The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers, 1804-1999 Paperback – 1 Sep 2001
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Misha Glenny is no newcomer to the Balkans, and some readers may be familiar with his "The Fall of Yugoslavia" which recounted the principal events leading to the breakup of Yugoslavia. However, here Glenny is focussed on surveying the major events of Balkan history over the past 200 years, drawing together the similar threads that play through various countries, while pointing out the important differences that led to different outcomes in various parts of the region. In particular, Glenny focuses on the relationship between the Balkan region and the countries outside that region, and the impact that this relationship has had in the past and continues to have on the region today. In this sense, the book is very timely and sheds much light on the present situation.
Unlike the extremely popular "Balkan Ghosts", Glenny simply doesn't buy the notion that the recent conflicts in the Balkans are principally the result of ancient ethno-religious hatreds and stubborn intractibility, but instead forcefully and convincingly argues that the carnage that we see today is the product of relatively recent Balkan history, which itself has been greatly influenced by powers beyond the Balkans. The book is convincing in its thesis, breathtakingly broad in its scope (it covers the entire region, including the former Yugolavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and Greece), and yet fascinating in its attention to detail and the individual events and personages who have shaped the history of this corner of Europe.
This is simply a great history book, hands down. Anyone who wants to understand the Balkan region would be well-advised to purchase and read this remarkable book.
While to the casual foreign observer the region has long been a source of mysterious political arrangements and impenetrable complexities, the author lays to waste all of the West's convenient and self-serving notions describing the inhabitants of the Balkans as less than civilized, and shows how the nature of the troubles in the region can be traced to the arbitrary and capricious meddling foisted onto the residents from outside, usually by international agencies ignorant of the various ethnic mixes and profound historical connections standing in the way. Probably the single best example of this often well intentioned ignorance is the Dayton Peace Accords, which the author claims effectively partitioned Bosnia and Herzegovina without adequately solving any of the core problems underlying the ethnic unrest in the area. As a consequence, Glenny states, peace will reign in Bosnia only as long as the UN troops remain.
The author pulls few punches, describing recent American policies as cowardly and selfish, fashioned more to attempt to meet their obligations without risking troops and the concomitant domestic political trouble the probable loss of American servicemen would mean. Indeed, he describes the colossal blunder of NATO in stating that there would be no engagement of ground troops in Kosovo as flashing a green light for Serbian troops to have their indiscriminate bloodbath and deny it too. In a chilling extraordinary passage describing recent international attitudes dominated by short-term political convenience and its consequences for the region, Glenny quotes Swedish mediator Carl Bildt as prophetically asking that if the world chose to ignore the atrocities of the incumbent and did not prosecute Croatian President Tudjman for ethnic cleansing, "how on earth can we object if one day Milosevic sends his army to clean out the Albanians from Kosovo?"
The author's narrative is immensely educational and useful for those of us less than fully familiar with the region, tracing the progress of each national group amid the ongoing struggles for statehood. His description is punctuated with provocative and fascinating stories illustrating the rich variety of peoples and cultures inhabiting the area. At the same time, he interweaves these anecdotes with a sharply focused narrative that succeeds marvelously in threading together the key events in the context of international affairs, and shows how powerfully these interactions have influenced the emergence of the different national groups and the explosive amalgams of the 1990s.
It is this key relationship between the interference of other countries and international agencies that Glenny has been so catastrophic for the region, and often the ethnic and regional enmities and hatreds have been intensified and magnified by the actions of these outsiders. In a stirring warning at the end of the epilogue, he warns "if the great powers fail to seize the present opportunity by investing heavily in the region, the suffering of the Balkans will surely continue for several decades into the new millennium". This is an important and seminal book, one that should be required reading for anyone trying to understand this area of the world, and a great introduction into the history of the region. Enjoy!
This was a very interesting and very well written book. The coverage of events up to World War I is immaculate and the author's effort has paid off in what seems to be a good mix of narrative and attempt to explain the historical reasons behind the events.
The seconds half of the book - starting right after the end of World War I is more hastily written - partially due to the lack of abundance of historical resources, I presume - but also increasingly fails to incorporate any ethnic perspective in the analysis of events. Some premature conclusions are drawn - i.e. the author blatantly calls Eleftherios Venizelos the main culprit of the Asia Minor Disaster - a position that has been fiercely debated inside and outside Greece for the longest time and at a bare minimum should not been presented with such confidence.
The position of Greece towards the Bosnian as well as Kosovo conflict has been severely misconstrued here - albeit the undisputed emotional ties between the two people as well as the government of the two countries Greece fully yet unwillingly aligned with the NATO "party line" in the Kosovo conflict.
There are also some minor errors in election dates in the 1960s in Greece - at least at my edition.
Overall, I strongly recommend the book. I caught myself disagreeing with the author in many points and I really came to believe that the weak sport of the book - if there is any - has been the omission to incorporate the thinking and mind frame of the Balkan people as one of the pivotal forces behind history making. It thus supports indirectly a very naive and dangerous notion - that modern events can only be affected by the status quo bequeathed by the Ottoman Empire. In some aspect the author neglects to admit that there has been a very vivid history of the area (esp. Southern Balkans) prior to the Ottomans. Of course it is not a new element in the way western analysts and historians approach the area.
Overall again a great book to read.