KOSOVO: RUGOVA'S DEATH MOURNED BUT NOT SEEN AS HIATUS
Pristina, 23 Jan. (AKI) - Ethnic Albanian politicians and analysts in Pristina, as well as politicians in Serbia are interpreting Kosovo president Ibrahim Rugova's death this weekend as a great loss. Most analysts agree however, that despite the inevitable power struggle that will arise in the search for Rugova’s successor, and fears on the part of some Serb politicians that hardline elements of the ethnic Albanian community might gain greater power, no major political repercussions are likely, despite the postponement of talks on Kosovo's final status until next month.
Long lines formed early on Monday in front of the Kosovan parliament building, where Rugova’s body will lie in state until burial. Kosovo's authorities have declared five days of mourning for Rugova, and thousands of people waited in line to pay their last respects to the revered ethnic Albanian leader over the weekend in his Pristina residence. Rugova, a chain smoker, died on Saturday from lung cancer, and will be buried on Thursday.
There have been unconfirmed reports that Rugova, a Muslim, had converted to Catholicism. But according to reports in Pristina, he will be buried according to Muslim rites, to avoid provoking his fellow Kosovans, who are overwhelmingly Muslim.
Apart from the condolences which have poured in from world statesmen and international officials, Serbia and Montenegro's president, Svetozar Marovic, and Serbian president Boris Tadic expressed sorrow at Rugova’s death at 61. "I have respected Ibrahim Rugova as a long-standing leader of Kosovo Albanians," said Tadic. "I sincerely regret his death, which is a great loss for the Albanians in Kosovo," Tadic added.“Rugova possessed a certain democratic potential and credibility and acted within the law,” said one of the Kosovo Serb leaders, Oliver Ivanovic.
Furthermore, “unlike other leaders, he didn’t participate in crimes and violence against Serbs,” he added. Ivanovic, who like all Kosovo Serbs and Serbian leaders in Belgrade, opposes the independence of the province - which is still part of Serbia - expressed fear that Rugova might be replaced by more militant ethnic Albanian leaders. Hasim Taci, former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), which started a rebellion against Belgrade rule in 1999, is one such possibility.Ivanovic said that a major power struggle may be expected to elect Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) new leader to replace Rugova, rather than in the race for president. In any event, "Serbs must be on alert in this situation, because conflicts between different political options among Albanians might take place, and in such situations Serbs usually wind up as collateral damage,” Ivanovic pointed out.
Another Kosovo Serb, Milan Ivanovic, said that ethnic Albanians and the international community have already decided that Rugova should be replaced by Taci, who was supposed to lead the ethnic Albanian delegation at the now-postponed Kosovo final status talks in Vienna on 25 January.
Prominent Kosovo ethnic Albanian analyst Skelzen Maliqi, said he expected no “dramatic changes in the Kosovo political scene,” in the wake of Rugova’s death. He agreed that a major struggle might ensue in Rugova’s party, suggesting that parliament president Nexhat Daci was unlikely to succeed Rugova as LDK chief. According to the constitution, Daci will replace Rugova as acting president until parliament elects new president, but his standing in the party is not strong enough to replace Rugova, Maliqi said.Maliqi suggested that ethnic Albanians might form a 'grand coalition', with Taci’s Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), now in opposition, and enter the government. That may pave the way for Taci, as the strongest candidate for Kosovo's president, political analysts said.
Other candidates mentioned are former prime minister Ramus Haradinaj and Fatmir Limaj. But Haradinaj has been banned from political activities pending trial. Political analysts say that the international community’s favoured candidate for president is Veton Suroi, a moderate politician, intellectual and the owner of the Pristina-based Albanian language daily Koha ditore.
The problem with Suroi is that he doesn’t enjoy enough popular support in ethnic Albanian radicalised community, however, according to analysts.Affter graduating in Albanian literature at Pristina University, Rugova gained his doctorate from the Sorbonne, University of Paris, and worked as a journalist and writer until 1990, when he founded the LDK. He was elected president after parliamentary elections in October 2004, and was supposed to head the ethnic Albanian negotiating team in talks on the final status of Kosovo, which has been under United Nations administration since 1999, after the Serb withdrawal following the NATO bombing campaign.Ethnic Albanians, who form a 1.7 million majority in Kosovo against some 100,000 remaining Serbs, demand nothing short of independence.