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article image'Kosovo's Mandela' Adem Demaci dies

By Ismet HAJDARI (AFP)     Jul 26, 2018 in World

Rights activist Adem Demaci who spent 28 years behind bars in Tito's Yugoslavia for speaking out about discrimination against ethnic Albanians -- earning him the nickname Kosovo's Mandela -- has died at the age of 82.

Born in 1936, his long years in jail under the rule of communist leader Josip Broz Tito came to an end in 1990, the same year that Nelson Mandela was freed in South Africa.

An advocate of independence for Kosovo, Demaci was awarded the European Parliament's prestigious Sakharov prize for human rights in 1991.

"Our teacher has died," deputy speaker of the parliament Xhavit Haliti told MPs, announcing his death in parliament.

Lawmakers observed a minute's silence in memory of Demaci whose "life and work will be remembered for as long as the Albanian nation and Albanians are alive," Haliti said.

For the many who hailed him as the father of Kosovo, Europe's newest nation, he was addressed as "Bac," a title reserved for the wisest and most influential member in Kosovo families.

During his nearly three-decades-long incarceration, Amnesty International recognised Demaci as a prisoner of conscience.

But the authorities remained unmoved and he was not even allowed a temporary release to attend his mother's funeral.

"I was in luck in that I was isolated (in a solitary confinement) and no one could see me crying for days," he later said.

After his release in 1990, Demaci took up the chair of a prominent Kosovo's human rights watchdog.

By the mid-1990s, he was part of protests by ethnic Albanians against violence by the regime of the late Slobodan Milosevic.

Demaci "is a man who simply refuses to submit to physical or political oppression," his biographer Shkelzen Gashi wrote.

Breaking ranks with the "peaceful resistance policy" of late leader Ibrahim Rugova, Demaci became a spokesman of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the pro-independence guerrilla movement that fought Serb armed forces in the 1998-1999 conflict.

He won the hearts of many ordinary Kosovans during the three-month bombing campaign by NATO against Milosevic's forces in 1999, by staying in Pristina, unlike the majority of politicians who fled fearing reprisals by the Serbian regime.

After the NATO campaign ended the conflict, Demaci, also the president of Kosovo's writer association and the author of several novels, mostly stayed away from politics.

He used his influence to urge fellow Albanians to refrain from revenge attacks on the remaining Serb minority in Kosovo, promoting ethnic reconciliation.

In Kosovo, ethnic Albanians make up more than 90 percent of a population of 1.8 million.

"Both peoples will reconcile and both will earn the right to join Europe," he said ahead of an EU-brokered deal in 2013 to normalise relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

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