Worthy Balkans Booklist
Reading for Anti-Imperialists
by Nebojsa Malic
would be deeply unfair to offer only a list of dreadful
books about the Balkans Wars and not mention the other
kind – the books that help the overall understanding of the
region and the turmoil it has been undergoing for the past
decade or so. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the number
of good books about the region is fairly low. Even so, it
is entirely likely that some good works out there might be
overlooked by the list below.
must keep in mind another fact. None of these books gives
the full picture of the crisis. Some try, some succeed better
than others, but the story of Yugoslavia in the 1990s is so
complex, it is nearly impossible to tell in one volume. There
is no "Yugoslav Crisis for Dummies" or "Idiot's
Guide to Balkans Wars" on this list. To find them, you
will have to go elsewhere.
without further ado, the books.
producing their works, historians often rely on "primary
sources"– accounts of people who have actually witnessed,
or participated in the event in question. As a side note,
despite being treated as such, journalists often should not
be considered primary sources. Too many have deliberately
misinterpreted the facts that their lies reverberate through
media coverage even today.
the other hand, though in some part necessarily self-serving,
memoirs of officials and dignitaries who were actually on
the ground making the news – as opposed to inventing
it – are the real primary sources of intrinsic value.
for example, Peacekeeper:
The Road to Sarajevo, by the man fully deserving of
the title. Canadian Major-General Lewis McKenzie was not only
the first UN commander in Sarajevo, but a veteran of almost
all UN peacekeeping missions. Half the book is the account
of those missions, and is interesting in its own right. However,
the part that focuses on Bosnia in 1992 is truly captivating.
Peacekeeper, McKenzie described what would later become
a pattern for every UN commander in Bosnia. Though both Serbs
and Muslims greeted him cordially at first, the latter quickly
turned on him when he refused to take their side. McKenzie
even pointed out some Muslim abuses, earning the undying hatred
of the Sarajevo regime. They've pilloried him as "pro-Serb"
and even concocted a vicious rumor about his involvement with
"Serb rape camps."
is a poignant chronicle of events in Sarajevo during the
fateful summer of 1992, a must-read.
Odyssey, by Lord David Owen, is an important bit of
diplomatic history. The frustrated British negotiator recounts
in this memoir how he vainly tried to mediate between the
warring factions in Bosnia while both the western media and
the American government did their best to make him fail.
little-known but brilliant book is Philip Corwin's Dubious
Mandate, a superb, first-hand account of how the Empire
subverted and abused the UN force in Bosnia, using the peacekeeping
mission as subterfuge for intervention. However, it is best
to be somewhat familiar with the situation in the 1995 Bosnia
before reading this book.
the most important testimony, though, is Richard Holbrooke's
End A War. Surprised? Don't be. While Holbrooke's
memoir should definitely not be taken at face value – especially
when it comes to his misconceptions about the Balkans peoples
– his arrogant honesty paints a forthright picture of Imperial
intervention, its motives and methods. Many of the things
Holbrooke says without thinking his colleagues would fear
to even contemplate, let alone speak out loud. If for that
alone, this book is a treasure – though at times it may induce
the divide between testimonies and histories is Misha Glenny's
Fall of Yugoslavia: The Third Balkan War. Glenny was
frequently in Croatia and Bosnia between 1991 and 1995, so
his work is somewhat a personal account – but he also attempts
to paint a picture of events as they unfolded, based on media
reports and occasional interviews. Though Glenny gets the
timeline straight, his emotional style – no doubt influenced
by the British style of narrative – often get in the way of
scholarship. This book, while useful, should be taken with
a chunk of salt (see
a history of Kosovo and to some extent Serbia in general,
one should try to find Alex Dragnich and Slavko Todorovich's
Saga of Kosovo, printed in 1984 by Columbia
University Press (and adapted online here).
for a House Divided fills an important niche,
trying to explain Yugoslavia's collapse from the standpoint
of constitutional nationalism. It is in fact aptly subtitled
"The Constitutional Logic of the Yugoslav Conflicts".
info). Too many analyses of Yugoslavia's demise ignore
the crucial role of constitutional conundrums that encouraged
ethno-statism, especially from 1974 onwards.
The Divided Land is the very example of what a
short history should be: concise yet incredibly informative,
offering a sea of relevant facts and analyzing historical
patterns. This is simply the best history of Montenegro currently
available. Its importance cannot be overstated, since the
current regime in Podgorica has been falsifying history wholesale
in order to justify its separatist tendencies.
is obvious to anyone even remotely acquainted with the Balkans
that media impact on the Yugoslav crisis cannot possibly be
overestimated. Though a comprehensive analysis of media manipulations
has not yet seen the light of day – and since the machinations
continue, that day may still be far off – good critical analyses
of lies employed in the Kosovo war can be found in Phil Hammond's
Capability and Philip Knightley's The
First Casualty (reviewed
Kill A Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia analyzes Yugoslavia's
violent dissolution from the beginning. Though its economic
preconceptions may be disputable, Parenti's incisive work
contributes a great deal to understanding the clear pattern
of dismemberment that emerges from consecutive Imperial interventions.
the same league is Diana Johnstone's Fools'
Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions (see
Johnstone not only analyzes the Imperial interventions, she
also addresses the leftist warmongers who spearheaded them,
a frequently ignored subject. Read intro
Images of Serbia and the Kosovo Conflict and Diary
of an Uncivil War (read
excerpt) are a refreshing break from the mainstream-peddled
nonsense about the wars in Kosovo and Macedonia is, though
some people might be put off by the magazine-style prose.
Taylor has long followed the Canadian military, and seems
to have a keen sense for recognizing baloney when he hears
War Gone By, I Miss It So may not seem like worthy
reading at first. A confessed English drug-user with family
issues, Lloyd sought out danger in Bosnia and Chechnya, posing
as a journalist but really just spending time with the locals.
His picture of war is gritty and realistic. His experiences
with Muslims and Croats – he hated Serbs – offer invaluable
glimpses into the collective hysteria that was Bosnia at war.
Not for the queasy, but definitely worth reading.
list is by no means definitive, or final. New works are becoming
available every day, and some of them may not be rubbish.
Suggestions for book reviews are very
much welcome, of course. Perhaps some day, the quality
of reason will manage to overwhelm the quantity of lies peddled
in its stead. Here's to hope that it does.
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