on March 7, 2000
Being closely affected by the entire catastrophy of the last 12 years in Yugoslavia I have read almost everything avaliable on Amazon and in the bookstores pertaining to the subject. This is the Mother Goose of all the books on the last 12 years in the region. One realizes this because all other books quote this one quite often. They are usually recycled or paraphrazed parts of Laura Silber's book. The book is cold and unemotional the way a book about such an event should be. It didnt leave anything out and the sequence of events is perfect. Everything that came after this books publishing was either forshadowed or is just an effect of things in this book. On the other hand if one wants to read books by clowns who were responsible for everything allow me to recommend Slobodan Milosevics' "Years of decisions", Holbrookes "To end a War" (sic. but only when my Q rating is really high), Zimmermanns "Origins of a catastophe"(sic. was blind but now can see). Read this book, understand what and how went on and hold your own against any expert on the subject.
on January 23, 2004
Like most of the reviewers I am a veteran Balkanist, and am impressed by the quality of both research and writing in this , I found it even easier to use than Mischa Glenny's excellent study of War & Nationalism.
My caveat is the obvious one, it takes very much the 'Guardian report from embattled Sarejevo' approach to the Bosnian conflict. The Serbs are caricatured as villains and the Muslims as heroes/victims, and the Croats relegated to an overly minor role, rather than key players. It also takes this line (a bit)with the break-up of Yugoslavia, where extremist Serb statements are extensively quoted as if representative of Yugoslavia's Serb polity, while similar stuff from Croats or Albanians is carefully put in its correct context as not speaking for the majority. The lies and misdeeds of Serb politicans are likewise accurately deconstructed, while those of the other sides tend to be taken uncritically at their own word. My own experience of living in Bosnia during 1990 was of a community for whom no sides extremists actually spoke, but were polarised against their will by war and the fear of war. The trouble is that a a historian it is easy to be caught by self-fulfilling prophecies, extremists can both talk and ignite a war which engulfs whole communities, it should not be taken as proof they were somehow articulating a whole community's desire for war all along!
Overall a useful contibution, especially in terms of chronology of who said what, and provided its bias is taken into account, well worth reading.
on June 3, 1998
I became involved in the Bosnian crisis in a professional capacity as an intelligence analyst and briefing officer at the headquarters, U.S. European command, and served in Sarajevo with the initial NATO Peace Implementation Force (IFOR). I have been studying and following the history of this area and events in Bosnia ever since. I am familiar with many of the events in the crisis and personalities involved, and found this to be an outstanding summary of the process of the disintegration of Yugoslavia. The portion of the book covering the rise of Milosevic and the departure from Yugoslavia of Slovenia is particularly well done. The coverage of the Bosnian war is a bit cursory, and takes the perspective of the conventional wisdom of the international journalistic community. I know from talking to UNPROFOR officers and others who were there that the Muslims were not totally innocent victims and the Serbs universally evil monsters. With that small caveat, I would strongly recommend this book to anyone trying to understand the entire Yugoslav crisis. It is meticulously researched and documented. Anyone trying to understand what is happening in Kosovo right now would be well advised to read this book.
on December 21, 2012
As a graduate student whose entire higher education experience has been centered around this subject, this book has been invaluable. For anyone who desires a comprehensive understanding of how and why events unfolded as they did in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, this is required reading. It is one of a very few books that does not focus on the war from the perspective of Western politicians, armchair generals and academics, first-hand narratives, or thrill-seeking reporters (though a number of books written from those perspectives are exceptional and ought to be read alongside this one, including David Halberstam's "War in a Time of Peace" for its equally painstaking detail in describing the American political perspective ).
Silber does not waste time waxing poetic on the moral failings of the West or the dark side of human nature, but lays out with painstaking detail the chronology of events - political, military, civilian, among others - that led to and sustained one of the darkest hours in recent history. Contrary to some reviews, I find Silber's treatment of Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks absent of bias. Equal attention is not given to each of the three groups' transgressions, and there were transgressions on all sides, because the number and brutality of said transgressions are not equal. The cleansing of Krajina is not covered extensively, but it is covered well, and there is no glossing over the fact that Croatian troops under Gotovina and with the blessing of Tudjman committed terrible acts during Operation Storm. Nor is Bosniak leader Alija Izetbegovic let off the hook for his failings. Silber and Little write with the narrative objective of reporters who know the region and the people for more than war and with the clarity of individuals confident enough in their knowledge and selves that they do not rely on linguistic flourish and rhetoric to prove themselves. I cannot emphasize enough how critical this book is to the subject and to a better understanding of war itself.
on May 1, 2005
As most other reviews stated, this book is easy to read, and it provides a detailed description of the events throughout the Croatian and Bosnian War (1990-1995) This book is supplemented by the highly popular BBC series - "Death of Yugoslavia," which is perhaps the most-known documentary on the war. The documentary follows the book quiet closely, with an inherent strength of BBC reports having interviews to most of the major players - Milosevic, Tudjman, Stambolic, Izanbegovic, and others (most of which are in jail or dead now anyways).
Nonetheless, this book has a strong anti-Serb thesis, which, I suppose, it needs in order to be conclusive. In other words, if there are no good guys and bad guys, the Laura Silber would create an incomplete work. But for someone who wants to get a good insight of the war in Balkans, it cannot be looked through the lenses of "black and white," as this book tries to convey.
It is important for readers to know that the accounts of the war are carefully selected and edited in the anti-Serb fashion. For example, the ethnic cleansing atrocities, when described in detail, are almost always pertaining to the Serbs. But when it comes to the Croats and the Muslims, the book overlooks their actions during the war. In addition, the book provides little evidence of the involvement of the bigger powers - EU and USA.
For example, early chapters go into great depth talking about the pointless shelling of Dubrovnik, talking about Montenegrins peasants getting their "revenge" to fulfill their jealousies against the prominent Croatian population of Ragusa. But when it talks about Operation Storm - the single biggest even of ethnic cleansing during the entire war, undertaken by Croatian Forces will full military, logistical, and financial support from the US, it does not go into any depth at all. It is dismissed as "Krajina Serbs" got what they deserved. The Krajina Serbs did not "occupy" that part of Croatia - they lived there for hundreds of years.
When dealing with international involvement, it goes to great length to disapprove Srebrenica, while Operation Storm is supported by the West. Perhaps US and EU had other motivations in this conflict? What about the arming of Croats and Bosnia throughout before the war in the old SFRJ (which was then illegal)
In addition to a one-sided view, it fails to address other major issues, such as economic disparities. Invoking economics, it justifies Croatia's and Slovenia's promising economic position before the disintegration, nevertheless, it mentions to compare facts. Slovenia and Croatia assumed a high level of industry due to the fact they had cheap natural resources that mostly came from Serbia and Kosovo. In addition, the economic status of Serbia is taken under consideration with Kosovo - even though Kosovo, not Serbia, is the most impoverished region in former Yugoslavia. The fact that Kosovo Albanian's have been boycotting the federal institutions since early 1980s - not paying taxes, utilities, and other duties since the death of Tito had something to do with this idea.
While I do not discourage people from reading this book, I only state that Laura Silber (et al) provides a narrow-minded, opinionated, and sensationally journalistic view of the breakup of former Yugoslavia.
If anyone is interested in truly learning about this conflict, more resources are necessary.
- Cold, dispassionate summary of the causes of the Yugoslav Wars.
- Highly detailed (sometimes too detailed).
- Well-researched and documented.
1. DETAILS VS. ANALYSIS: I wish I could trade off some of the incredible detail (which can be tedious to read after a while) for a bit more big-picture analysis, including some more about lessoned learned.
2. A BIT TOO BIASED AGAINST THE SERBS: The book is not nearly as "one-sided" as some Amazon reviewers claim. The authors fault nearly all the players. Yes, they fault the Serbs the most, but certainly not exclusively. Indeed, they point out how near the end Milosevic was a more eager peacemaker than any of the other participants.
3. OUT OF DATE: Written in 1996, it misses the Kosovo crisis. It could use a chapter with an update. Still, if you want to understand how the breakup happened, this book is fantastic.
4. SLOVENIA-SERBIA COLLUSION ARGUMENT IS WEAK: The book implies that Slovenia and Serbia were in cahoots. The argument isn't convincing.
CONCLUSION: Ex-Yugoslavs are often hysterically passionate about their region, making calm analysis difficult. I know, because I'm writing a book about Eastern Europe. Therefore, this book is valuable and useful despite the 4 flaws I listed.
on September 12, 2007
Probably the best account of what exactly happened in Bosnia, and how the whole thing started (not just Bosnia, but Kosovo and Croatia as well). Authors go into extensive detail, providing the reader with a solid background to the war(s). While I was intimately familiar with the conflicts, or so I thought, this book shed some much needed light on some of the doubts I had, some confusing contradictions I picked up through the media, etc. The book, contrary to what some people are saying here, is not biased at all. That one side is portrayed in an "evil" tone is merely a result of what that "side" did during the conflicts, as documented by thousands of media outlets, historians, cameras and photographs. Of course, no one is an angel, but that should not diminish the fact that - there are demons and then there are DEMONS. Or whatever the daily word for evil, bad, ruthless people is.
The book is thoroughly researched with a lot of important and verifiable information. It focuses on Croatia and Bosnia, mostly in Bosnia. It is the most accurate account that I've encountered yet; written in a clear and harmonious way. Did not get bored for one second, even though most of the information was not new to me. But what was new to me was certainly worth the wait.
on September 11, 2001
This book is an exhaustive account of the events that led to the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, one of the complex, multiethnic republics that had once comprised Yugoslavia. Laura Silber and Allan Little, drawing largely on interviews with the leading characters on all sides in the conflict, have written a book that will be consulted for generations to come, for diplomacy's sake.
It is perhaps one of the longer books written about the Bosnian war (it does treat the wars in Slovenia and Croatia, respectively, as well as prime readers on the recent history of Yugoslavia in the late 1980s that shaped it for war). While it lacks in the intricate history to be found in Noel Malcolm's history of Bosnia, and the compressed highlights and historical transitions that are illustrated most vividly in Tim Judah's journalistic work about the Serbs, Silber and Little's work is most effective, in this reviewer's view, in meticulously chronicling every detail of the war in Bosnia. The front lines, the politicians, the paramilitary groups, the efforts and experiences of the few peacekeepers, the atrocities and experiences of civilians caught between exchanges of gunfire; Silber and Little have not overlooked anything surrounding Bosnia's demise. However, as the bulk of this book is devoted to Bosnia, the brief background and key events leading to Yugoslavia's demise provided in these pages could be inadequate for some first-time readers of this tragedy.
The revised Penguin Books edition of this book (under review) appeared in 1996. Throughout the dense text are recurrent references to Kosovo, the province from which Slobodan Milosevic, now an indicted war criminal made it to power in Serbia, and later in the rump Yugoslavia. Silber and Little, at that early stage, predicted that worse was yet to come in Kosovo (see pp. 383-384), writing that the post-Dayton police-dominated province with its Albanian majority (and Serb minority) would be influenced by what happened to the rest of the former Yugoslavia. In Silber and Little's words: "A peace settlement based on the principle that statehood derives from ethnicity sent powerful signals to Serbia's minorities...that could lead to further conflict in the future" (p. 384). Once again, the age-old phenomenon of having writing on the wall; Kosovo was a disaster waiting to happen, with advance warning.
Essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the faceted character and nature of a long, gruesome war.
on May 20, 2001
If you read only one book on the tragedy that befell Yugoslavia in the 90s this book is the one. Deeply if subtly analytical to satisfy the social scientist, profoundly sensitive to empirical detail to please the historian, this account ranks as the best journalism of its day. It can and should be read by the widest audience: scholar, policy-maker, or generalist. I would go so far to say that not reading this book is an irresponsible act.
on August 19, 2010
This book gives a very clear-cut picture of the disintegration of Yugoslavia. The main protagonist was Slobodan Milosevic and the key ingredient was Serbian nationalism and expansionism. The Serbs wanted and obtained ethnic cleansing in Croatia and then Bosnia Herzegovina. All the pent-up hatred and nationalism that had been suppressed (at times violently) during the Tito years sprang to the surface like the bursting of a simmering volcano.
The religious -ethnic divide of Serbs (Orthodox Christians) and Croats (Catholics) were the first to go.
The violence first started outwardly in Slovenia (which was the most civil break-up) and moved inward, becoming with the violence, increasingly closer to Serbia proper.
Milosevic manipulated and controlled the media - using it to play on Serb history and its' supposed martyrdom by the Turks six hundred long years ago. He played the Serb-Croat and Serb-Muslim antagonisms superbly. Unfortunately it all started to go wrong as the Croats also started to use their own nationalistic animosities to the Serbs. And unfortunately caught in the middle of all this hatred were the Muslims of Bosnia Herzegovina who were the least powerful and the least protected. The Croatians received more aid as the war and the killings mounted.
Finally Milosevic - from increased international pressure - like economic isolation and NATO military escalation - was forced to back away from his Serb `brothers' in both Croatia and Bosnia.
But the cleansing had been done and the hatred remains. Sarajevo was a city that was integrated with mixed neighbourhoods of Serb, Croatian and Muslims, but now Sarajevo is bleak and segregated. All this reinforces the maxim that `might is right'. Villages were destroyed which had existed for hundreds of years. Some were re-populated, others were abandoned and entire areas were re-settled (cleansed).
In Bosnia Herzegovina half the population was killed or expelled.
The U.N. has a long term commitment to Yugoslavia. The European community sat far too long on the sidelines while the killings were being done. You would think that from all the experiences of World War II, they would have been far more proactive in preventing another European war. Why were negotiations with Lord Oliver going on at the same time that the killings were well under way in Croatia? After a war is under way it is too late to simply talk.