A rambling memoir of the doomed effort to bring peace to Bosnia, from a British officer in the United Nations force.
The UN was wary when Britain proposed career military man Stankovic for assignment to Bosnia in 1992, fearing he might bring along an agenda inherited from his parents, Yugoslavian immigrants of Serbian ancestry. (His mother and father weren't too keen about the assignment either.) But he was one of only three Britons proposed who could speak the language, and the UN desperately needed translators. Stankovic became much more than that: demonstrating an ability to climb right into the Serbian leaders' heads, he ended up as a fixer entrusted to make deals. His book immerses readers in a mad world whose feuds are traced back with obscene pride to the battle of Kosovo in 1389. In this society of 700-year-old grudges, where neither trust nor the notion of tolerance exists, the UN never has a chance. Stankovic traces his time in Bosnia through contemporary diary-like entries and later “sessions” with a psychiatrist after his arrest under Britain’s draconian Official Secrets Act. (The charges of spying for the Serbians certainly sound ludicrous, even taking into account the fact that Stankovic is doing the telling; the fact that he was eventually released suggests they were baseless.) Though the bluster can get thick—“red hot steel fragments slicing through aluminum, piercing the fuel tank, which we were sitting on, and wooooossssh . . . frying tonight! Fuck this!”—Stankovic does a terrific job of clarifying the testosterone-driven conflict between the NATO and UN forces, the former a fighting machine, the latter a vehicle for peace, but both happy to turn Bosnia into “a mad professor’s laboratory in which a very unpleasant war was used as a proving ground to define the set of the New World Disorder.”
Joseph Heller would have felt right at home in this absurd and murderous milieu. (b&w photos)