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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .

The Serbs and their Leaders in the Twentieth Century
Edited by Peter Radan and Aleksandar Pavkovic

(Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1997)
260pp. Bibl. 39.50; ISBN 1-85521-891-7.

The Serbs have played an important role in modern Europe: from the Balkan Wars, to the two World Wars, to the post-Cold War apocalypse in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This book takes an interesting approach by focusing on eight important Serb leaders in recent history: including Pasic, King Aleksandar I, Mihailovic, and Milosevic. While each chapter provides a good description of the life and times of these historical figures, they are at times sympathetic to a fault and not without some controversy; for example, the chapter on Mihailovic does not mention Chetnik atrocities. More importantly, however, the narrow focus on the leaders themselves detracts from the value of the book as a whole.

The preface makes it clear that this book is not an attempt to provide a comprehensive history of the Serbs in this century because its focus is biographical and not historical. However, there is little attempt to tie the individual biographies to the wider historical trends of the Serb nation. Although the introduction does provide a good summary of modern Serb history, a concluding chapter is definitely needed. Furthermore, the individual histories often get too bogged-down in personal details and sometimes appears to lose sight of the Serb nation itself. Rather than 'The Serbs and their Leaders in the Twentieth Century', the book reads like 'The Leaders of the Serbs in the Twentieth Century'.

The main failing of this book is the absence of the Tito era: the book skips from Mihailovic to Milosevic. While Tito was obviously not a Serb, he "significantly shaped the destiny of the Serbs" in the latter half of this century more than any other individual: he created the borders separating the Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia from Serbia-proper (and thus laying the foundation for Serbia's irredentist war in the 1990s); divided Serbia itself by giving almost full autonomy to Vojvodina and Kosovo; separated Montenegro from Serbia and actively nurtured a Macedonian national identity in so-called 'South Serbia'; and his policies were the central complaint in the infamous 'Memorandum' of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences which allowed Milosevic to exploit Serb grievances against the Yugoslav state. Lenard Cohen's excellent chapter on Milosevic attempts to fill this gap, but the problem remains.

This is not a stand-alone book on the Serbs during this century, but could easily be used to supplement a wider historical approach with important biographical information.

Thomas Ambrosio, University of Virginnia

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