Ibrahim Rugova has spent more than 15 years at the centre of Kosovan politics, pushing to establish the province as a democratic, sovereign state independent of Serbia.
The United Nations - still administering Kosovo - is due to decide in September 2005 whether the province can begin final status talks.
Mr Rugova's long-held vision of a new Balkan future faces a crucial test.
Hailed as the "comeback kid" of Balkan politics when he won Kosovo's presidency in 2002, Mr Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) party was forced to share power after parliamentary elections in 2004.
An atmosphere of mutual distrust has soured relations between the LDK and its main coalition partner, former guerrilla Hasim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK).
With division apparent among Kosovo's majority Albanians, relations with the province's Serb minority have continued to deteriorate.
Few Serbs voted in the 2004 elections, which came months after Albanians went on a violent rampage through Serb enclaves.
With Serbia still vowing to oppose any move towards full independence for Kosovo, Mr Rugova's political legacy is far from secure.
Pushing for change
Mr Rugova was born in western Kosovo in 1944, the son of a shopkeeper who was executed after World War II by the advancing Yugoslav Communists.
Nevertheless the son prospered, going on to study linguistics at the Sorbonne in Paris, before becoming a writer and professor of Albanian literature.
He boasts a passion for poetry, mineral rock samples and Sar mountain dogs from the southern Kosovo border area. Rarely seen without a trademark silk scarf, he cuts a distinctive figure.
He was drawn into politics in 1989 after being elected as head of the Kosovo Writers' Union, which became a breeding ground for opposition to the Serbian authorities.
This activism hardened after Belgrade stripped Kosovo of its autonomy later that year, and led to the establishment of Mr Rugova's LDK.
Throughout the 1990s Mr Rugova was seen as the moderate, intellectual face of Albanian opposition to Slobodan Milosevic's Belgrade regime.
His political support for the Albanian guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) went largely unquestioned as support grew in the West for military action against Serbia's brutal rule in Kosovo.
But his appearance alongside Mr Milosevic at the height of the conflict virtually ruined his reputation in Kosovo. Many felt the man who for years had called for Western intervention was now urging Nato to stop the bombing.
Most Albanians were furious, with some accusing him of treason. As the conflict came to an end Mr Rugova left the Balkans for Italy, his political career apparently over.
Back in charge
But the man sometimes known as "the Gandhi of the Balkans" returned home and used his experience and pedigree as a proponent of Kosovan nationalism to win the presidency in 2002.
Long before the KLA arrived on the scene in the mid 1990s, Mr Rugova led the parallel government which the Albanians declared at the start of Mr Milosevic's brutal crackdown.
The LDK was as much a party as a popular social movement. He built the loyalty and trust of the people, which lasted the course.
When Ibrahim Rugova campaigned on a pledge to push ahead with demands for full independence from Serbia, Kosovans believed him and voted him into office.
Just a day after the vote, Mr Rugova declared that his first priority as the leader of the victorious party would be to press as fast as possible for sovereignty, and then attend to the economic reconstruction of a province still shattered by war.
He duelled with Mr Milosevic, his old enemy, when called to the stand during the former Yugoslav president's war crimes trial in The Hague.
His home and car have been attacked by bombers, although he has escaped unharmed from each assault.
Despite all his efforts, though, the future of Kosovo is not yet clear.
Ibrahim Rugova led passive resistance in Kosovo in the 1990s; Ethnic tension boiled over in divided Mitrovica in 2004