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The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia Hardcover – March 27, 1997


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The recent war in Bosnia re-ignited ancient hatreds and led to acts of brutality that echoed World War II atrocities: large-scale massacres and "ethnic cleansing". Bosnian Serbs, aided by Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, systematically murdered, raped, and terrorized Bosnian Muslims as they strove to create a Greater Serbia. Now, journalist Tim Judah provides some perspective on the horrors of the Bosnian conflict with The Serbs. Make no mistake, Judah is not an apologist for Serbian excesses; rather, he aims to explicate the Balkans' long and violent history leading to this latest tragic conflict.

The Serbs begins with the establishment of a Serbian state in the Middle Ages, then follows Serb fortunes through ensuing centuries of conquest, conflict, and oppression. Ethnic cleansing in the Balkans is hardly unique to the Bosnian war; it has been a horrific element of all Balkan conflicts, and Judah convincingly argues that Serbian nationalism is an outgrowth of the Serbs' own sufferings as victims of ethnic cleansing in past conflicts. Anyone interested in current affairs--particularly in the Balkans--will find Tim Judah's The Serbs an engrossing and important exploration of the Bosnian conflict.

From Library Journal

Judah, a correspondent for the LondonTimes and the Economist, satisfies a critical need in the burgeoning literature of the former Yugoslavia by focusing on a single nation. Yugoslavia's destruction emerges less as an event of malicious volition than as the consequence of the "lie" of South Slav unity after World War I. This perspective combines a broad interpretation of nationalism in Serbia proper with the involvement of outside actors and the Serb diaspora. Judah is at his best in depicting the Serbs' powerful myths about their history, their post-World War II repression, and their exploitation by Slobodan Milo sevi'c. For all its detail, this is not a history of Serbia but a work of interpretation whose judgment on recent events is controversial. Neither minimizing the region's historical violence nor exculpating those responsible, the author shuns the simplistic platitudes of religous atavism for a more complex "cycle of vengeance" throughout the area. The book's scope and quality recommend it a place alongside such durable works as Ivo Banac's The National Question in Yugoslavia (1984). For all academic and larger public libraries.?Zachary T. Irwin, Pennsylvania State Univ., Erie
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (March 27, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300071132
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300071139
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,382,587 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Such issues are not merely political.
John Randolph
The book did not appear in time to cover the Kosovo war, but Judah would approach this topic with another book entitled, oddly enough, Kosovo.
N. P. Stathoulopoulos
I really shouldn't bash the book too much, though.
Jeffrey Leach

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

82 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Leach HALL OF FAME on January 2, 2001
Format: Paperback
Tim Judah is a journalist who has lived in Yugoslavia and has had plenty of time to observe that country's disintegration and the subsequent wars in Croatia and Bosnia. This book is his attempt to explain why these wars took place and what the results were to both Serbia and the rest of the former Yugoslavia.
I was a bit intimidated at first by this book. I've taken a class on Balkan history (which wasn't very good) but didn't think I was well prepared to dive into dense explanations of Serbian history. I'm much more familiar with Albanian history, which does overlap with Serb history somewhat, but not enough to make me an expert on Yugoslavia. I had no need to worry, as Mr. Judah made this book easy to follow. He keeps the information flowing and only focuses on major figures, which helps keep events in perspective. I would expect that even someone with zero knowledge of the region would be able to keep pace with this book.
Judah's main argument is that the wars in fractured Yugoslavia aren't due exclusively to nationalism, but mostly to greedy, powerful politicians that are exploiting the Serbian people to make themselves wealthy. Judah does acknowledge that the Serbian people have a long history of nationalistic tendencies, and he explains this tendency in some detail in the first part of the book. This nationalism was carried down through time by the Serbian Orthodox Church,which acted as both a preserver of culture and a bulwark during the long occupation of Serbia by the Ottoman Turks. Judah also shows how Serbian epic poetry that retold the tales of Serb martyrs Milos Obilic and Prince Lazar reinforced the idea of the Serbian people as victims who would one day receive their just rewards.
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94 of 118 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 16, 2001
Format: Paperback
Judah's little polemic would lead us to believe that Serbs are genocidal mythomaniac Orthodox zealots. This has required a lot of historical revisionism and tailoring bits and pieces to fit a pre-set biased agenda: the Serbs are to be blamed for the Balkan wars of the 1990s and much of the past history and their martyrdom complex stemming from historical delusions and myths allowed them to be manipulated to genocide by a tawdry dictator, the ubiquitous Milosevic. Unfortunately, this sort of reasoning does not suit a historian but a simpleton.
The national consciousness is an average of the individual feelings of each member of the nation. What is obvious at once is that when most Serbs think of Serbian victimhood or martyrdom, practically no-one thinks of Prince Lazar and the battle of Kosovo, not even the Kosovo Serbs. This event is not even embraced as merely a symbol of greater Serbian victimhood. A Serbian sense of victimhood inherent in most but not all Serbs is not a function of epics and myths, as Judah and many in the West have been claiming: rather, it is a function of the personal experiences of that particular Serb.
What do I mean by this? When my grandfather thinks of Serbian victimhood, he recalls how in WWI, when he was 5 years old, Bulgarian troops entered his village and tried to execute the entire village. He was barely saved by 2 Serbian generals in the Austrian army, but then the Bulgarians came back later, raped and killed his aunt, burned down the entire village, and massacred all those Serbian civilians who had not fled, dumping their bodies in the Morava. Or he might think of how, during WWII, he personally witnessed Hungarians tossing Serbs and Jews into the freezing Tisza and Danube to drown them.
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48 of 61 people found the following review helpful By N. P. Stathoulopoulos on November 4, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book has taken a beating from some reviewers, and for good reason. Appearing at a time when the mere word "Serbs" was synonomous with "Nazi" in the media, the book poses itself as a fair look at this nationality.
Once again we have a slanted book depicting Serbs in a less than favorable light. Once again, the Serbs are strictly the bad guys of the Balkan Wars through and through, and the actions of their neighbors are not afforded a similar taint.
And, of course, we go through nationalism, treated like a poisonous word. An inevitable outcome of the fall of Communist Yugoslavia, nationalism was the most readily available tool politicians could use to move and shake the country. Of course it didn't move and shake in the right direction all the time, but nationalism is not the poison, per se. Go and find me a more nationalistic country than the USA for starters.
The book did not appear in time to cover the Kosovo war, but Judah would approach this topic with another book entitled, oddly enough, Kosovo. It's a better bit of work than this book, which is packed full of information as Judah struggles to run through an entire people from beginning to end, stringing selective facts to hammer home a point Judah had long before he penned this, which is to confirm that the Serbs are misguided, and are, in fact, the bad guys. Naturally, ancient history and myths are given mighty weight as reasons behind the quest for a
Greater Serbia. Trying to hold on to provinces like Kosovo are not part of some Greater Serbia pipe dream. Imagine a Mexican-dominated southern state trying to secede in the future.
And as one reviewer has pointed out, one of the most offensive bits is the real working over that Judah gives Orthodox Christianity.
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