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Bosnia books

Christopher Bennett reviews literature on Bosnia published in the past decade.

Christopher Bennett is editor of NATO Review and author of Yugoslavia’s Bloody Collapse (New York University Press).

Ten years ago, there was hardly a book in print about Bosnia in any Western language. The exception was the works of Ivo Andric, Bosnias and the former Yugoslavias greatest literary son, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961. Since the outbreak of war, sales of Andrics classics, The Bridge over the Drina, a chronicle of 300 years of turbulent history in the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad, and Bosnian Chronicle, a tale of diplomatic intrigue in Bosnia during the Napoleonic Wars, have soared. Moreover, several hundred books have appeared, making the Bosnian conflict one of the most written about. Inevitably, with so much writing, many new publications have been of poor quality. That said, all the titles in this non-exhaustive review do contribute to a better understanding of the conflict, if only, in some instances, to explain the attitudes of key players to it.

Three of the best

The absence of a good history of Bosnia in the early years of the war persuaded many observers that the conflict was the result of ancient hatreds. While superficially compelling, these arguments could not stand up to academic scrutiny. The publication of two good histories of Bosnia in 1994 effectively discredited the ancient-hatreds thesis. Robert Donia and John Fine, two US academics, published Bosnia-Hercegovina: a tradition betrayed (C. Hurst & Co, 1994). Noel Malcolm, a British writer, published Bosnia: a short history (Macmillan, 1994), which remains the most comprehensive and easy-to-read account of Bosnia until the Dayton Agreement.

Reporting of the plight of refugees and images of detention camps in 1992 moved the public throughout the world to take notice of the Bosnian conflict and helped change international attitudes to it. Many of the journalists who broke these stories went on to publish books. This includes Roy Gutman of Newsday, whose Witness to Genocide (Element, 1993) is a compilation of the despatches which won him a Pulitzer Prize, and Ed Vulliamy of The Guardian, one of the first journalists to enter Serb-run detention camps in August 1992. Although Vulliamys Seasons in Hell: understanding Bosnias war (Simon and Schuster, 1994) fails to live up to its subtitle, it is an extremely powerful read. Still more powerful is Rezak Hukanovics Tenth Circle of Hell: a memoir of life in the death camps of Bosnia (Little Brown & Co, 1997), the harrowing testimony of a survivor of the Omarska camp.

Three other works by Bosnian writers have had an impact abroad. Of these, the most influential by far has been Zlatas Diary (Viking, 1994). This book, which recounts the daily trials and tribulations of Zlata Filipovic, a Sarajevan teenager, during the first two years of her citys siege, became an international best seller almost overnight. Otherwise, two books by leading Bosnian journalists from the Sarajevo daily newspaper Oslobodjenje, Zlatko Dizdarevics Sarajevo a War Journal (Henry Holt & Co, 1994) and Kemal Kurspahics As Long As Sarajevo Exists (Pamphleteers Press, 1997), have both made a mark abroad. Oslobodjenjes struggle to keep publishing, despite the war, is covered in Sarajevo Daily: a city and its news-paper under siege (HarperCollins, 1995) by Tom Gjelton, a correspondent of National Public Radio.

Barbara Demick of The Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote a powerful account of life on the street on which she lived during 1994 and 1995 called Logavina Street: life and death in a Sarajevo neighbourhood (Andrews and McMeel, 1996). Janine de Giovani of The Sunday Times, gave an account of the experience of the people about her during the first two years of Sarajevos siege in The Quick and the Dead: under siege in Sarajevo (Phoenix, 1994). Meanwhile, Joe Sacco, a US cartoonist who travelled to the besieged Bosnian Muslim (Bosniac) enclave of Gorazde, drew an exceptional comic book about life there in Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-1995 (Fantagraphics Books, 2000).

Michael Nicholson of Independent Television News tells how he rescued an eight-year-old Sarajevan orphan and brought her to England in Natashas Story (Macmillan, 1994), the basis of the only Hollywood film about the Bosnian conflict to date, Welcome to Sarajevo. Peter Maasss Love Thy Neighbour: a story of war (Macmillan, 1996) is a more general account of a journalists experiences early in the war and the dilemmas that reporters faced. Meanwhile, the best, overall journalists book is probably Hearts Grown Brutal: sagas of Sarajevo (Random House, 1998) by Roger Cohen of The New York Times.

While many journalists sought to explore the psychology of the conflict and ethnic identity in Bosnia, better studies have been produced by academics. Tone Bringas Being Muslim the Bosnian Way: identity and community in a Central Bosnian village (Princeton University Press, 1995) is an examination of Bosniac identity by a Finnish anthropologist, who lived in a Bosnian village during the 1980s to carry out her research. The Bridge Betrayed: religion and genocide in Bosnia (University of California Press, 1996) by Michael Sells, a US professor of religious studies of Serb origin, analyses the role and abuse of religion in the conflict. Genocide in Bosnia: the policy of ethnic cleansing (Texas A&M University Press, 1995) by Norman Cigar, a US Middle-Eastern specialist of Croatian origin, examines the ideological preparation for ethnic cleansing.

The difficulties faced by the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) are examined in With No Peace to Keep: UN peacekeeping and the war in the former Yugoslavia (Media East West, 1996), a collection of essays edited by Ben Cohen and George Stamkoski. And David Rieff examines the shortcomings of the United Nations mission in Bosnia in Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the failure of the West (Simon and Schuster, 1995).

Several UN commanders have written accounts of their time in Bosnia, some to justify the policies they adopted, others to vent their frustration at not being able to do more. General Lewis MacKenzie, the Canadian who was first to command UNPROFOR in Sarajevo, tells his story in Peacekeeper: the road to Sarajevo (Douglas and McIntyre, 1993). General Philippe Morillon, a French UNPROFOR commander whose actions helped create the United Nations safe-haven policy, published his memoirs soon after leaving Bosnia in Croire et oser: chronique de Sarajevo (Grasset 1993). General Sir Michael Rose, the first British commander of UNPROFOR, gave his account of events in Fighting For Peace: Bosnia 1994 (Harvill, 1998).

General Francis Briquemont, a Belgian UNPROFOR commander, lets off steam in Do Something General! chronique de Bosnie-Herzegovine, 12 juillet 1993 24 janvier 1994 (Labot, 1998). Colonel Bob Stewart, the British commander in central Bosnia between October 1992 and May 1993 during the most intensive Bosniac-Croat fighting, provides his insight into events in Broken Lives: a personal view of the Bosnian conflict (HarperCollins, 1994). French General Jean Cot, who commanded UNPROFOR between July 1993 and March 1994 before resigning in frustration, has helped write two books on Bosnia, Demain la Bosnie (LHarmattan, 1999) and Dernire guerre balkanique? ex-Yougoslavie: tmoignages, analyses, perspectives (LHarmattan, 1996), a collection of essays he edited with Ccile Monnot.

European Union negotiator, Lord David Owen, gives his account of the peace talks in Balkan Odyssey (Indigo, 1996), lamenting the international communitys failure to support the so-called Vance-Owen plan of 1993. In Triumph of the Lack of Will: international diplomacy and the Yugoslav war (C. Hurst & Co, 1997), James Gow, a British academic, agrees that a critical opportunity was missed in 1993 and offers a balanced account of the international mediation process.

The killing of as many as 8,000 Bosniac males in Srebrenica in July 1995 helped generate a more robust international intervention. This event, the greatest single atrocity of the wars of Yugoslav dissolution, is dissected by Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist, David Rohde, in Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica, Europes Worst Massacre Since World War II (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997) and by Jan Willem Honig and Norbet Both, who focus on the role of the Dutch peacekeepers in Srebrenica: record of a war crime (Penguin, 1996). And, almost in the style of Andric himself, Chuck Sudetic, formerly of The New York Times, drew on the experience of his wifes brother-in-laws family, who were from Srebrenica, to write Blood and Vengeance: one familys story of the war in Bosnia (W.W. Norton & Co, 1998), perhaps the finest book yet written on Bosnia.

After the fall of Srebrenica, the United States took on an increasingly important mediation role, personified by Richard Holbrooke, who gives his account of the events leading to the Dayton Agreement in To End a War (Random House, 1998). A different version of the same events is contained in Getting to Dayton: The Making of Americas Bosnia Policy (Brookings Institution Press, 2000) by Ivo Daalder, currently at the Brookings Institution and formerly the European affairs director at the National Security Council, where he coordinated US policy on Bosnia between 1995 and 1996.

The gap in Bosnia books is the post-Dayton period. Peace Journey: the struggle for peace in Bosnia (Weidenfeld, 1998) by Carl Bildt is an account of the huge difficulties he faced as Bosnias first High Representative, but it ends in July 1997. Rupert Wolfe Murray, a British writer, has published two picture books on the peacekeeping missions, IFOR on IFOR: NATO peacekeepers in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Connect, 1996) and The Road to Peace, NATO and the International community in Bosnia (Connect, 1997). However, the only attempt to synthesise the entire peace process, Faking Democracy After Dayton (Pluto Press, 1999) by British academic David Chandler, is undermined by ideological hostility to international intervention.

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