Hashim Thaci appears set to become the next prime minister of what he promises, after December the 10th, will be Europe’s newest country.
Born in Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian heartland in 1968, from the early 1990s he initially joined Ibrahim Rugova’s underground passive resistance movement before deciding that it was ineffective, and taking up the armed struggle against Serb oppression later in the decade.
Full-blown war with the Serbs broke out in 1998 with Thaci leading the Kosovo Liberation Army. His break with Rugova’s policies was complete.
Yet for most Kosovans, Rugova’s name was still the one they chanted in the refugee camps as many distrusted the guerilla’s methods, particularly the older generation.
However the KLA were key players in the conflict and Thaci was invited to US-backed peace talks in France in 1998. He signed a compromise agreement that did not guarantee independence. His fighters disagreed, and Thaci flew home to win them over before returning to the conference, but the deal collapsed after the Serbs rejected it.
That ushered in NATO’s 78-day bombing campaign that forced the Serbs out of Kosovo, which came under a UN mandate which remains to this day.
Thaci then disbanded the KLA, and was courted by international envoys as a man who could deliver stability. He formed the Democratic Party of Kosovo, but voter mistrust, until this weekend, meant he lost every poll he contested against Rugova’s Democratic League of Kosovo.
In 2004 a wave of killing and destruction of Serb churches led Thaci to declare the authors criminals, and insist Kosovo did not only belong to the ethnic Albanians.