The Balkans: Nationalism, War & the Great Powers, 1804-1999

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9780140233773: The Balkans: Nationalism, War & the Great Powers, 1804-1999

This unique and lively history of Balkan geopolitics since the early nineteenth century gives readers the essential historical background to recent events in this war-torn area. No other book covers the entire region, or offers such profound insights into the roots of Balkan violence, or explains so vividly the origins of modern Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and Albania. Misha Glenny presents a lucid and fair-minded account of each national group in the Balkans and its struggle for statehood. The narrative is studded with sharply observed portraits of kings, guerrillas, bandits, generals, and politicians. Glenny also explores the often-catastrophic relationship between the Balkans and the Great Powers, raising some disturbing questions about Western intervention.

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Review:

The history of the Balkan states, like that of so much of the world, has for centuries been marked by ethnocidal fracases, savage wars of conquest, and periods of eerie calm. The mountainous region's shifting alliances and divisions have long puzzled outside observers, writes journalist Misha Glenny, the author of The Fall of Yugoslavia: "For many decades, Westerners gazed on these lands as if [they were] an ill-charted zone separating Europe's well-ordered civilization from the chaos of the Orient."

Those outsiders, Glenny suggests, have been the source of much of the Balkans' misery. In only the last two centuries, the territory has been contested by the Ottoman and Hapsburg empires, the Third Reich, and the Allies, all of whom exploited and exacerbated existing ethnic conflict. (The Nazi occupiers of Croatia, he writes, even had to rein in the fascist Ustase militia for fear that their campaign against Serbs and Muslims would only strengthen resistance to their puppet government.) And, he continues, attempts to quell the recent conflict in Bosnia have created problems of their own. He argues that war will break out anew the moment international troops are withdrawn and that the Dayton Agreement is too "full of anomalies and frictions" to stand. The intervention in Kosovo has been no better, he adds, and the Allies' misguided efforts are sure to yield only further bloodshed if the only objective is to remove Slobodan Milosevic from power. "Should the West fail to address the effects, not merely of a three-month air war in 1999, but of 120 years of miscalculation and indifference since the Congress of Berlin, then there will be little to distinguish NATO's actions from any of its great-power predecessors," Glenny concludes.

Glenny's provocative book sheds much light on recent Balkan history--and on the region's likely future. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

The longtime central European correspondent for the BBC World Service based in Vienna, Misha Glenny has lived in and worked all over the Balkans. His books include The Rebirth of History and The Fall of Yugoslavia, winner of the 1992 Overseas Press Club Award for Best Book on Foreign Affairs.

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