A Chronicle of Foretold Death
Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation by Laura Silber and Allan Little (Penguin Books, 1996/1997)
First published in 1996, after the Dayton agreement ended five years of fighting in what became Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, this book was supposed to be the all-encompassing view of Yugoslavia’s death and unraveling during the early 1990s. Decently researched, accompanying the BBC documentary of the same title, Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation was praised by the Washington Post Book World as the "most authoritative account in English or any other language about how the war began."
Unfortunately, this praise deserves a major qualifier. Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation is an authoritative account of how the mainstream West observers and policymakers thought the Balkans war began and unfolded. Its table of contents starts with "Serb nationalism" and the "rise of Slobodan Milosevic," and continues through the "awakening of Croatia" and "the cleansing" in Bosnia, ending with the split between Serbs east and west of the Drina. Its final chapter, Pax Americana, reflects how only American bombs and American-led Muslim-Croat land offensive brought the "war of Serbian aggression" to an end.
The terminology of the book is also similarly colored. It calls the illegitimate, self-proclaimed regime in Sarajevo "the Bosnian government," accepting without question its accusations of "genocide" in northern Bosnia and "massacres" in Srebrenica. Krajina Serbs are called "rebels."
Many books have offered a similarly flawed interpretation of the Balkan conflict. None have done it with so much research and so much attention to detail that an eyewitness could almost believe things really happened that way. Many passages in the book are factually true. Unlike, say, Noel Malcolm’s openly partisan "histories" of Bosnia and Kosovo, or other such quasi-historical propaganda literature, Silber and Little’s volume is relatively moderate. It does acknowledge the suffering of Serbs in World War Two, for example, and admits that the secession of Slovenia and Croatia was against the law. There is a wealth of first-hand accounts and confessions of secessionist leaders that should not be neglected.
Even though the book accuses the Serbs of starting all the wars, committing all the crimes and finally only giving up when they were "justly" defeated, Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation is structured around the premise that it was all the work of one man: Slobodan Milosevic. He is simultaneously accused of orchestrating Yugoslavia’s collapse in order to create a Greater Serbia, and of abandoning the Serb cause once the world interfered decisively (which is, by the way, applauded). From the ripped-up campaign poster of Milosevic on the front cover, to the book’s organization, to repeated and unsubstantiated accusations made by the interviewed politicians – with a single exception (Borisav Jovic) all enemies of Milosevic – everything points to Slobodan Milosevic as the root cause of Yugoslavia’s destruction. This, rather than flawed terminology or the false premise of "Serbian guilt," is the book’s greatest problem, and its greatest danger.
The style in Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation is good enough for someone knowledgeable about Balkan affairs to take it at face value. Even someone more sympathetic to the Serb cause, who does not subscribe to the racist tendency to blame the Serbs for everything, would find it easy to blame Milosevic instead. The book offers plenty of opportunities for that.
Accusing Milosevic of provoking the Serbs to rise up and destroy Yugoslavia, then abandoning them when things got rough, is believable but false. Accusing Milosevic of somehow being responsible for the secession of Slovenia, Croatia, Izetbegovic Bosnia and Macedonia is just ridiculous and insulting to the people of these republics. Both these charges, however, lay the foundations for the argument made by NATO in the spring of 1999 that Milosevic was to blame for everything that happened in Kosovo, thus justifying the barbaric assault in Yugoslavia and constant attempts to break it up ever since.
In that sense, Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation is the Bible of the mainstream public opinion in the West. Its premises reflect the prevalent opinion of great powers that have systematically interfered and manipulated the peoples of Yugoslavia to their ends, and assaulted the one people that refused to cooperate in this diabolical project. Its conclusions sowed the seeds of fallacy and hatred even deeper, perpetuated the lie and prepared the ground for further aggression and demonization.
Some clues to the motive of this crucial work can be gained from looking at its authors. In a few short years after Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation was published, Laura Silber became [sic] a NATO cheerleader, writing heartbreaking stories about the "injustice" done to General Clark by Washington and Brussels. Alan Little made a BBC documentary titled Moral Combat, which challenged some basic tenets of NATO’s Kosovo script – but perpetuated the myths of "Serbian genocide" against the Albanians and "ethnic cleansing," thus ultimately justifying everything NATO did.
[The original version of this review was posted on the Serbian Unity Congress website]
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