In This Review

The Politics of Serbia in the 1990s
The Politics of Serbia in the 1990s
By Robert Thomas
Columbia University Press, 1999, 288 pp

A highly informed account of politics in Serbia from 1987 to 1998. Thomas is long on detail, beginning with a virtual alphabet soup of names and organizations, and shorter on analysis, except for a very helpful conclusion. Still, the book gives the reader an excellent sense of the country's ill-fated evolution. In the late 1980s, Yugoslavia was regarded as one of the Eastern European countries best configured to make the transition to democracy -- but it quickly degenerated into mixed authoritarianism and (in Thomas' borrowed phrase) sultanism. Serbia demonstrates how the shell of democratic institutions and the facade of contested politics are no match for skilled politicians who know how to preserve the old structures of power by buying off or repressing serious competitors and exploiting public fears and prejudices. One suspects that Thomas would not hold high expectations that Milosevic's defeat in Kosovo will soon lead to the regime's demise -- or that the alternatives to Milosevic would be much better.