A useful historical overview of “a centuries-long theater of the macabre.”
Gerolymatos (Hellenic Studies/Simon Fraser Univ.), a specialist on guerrilla warfare and espionage in the Balkans and Greece, examines the problems of religion, nationalism, and romanticized history in the ever-smoldering southeastern corner of Europe. Western policy analysts, he writes, mostly ignored these three potent forces after the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia, only to be surprised by the virulent civil war and splintering of the peninsula in ethnic-based states that followed. “Post-Cold War Europe and North America,” he remarks, “are at a complete loss to understand why these small countries are hostages to the past and seem so willing to fight the same battles all over again.” Some of those battles loom large in the Balkan mind but have been overlooked or forgotten in Western history; one, which Gerolymatos carefully reconstructs, is the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian archduke Franz Ferdinand at the hands of a Serbian anarchist in 1914, an event that sparked WWI. Ferdinand had it coming, Gerolymatos suggests, if only because he ventured into Sarajevo on the anniversary of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo, when Ottoman Turks slaughtered the flower of Serbian knighthood and opened the peninsula to Muslim domination for the next five centuries. Such resounding defeats and massacres have “shaped at least part of the identity and commonality of each nation, tribe, or group in the Balkans.” One of the most recent was the Serbian loss of Kosovo and Bosnia to UN and NATO forces, making them “de facto satellites of the United States”—and perhaps candidates for annexation into a Greater Albania, the thought of which troubles non-Albanians throughout the region.
An even-handed survey for anyone bewildered by recent events in a once-remote pocket of Europe.