Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution after the Cold War

In This Review

Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution after the Cold War

By Susan L. Woodward
Brookings, 1995
400 pp. $38.95
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On what historians 25 or 50 years from now will surely treat as this decade's defining misadventure--unless elsewhere something still worse lies ahead--Woodward provides the definitive contemporary study. Woodward, as the great majority who have published before her, believes that the Yugoslav tragedy need not have happened--that it was not encoded in historical ethnic rivalry or the artificiality of the state. But she also seeks to comprehend the tangled skein of events unfolding at the base of this history. The quest leads in surprising directions. For example, she discovers that in the 1980s, perversely, the liberal economic policies urged on the Yugoslavs by the international community contributed much more to the gathering centrifugal forces than the bitterest historical memories. Indeed, a greater and sadder irony is how in virtually every instance, due to faulty premises and shallow understanding, Western policies produced outcomes almost perfectly opposite the ones intended--from the initial efforts to foster economic reform and a greater respect for human rights in a post-Tito Yugoslavia, through the response to the first signs of breakup, to the futile rejoinders to the wars themselves.

Among the inside participants, Serb nationalists and the man who made himself their leader, Slobodan Milošević, remain in the forefront of those who undid the federation and then set the blood to flowing. But in Woodward's recounting, the impulses behind their actions and the cast who share responsibility turn out to be immensely more complicated than anyone else has suggested. Woodward is a first-rate social scientist, and she brings to bear a great deal of the best in theory--without ever letting on what she is up to, a model to academics who wish to communicate with a broad audience.