Kirkus Reviews QR Code
SLAUGHTERHOUSE by David Rieff

SLAUGHTERHOUSE

Bosnia and the Failure of the West

By David Rieff

Pub Date: March 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-671-88118-3
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

 Rieff's powerful mix of reporting and polemic chronicles the fall of Bosnia and lambastes Western equivocation. ``Bosnia was and always will be a just cause....To have intervened on the side of Bosnia would have been self-defense, not charity,'' declares Rieff (The Exile, 1993, etc.). Fueled by anger and anguish, his book is a sort of meta-narrative, offering witness while regularly lamenting that information about mass death and destruction has not prompted action. Rieff went to Bosnia in 1992, haunted by the stories of Bosnian refugees. He recognizes that Bosnians aren't pure--that many patriots are black marketeers and not all Muslims are multiculturalists--but he tracks larger villainies. In Croatia he meets nationalists insistently purging Serbian and Muslim words from their vocabulary. In a town in northern Bosnia, Rieff describes the process of ethnic cleansing, beginning not with murder but with the loss of jobs, privileges, and psychic security. His center, however, is Sarajevo, where slaughter proceeds alongside negotiations and relief efforts. There the ``social pyramid'' has been inverted, the middle class turned to begging from visitors while the rough Rambo pretenders are ascendant. UN peacekeepers ``fetishized'' their Security Council mandate, claiming that all parties are tainted while enforcing the status quo. Coming across as far more honorable are those who worked for non-governmental agencies and for the UN's refugee relief effort, which Rieff credits with valuing ideals of justice and fairness over bureaucratic strictures. But even those heroes were compromised--mandated to relieve suffering, they in essence abetted ethnic cleansing even while publicizing it. Rieff says he resolved ``to write as frankly incendiary a narrative as I could.'' It is, however, a bit claustrophobic, lacking reportage, for example, on Serb concentration camps and some glimpses from the West that might have further buttressed his point. A troubling document on two levels: the damage done both to the people of Bosnia and to Western illusions of conscience and justice.