Biagio Di Grazia: Kosava. Wind of ethnic hatred in the former Yugoslavia from Tito to Milosevic

Biagio Di Grazia
Ed. Published by the author, 2016

With General Di Grazia we revisited many years after naia: he was a captain at the time of Cesano (1975), appeared on TV during IFOR's intervention in Bosnia (1995), now retired and lunch with the bersaglieri. He told me he had been a military clerk in Belgrade and was writing a book. Here are: KOSAVA (2016, 264 pages). Kosava is the name of a cold Balkan wind that originates from the Carpathians and through the Iron Gate sprawls up to the Adriatic: the metaphor of the perverse evil that shocked the then Yugoslavia in the 90 years and that we have now removed, although for years we keep troops in Kosovo and civil reconstruction in Bosnia have not yet actually happened.

The book is complex, it runs for 25 chapters that cover the years from 1992 to 1999 and runs on three parallel levels: the events of a group of young Sarajevo, a series of historical reconstructions and finally - in italics - some autobiographical notes on as the author saw when he was on duty. Ambitious project; yet the narrative flows agile, supplemented by maps and photos that help to extricate itself in the Balkan chaos that originated from the end of that Yugoslavia that Tito proudly described: "Six states, five nations, four languages, three religions, two alphabets, one party". The book begins in Sarajevo in 1992, when the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina decides to break away from the Yugoslav Federation, after Slovenia and Croatia have already done so before the year without too much traumas. Here we know our young people: Milan or Milo (Serbian Knin), Vesna (Croat of Vukovar), Vesely (Mostar), Alex (Muslim of Sarajevo), Anja (Zadar), Miriam (Muslim of Sarajevo), Branko (Serbian), Vlady (Serbian of Belgrade), Jadranka (Kosovar Muslim of Pristina), Ivan (brother of Milo). All friends or boyfriends among them will take different paths, tragic, intertwining and their lives with the story of a barbaric civil war. This reminds me of a Yugoslav movie, Okupacja u 26 slika (Occupation in 26 cadres), where three young friends - a Croat, an Italian and a Jew - follow different roads after being occupied in the 1941 Ragusa (now Dubrovnik)1). Even here the characters are fictional, but plausible. Follow the story is not easy (there are a dozen!), Intertwined as they are in the brutal, confusing Balkan history of the years' 90: men enlist in their armies or militias, while the girls follow more tortuous roads: Vesna, nurse in Vukovar , is raped by Serbian militia (in the 1991 the Croatian army almost did not exist) but denounces them; Anja and Miriam will survive in Sarajevo besieged for three years (the city was liberated by NATO in 1996), Jadranka will go to Pristina but only to find a worse situation (in Kosovo the Serbs made the same mistake of repeating Big Serbia in small). But we leave the pleasure of surprise to the reader

If the stories of our young people are intricate, the description of historical events is very clear: chronologically ordered by paragraphs, it makes almost a complicated story almost understandable. But it is not an aseptic school synopsis: the general Di Grazia does not give discounts to anyone, not even to the civilized Europe that intervened late and badly. The civil war was brutal, beyond any standard of civilization, fought by four regular armies and an unspecified number of rogue militias outside any control (2). Tito had built a state respected by all, while the various Tudjman, Izbegovic, Milosevic, and Karadzic tried only to create impossible homogeneous nations, purified through 'ethnic cleansing' (3), which also opened the eyes of Italians on Istrian and Dalmatian exile. Anja, one of the characters of fiction, is from Zara and through her we reconstruct the story of her family, which is then that - surprise! - of the general Di Grazia.

And with this we move to the third level of the book: the personal memories of the general, who has had from 1991 to 1999 a series of positions of responsibility in the areas affected by the conflict. We all remember him when he appeared on TV in the 1996 speaking from the command of the brigade "Garibaldi" in Sarajevo. But he also served as head of operations for the inadequate ECMM (Monitoring Mission of the European Community) which was to control the agreements between Serbs and Croats and was a military attaché in Belgrade in 1999, under our own bombs (4): for an Italian alchemy, our embassy has never closed the doors. Our general waited for his pension to say his, but he is an honest witness: he writes only about what he has seen personally. He has seen all the colors: in Brcko and Velika Kladusa (Krajina), the Serbs do not allow inspections in the controversial areas between Croatia and Bosnia; in the 1996 visit the concentration camp of Omarska, a theater of rapes and violence of all kinds; describes the destruction of Vukovar, a Croatian martyr town in the 1991 but Serbian martyr in 1995 (in ex-Jugo victims and defendants often exchange parts); in the 1995 it is welcomed to Zara as a Venetian doge, while in Sarajevo the plane must go down to beat the snipers on the heights (then inspect the finished assault rifle in 1996). He inspects the market area of ​​Markale Square after the massacre (with journalists already in place!), To deduce that it was not a mortar shot but a target bomb. They can talk in places close to the Mujahideen, the foreign Muslim militia who came to the aid of Izbegovic, to whom he provokes an instinctive mistrust, and now we know that he has escaped her (5). He does not believe in the death of Commander Arkan or at least he still has some doubt (perhaps it is filtered out as Pavelic '). He describes the tunnel that he brought to the city from the airport of Sarajevo and allowed it to be refueled, and can only be seen when he becomes deputy commander of the Italian contingent and is responsible for one of the Joint Military Committees (JMCs); describes the destroyed palace of the Oslobodjenje newspaper (freedom), which continued to inform the people. He later speaks with Serbian generals, however intelligent, but calibrated by the obsession of Great Serbia, while in Knin the Croats deny that there are Krajina (originated by border marches inhabited by Serbian soldiers-peasants). But lies are wasted, especially when - mapping to the hand - you do not understand where hundreds of previously registered but out of the refugee counts are over: it is common they will be out for decades. Describes the Bridge of Mostar destroyed, a symbol for centuries of ethnic coexistence; discusses the responsibility of the Srebrenica massacre by General Serge Mladic '(1995), claiming that even though the Dutch blue helmets hurt their work, the UN engagement rules were too binding (eg, self-defense but not combat), far different from those of NATO's IFOR mission, which only in that Sarajevo destroys 20.000 tons of ammunition. Those of our general are all delicate jobs, of which little or nothing we knew and now we see described from within. In the last part of the book, the Italians will protect the Serbs leaving Grbavica, their Sarajevo neighborhood: they have lost, even though Milosevic will return to Kosovo, proving that he did not understand anything and attracted NATO bombs. And just in Belgrade, at the end of the century, the last act of the tragedy begun ten years before.

Marco Pasquali

(the book is published by the author and can be ordered at Feltrinelli libraries or via Amazon)


  1. The film is from 1978, directed by Croatian director Lordan Zafranovic '. I saw it at a festival, but it never circulated in Italy. The occupying troops entering into Ragusa have a clear view of the brigade Re (1 ° and 2 ° infantry brigades).

  1. The Federal People's Army (JNA), the army of the new Republic of Bosnia, that of the Republika Srpska, plus that of the Republic of Croatia of Herceg Bosna. It is difficult to make the accounts of militias, armed and funded even by the various political actors. A separate discourse deserve the mujaheddin, the real ISIS anticamera, but at that time underestimated.

  1. Ethnic cleansing means in practice transforming a relative minority in an absolute majority by sending away everyone else. The term does not appear in the diplomatic jargon (German and English, then Italian) before the 90 years.

  1. Officially our Tornado was photographic reconnaissance