In This Review

The Myth of Ethnic War: Serbia and Croatia in the 1990s
The Myth of Ethnic War: Serbia and Croatia in the 1990s
By V. P. Gagnon, Jr.
240 pp, Cornell University Press, 2004

Neither the popular explanation nor the oft-cited theory is right, Gagnon argues. The Balkan wars of the 1990s did not come about because of "ancient ethnic hatreds" or because ruthless elites manufactured crises to mobilize otherwise peacefully co-habiting communities to preserve their own power. Both Croatian and Serbian leaders manufactured crises all right, but it was in order to demobilize forces threatening the status quo with a move toward pluralism and liberalism. Violence, not ethnicity, was the tool, and it was consciously deployed not to exploit but to change popular identities, denying legitimacy to the reform-minded by rendering moribund the "political space" they sought to modify and substituting a harsh, fear-driven alternative. Gagnon challenges some widespread notions about the dangerous linkage between ethnicity and the upsurge of violence in the post-Cold War world, and he does it crisply and with plenty of carefully marshaled data.