A sorely needed and authoritative history of the Balkan peninsula.
The popular media have oversimplified the omnipresent Balkan crisis for the public, according to BBC correspondent-turned-historian Glenny (The Fall of Yugoslavia, not reviewed). They suggest that the backward Balkan populations have been at war over religion for centuries, and that the unrest in Bosnia and Kosovo are merely extensions of that historical hatred. To those who find this explanation inadequate, Glenny brings impressive historical research and his longtime Balkan journalist’s experience to bear on the problem. Rather than approaching the region as a conglomeration of pathologically static religious and ethnic feuds, he portrays the Balkans in constant reaction to the political and economic fluctuations of the great powers. Historically, when the great powers have intervened in the Balkans, they have done so with the very worst motives: whether they were filling the power vacuum left by the crumbling Ottoman Empire in 1878, playing for Austro-Hungarian influence in 1914, or jockeying for best positions during the military operations of WWII, the great powers invariably left the region an economic shambles for local politicians to sort out as best they could afterwards (which was usually not very well). Glenny ultimately suggests that the international community’s current policies of humanitarian intervention (such as the peacekeeping troops in Bosnia and Kosovo or the air war against Serbia) are doomed to failure if the great powers fail to address the need for economic investment in the region. While this final insight is open to debate, Glenny presents his argument with excellent historical examples and compelling journalistic prose.
Glenny’s instinct for weaving complex political threads into powerful narration makes his history essential reading for anyone striving to make sense of the seemingly impenetrable Balkan crisis. (12 maps)