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Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus

by Robert D. Kaplan

Pub Date: Nov. 9th, 2000
ISBN: 0-375-50272-6
Publisher: Random House

More travels to difficult places in search of future geopolitical nightmares.

Kaplan (The Coming Anarchy, 1999, etc.) has carved a journalistic niche writing about collapse and decay; if there’s a new Rwanda or Kosovo in the making anywhere on the planet, the chances are good that Kaplan’s been there and reported on it. Here he takes on three smallish geographical areas that, taken together, add up to a big swath along the soft underbelly of Eurasia, and trouble is brewing throughout; looking deep into history, the author defines his area of concern as “a volatile region where the cultural legacies of the Byzantine, Persian, and Turkish empires overlap.” The first section of his account, which he deems a sequel to his fine 1993 study, Balkan Ghosts, examines the continuing fragmentation of southeastern Europe, not so much along ethnic lines (although ethnic struggles play their part) as along zones of influence (with Hungary, for example, drawn ever closer to Russia, and Romania hungering to free itself from Russia and become a part of the happy Western family of nations). His reportage from Sofia, Bucharest, and Budapest is literate and sharply drawn, as is his whirlwind tour of Turkey, where he sees hope for increased democratization and stability in the face of growing fundamentalist intransigence elsewhere in the region. With the death of Syria’s Hafez Assad, the subsequent analysis of the Middle East may already be dated, but the account of changing Israeli and Palestinian relations is valuable. The weakest portion is the last, which suffers from a hurried feel; Yo’av Karny’s exceptional new book, Highlanders (see below), is much better, although readers who follow international events will want to take notice of the author’s checklist of flashpoints in the Caucasus—which includes war between Iran and Azerbaijan, conflicts over a planned trans-Caspian pipeline, and other excuses for bloodshed.

As with all of Kaplan’s work, solid journalism combines with a gloomy sense of history to produce a worthy study.