Massimo D’Alema: My concern was to avoid that Italy be in a sort of second tier position, I wanted to participate directly because I was interested in the “after,” what would have happened later, in the consequences. The other concern I had since the beginning was clearly that the situation in Kosovo and the conflict would have had as its first effect a wave of refugees and I did not want to have “boat people” (in English) in the Adriatic because they would have come to us, where would they have gone? To us. It’s not that the refugees who had gone from Kosovo to Albania would have had other possible destinations, so, there was a whole consequence that had to be managed by being within the general staff of the military operations. My international political experience told me that when there is a military operation those who put boots on the ground are more important than those who stay home.
No, no. Therefore, there was a permanent consultation, in particular with Clinton, let’s say, up to exchanging of cell numbers, let’ say, and later also with other statesmen, and in a certain phase in particular also with Schroeder and Chirac, because at one point there was a certain dissent with the English about how to proceed. And also, when things developed in the sense of a military operation, also with Gen Clark through the military or directly with him. No,no. There was a system of permanent consultation according to need and then at one point there was a meeting, a rather difficult meeting, where we took stock of the conflict, it was in Washington DC, on the margin of the 50th anniversary of NATO, because during that time there were the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of NATO, there was the adoption of a new strategic pact of NATO and there was a meeting on how to proceed. And this happened more or less on the 60th day of bombing.
So, Italy was totally in the field from the military point of view, with an argument, it was a tough argument at the beginning and from a certain moment on how to proceed, on two aspects. The first was bombing Serbia and we were against it, the Germans too were against it, and at one point the Americans and the English said, “Very well, we will act without NATO’s structure, without using NATO’ assets,” and thus these military operations were carried with assets that were not NATO’s, so, with bomber planes that took off directly from Pennsylvania or with missiles that were launched from English boats, not from NATOs’ assets, not taking off from Italian bases because we didn’t agree with this. Clark has written about this. At one point there was an even more challenging discussion because the idea was put forth of a ground conflict, brief, a land invasion force, and we discussed this option, which was supported by Blair and Aznar, and it was rather forcefully rejected. First of all, NATO military made clear that they did intend to send their soldiers to the mountains of Kosovo, because a ground military operation meant invading Serbia, because only that would have put an end to the conflict, not a guerrilla with Serbs on the mountains of Kosovo, which was considered an undesirable option. There was another plan, and in my opinion, wiser people, among whom I put myself, said, “You are crazy, what do we do once we occupy Belgrade, please?” It was neither here nor there.
There was a rather unpleasant discussion and I must say that at the end Clinton intelligently concluded, without entering in the merit of the discussion, he said, “We will only do what we are able to do together, the President of the US cannot be the one who divides Europe.” I remembered that at about the time of the Iraq conflict. Clinton was on another level, he had another vision, so he closed this debate, putting aside this hypothesis, which was discarded. So, we went ahead, and there was a continuous discussion and in some moments also a rather problematic discussion on how to proceed from the military point of view and there was also a more political discussion.
Another aspect was the relationship with Islamism. At one point we worried about the influx of Islamic fighters, which I don’t want to say the English intelligence service helped (snickers) but did not contrast and this was a topic for a rather agitated discussion and then there was a discussion on the political conduct of the conflict, because the conflict had a limited goal, which wasn’t the independence of Kosovo, but it was to force Belgrade to withdraw its military and its paramilitary groups from Kosovo and the protection of the population and to force… anyway, all this had as a goal the political solution, we had to bend Belgrade through military pressure, action, to accept this condition.
Naturally we said, very well, but here we need to be concerned with two things: as the military operation goes on, how to develop political pressure, and also think about what will come afterwards, the settlement. So, we worked in two directions, together with the Americans, Clinton in this was forward looking: first involve Russia in an action… let’s say, at one point the action was conducted on our behalf by Ahtisaari, he was charged, Ahtisaari, the ex-president of Finland, with leading the political action and on the other side involve Russia, also because we had to prepare the possibility that the conflict could find a solution at the Security Council of the United Nations. So, the Russian government charged Chernomyrdin, ex-Prime Minister of Russia, to establish contacts. And Chernomyrdim did it with our agreement.He used to come to Rome, it happened several times, we met at Palazzo Chigi, had dinner together, called Clinton and our secret services took him with their planes to the other side of the Adriatic to meet Milošević or whoever represented him, and this was important, because it created the conditions for, let’s say, the solution that we found later.
The other operation we did was to obtain from Milošević the release of Rugova. Because we thought, and rightly so, that Rugova could be, for his history, the man who could represent, after the war, a perspective of peace. I did not have much sympathy for the UÇK [KLA] as… and so the idea of finding a personality who was clearly very strongly engaged for the rights of the Kosovar people… immediately after the war there were elections and Rugova… it was a plebiscite [for him], so he was a personality who had strong ties, a history of struggles, but also a pacifist, not a fundamentalist, he was even Catholic, in a conflict that saw Muslims and Protestants, ehm, no, Orthodox, he was outside the ideological and religious aspects of the conflict, he was an intellectual with a background in French culture.
So, we began a difficult negotiation with Milošević. Among other things Italy was the only belligerent country that kept its Embassy in Belgrade, it was a rather delicate position. I must say that we always discussed all this with the Americans, I always thought that you can dissent from the Americans, and I often dissented, but not try to cheat them because then they get upset, one must be loyal even when dissenting. We talked about Rugova with Clinton, he had great doubts, he thought that once released he would say to NATO, “Stop!” as a pacifist, and this would create problems. Instead Rugova…
We obtained his liberation, Milošević was persuaded, [there were] long discussions, and here Dini had a key role, Dini had good relationship with them. Paradoxically I, as an ex-communist (snickers) should had been a better friend, but I was much less of a friend than Dini from this point of view. Anyway, at the end they were persuaded that even for the goal of a less extremist management it would have been useful to recover… Rugova was released, we took him to Italy, we hosted him in Italy and as soon as he came to Italy we talked of course, he held a press conference in which he thanked NATO because it was defending his people. And I remember that Clinton called me, on my cell phone, and told me, “Grazie, grazie, bravo, very well, a great operation” (laughs). At first, he has been szzzzz [onomatopoeic] they were perplexed, then the situation evolved very positively. The return of Rugova was a triumph, his electoral victory was a landslide, then unfortunately Rugova died very early from cancer, so, he could not exercise his role for long, but he remains an extraordinary figure, he is still now a very important symbol. Last time I was in Pristina I went to visit his family, they all grew up, the children, they remembered when the head of the secret services bought them ice cream (laughs).
Italy had an important role, a political role, a country which participated in the conflict but worked for a political solution, a solution that would not be experienced as humiliating by Serbs so they could…and in fact things went that way, there was a resolution of the Security Council of the UN, there was the document of Ahtisaari, there was a military intervention that involved the Russians too, and Italy had a very important key role, it had never happened before, Italy was part of the rotating command, assumed the responsibility of a part of Kosovo and held the command of a part of the contingent of KFOR [NATO forces] that included also the militaries of other countries, Spaniards, Turks, Portuguese, it was an important position which Italy had never had since the Second World War. It was a difficult choice, but from the point of view of the role of our country it was a positive choice. I would like to add that all this allowed us to manage the refugee situation in an absolutely exemplary way. If we think about the devastation represented for Europe by the Syrian refugees, it’s a different dimension, anyway, there were 300 thousand refugees…
Anna Di Lellio: Many more, 800 thousand.
Massimo D’Alema: Those we managed were 300 and within a few weeks, that would have had a devastating impact, without management we would have had boats in the Adriatic, Albania was not able to hold the pressure…Nobody noticed anything, it had zero impact on [Italian] public opinion. So, we welcomed them in Albania with other volunteers and all those people who engaged in it. Another thing, we had no meeting in Brussels, it was done on the phone, with Austria, Germany… in Italy we organized a Kosovar village in Sicily, we picked them up with airplanes, ships, they did not come by boat, and nobody drowned. This shows that emergencies can be managed, if there is some solidarity they can be managed, it is not necessary to be overwhelmed. This was possible because we were there, in the military command.
Anna Di Lellio: I can confirm this, I remember when in Kukës, you know, when the management of a very large refugee camp passed from the Italians to the Americans there were great protests because the quality of the treatment of the refugees fell significantly, from the food to human relations, I remember that they moved from pasta to hamburgers and chips, it wasn’t very…This camp of Kukës, where I worked in 1999, I believe you visited it at one point…what were your impressions?
Massimo D’Alema: Yes, I went there a little before the military operations began, I was there in…for Easter, I went there to spend Easter.
Anna Di Lellio: So, April.
Massimo D’Alema: Yes.
Anna di Lellio: April? The war began on March 24.
Massimo D’Alema: March? I don’t know when it was Easter, anyway I went there for Easter. I remember it was rather impressive. It was rather impressive to see this backward Albania, where a river of people was arriving, they were fleeing, but anyway they had VW Golfs, you had the impression that they were fleeing a country that was richer… and then certainly, those people, what they had experienced! I saw scenes…it was evident, old people, wounded in their legs with bayonets, it was clear there, as people were fleeing, pursued by a military force, the idea of humanitarian protection appeared in all its evidence.
It was also good to see this Italian presence, these volunteers, what represents the best face of our country. No, no. It was a very strong human experience and the confirmation that something had to be done. The intervention was due, it was due because we had to react against something that was unacceptable from the point of view of humanity, of civilization, an unacceptable brutality.
Anna Di Lellio: You talked about the debate on the use of ground troops. Did you have any doubt later, knowing what happened, because during the war there was no protection, there was the total control of the Serbian security apparatus. Atrocious crimes happened in the field, rapes, killing, destruction of homes, destruction, there was nobody who could…The UÇK could not obviously protect the population from this big army. Did you ever think of it?
Massimo D’Alema: Yes, but let’s be clear. It’s not that a military campaign in Kosovo could have immediately protected people. A conflict like that would have likely lasted for a time, would have had a duration. Beyond the disproportionate forces, Serbs had huge advantages on the ground, it would not have been easy and in my opinion, it would have had a huge cost in terms of human lives. I don’t know whether this would have increased or reduced the costs…It is difficult to evaluate this, very difficult to evaluate this, and anyway the consequences also from a political, juridical point of view, the rupture, because, brief…even the bombing was a rupture, the invasion without the authorization of the Security Council of the United Nations would have represented a breach of international legality which would have been repaired with difficulty.
While after all, at the end, we also had to rebuild. Finally, also because we did not invade, we could find a solution, the resolution of the Security Council that reconstituted a framework of international legitimacy. Otherwise afterwards it would have been very difficult to manage the postwar in political terms. That is, we must understand how delicate it was what was happening. Finally, also because NATO remained within some limits, it was possible to say, “Very well, let’s create a multinational force, let’s have a resolution of the Security Council, at that point our military enter in Kosovo in a framework of a completely repaired international legality.” I think that post hoc it was certainly much wiser to act the way we did.
This implied costs, no doubt, many civilian losses, the majority of losses have been civilians also on the part of Serbs, because there was the collateral damage of bombing, as much as they had precise targets. All this is certainly painful. In my opinion, the non-intervention or an intervention of another type would have implied equally painful costs. In return, what we did finally led to a solution, a sustainable solution, honestly, at one point the UN had to come back into play, we could not have thought that they could have been put out of the game, this would have meant enormous systemic damages, and the fact that NATO military did not set foot in Kosovo was one of the conditions for the UN to get back in the game. There were many aspects to consider, including these political, juridical aspects that we could not forget.
Anna Di Lellio: I would like to close with two questions, one general and one a little more specific, following what you just said: Does Kosovo, the intervention in Kosovo, teach anything? I am thinking about what happened in 2011 in Libya, it was also an intervention to protect civilians, authorized by the Security Council, which went in a certain direction. If Kosovo can be considered a precedent of something, how do you see it?
Massimo D’Alema: I repeat, in Libya, the fundamental difference in my opinion is: in Kosovo there was a military intervention but there also was a wise political management of the whole operation. At the end there was an idea of how to rebuild order, a thought about the governing classes. The Rugova operation was an important aspect of this. In Libya as the intervention developed there was a total absence of political thinking, the intervention contributed to the break-up. Yes, it stopped the troops of Gheddafi at the periphery of Benghazi, very well, but after having said that, there was nobody who had any idea of how to repair the situation. I must say that instead we had in mind that in some way the defeat in Kosovo could open a process of change in Serbia and that happened. Because the defeat in Kosovo also had as…
I found myself, after years, more recently, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, managing the passage, at the end of the mandate, the passage at the Security Council, when the document of Ahtisaari was proposed on the independence of Kosovo. There was no agreement, I presided that Security Council, because fate wanted that that dossier arrived to the Security Council during the month in which Italy was president, Italy was member of the Security Council and it was President, it was its turn. I was the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and said, we had a very good Ambassador, but I said, “I am coming,” given the relevance…. I presided the Security Council, with Koštunica, the Kosovars, with all the protagonists who were there, I advanced the proposal, I took note that there was no consensus, the Russians…it was an important meeting, I found myself crossing path with Kosovo years later, it was a different situation but not less relevant, let’s say.
But during my mandate of Minister of Foreign Affairs, I went to Belgrade to inaugurate the Institute of Culture in Belgrade. It was a delicate passage, because as I am known in Kosovo, in Belgrade too they know I am one of those who went to war… It was an event with many people, I met young people, young, who told me, “Yes, you went to war with us but at the end you liberated us too, you liberated us too.” In part of the Serbian public opinion, yes, nationalism is still strong, but there is a part of the Serbian public opinion that saw that process also as the beginning of democratization, of liberation for Serbia too.
The war in Kosovo also had this meaning… but there was an idea of what had to happen later, the idea was not realized, but an objective was obtained, they stopped killing each other, they had been killing each other for ten years. We cannot forget that the war in Kosovo was the concluding episode of a chain of horrible conflicts, so, I believe that there is a difference: one thing is when war becomes, as von Klausevitz said,” the war is the continuation of politics with other means,” but anyway is within a political process, but it is different when you think you can substitute politics with war. And then you cause trouble, like in Iraq or Libya, because war…sometimes the use of force is inevitable, but politics has to have primacy. When, I repeat you have no political idea, when we say, “We don’t know what is happening, we don’t know what to do, let’s drop two bombs,” things do not work well and in fact we saw that.
So, from this point of view I am against…I was never a pacifist, but I always thought that politics must come first. When politics loses its primacy, in war as in the economy, normally things go badly.
Anna Di Lellio: To conclude, what do you think of Kosovo’s development now, you are still interested in Kosovo. One can never leave Kosovo…
Massimo D’Alema: This has been a choice… the Foundation I am the president of has a collaboration with the Minister of Foreign affairs of Kosovo and we have a contract. He has funds for international cooperation.
Anna Di Lellio: How do you see your work here, the prospect?
Massimo D’Alema: Many years have passed, and I believe that the prospect for the Balkans is to complete the process of pacification and began a more intense collaboration and there is progress in this direction. I participated with Joschka Fischer and Védrine as testimonials in a meeting of the statesmen of the Balkans in Tirana. It was very nice. Political and economic collaboration, final peace is the prospect for which to work and along this road it is clear that the big unresolved issue is reciprocal recognition between Serbia and Kosovo and so, the beginning of reciprocal collaboration. The negotiation is open, I must say the European Union worked here very positively with positive intents, also because this is the condition that favors a process of integration. I remain convinced that the European Union should be open to the integration of the Western Balkans even though I know that there are oppositions, perhaps is not realistic to think this can happen in the short term.
The negotiation is open. It is a difficult negotiation, in my opinion the Kosovar side, while the Serbian side looks more … not that there isn’t strong resistance to this negotiation, a principled resistance, those who say, “We must never recognize Kosovo,” because that Kosovo is part of Serbia is written in the Constitution, they should change the Constitution; there are oppositions… for example, the Orthodox Church is completely against, internationally the Russians are very cautious, but the majority of the Serbian leadership is, seems oriented to look for an agreement.
On the side of the Kosovar in my opinion, there is no clarity on what they want, on what they are inclined to negotiate, there is a division, this theme has been object of an evident dissent between the President of the Republic who is mandated to conduct this negotiation and others, the Prime Minister, who have always contested him, in particular contested the territorial swap, a revision of borders which instead from the beginning is the goal of Serbs. In my opinion you cannot conduct such delicate negotiation without a degree of national unity – I always advised my Kosovar friends, “Before you discuss with Serbs you must agree among yourselves” (smiles) – and without a clear idea of what they want to obtain and what they are prepared to concede…a negotiation is always made of these different aspects.
I don’t see particularly favorably a change of borders because we are in a part of the world where the borders are so delicate that this risks to ignite…unless the operation is shared, accepted, limited and guaranteed internationally. There!
We, we as cultural foundation, also put forth a proposal, I am not saying not an alternative proposal but an interesting proposal in my opinion: the creation of a free-zone [ENG], a cross-border development area, according to experiences already done in other parts of the world, where there have been conflicts, etc. So, across the north of Kosovo, the Serbian enclave let’s say, with a Serbian majority, and the southern part of Serbia, a Serbian-Kosovar integrated development area, where people can work together, with free circulation of people, to defuse the theme of borders and to prospect something more than peace, but a real collaboration.
This in my opinion can be a creative initiative that can… we discussed it, brief, it seems that…nobody discarded it, not even…I talked about it with Vučić, I went to see him, we had lunch together, we had a long discussion, a personal one, a free, long discussion…
Anna Di Lellio: Sorry, but what will be the borders of this area? North of Kosovo and Serbia? Because there is already free circulation there, there is no border there between north Kosovo and Serbia. The border is Mitrovica…
Massimo D’Alema: The border?
Anna Di Lellio: The true border is the city of Mitrovica. Does it include the southern part of Mitrovica?
Massimo D’Alema: Yes, surely, it includes a part of Kosovo and a part of Serbia. Yes, naturally we formulated some general principles, but once the idea is accepted the borders will be discussed. It will be a development area, it will not discuss borders between country, but we would say, in this area…. Such experience was done after the Second World War across Switzerland, France and Germany, a great integrated development area, before the birth of the European Union, where the decision was that there would be no borders but there would be an authority, it has results. It had the result of an extraordinary economic development, there are such experiences… naturally this should have a European support, I spoke to Mogherini, there is agreement, the European Union would invest in infrastructures etc., there would be investments, we spoke in Italy also with Confindustria, etc., so an operation supported by several governments, by the European Union, to create an area of intense economic development, also with incentives etc. for entrepreneurs who invest there, managed by a mixed authority, Serbian and Kosovar, without discussing national borders. An operation that does not want to interfere with the negotiation on borders, but somehow that wants to defuse it, but most of all create an occasion for collaboration and move from war to collaboration, not an armistice with weapons at our feet. It is a difficult operation but interesting, I don’t know, I fear that the contrasts, international pressures, I don’t know…
I have not understood what the Americans want, Americans first said, then they denied, first they said that did not oppose territorial swap, then denied it. The attitude of Americans is not helping very much, my feeling is that certainly, Europe is very interested in a solution, also because this means, how to say, to open a prospect of collaboration with all the countries in the region, but both Americans and Russians do not seem equally interested, on the contrary they seem to want to keep the tensions that are played on the chessboard of American-Russian difficult relationships. Putin goes to Belgrade, but Americans seem to encourage the positions let’s say that are more rigid in Kosovo, rather than those which are more open to dialogue.
Personally, I think, let’s be clear, that this agreement is absolutely necessary, I would like to say even more for Kosovo than Serbia. In the end Serbia is part of the United Nations, it has a strong growth, there are strong international investments, yes, it is true that until they make peace with Kosovo, they will have trouble with the European Union, but right now the European Union is not able to offer great prospects. Instead Kosovo, if it remains in this situation of semi-recognition, pays a higher price. So, If I could give an advice to my Kosovar friends, “Try to find an agreement, try to push for an agreement, don’t lose this window of opportunity,” that is, if we arrive to the European elections, we must start from zero. Now this story is managed by the current Commission, the current High Representative, Mogherini, who is very engaged, in my opinion very well, with a good direction.
If we don’t find a way now, the risk is that everything is postponed, and this is not positive. Not positive because we live in a moment of great international tensions and usually when there are international tension, these are reflected in the Balkans. It is a historical fact, it belongs to the history (snickers) of the last two-three centuries. If, let’ say, in the Balkans, the elite go back to place themselves at the service of this or that foreign power, in my opinion the Balkans will pay a very high price. If they understand that the only prospect for them is to find an agreement among themselves as a condition for development of that region, I think that there are extraordinary opportunities for development. All in all, there is an elite that represents a new generation that can, I think… if I think of Edi Rama in Tirana, Vučić himself, they could be the protagonists of an historical turn, if they have the courage to do it. Naturally, who does not have courage cannot give it to themselves, as a great writer said. What we can do is try to help. I always said that having done the war, I would like to contribute to the peace.
Anna Di Lellio: And with this, if you have nothing more to add, we can conclude.
Massimo D’Alema: There would be many things, but we said enough.
Anna Di Lellio: Alright, thanks.