TITO: And the Rise and Fall of Yugoslavia by Richard West

TITO: And the Rise and Fall of Yugoslavia

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An unfocused attempt to combine a biography of Tito, an account of Yugoslavia's rise and demise, and a weak argument about the centrality of religion to the region's conflict. British journalist West (A Hurricane in Nicaragua, 1990, etc.) flames his discussion of the breakup of Yugoslavia with a biography of Tito, ""the very personification of Yugoslavia."" But his reader frequently loses sight of both Tito and current events amid a ramble through ancient Balkan history and an extended narrative of political events and personalities. The bulk of the book rests on secondary sources, especially biographies written by Tito's former comrades Milovan Djilas and Vladimir Dedijer. West's research is haphazard, though: Standard histories appear alongside obscure works, while other studies are bypassed. Instead of sustained argument, we are offered anecdotes and vignettes -- Edward Gibbon on the battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389, Rebecca West on the town of Pritina in the 1930s, and Richard Burton, of all people, on Tito. The author is also given to making vapid generalizations. ""There was socialism but not much sociology in Yugoslavia,"" he writes, going on to assure readers that the country enjoys ""a good relationship between the sexes"" and is flee of racism. (He obviously never spoke with any African students, gypsies, or Yugoslav women.) One of West's more interesting, if dubious, propositions is that Yugoslavia's dissolution has its roots in the religious rather than ethnic divisions among Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians. He offers the Irish/English split as a paradigm and makes much of the Catholic Church's activities in Croatia, giving far less attention to the Orthodox Church and the Muslims. But he never confronts competing theories of the present crisis, especially those arguing for the key role of manipulative politicians and of the media. Unsuccessful, both as original biography and as commentary on current events.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1995
Page count: 436pp
Publisher: Carroll & Graf