BELGRADE by Florence Hamlish Levinsohn


Among the Serbs
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 A frustratingly incomplete, often meandering collection of interviews that shines only intermittent light on the Balkan conflict. Levinsohn (Harold Washington: A Political Biography, 1983) spent several weeks in Belgrade in late 1993, interviewing intellectuals--broadly defined to include writers, lawyers, and government officials--and presenting their views in large chunks of verbatim dialogue. ``I have great faith in the direct words of the people involved,'' she asserts. But oral history needs much more shaping to be effective. The book reads like an edited diary, an unsatisfactory form for such a complicated conflict. Levinsohn's ultimate agenda is to make some moral equivalencies: ``Perhaps the view of the Muslims and the Croats as helpless victims of these wars will be replaced with a more realistic picture of three peoples fighting each other on fairly equal terms.'' Unfortunately, while those she meets certainly counteract the stereotype of bloodthirsty Serbs, her reporting is too sketchy to back up her contention, nor does she try to assess how realistic the Serbs' picture of themselves as a persecuted people is. There are some valuable vignettes: a former New York Times stringer describing the international media as tilted against Serbia; a meeting of the Serbia-Jewish Friendship Society, appalled by American Jewish support for Bosnian Muslims; a newspaper editor explaining how Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic has turned United Nations sanctions to his advantage; a filmmaker claiming that the Bosnian Muslims ``are really Serbs''; novelist Branimir Scepanovic, damning the US as ``the most genocidal nation in the world''; a United States Information Agency official, fluent in the local language (unlike the author), who acknowledges that sanctions have weakened, not strengthened, local democracy. Levinsohn is credulous on occasion, but often tries to rebut on her informants' rhetoric. Parachute journal-ism. (Maps, not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1994
ISBN: 1-56663-061-4
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Ivan Dee/Rowman & Littlefield
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1994


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