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Trusted Mole: A Soldier's Journey into Bosnia's Heart of Darkness
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on 2 June 2000
Distance from something is supposed to lend perspective. But what was striking about the war in Bosnia was that the further away - the more disengaged - the viewer, the dodgier was his perception of events. In a bizarre way, one had to be really close to events to understand their murderous illogicality, and thus find a way through the maze. And as interpreter and fixer for various UNPROFOR generals, Milos Stankovic was as close as it was possible for a supposedly uninvolved outsider to get.
Until we get something honest from the belligerents themselves, this book is the ultimate insider's account of the Bosnian war. Rose, Holbrooke and Owen all have written books to explain how they were right all along. But Stankovic's work is refreshingly light on ego. At times it reads like Conrad, at times like Andy Macnab, but mostly it's an updated spin on Fitzroy Maclean. Here are Mladic and Karadzic in their opera bouffe splendour, frequently stymieing international actors who reckoned themselves far more sophisticated than these Balkan also-rans. Often their baffling ability to wreck others' policies arose out of ignorance; at one point British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd's offer to Karadzic of a way out of his rhetorical cul-de-sac is missed because the latter is too ignorant of the evasive language of international diplomacy to know what he's being offered. But as Stankovic makes clear, it was also a product of singlemindedness, particularly Mladic's. Nothing is more illuminating than the author's portrayal of the balance of power between the two Bosnian Serbs; for this alone 'Trusted Mole' should find a place in every account of the war.
But it should also be required reading for people (particularly foreign policy gurus) who like to portray conflicts in simplistic terms. Throughout the war in Bosnia the international community presented the protagonists as essentially rational actors pursuing rational policies, the better to attempt to deal with them. But they failed to understand the essentially irrational motivations behind rational actions; and without that understanding, resolution was impossible. Perhaps in spite of himself, Milos Stankovic found himself getting just that grip. (He has coined the term 'necrowar' to describe the belligerents' elevation of the dead to a totem for further dying, that served as their bizarrely disposable justification for their crimes.) This grip made him invaluable to UNPROFOR's (often surprisingly successful) attempts to mitigate the effects of the conflict. It was also got him into trouble; a dodgy court martial, and enforced ostracism from many of his friends and colleagues.
Stankovic made the mistake of disagreeing with Madeleine Albright. Not directly, of course; he has almost certainly never met the woman, and it is doubtful whether he figured as anything other than a side actor in the US intelligence tapes of UNPROFOR discussions. But his sin was to point out, repeatedly, that Bosnia wasn't simple. And his judgements infused the actions of a UN force which - underresourced and over-mandated, exposed, outnumbered, made up of contingents from states with utterly divergent views of the conflict - had to react to events which the State Department wanted to interpret in black and white terms.
But this book's real strength lies in its portrayal of the nitty-gritty of the war. The bizarre dichotomy of the peacekeeper - broadly impotent, occasionally pivotal - the wilful ignorance of outsiders, the utterly marginal existence of a population more or less under siege, the disservice the country's politicians did its citizens - all are here. This isn't a light read; it's too messy and depressing a story for that. But it should be handed out to people (particularly in the US, who during the war were appallingly served by press and politicians alike) who think that Bosnia was a simple problem open to quick and clean resolution. It wasn't. Ask Stankovic.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 May 2014
An honest, great-hearted man's experience as a peacekeeper during the war in Bosnia, bringing insight and compassion - and sometimes humour - into the mess that war is and the real lives that exist inside that mess. This also shows what it is to undertake something tough and unpredictable, with unimagined, unthinkable consequences.

And then, most importantly in Milos Stankovic's case, this shows the endurance of one, special man during the unthinkable bleak circumstances which severed his military career. Thought-provoking, heartfelt and unforgettable.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
In so far as it goes, the book is a personal memoir of a terrible yet spellbinding time in the life of Milos Stankovic. His style is an easy going one of a soldier rather than a lterary man, lightening this lengthy horror story for the reader.
There is so much more I would like to hear from him - greater detail of meetings he attended; his views of events in retrospect; and the final resolution of his personal situation following the spying charges, to name but a few. Perhaps a sequel is called for, Mr. Stankovic??
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on 20 May 2001
Stankovic was a reflection of the conflict that became Bosnia. He was from Royalist Serb stock, and ended up trying to negotiate a peace in Pale and Sarajevo, and he, according to this book, was pivotal in doing so. He writes very clearly about what he saw and lived through, from hearing that a frined had nearly been mortared, to his nascent belive in a fortune teller to being called "mladi" (boy) by Ratko Maldic.
It gives a insider view of how the RS negotiated with the Un and the Fed B&H, as well as a gripping view into what it is like being a soldier at war, a soldier at war who is supposed not to be involved, but feel his family history weighing around his neck. The descriptions of his conversations with his father (who belived the Serbs could do no wrong) are particulary poignant. However, it left me with afeeling of things being left unsaid, that there was more going on than he wrote. This might be because of the Ofiicial Secrets Act, or his charge on ground of espionage, but it is obvious that more happened than he lets on.
Over all, this is the only book that I have read that is close to the centre of what was the mess that was Bosnia in the early 90s. Read it, but take it with a pnch of salt
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 5 April 2011
This is a gripping read. It's the only biography that's ever left me trembling from being transported into the author's world (in this case, a war zone!).
Very little jargon, so relatively straightforward to follow the trail.Highly recommend - make an excellent gift for those interested in politics, history, war, military as well as mankind and the way we are.Trusted Mole: A Soldier's Journey into Bosnia's Heart of Darkness
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 18 August 2002
This is the only book I have ever read which came close to giving me an understanding of the Bosnian civil war. The author writes with intelligence and insight, and never fails to hold the reader's attention. Absolutely superb. For anyone wanting to truly understand the conflict, this is the book to buy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 January 2014
An amazing book - showing the horror, corruption and general hell of war - and what a pointless war it was . Some of it is very 'military' with lots of acronyms - very hard to absorb but they can be skimmed over. The story is very gripping - I have read it twice and will do so again. And, his personal horror at the end to be charged as a spy makes it a must for a serious read - Well written too.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 July 2013
A fantastic read. Hard to put down. A definite must read for anyone interested in the Balkan wars of the 90's. I can actually picture the scenes described so vividly. I own a number of books on the wars in the former Jugoslavia. But if you only read one, make sure it is this one.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 9 August 2008
I'm going to criticise this superb book. It is extremely well written, engaging and includes many pictures and maps that are as good as any I've seen in a military history book. The insight into events on the ground could not be provided by anyone who was not there and the whole story is delivered with an admirable lack of bitterness, considering how the author believes he was wronged by the MoD.

For a truly unique first-hand account of a British, UN officer's role in the Bosnian crisis buy this book - the author lost his legal case against the MoD and was lumbered with huge legal costs.

Now the rub. I feel this book commits a number of crimes of omission. For starters, there is practically no detail of the Crown's case against the author or even the outcome of the case. Given the prominence given in the promotional material for the book of his arrest etc, this is pretty disappointing. Like another reviewer, I would also have appreciated more coverage of the specific details discussed in meetings with the BSA top brass.

In addition, Stankovic unconsciously peddles the MoD and FCO line throughout the book of moral equivalence between all sides - ever ready to describe Muslim and Croat misdemeanours without any reference to the relative enormity of the atrocities committed predominantly by the BSA.

Never is the bigger picture of the war analysed and the author frequently criticises US involvement without ever considering that his own presence as part of a British / France sponsored UN spoiling tactic was fundamental to preventing successful military intervention on behalf of non-combatants. This is hardly surprising from a British officer born to a Serbian family.

In summary - this is an excellent read but the authors assertion that the book merely represents his perspective should be strongly born in mind.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 24 June 2001
This is the true story behind the true stories of the wars in bosnia. The Author was there for most of the major incidents, if you want to learn what a worthless and beauacratic organisation the UN is read this, Stankovic should be bemedaled and a general bynow, His descriptions of Sarajevo and surrounding areas was spot on and his description of the " little people " describing the ordinary people of the city and his journeys to the " dark side " remind me strongly of my time there. I have read most of the modern books detailing the Balkan conflict and I always assumed that martin Bell wrote the best one but now Bell is in second place...to summarise get the book now
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