NATO, 20 years in Kosovo with the KFOR mission

(To Giusy Federici)

Bill Clinton was also in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, together with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and then NATO commander Wesley Clark, last June 12, for the 20 years of the Kosovo Force KFOR mission. Clinton, for the Kosovars, is a bit of "the man of providence", together with the English Tony Blair, after NATO in 1999 decided to bomb Pristina and Belgrade, to put an end to the violence between the Serbian forces by Slobodan Milosevic and the KLA Kosovo Liberation Army.

Italy also participated, Massimo D'Alema was president of the Council. To understand the importance of the two former heads of state here in Kosovo, just think that in Pristina there is a Bill Clinton street that crosses a Tony Blair street.

This is not the case for the Serbs, who called the commemorative event "a cynical vampire dance of those who illegally bombed Serbia 20 years ago". The present problem of Kosovo (former autonomous province of Serbia during the Yugoslavia of the father-master Josip Broz Tito), can also be understood from the two different attitudes of the politicians.

That of Kosovo is a complex situation, more than it could appear at a first reading. In certain situations it always takes a long time but it will be for the territory not too large or because the Atlantic Alliance has moved in time, the KFOR mission is bearing fruit.

Kosovo, just over 10mila kq, more or less like our Abruzzo, borders with Serbia, Albania, North Macedonia and Montenegro. Respecting the sovereignty of the country, KFOR monitors the situation and takes care of security, at 360gradi. It's a bit of a balance needle, along with the Kosovar police, who work very well, say from KFOR, whose mission for now remains, in compliance with UN Resolution 1244.

In conjunction with the 20th anniversary of KFOR, the 13 June, near the city of Pec (Peje), at Camp Village Italy where the Italian-led Multinational Battle Group West (Multinational Battle Group West MNBG-W) is based, the traditional ceremony for the rotation of the Italian contingent took place, this time between the 8th land artillery regiment Pasubio under the command of Colonel Gianfranco Di Marco to the successor, the 24th land artillery regiment Peloritans, under the command of Colonel Daniele Pisani.

The event was attended by the commander of KFOR, the divisional general Lorenzo D'Addario, along with military authorities from the NATO and local civil and religious countries. General D'Addario pointed out that the succession of contingents allows the continuity of work on the territory and has insisted on the importance of KFOR to guarantee security in the area.

28 are the nations that contribute to KFOR, a total of military 3.525: 659 from the United States, the largest contingent, followed by the 542 of Italy.

“NATO's effort is mainly in the security sector, because it is really that necessary condition to do everything else. It is not enough, of course, but security creates those conditions for which even EULEX (European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, is a European Union mission with 2000 people on the spot, ed), all the initiatives of the embassies, of the 'European Union, United Nations, may have greater prospects for success and expansion. And if NATO focuses on security, in my opinion, it's really the water coming out of the tap.

Because 20 years ago the main problem, after the conflict, was the lack of water. And it's nice that we think about it less today, because in '99 it was really the first real and only necessity. Not anymore, but the condition of having to guarantee safety remains ", General D'Addario tells me at KFOR headquarters.

Kosovo seems pacified, but there is still fire under the ashes and KFOR is an important deterrent when the tones between Serbs and Albanians are raised. It happens often, but then it all comes together. Serbs and Albanians do not love each other, of course, but in some situations they are learning to live together again And this is a positive fact.

Darko Dimitrijevic is a Serbian journalist. He lives in Gorazdevac, a Serbian enclave among the West Albanian Kosovars, the area under the control of the Multinational Battle Group West. It seems that 2 people lived here before the war, now there are 300. A village, where however Radio Gorazdevac is a unifying reality. Managed by Darko and three of his collaborators in a room in the town hall, the broadcaster broadcasts news from the territory, including as a web TV, and is listened to and seen by Serbs and Albanians. "I have many friends both Serbian and Albanian. The problem is the politicians, many of whom have made war and who still foment hatred between the parties ", Darko points out. As we speak, images of a protest against toxic waste buried in the area flow through the monitors. Protest that sees Serbs and Albanians united. And this is a nice sign.

In Pristina, Bekim Blakaj heads the Humanitarian Law Center of Kosovo, HLCK. The center has just inaugurated an exhibition dedicated to the 1133 children killed or disappeared in Kosovo from 1998 to 2000, after years of research.

At the walls the images of the refugee camps, on the sides and in the center of the room sweaters, books, sneakers, notebooks, toys, objects of a broken everyday life. To read the names, you see that there have been entire families exterminated, tens and tens with the same surname. The people in charge of the center did it for the Kosovar children, "But we are also talking with the mothers of Serbian children who have been killed or disappeared in the same way", says Bekim. Many are called traitors and threatened, "But we want all the crimes to be equally documented". This is also a good sign.

People want peace and security, even if it is difficult to heal grudges and wounds. That in Kosovo has never been a religious conflict, even if the Kosovars are moderate or Catholic Muslims while the Serbs are Orthodox. The Balkans, moreover, have always been a crossroads of peoples, religions, languages ​​and customs.

Until recently, all monasteries, a few monks among thousands of Albanians, were controlled by soldiers. Today only one remains manned by KFOR, that of Visoki, Decani. For Father Petar, the soldiers there are important, they make the monks feel safe. And remember that the monastery, despite being Serbian Orthodox, hosted Albanian families during the war.

The monastery of Decani dates back to 14 century, beautiful to take the breath away between architecture and painting: here we bow to beauty, as in the other splendid Unesco heritage, where the nuns live, which is the Patriarchate of Pec. 

Twenty years ago a dialogue between the parties was not imaginable, today no one forgets but in a large part of the population there is the desire to look ahead, especially the younger ones. Obviously there is no lack of friction, on the one hand Serbia which does not recognize Kosovo and which has a privileged channel with Russia, on the other Albania, whose ethnic and cultural affiliation the Kosovars refer to. Who, however, say they feel Kosovars and not Albanians tourt-court, even if you see few blue flags with 6 stars and instead around it is full of red ones with two-headed eagles.

It doesn't take much to generate tension: the 100% customs duties imposed by Kosovo on Serbian and Bosnian products, for example, do not help, despite the mediation attempts of many actors, including the European Union. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic calls for their removal, Kosovar counterpart Hashim Thaci would be in favor of removing them but Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj insists that they will be abolished only after Belgrade recognizes Kosovo's independence. It seems to have been the "revenge" for Kosovo's failure to join Interpol, an exclusion of which the Kosovars accuse Serbia.

The physical separation of the two ethnic groups can be seen well in Mitrovica, over 300 inhabitants in the north of Kosovo on the border with Serbia. The bridge that joins the two banks of the Ibar river actually divides the two communities, the Albanian one in the south and the Serbian one in the north. It was supposed to be open to cars years ago, but the bridge is still pedestrianized today. To garrison it, our carabinieri of the Multinational Specialized Unit (MSU) framed in KFOR. Two mayors, two administrations, two prevalent ethnic groups. Crossing the bridge and strolling through the Serbian side, full of bars and shops, is a riot of flags and references to ancient and glorious history, such as the large statue of Prince Lazar, 7,5 meters, hero of the resistance against the Turks, or the murals that praise the common mother country.

"Among the things we monitor, there is also the creation of fake news in newspapers of one side and the other, which risk fueling tensions or seeking public sympathy, "they say at KFOR headquarters. The arrest was enough, at the end of May here in Mitrovica, by the Kosovar police, a small group of criminals both Serbs and Kosovars, who broke the pandemonium. There was a shooting, but it would have remained a circumscribed fact if the news had not spread that Belgrade, in response to the arrest, was mobilizing the army. Fake news also picked up by some Italian newspapers. I was in Mitrovica in those same days, I can assure you that Belgrade has blessed nothing.

Kosovo is a stone's throw from Italy, so it should be of interest to us. "Kosovo is on its way, it is all things considered calm but there is still work to be done. People want peace, even if there are still too many external influences as well as internal nationalists ", is the same observation of some NATO representatives at the Brussels headquarters as well as the commander of KFOR gen. Lorenzo d'Addario.

KFOR's headquarters, Film City, is on a hill on the outskirts of Pristina. A place where, beyond the barbed wire and the entrance controls, every country has brought something that reminds home, starting with the streets dedicated to the cities of this or that nation.

I ask the commander if organized crime plays a role in the difficulty of pacifying the parties.

“Here, we are only concerned with monitoring certain phenomena for the implications that exist. Here there are exchanges with all the organizations, therefore also with those of Intelligence ... Unfortunately, especially in the north, in this situation that we can define imperfect, where there are parallel structures, a great influence of Serbia on the provinces with a Serbian majority, etc, it is clear that crime is favored.

Surely crime is another element of this situation where there is still the component of inter-ethnic bias, there is the component of external influences of which however the Balkans are very affected and then also the religious component. In reality, this in Kosovo is not a conflict of religion. Here the Kosovar-Albanians both of Muslim and Catholic religion feel Albanians. Point. Here it is not a religion problem, it is the fact that the Orthodox religion is proper to the Serbs and at this moment there is this kind of nationalism which is a factor of contrast.

However, even the key to interpreting crime is another important element, but for this and for the fight against corruption there is EULEX, which is specific for this kind of thing and the international community. The embassies have their own projects, even Italy has been very active in this. We take care, of course, also of security but mainly from this point of view we collaborate. And I must say that there is a great exchange with the international community ".

KFOR is a NATO mission and the gen. D'Addario is a NATO commander.

And then one cannot draw conclusions without talking about the Atlantic Pact and how it evolves what is perhaps the only international reality that questions itself on its mistakes and tries to keep up with the times. NATO, according to the writer, is not a "bandwagon" like other supranational and non-supranational entities, but something complex and extremely important, which should be known before being judged and possibly outside the 70 year slogans.

"I have also been to Afghanistan, but this is a particular mission here, which has to do with our Europe. And it is an area totally surrounded by NATO member countries. NATO's task is serious. Here you really feel part of a solid command and control system ", observes Lorenzo D'Addario. "And command and control does not mean only computers, which are very important because if you do not have the means to convey ideas at the right speed and at the same time with the due classification, you are not able to make decisions at the right time. It is a cultural and conceptual system born in the 1949, which continues and which makes NATO truly the point of reference. Because these things are not invented, they are expensive, both in terms of resources but also in terms of time, constancy, and even human investment.

When I find in my staff an officer who comes from another country and who after a week does his job, knowing how much he has to make, what he has to give me and working with others, from other states, which he has never seen, it's really a great thing. This is really an alliance that has a shared command structure, where people learn to know each other, learn to have the same values. My vision for the NATO command, which I distributed to my own and up to the troop level, is just that: KFOR must be an organization where people must get out of feeling the best soldiers and the best elements of this shared security organization which is the BORN; which however also involves Austria, Switzerland, all countries that want to cooperate.

Among other things, we also drag other countries because by now everyone knows that we are the reference ones. And I also want to say that Italy is a country that, both in NATO and in other international institutions, gives a lot and this is recognized. And the experience of working in multinational environments is faced with one thing: when you leave you're older than when you arrived. You are not superior to anyone, because there is always someone who can teach you something. Participating in an international mission and in the NATO sphere is certainly an enrichment, you always learn something that will be useful to you even afterwards ".

Photo: author / KFOR