Over time, as Kosovars lost faith in the international community's promises, and violence created facts on the ground where negotiations had not, Rugova was pushed further and further aside, and this -- along with a deep Kosovo fatigue -- accounts for how little attention his passing received here.

But he remained Kosovo's last best unifying force, the living incarnation of all that was unbendable yet humane in the Kosovar spirit, the embodiment of a decade-long campaign of non-violent protest that built alternate institutions alongside those imposed from Belgrade and kept civil society functioning until the hard men took over.  Compare his political longevity, even with attenuated powers, to the fate of moderates in Bosnia, or Iraq.  Consider the size of the hole his passing has opened up in Kosovar politics.

My favorite Balkan wiseman says there is considerable question about whether Rugova's political party, still Kosovo's largest, can even survive his passing. 

With Rugova, the EU and US could still imagine that we might not have to choose between better government in Kosovo and the Kosovars' absolute determination to achieve independence.  With him gone, that dream -- which is what it was -- is gone as well.

Even given the ambivalent legacy of present-day Kosovo, and Rugova's often-frustrating passivity, I'm not sure one person could ever do more to lead a country toward democracy, moderation and secularism than Rugova.


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