the Balkans Anti-Books
by Nebojsa Malic
by the demand for information about the Balkans wars, a veritable
mountain of books, pamphlets and papers have been produced
over the course of the 1990s, purporting to explain and analyze
tragedy of former Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, this quantity
did not translate into anything resembling quality. Most of
what's been written about the fighting in Croatia, Bosnia
and Kosovo is complete rubbish.
would be a full-time job just to read, let alone analyze,
all the drivel written about the Balkans recently.
Just about every hack with elementary spelling skills – and
some without – has tried to make a name by peddling tall tales
of genocide, massacres, death camps, mass rapes and whatnot.
the purpose of a book is to educate, then the works listed
here could be considered the "anti-books." Their
readers are mostly miseducated about the Balkans, having
read a skewed and deformed picture of events. The books featured
here should be avoided, or read only with extreme prejudice
– because they were written with one. Whether their authors
were paid propagandists, sensation-seeking fabricators or
quasi-historians with agendas makes little difference.
consider yourself warned: "Toxic Language Ahead."
the worst reports from Bosnia are books penned by advocacy
journalists. As a group, they were generally completely
ignorant of the region, and based their background "knowledge"
on first impressions, previous media coverage, or "helpful"
hints from local government propagandists. As Serbia was under
a blockade from April 1992, most reporters first landed in
Zagreb, Croatia, and covered stories in the territory controlled
by Croats or Bosnian Muslims.
Ed Vulliamy (The Guardian/The Observer) in
in Hell: Understanding Bosnia's War, and Roy Gutman
(Newsday), in his Witness
to Genocide, peddled stories of Serb "death
camps," mass rape and genocide.
Gutman hardly "witnessed" anything; most of his
stories came from Croat and Muslim propaganda sources. In
fact, one linguist has even asserted that Gutman's book was
by local propagandists, citing odd expressions never used
by native English-speakers.
was with the ITN TV crew that filmed a refugee transit camp
in northern Bosnia and edited it to create an appearance
of a "death camp." When a German journalist exposed
this fact on the pages of a London communist magazine LM,
his ITN colleagues muzzle LM by suing it for libel.
"journalist activist" is David Rieff, whose Slaughterhouse:
Bosnia and the Failure of the West is a condemnation
of alleged Western non-intervention. Rieff visited Bosnia
as a guest of the Sarajevo Muslim government, in effect a
volunteer propagandist for their cause. There was, of course,
plenty of foreign intervention in Bosnia, but Rieff and his
felt the only real thing would be a military involvement on
behalf of the Muslims.
worst of this lot is David Rohde, former correspondent for
the Christian Science Monitor. Rohde's name is revered
in interventionist circles and his book, Endgame:
The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica, is used to teach
rights journalism." Since 1995, Rohde has made Srebrenica
into his personal cause celebre, assailing
everyone who tries to question both his facts and his
Silber and Alan Little's Yugoslavia:
Death of a Nation is the parent of character-assassination
genre, first to blame Yugoslavia's collapse on Slobodan Milosevic
alone. It's already been reviewed
here, so it does not merit much further attention.
hit-job is Louis Sell's book, Slobodan
Milosevic and the Destruction of Yugoslavia. A retired
US Foreign Service officer, Sell is also a board member of
Crisis Group, and former director of its program in occupied
Kosovo. Given Sell's involvement in the organization that
supported the KLA and elevated Serbophobia to an art, any
claims he makes should be viewed with suspicion.
an aside, Sell's fellow ICG board member Wesley Clark – former
NATO commander in charge of bombing Serbia and invading Kosovo
– recently published his memoirs, titled Waging
Modern War. Read it only if you are interested in
the workings of this unscrupulous ladder-climber's brain,
but the way he "fought" over Kosovo should have
illustrated that already.
reporter Tim Judah has two entries in this category. The
Serbs: History, Myth and Destruction of Yugoslavia,
War and Revenge both follow in Silber, Little and
Sell's footsteps, but take a step further and blame the entire
Serbian people for the 1990s wars. Judah's theory is that
Serbs are collectively insane, obsessed with myths that compel
them to attack and murder their innocent neighbors. The second
book has transcended even that form of Serbophobia, justifying
the 1999 NATO aggression and the KLA terror that followed.
out this list of miscreants is Croat nationalist Branimir
Anzulovic, whose Heavenly
Serbia: From Myth to Genocide seeks the roots of Serbs'
"genocidal nature" in the 1389 Battle of Kosovo.
About as much fun as Mein
of the Quasi-Historians
and political activists can be forgiven to some extent, because
their bias and ignorance are not necessarily at odds with
their professions. Historians, on the other hand, need to
have a closer relationship with the truth than that.
of the most notorious quasi-historians in the former Yugoslavia
was Croatian leader Franjo Tudjman, whose works (Horrors
of War, and Genocide
& Yugoslavia) have tried to deny the Croatian
state's genocide against Serbs and Jews during World War Two.
to the 1990s, Yugoslav histories were mostly written by Communists,
and made for exceptionally dull reading in the West. Ethnic
warfare came quickly on the heels of socialism's collapse,
preventing true revisionism of Communist myths and leaving
a vacuum where history of Yugoslavia should have been.
the void stepped the quasi-historians, peddlers of misinformation
and fabrications presented as accurate history.
worst offender in this category is British militant Noel Malcolm,
whose "Short Histories" of Kosovo and Bosnia managed
to accomplish what Ottoman Turks, Imperial Austria and Nazi
Germany failed: to eliminate Serbs from these regions altogether.
Malcolm's exclusive use of non-Serb sources is but one facet
of his quasi-historical opus. Though of course Imperial supporters
praise and quote his works, others have deemed Malcolm's writings
Even Tim Judah (see above) challenged some of Malcolm's fanciful
as well-known as Malcolm, but even more vitriolic, is Michael
Sells, an apologist for militant Islam who teaches at Haverford
College, Pennsylvania. His A
Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia, needless
to say, paints the picture of innocent peaceful Muslims fighting
the genocidal, bloodthirsty Serbs for their very survival.
Sells also maintains a web
page on "human rights and genocide" in Bosnia
and Kosovo, where he published racist screeds that would make
even his favorites in Bosnia blanche.
Donia and John V.A. Fine's Bosnia-Herzegovina:
A Tradition Betrayed was one of the first attempts
to present Bosnia's history as that of tolerance and co-habitation
instead of ethnic repression. Even though the book was endorsed
by Izetbegovic's regime, Donia and Fine are minor-league offenders
compared to Malcolm and Sells. They are merely wrong, not
obnoxious about it as well.
if one wants to read another history of Kosovo from a pro-Albanian
perspective (though at least decently written), there is Miranda
Serb and Albanian: A History of Kosovo. Vickers
is a historian of Albania, so she would have been partial
even if it weren't for her association with the rabidly Serbophobic
A Few Others
works simply defy categorization. Robert Kaplan's Balkan
Ghosts, for example, is a sort of ethno-political
travelogue, reported to have influenced Bill Clinton's policymaking.
All it does is offer a rationale for "nation-building"
by describing Balkans-dwellers as feuding savages.
Daalder and Michael O'Hanlon's Winning
Ugly pretends to criticize NATO, but actually endorses
the Kosovo war. If apologia is your thing, by all means go
there is Stephen Schwartz and Christopher Hitchens' Kosovo:
Background to a War. Just the names of this spineless
chameleon and neocon militant should be red flags, even
if the book weren't shameless propaganda for NATO and the
KLA. But lo and behold, it is!
works to be avoided for the sake of sanity include anything
involving the so-called "mass rape" in Bosnia, as
this canard was thoroughly debunked by the end of the war.
It resurfaced briefly during the NATO attack on Serbia in
1999, only to be deep-sixed when the Western public refused
to swallow the bait again.
Good May Come
list could go on for pages, as there are plenty more books
and pamphlets peddling untruths about Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia,
and Kosovo. That they weren't mentioned does not mean they
are worth reading. Which books are worth reading is
a topic for another column, and another time.
Please Support Antiwar.com
520 S. Murphy Ave., Suite #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form
contributions are now tax-deductible