The Fall of Yugoslavia

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

As with any fast-moving, inconclusive news story, the constant stream of headlines about death and destruction in Bosnia-Herzegovina can have a numbing effect on a reader’s understanding and curiosity. In years to come surely many books will attempt to unravel the web of political, historical, and cultural factors that led to that region’s devastation. In the meantime, BBC Central Europe correspondent Misha Glenny has written a lucid, helpful account.

Mixing first-person narrative and analysis, Glenny argues that all parties’ failure to effect a looser Yugoslav federation led first to war between Serbia and Croatia, and ultimately (and inexorably) to the bloodletting in Bosnia. The European Community bears much of the blame, he says, for its ill-considered and premature December, 1991 decision to recognize Slovenia and Croatia as independent states. (The decision was made at Germany’s insistence.)

“Supporters of Croatia’s cause claimed that the war was between [Serbian president Slobodan] Milosevic’s Bolshevism and the free-market, democratic spirit as embodied by [Croatian president] Franjo Tudman,” writes Glenny. “Serbs countered this by saying that the war had begun with the onset of genocide against Serbs in Croatia which prefaced a fascist offensive in the Balkans, executed by Tudman’s Ustashas (many Serb leaders were absolutely convinced that the Tudman administration was fascist) on behalf of their paymasters in Europe, the Germans. Both these theories are constructed from a series of half-truths, cemented by a low-grade mixture of myth and legend. ... Anybody who doubts the deeply nationalist aspect of this war has clearly never been anywhere near the battlegrounds.”

This book obviously was hurriedly written, but does not suffer thereby. Far from sloppy, Glenny’s narrative conveys a salutary sense of urgency. An adage defines journalism as “a rough draft of history.” THE FALL OF YUGOSLAVIA is less rough than most journalism— it is perhaps a second draft. It surely will be an important source for future historians.