The man nicknamed "Gandhi of the Balkans" passed away on Saturday at the age of 61. Rugova announced last September that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and chose to stay in office, hoping to usher Kosovo into independence. Flags remain at half-mast after the downing of the plane returning from Slovenia, now in recognition of the passing of the "Father of Kosovo".
Rugova, known for this trademark glasses and scarf, was an unlikely leader to many. A rather bookish and college-professor looking man, he emerged during the 1980's as the leader of the Kosovo Writer's Club. During Milosevic's reign, he was one of the first to demand independence through non-violent means and gained the respect of the international community. His political party Democratic League (LDK) implemented parallel structures (schools, hospitals) in 1991 when Milosevic's regime cracked down on ethnic Albanians. Later, during the NATO bombing campaign, Rugova appeared on television with Milosevic, a low point in his political career as it cost him support of many of his fellow Albanians. Yet, in 2000, LDK won 53% of the votes in Kosovo's first election and in 2002, Rugova became president. He was re-elected for a second term in 2004.
Rugova was the leader of the Kosovo group in the upcoming status talks, slated to begin on Wednesday. It is expected that the leader of parliament, Nexhat Daci, will take over as president and as the head for the status talks now scheduled to begin in early February. Parliament now has three months to choose a permanent successor for Rugova and Rugova's party, LDK, must also find a successor. You can read more about the passing of Ibrahim Rugova at Reuters.