Kosovo: How Myths and Truths Started a War Paperback – 9 Aug 1999
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From the Publisher
One of the first comprehensive looks at the war in Kosovo
"Julie Mertus has written the most informed, sophisticated, and convincing account of the struggle over the future of Kosovo. Anyone who wants to understand the ongoing Kosovo ordeal, or for that matter the whole class of ethnic conflicts, cannot do better than to read and study this fine book." --Richard Falk, Princeton University
"An important and original contribution to the literature about the break up of the former Yugoslavia. Julie Mertus reveals the competing narratives, the storytelling by which ethnic Serbs and Kosovo Albanians define themselves and their relationship to one another." --Eric Stover, Director, Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley
"Julie Mertus leads us on a fascinating journey through history, myths, identities, and ideologies deep into the thickets of ethnicity and politics that have led to the bloody conflict between Albanians and Serbs. Yet the author leaves us not with despair over the fatality of ethnic conflict, but rather with an understanding of possible ways to resolve what seems unresolvable. This is the clearest and most affecting account of the Kosovo war."--Ronald Grigor Suny, University of Chicago
Julie Mertus provides one of the first comprehensive looks at the explosive situation in Kosovo, where years of simmering tensions between Serbs and Albanians erupted in armed conflict in 1998. In a profound and detailed study of national identity and ethnic conflict, Mertus demonstrates how myths and truths can start a war. She shows how our identity as individuals and as members of groups is defined through the telling and remembering of stories. Real or imagined, these stories shape our understanding of ourselves as heroes, martyrs, conquerors, or victims. Once we see ourselves as victims, Mertus claims, we feel morally justified to become perpetrators. Based on a series of interviews conducted in Kosovo, Serbia proper, and Macedonia, this book is one of the first extended treatments of the years leading to war in Kosovo. Mertus examines the formation of Serbian national identity, and closely scrutinizes the hostilities of the region. She shows how myth and experience inform the political ideologies of Kosovo, and explores how these competing beliefs are created and perpetuated. This sobering overview of the region provides a window into a complex struggle whose repercussions reach far into the international community.
Julie A. Mertus is Professor of Law at Ohio Northern University. She is the coeditor of The Suitcase: Refugees Voices from Bosnia and Croatia (California, 1997), coauthor of Open Wounds: Human Rights Abuses in Kosovo (1994), and the author of Local Action/Global Change (1999). --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Inside Flap
"Julie Mertus has written the most informed, sophisticated, and convincing account of the struggle over the future of Kosovo. Anyone who wants to understand the ongoing Kosovo ordeal, or for that matter the whole class of ethnic conflicts, cannot do better than to read and study this fine book."--Richard Falk, Princeton University"An important and original contribution to the literature about the break up of the former Yugoslavia. Julie Mertus reveals the competing narratives, the storytelling by which ethnic Serbs and Kosovo Albanians define themselves and their relationship to one another."--Eric Stover, Director, Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley "Julie Mertus leads us on a fascinating journey through history, myths, identities, and ideologies deep into the thickets of ethnicity and politics that have led to the bloody conflict between Albanians and Serbs. Yet the author leaves us not with despair over the fatality of ethnic conflict, but rather with an understanding of possible ways to resolve what seems unresolvable. This is the clearest and most affecting account of the Kosovo war."--Ronald Grigor Suny, University of Chicago See all Product description
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There are organizations such as neo-Nazi groups that most people agree are bad news and are not tolerated beyond the most basic provisions of free speech that must be afforded to all, however, then you have groups like the KLA who are heroes to some and the next to the devil to others. For most Americans, the entire situation of Kosovo is hazy unless they have friends from the region or served in our military alongside NATO. In my case, I am an American who writes for a Serbian newspaper so I feel I have a decent understanding. Prof. Mertus provides in this account a fairly balanced explanation of how differences between Kosovar Albanians and Serbs spilled over into actual violence and how there was a good deal of wrongdoing on both sides. Yes, she seems overall to have more sympathy for the Albanian viewpoint than the Serbs and there are both good and unfounded reasons for this: for one, it's a matter of whom she spoke with in her oral interviews that compose the basis for this book. Mertus is a law professor and you get the impression in places that while she tried to remain unbiased, at some point she started feeling like she was a lawyer or advocate for the Albanian view. You have to approach each page understanding that. Overall, her writing is very good as is her research. According to her CV, she studied Czech in Prague as an undergrad, but I'm not sure whether she speaks Serbo-Croatian or Albanian, either. I believe she has some working knowledge of both languages but also used translators in her field work. This is not a trivial question if she was at all selective in conducting interviews due to any sort of language bias.
Once you realize that yes, there's something of a bias at hand, it can be said Mertus overall did great work: she conducted a lot of oral interviews and does a good job of grounding her book in more expansive human rights and legal concepts, of which she has a lot of experience (her CV shows a nearly-endless list of publications and conference presentations). She is able to lay out some of the groundwork and backstory of how things became so very bad between Serbs and Kosovar Albanians and she also is able to explain the role of NGOs and the international community in the situation. I have to recommend this book for people interested in Kosovo because it's in-depth, well-researched, and covers ground no other volume in English does, but again, it is biased. As the situation of young Ergys Kaçe makes clear, these wounds still have yet to heal.
One more note: this commendable book was written by a jurist who is convinced that not treaties or resolutions, but culture in the anthropological sense determines people's life: what is in their mind matters, and everything else can just follow.
High honours to Julie A. Mertus!
However, while describing the myths that led to war in Yugoslavia, Professor Mertus is not averse to injecting a few of her own, that led the West to war with Yugoslavia. One is stated in the first page of her preface, that NATO merely wanted "to help" untangle the violence and seemingly had no larger strategic agenda. Others are the charges on page 143 that Slobodan Milosevic had been transformed overnight from "a good Communist" into "a good nationalist"; and that he was elected by an "uneasy coalition of nationalists and Communists" who would "follow him into war."
As anyone familiar with Yugoslavia knows, "good Communists" in the ideological sense had largely vanished by the 1970s, with nationalism already at the center of public dialogue and policy. Thus no "transformation" was required to be both a good organization/party man and nationalist; otherwise, the whole devolution of Yugoslavia throughout he 1980s would not have been possible. Hence also the coalition of "Communists" and nationalists was not only far from uneasy but quite intimate, and as much so in the other republics. Retaining official party membership (even while renaming the party) was useful to Milosevic as a power platform, but no more so than the Federal Yugoslav Army. One can just as easily state that his "coalition" was based on a military-party-nationalist alliance.
But if Communism as ideology had only symbolic value at this time, ignored in practice by everyone in the Fedration, why was it necessary to drag it into the analysis at all? Precisely, of course, because of its mythical symbolism. Use of the word as adjective and noun helped mobilize Western opinion against Milosevic as a "backward renegade" who "opposed reform," requiring removal to "complete" the Yugoslav "transition process." While Professor Mertus does not explicitly state this, she was a strong pro-interventionist, as her short essays at the back of the book clearly show. Stressing a by-then irrelevant "Communism" and "Communists" in Serbia was part of the mobilization process.
And while the book's subject is now a matter of settled history, it's useful to see how Ms. Mertis' constructs work upon other conflict zones such as Palestine/Israel. Here is a near-perfect parallel whose obviousness escaped many Western NGO activists like Mertis, partly due to choice and to the assumption that it had been resolved by the "peace process." Yet as she warns on p.254, peace rhetoric can be an ideology of oppression designed to uphold and cement an unjust status quo, which is exactly what the "US "brokered" process has become. The US policy establishment continues to buy into the rhetoric of "terrorists" (p. xi of her introduction). It is inconceivable that any Western NGO, no matter how disgusted by Israeli behavior in its own "Kosovo," would advocate violent intervention against the State of Israel, no matter how great the human rights catastrophe. And at this writing it seems headed for terminal confrontation, as Israel gobbles land, facilitates outside settlement, imprisons the civil population, and builds "security walls" in a scheme of pacification that makes Milosevic look like a novice in the arts of conquest and occupation.
Her guide to NGOs on how to properly conduct their "missionary work" has some valuable insights, such as the impossibility of neutrality if they are to remain true to principles. The catch is in articulating principles that are not crafted specifically to aid agendas external to the conflict itself. Thus the book is a useful example at a micro level, how artful gossip-cum-propaganda can stimulate grass-roots hysteria and paranoia, leading to war; and at the macro level, on how academic scholarship can rationalize the choices of policy-making elites determined on war.
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