Dr. Ibrahim Rugova was born in Cerce 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 ambivalent attitude and eventual 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 involuntary 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. When the Serb authorities allowed him out of house arrest during the conflict 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.
Ibrahim Rugova campaigned on a pledge to push ahead with demands for full independence from Serbia; members of Kosovo's legislative assembly 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.