A hero at home but considered a war criminal by Belgrade, Ramush Haradinaj is set to become Kosovo’s prime minister just a few months after fighting against extradition to Serbia.
If parliament approves his appointment as expected, this controversial former insurgent — nicknamed “Rambo” by his comrades — will have the job of relaunching crucial negotiations with his Serbian adversaries.
The talks to “normalise” relations between Belgrade and Pristina, brokered by the European Union, have come to a standstill in recent months.
Haradinaj has opposed the dialogue, calling for Belgrade to recognise Kosovo’s independence before negotiations proceed.
And Belgrade could hardly think worse of the new PM-designate, whom it wants to see punished for alleged atrocities in the 1998-1999 Kosovo conflict.
Haradinaj served as a commander of ethnic Albanian guerrillas fighting Belgrade’s security forces and he went on to become Kosovo’s prime minister in 2004.
He resigned soon after to face trial for war crimes by a UN tribunal in The Hague, where prosecutor Carla Del Ponte described him as a “gangster in uniform”.
He was however acquitted in 2008 — the same year Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia — and again in 2012 after a retrial was ordered owing to allegations of witness intimidation in the first case.
Politically marginalised by his brother-in-arms Hashim Thaci, now Kosovo’s powerful president, Haradinaj has nevertheless managed to resurrect his political fortunes — partly thanks to Serbia’s determination to convict him.
In January this year he was arrested at a French airport by police acting on an international arrest warrant from Serbia, which is pursuing separate charges of torture and murder of civilians in Kosovo in 1999.
France held him for several months before rejecting Serbia’s demand in June.
He returned to a hero’s welcome in Kosovo, greeted by thousands of supporters, and hit the campaign trail for June’s election.
Born in the western village of Glodjane in 1968, Haradinaj completed his mandatory military service with the Yugoslav People’s Army.
He worked as a construction worker, nightclub bouncer and martial arts trainer in Switzerland before taking up arms back home with the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), earning the “Rambo” moniker for his burly build and prowess on the battlefield.
Married to a popular TV news anchor, Haradinaj has three children and speaks French and English.