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The Balkan Wars Paperback – International Edition, March 18, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia. Today's headlines could have been written in the 1800s or in the 1400s. Conflict has raged unabated in the Balkans for hundreds of years and always, writes historian André Gerolymatos, over the same tired issues: nationalism and religion.

"Post–Cold War Europe and North America are at a complete loss to understand why these small countries are hostages to the past and seem so willing to fight the same battles all over again," writes Gerolymatos. This book attempts to offer answers, as Gerolymatos explores the ethnic and religious tensions that plague the peninsula--and that have been used by foreign powers (whether Ottomans, Hapsburgs, or NATO) to extend their hold on the Balkans. Along the way he examines events that have little meaning for outsiders, but that have signal importance for the region: the Battle of Kosovo and the strategically more significant Battle of Marica, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria in 1914, the collapse of Yugoslavia. Gerolymatos offers a useful essay for anyone who would seek to understand contemporary events in southeastern Europe, events with deep and bitter roots. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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The ethnic hatreds, war, and near genocide that have destroyed the former Yugoslavia over the past decade have their roots in events, perceptions, and myths that go back at least seven centuries. Gerolymatos, professor of Hellenic studies at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, has written a stimulating, engrossing, but ultimately discouraging history of the Balkan peoples since the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. In that battle, the flower of Serbian aristocracy fell to the onslaught of the Ottoman Turks; the resultant myths and hatreds that grew out of that defeat have inspired nationalist fervor and stoked ethnic hostilities up to the present time. Gerolymatos is a fine writer who interweaves fascinating vignettes about quirky personalities into the broader narrative, and his readers learn a great deal about the basis of the ethnic hatreds that still dominate the region. Yet, as Gerolymatos implies, knowledge of the causes is not enough to foster understanding, since the people of the Balkans seem willing to remain imprisoned by their past. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (March 20, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465027326
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465027323
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,111,752 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a fascinating and well-researched historical account of the Balkan region and how its legends and myths have fueled the historic and ongoing barbarity. Because of this focus, the author has chosen to organize the book thematically rather than chronologically, and I think the results are compelling. By examining each of the different cultural, religious, and political aspects and organizing the historical events and personages as evidence/illustration of what he's talking about, the author gives the reader a chance to more fully understand the complexity of the hatreds that have plagued these peoples for hundreds of years.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on September 15, 2003
Format: Paperback
The Balkan Wars: Conquest, Revolution, And Retributions From The Ottoman Era To The Twentieth Century And Beyond by Andre Gerolymatos (Chair of Hellenic Studies, Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada) is an intensely detailed chronology of bloodshed and territorial strife in the Balkans, ranging from the excesses and outrages of Ottoman era to the genocides of the twentieth century including the recent brutalities of "ethnic cleansing". Focusing primarily on the clashes between different ethnic groups over land (sea battles, according to the author, deserve separate and more detailed treatment), The Balkan Wars strives not only to present a straightforward account of a history free from exaggeration or myth making, and also answers core questions about the roots of the wars and ethnic violence that have habitually plagued the people of this land. The Balkan Wars is very highly recommended reading and an impressive contribution to European History Studies.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By J. Lindner on November 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
Certain populations seem destined for greatness. Others seemed forever cursed by their very existence. Unfortunately for residents of Southeast Europe, the latter is much more the case than the former. In his important work The Balkan Wars, Andre Gerolymatos illustrates how war and brutality have made life for Balkan residents as bleak as their geographical landscape.
Gerolymatos randomly moves between the recent past and distant history to show how little has changed in the psyche of Balkan soldiers. Brutal murder and rape are not new concepts to the region. Ethnic cleansing is not a new concept, and has been around since Christian and Muslim first fought over disputed territory. Political upheaval through assassination, and suppression of nationalism through dehumanizing acts of violence, span the centuries in this war-torn region. The Great Powers are in part responsible as their only interests in this part of Europe seem to be when geopolitics suits their needs.
Gerolymatos covers his subject well, though he may give too much credit to Austria-Hungary as a true world power, and he rarely fails to mention the role sex played in the material he covers. He offers solid evidence of the role the Eastern Orthodox Church played in its unique position of dominance within a Muslim imperial capitol city. Maps would have made the book more easily understood, but careful reading reveals the deep knowledge the author has of the subject.
This book is ready to take a prominent role in works on this subject, and offers some of the better details of the 1912-3 Balkan Wars that set the stage for World War One.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I learned more about the history of the Balkans in this book than I had learned in all the years of reading and TV watching before now. However, I really had to work at it.
I found myself reading and re-reading the same sentences over and over trying to figure out what the author was trying to say. Sometimes the problem was his skipping a few hundred years in narrating events, without telling you that was what he was doing. It was not infrequent to find a series of events told in a non-serial manner.
Another problem can be demonstrated with this sentence from page 86: "At dawn, two more shots shattered the evening air as the last hostages, Frederick Vyner and Count Alberto de Boyl, were each executed with a bullet to the back of the head." If you found yourself rereading that sentence wondering why you were not able to grasp its meaning immediately, you have company. There are a great many sentences and paragraphs with this kind of internal consistencey problem in this book.
The early chapters seem to have been written with some care to communicate the human aspect of the Balkan situation. However, by mid-book, the author seems to have tired of his subject, and tends to list events in catalog form. The absence of context in these situations (often even to the extent of leaving the historical timing uncertain), leaves much to be desired.
Yes, I am glad I read it. I did learn important background material from it. However, it was not the pleasure reading history usually is for me.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By chainlink on January 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I'm ambivalent about this book: on one hand I found it very useful; on the other, I suspect that objectively speaking it is not very good.

In reading history I often find I'm frustrated at being unable, even after digesting whatever facts are on offer, to enter very deeply into the worldviews of those I'm reading about. Thucydides has been criticized for interspersing his narrative with unhistorical speeches, but I find these enormously helpful as conveying something of the self-interpretations of the actors.

What Gerolymatos gives us here is something like Thucydides' speeches: he wants to show what the Balkan peoples themselves have made of their wars, that is, how they remember them, and how this memory shapes the ongoing conflicts. So there are certain archetypes, like the Noble Assassin, that have been inherited from the Middle Ages, and continue to be applied; there are certain unchanging sociological facts that have shaped Balkan wars for centuries, like the habit of fluid and frequent transitions back and forth between simple brigandage and guerrilla warfare and the celebration of both in popular lore.

Memory of past wars affects present ones also as wrongs to be righted and atrocities to be avenged. Gerolymatos points out, without really explaining why, that Balkan wars are not just Clausewitzian political struggles "by other means", but existential trials involving pointless-seeming cruelties and humiliations, which are then cultivated in long memories. These memories play such an important role because the Balkan peoples come so new to nationalism and national identities: for 2000 years, more or less, they had belonged to empires which came to identify subject peoples according to religion, not nationality.
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