Heidi Tagliavini profile
It is six months since Heidi Tagliavini, acting as head of the “Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia (IIFFMCG – CEIIG), first presented her findings, setting off a diplomatic avalanche.
She is now due to submit them officially to the Council of Europe.
'Georgia started the war in the Caucasus against Russia', was the first controversial statement of her report. The second one: 'Russia had acted provocatively and unreasonably'.
With these statements she contradicted assertions by Georgia that there had been an incursion by Russian troops. She denounced Russian violations of international law. And she made serious accusations against the international community, which had been watching from the sidelines for too long in her opinion.
What has remained is the name: The “Tagliavini Report” now stands for the unconditional, courageous investigation and uncovering of uncomfortable facts.
It is viewed as a milestone in independent international reporting, courageous, fearless, without consideration for diplomatic consequences.
But only few wondered where this courage came from and who this petite woman, who was responsible for the report, actually was.
This is partly down to Heidi Tagliavini herself. Tagliavini is a women who's been shot at several times. She was nearly killed by a grenade. She spent the majority of her 28-year career as a diplomat and intermediary in regions riven by crisis and war.
She covered the presidential elections in the Ukraine as recently as the beginning of 2010 on behalf the OSCE . She says “we”, although the question was addressed to her personally.
Her voice is a little too quiet, almost too soft. “We wanted to report truthfully and tell the whole story. We therefore inevitably invited controversy, could not please any of the parties. It was the facts that were important, not the people.” She smiles.
The little we know about Tagliavini is all thanks to good camouflage.
Relegated to the typewriter by colleagues
Tagliavini had already made an appearance on the international scene in 1995. Russia agreed to the OSCE investigation into the war with Chechnya – and Tagliavini, a woman who spoke fluent Russian in addition to seven other languages, was chosen to take part in the mission. The only woman in a group of six, she departed for Grozny in a great hurry, “terribly unprepared,” as she says today.
She landed right in the middle of the war between Russia and Chechnya: exchanges of fire, street combat, grenades exploding. “If I make it out of here, I’ll make this experience count,” she swore to herself.
But it was against her colleagues that she had to fight the hardest. None of the operational tasks were to be assigned to her. Instead, she was supposed to type up the report. “We were all the same age, had the same qualifications and were entrusted with the same task but they suggested that I sit down at the typewriter.”
It was not to be the last time that her gender was getting in the way, even at the highest levels of diplomacy.
There was a defense minister, who looked her up and down “like men do with a woman who they have designs on.” Or a representative in the UN Security Council, who asked her what “she was trying to say with her pretty blue eyes.” She conscientiously omits the men’s names.
"First of all: my eyes are not blue,” she replied in the Security Council. “And secondly, I don’t think that that’s why the UN Secretary General appointed me.”
The minister promptly learned his lesson when he came cap in hand to ask her for help soon afterwards. His troops had got into an ambush and only a fleet of helicopters from the UN mission could save them. That mission was headed by Tagliavini.
The colleagues of the Chechnya investigation found on completion of their work that it was Tagliavini who had stood out. It was she, who had been concerned for the needs of the people, who emerged as the “face of the mission”. It gained her the moniker of “Madame Courage”.
A high price: loneliness
“We are always perceived as women first and viewed with doubt for that reason. You have to get past that – with a smile, with a wink,” as she analyses the situation, she actually gives us a wink. “And then you must be willing to take some risk – with all its consequences.”
Yet life in the theaters of war of this world has its price for Tagliavini. “You get very lonely,” she muses about her 28 years as a diplomat. “And lead quite an abstemious life.”
To have a family of her own, to have a large circle of friends, these were things that her life spent in a total of 17 places around the world was always too restless for.
“That’s probably why I always try to bring something personal into the negotiation,” she admits today. “That is the most important thing for me."
Shila Meyer Behjat