With gentleness that is so atypical of professional soldiers, as we are shaking hands, Biagio Di Grazia asks me: “Does the Politika come out in Cyrillic writing?” After I nodded in approval, he added: “Please, don’t hold it against me that I don’t know. I left Belgrade in 2001.”
The capital city of Serbia was the last page in the Balkan career of this military diplomat and an Italian general in NATO. In the second half of the 1990s, he was deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, first as the head of operations in the European Community Monitor Mission (ECMM), with the seat in Zagreb, since 1995. After the signing of the Dayton Agreement, he was re-located to Bosnia and became the deputy commander of the Italian IFOR forces and the French division of SFOR.
In 1997, he came to Belgrade where he was appointed a military attaché in the Italian Embassy when the NATO bombing started.
He retired recently and poured all of this experiences into a book called “Why did NATO bomb Serbia in 1999?”. In the book, he says that the humanitarian reasons for the bombing, which the Alliance propagated, were not the only reasons, and that that the bombing had been planned for a very long time, in line with the geopolitical goals of the US and other Western countries.
This book was the reason why Di Grazia came to Serbia last week. In an interview for our newspaper, he talks about the motivation for this semi-autobiographical / analytical book: “It was truth, above everything”.
“I believe that, in Western countries, everyone had their own view about the event that is contained within the title of my book. This is the same view that was propagated in the media that was not unbiased. When I finished my service in the Balkans and came back to Italy, my colleagues, friends and family asked me about the great Yugoslav tragedy. It was very difficult to talk to them about it without getting into an altercation. Because whenever I asked them the reason why they thought NATO had bombed Serbia, they always gave me the same answer – to prevent ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians. But when I asked them whether that was a good enough reason to bomb an entire nation, the replies varied”, Di Grazia explains.
In addition to the bombing of Yugoslavia, in the book you also speak about other war events, and you are doubting the official explanation for the events in Markala and Racak. Did you have the right to express your views in the organizations that you worked for?
Racak happened at the time when I was a military attaché. The military attachés accredited in Belgrade had the status of observers in the OSCE’s verification mission, and this was the reason why I frequented Kosovo a lot during the OSCE’s mandate here. There I met a colleague of mine, an Italian officer who was an OSCE observer, who told me: “Biagio, this is nothing like they are showing it on TV. I have informed (the head of the OSCE mission) William Walker about this.” He was the first person to had arrived in Racak but did not see anything like what was reported on the TV. He did report about this to the head of the OSCE mission, but nothing happened. In any case, I believe that Kosovo Albanians were happy when Racak happened, and even if it hadn’t happened, they would have been more than willing to make it up.
You thought the same about the Markala case.
Yes, I did. The report I sent to the ECMM mission command shared the same destiny as the letter of my Italian colleague about Racak. I sent my report after the investigation I had conducted following the bombing of Markala, and I expressed my doubts that Serbs would have attacked an outdoor market that was only a few steps away from the Serbian Orthodox Church. Again, nobody took notice.
You claim that, during the OSCE mandate, William Walker prevented the public condemnation of the KLA. What do you think about his recent statement of all Albanians uniting under one roof, so to speak?
I haven’t heard this statement, but I am sure that Albania would not want to unite with Kosovo.
Why is that so?
Because Kosovo is a problem. Because it is weaker and poorer than Albania.
Speaking of Kosovo, in your book you say that certain NATO commanders changed their opinion when they came to Kosovo seeing that it was an area that was “rooted in Islamism and run by drug dealers”. What do you think of Kosovo today?
What I do know is that many Islamic fighters originated from Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The state borders of Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina are nonsensical, unlike the state borders of Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro and Serbia, which are all stable and good.
Let’s go back to the NATO bombing which you experienced in Belgrade. You write about many interesting details and opinions in your book including that the bombing of Radio and Television of Serbia was absurd. Still, did the destruction of a TV station give Serbia some kind of upper hand in the media war?
No, I did not. The Serbian propaganda failed to reach the international public opinion. What kind of influence on Germany, the US or a third country it could have had? None! I believe that the only people that could have done something at that time were in the Serbian political opposition, but they had no time or the opportunity. If, for instance, NATO stopped the bombing after a few days, and gave the opposition an opportunity to voice itself, maybe start protesting against Milosevic, than the situation could have been different. The bombing of the RTS building had no purpose, just like the bombing of the Chinese Embassy.
But you think that the bombing of the Embassy was a sort of warning from the West to China?
Yes, but that is my personal opinion, just like my opinion that the bombing of the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia was a warning to the weakened Russia.
You draw a parallel between the bombing of Yugoslavia and the throwing of a nuclear bomb on Nagasaki.
Yes, I do. If we interpret the bombs thrown on Hiroshima as a military action, than what followed, i.e. the bombing of Nagasaki at the time when Japan had already capitulated, marked the beginning of the Cold War, and was a message that the US sent to the Soviet Union. By bombing Serbia, the West sent a message to Russia that they were the winners of the Cold War. And none of this was Serbia’s fault. Serbia did everything it could but the international circumstances were such that Russia was weak. Now, the situation is visibly different. Why is nobody even contemplating bombing North Korea now? Because of the nuclear weapons, and the fact that North Korea is backed by China which has grown into a very strong country in the meantime. Also, Russia has regained its status of a super-power, and what it did in Georgia, Moldavia and especially in Crimea was very much alike to what NATO did in Kosovo. Which is why Kosovo in 1999 was a one-off example that is never going to be repeated. This was an experimental war that helped NATO, among other things, to train its fighter jets with a huge difference in power between the attackers and the defenders.
In this experimental war, did NATO suffer any other losses apart from losing the F-117 stealth fighter jet that we saw on TV?
F-117 is the only loss that we know of. I am not aware of any other losses of NATO. But even if there were some, that was irrelevant because what transpired was the David against Goliath situation.
What was the real name of this NATO operation? You mention “Allied Force”, but we know it here as “Merciful Angel”.
Yes, I am familiar with the fact that you call it Merciful Angel here in Serbia, but Allied Force is the only name that I know was used in NATO documents and later in encyclopedias.
During the Allied Force operations, NATO used weapons with depleted uranium which was the topic of many discussions. You claim that, during the war, NATO refuted claims of using depleted uranium on a massive scale, but certain countries, like the Netherlands, paid compensation to their soldiers because of the health problems they experienced from spending time in the areas in which the depleted uranium weapons were used. Don’t you think that these two claims contradict themselves?
I believe that we don’t know everything about the use of the weapons with depleted uranium. Depleted uranium was definitely used, because it is put in bombs to make them more precise. There is always a certain quantity of depleted uranium in projectiles. On the other hand, I spent time in many areas that were bombed, and nothing happened to me. Again, the fact remains that certain soldiers were compensated for having depleted uranium in their bodies. All in all, until scientists and biologists don’t come up with hard facts, I will know as much about this topic as you do, i.e. only what is reported by newspapers and other sources.
If NATO was indeed the Goliath, how come it did not prevent the Serbian exodus from Kosovo after the bombing?
They did what they could. And I am speaking only on behalf of the Italian troops. They did everything in their power to prevent Serbs from leaving under such circumstances. As far as the general situation goes, the fact remains that Kosovo Albanians immediately started their revenge on Serbs. But we are going into the story about who won. Winners can do whatever they want. Who can control them? Nobody!
In summing up your engagement in the Balkans, do you feel some kind of personal responsibility for all the suffering that happened here?
I am a general, and a soldier who obeys his country. I believe in my country and I’ll do anything to preserve it. On the other hand, that does not prevent me from expressing what I think and feel.
But you are a NATO general after all…
Yes, I am. And I was ordered to stay in Belgrade in 1999. And I did. I cannot forget that I am also an Italian and a general, but I also believe that my book contains a true story and that I did write history.
This post is also available in: Italiano