In This Review

The Balkan Wars: Conquest, Revolution, and Retribution From the Ottoman Era to the Twentieth Century and Beyond
The Balkan Wars: Conquest, Revolution, and Retribution From the Ottoman Era to the Twentieth Century and Beyond
By Andre Gerolymatos
Basic Books, 2002, 297 pp

Gerolymatos features the wars that allowed the Ottoman Empire to ascend in the Balkans and then, 400 years later, expire. He uses those wars to expose history's abuse of Greeks, Serbs, and Turks, as well as their abuse of history. The turning points are few and familiar -- the 1389 Battle of Kosovo, the 1453 fall of Constantinople, the 1821-30 Greek civil war, and Archduke Franz Ferdinand's assassination on June 28, 1914 -- but his treatment of them is not. He takes the reader from the beaten path to the unfamiliar detail of battle and personalities and then to the myths they spawned. There is not much in these contorted memories that inspires national humility and mutual respect among the descendents of his protagonists. Too often, such memories reappear in the modern excesses of the Balkans, and they will do so until their various misshapen psychologies are submerged in a grander entity such as the European Union. That said, the author is not above a bit of myth-making himself when explaining the motivation for recent U.S. policy in the region, which he turns into a modern knock-off of the nineteenth-century British approach to the "Great Game."