A searing chronicle of a decade’s worth of ethnocide in the former Yugoslavia.
British journalist di Giovanni, a globetrotting senior correspondent for the London Times and something of a war junkie, seems to have been in every trench and devastated village from the Slovenian border to Albania. The tales she tells would do Martha Gellhorn proud, though they do not make for easy reading: a teenaged Kosovar boy is blown to bits by an errant NATO bomb, his existence marked only by a mound of cigarette butts where he stood watch; a young woman, likened by one of her friends to Cleopatra, is cut down by a random spray of Serbian machine-gun fire as she sips a cappuccino; another young woman is dragged away and raped by Milosevic’s soldiers, who tell her, “You Albanian women are strong. . . . You’re so strong that you can have sex with the entire Serb Army”; whole populations are uprooted, chased from their ancestral homes thanks to accidents of birth and intermarriage. Di Giovanni does a superb job of sorting out the tangled politics of the Balkans, which threw her distinguished predecessor Dame Rebecca West for a loop. She observes, for instance, that just about everyone involved in the conflicts among Bosnians, Croats, Montenegrins, Serbs, Albanians, and Macedonians has blood on his (or her) hands; that “while the Serbs and Bosnians never tried to be anything but what they were, the Croats hid behind a faux and decrepit Habsburg mantle,” and that had Croatian leader Franjo Tudjman not died, “it is certain he would be sitting alongside his old friend Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague Court”; that some of the blame for the ten-year-long Balkan slaughter at the door of Western leaders. And, she grimly concludes, although the people of the former Yugoslavia are aware and intelligent, there’s no guarantee that the violence will not break out again at any time: “I just don’t know if they will get past it.”
Wholly memorable, entirely unsettling: one of the best pieces of reportage to come from the Balkan abattoir.