Adem Demaci, a former long-term political prisoner known to ethnic Albanians as the “Mandela of Kosovo” for his resistance to Serb rule, died on Thursday at the age of 82, officials said.
Demaci spent 28 years in Serb jails during Yugoslav times and was considered a symbol for Kosovo’s majority ethnic Albanians in their struggle with communist Yugoslavia and later Serbia for greater rights and independence for the province.
“It is difficult to accept that our symbol of resistance has passed away. He was always unbreakable and unbending in the face of every challenge,” Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci wrote on Facebook.
The president has announced three days of mourning.
After he was released from jail in 1990 he served until 1995 as a human rights activist, reporting on abuses carried out under the regime of Slobodan Milosevic.
He won the European Parliament’s Andrei Sakharov Prize for his human rights work in 1991.
In the late 1990s Demaci was the head of the political representative office of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) which launched a guerrilla war.
Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 2008, almost a decade after a NATO bombing campaign ousted Serbian forces and ended the crackdown on ethnic Albanians.
It has been recognized by 115 countries, including 23 out of 28 EU members, but its UN membership is being blocked by Serbia’s allies Russia and China.