In This Review
Bosnia: A Short History

Bosnia: A Short History

By Noel Malcolm

Macmillan, 1994, 340 pp.

"The years 1992 and 1993," Malcolm begins his book, "will be remembered as the years in which a European country was destroyed." Those responsible, he makes plain, are primarily the leaders of Serbia, particularly the ambitious and cunning Slobodan Milosevic. But in his view the outside powers and their various mediators -- through a combination of spinelessness and misjudgment -- have been crucial, unwitting collaborators in the tragedy.

The author, a British journalist and trained Balkan historian, has been deeply offended by the destruction of Bosnia and the historical illiteracy of Western audiences, which eased their acceptance of the event. In response, he has countered with a full and serious history of the country, beginning before the Slavs arrived in large numbers in the seventh century. More than half the book passes before he gets to World War I, and in only two rather brief chapters does he address the collapse of Yugoslavia and the carving up of Bosnia.

As he speeds through an account of the complex, centuries-old movement of tribes and ethnic groups, the ebb and flow of different religious influences, and the rise and fall of empires claiming different parts of the region, the author is agitated by two major themes. First, Bosnia is not the hopeless refuse of three incompatible ethnic groups but an entity with as much historical continuity and political integrity as any of the other states in this area. Second, Bosnia was not held together and kept peaceful only through the domination of other larger powers, but rather "'national' animosities within the country have reached the point of interethnic violence only as a result of pressures coming from outside Bosnia's borders."