KOSOVO: RELIGIOUS INTRIGUE AS RUGOVA DECLINES
Pristina, 5 Dec. (AKI) - Kosovo president Ibrahim Rugova’s religious beliefs have become the subject of wild speculation as the health of the 61 year old, who is spearheading Kosovo's independence drive, worsens. Rugova has been hospitalised since last week with lung cancer and there have been widespread rumours in Pristina that he has told close associates he wants to be buried as a Catholic. About 95 per cent of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians are Muslims and the matter of Rugova’s religion has until now never been raised. Kosovo political analyst Nexhmedin Spahiu says that Rugova was a Muslim, though he never visited a mosque, and had strong Catholic inclinations. “Personally, I believe that Rugova has converted to Catholicism, but there is not a single proof for it,” Spahiu told Belgrade daily Kurir.
During half a century of communist rule, following World War Two, religion in former Yugoslavia, including Kosovo, was marginalized or practiced clandestinely. However it gained new impetus after the collapse of communism in early nineties. Rugova graduated in linguistics at the Sorbonne University in Paris in the mid-sixties and the issue of his religion never really mattered at the time.“We all know that Rugova has asked to be buried as Catholic,” said a source close to him, who asked to remain anonymous.
There has been speculation that Rugova was converted to Catholicism in 1994 personally by Pope John Paul II, but there is no concrete proof of this.Rugova has spearheaded the independence drive by majority ethnic Albanians in the province, which has been under United Nations control since 1999, and the talks on the final status are expected to start later this month. According to Spahiu, Rugova’s health is “extremely grave” and it wasn’t clear how active a role he would be able to play in the negotiations. But even if Rugova were to be buried as Catholic, one should expect no stormy reactions from Kosovo's Albanian Muslim community, in view of his political merits, said Spahiu.But Kosovo Serb leaders, who oppose independence, said that Rugova’s decision, if correctly interpreted, would be a ploy to boost the independence drive.
“Rugova’s turning to Catholicism is a hoax,” claimed Kosovo Serb leader Marko Jaksic, an Orthodox Christian. “In that way he’s appealing to the Catholic world to support Kosovo independence,” said Jaksic. Rade Negojevic, a Kosovo Serb journalist, was equally critical. “If Rugova has switched from Islam to Catholicism, he must have done it for purely political reasons,” said Negojevic.