Washington – Commissioners of the U.S. Helsinki Commission mourned today the passing of Ibrahim Rugova, the President of Kosovo, who died of lung cancer on January 21 at the age of 61.
“At this time we want first and foremost to offer the family and friends of Ibrahim Rugova, as well as the people of Kosovo, our deepest condolences. He was a man who loved justice and peace and who understood that you can never have either without freedom. The people of Kosovo have lost a great champion and the world has lost a great statesman,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS).
The U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.
“Members of the Helsinki Commission,” added Rep. Smith, “met with Ibrahim Rugova many times over the years, in Washington, in Kosovo and elsewhere. He clearly understood Kosovo was part of Europe and was a true friend of the United States. He helped maintain a solid relationship during difficult times. He should be remembered as an advocate of peace and freedom.”
Rugova emerged 16 years ago as the leader of Kosovo’s Albanian majority in the face of mounting repression by the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic. While his advocacy of peaceful responses did not have universal support among Kosovar Albanians, his dedication to independence lifted him to become President in 2002.
“In response to the growing repression of the Milosevic regime in Serbia, Rugova turned spontaneous protest into organized yet peaceful resistance to Serbian authority in Kosovo,” noted Commission Ranking Member Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD). “His successors must now build on his legacy of peace and freedom in Kosovo.”
Kosovo currently remains administered by the United Nations pending talks to determine its future status. The talks were scheduled to begin January 25, but have been postponed till February.
“We can only hope that the courage and originality of thought that characterized so much of Rugova’s life will continue to inspire the people of Kosovo and Serbia,” added Brownback. “Lasting peace in the Balkans will only be possible if those who were inspired by Rugova, and even those who opposed him, continue the honest search for justice and democracy that he began.”