Sorting Out the Balkans: Three New Looks at a Trouble Region

Western policy toward eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union has been a vast improvisation since communism's collapse. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the Balkans. In the 1995 Dayton Accord, the West ratified the division of Bosnia and Herzegovina by failing to commit resources to Dayton's most important civilian mandate, the return of refugees. The very negotiations at Dayton depended on the promotion, enhancement, and legitimization of the Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic, the primary engineer of the Bosnian war. The results were a divided Bosnia and inevitable turmoil in Kosovo. In spring 1999, NATO fought a war in Kosovo without any plan to budge Milosevic from power, thereby ensuring that his grip over Serbia became stronger than ever. Meanwhile, the West continues to hold Montenegro and Kosovo back from independence, even though both will likely be future battlegrounds.

Given the West's inability -- or unwillingness -- to grasp the realities of the current Balkan scene, fresh accounts on Balkan history, including reevaluations of the most recent Kosovo developments, should be welcomed. Now three writers have tackled the subject in different ways, with mixed results. Misha Glenny provides an account of the last two centuries of Balkan history but in a highly contemporary key, Tim Judah continues his study of Serbian politics with a judicious account of the Kosovo issue, and Michael Ignatieff offers his own version of what the NATO action in Kosovo meant in the annals of modern warfare.

ENTER GLENNY

Glenny's work is lowbrow history on a grand scale. A master scriptwriter, Glenny has produced a book that could easily be broken into a series of Hollywood romances. As befits the genre, the narrative has little original interpretation. Instead, in a show of directorial fancy, he carefully blocks out the entrances and exits of the notable names of Balkan history: Karadjordje Petrovic, the leader of the first Serbian uprising against the Turks in 1804; the great nineteenth-century statebuilders (Nikola Pasic, Stefan Stambolov, and Eleutherios Venizelos -- but, curiously, not Ion Bratianu); the royal dictators of the interwar period (King Zog, Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, Boris III, and Carol II); and finally the communist dictators (Enver Hoxha, Tito, and Nicolae Ceausescu).

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