Courtesy Reuters

Is Kosovo Real? The Battle Over History Continues


By Noel Malcolm

Readers who have followed Aleksa Djilas' writings on Bosnia over the last six years will not have been surprised by his systematically hostile and misleading treatment of my book, Kosovo: A Short History ("Imagining Kosovo," September/October 1998). But they may still have been puzzled by some aspects of his review, such as his desire to belittle me personally.

In his very first paragraph he refers to some of my other books and says it is "tempting" to dismiss my work in those fields as that of a "charlatan." Why this immediate resort to a personal slur, when he has clearly never seen the books (apart from the one on Bosnia) and knows nothing of my scholarly reputation in other fields? In the next sentence he magnanimously concedes that my book on Kosovo is the work of a talented "amateur historian": again, why the patronizing gibe, when he knows from the book's cover that I have a doctorate in history and have taught at Cambridge University for seven years?

The answer can be found in Djilas' method of argument. Readers of my book know that I present and analyze a mass of factual evidence, carefully referenced to sources drawn from the whole range of existing literature in what Djilas, with characteristic inaccuracy, calls "a dozen languages." (The correct figure is 20.) A serious critic trying to disprove my findings would surely present some counter-evidence, but Djilas never does. Instead, he simply makes ex cathedra pronouncements that I am wrong and he is right. This rhetorical method requires an audience primed to believe that I am at best an amateur and at worst a charlatan, while Djilas is the real expert, superior in both knowledge and objectivity.

But is this so? Djilas is a sociologist, with no historical training, no known expertise, and no published work in the fields of Ottoman, Albanian, or earlier Balkan history. He has written one book in a broadly historical format, a study

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