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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .

Kosovo: How Myths and Truths Started a War
Julie A Mertus

(Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999)
400pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: $55.00/34.00; ISBN 0-520-20962-1. Pb.: $19.95/12.50; ISBN 0-520-21865-5.

This book represents an interesting piece of research on events leading up to the recent Kosovo conflict. Mertus has at least spent some time in the field talking to people about their experiences under the Serbian heel over the past twenty years. So, we get eye-witness accounts form participants in the 1981 student demonstrations; the Martinovic case of 1985; the Paracin Massacre of 1987; and the mass outbreak of poisoning among Albanian schoolchildren in 1990. A couple of somewhat hurried contemporary but useful postscripts have been added for events in 1997 and 1998. Overall, this makes for a somewhat disconnected feel to her findings and their manifest interpretations. The main drawback is that although the interviews are in themselves valuable primary sources, the book lacks an overarching contextual and analytical framework. A more worrying tendency is her reliance on local accounts as some sort of irrefutable "truth". Very few social scientists nowadays treat single eye-witness accounts quite so unproblematically. After all, in contemporary conflicts such as Kosovo or Rwanda, there is hardly ever a single, incontrovertible "truth" to be discovered. The very word "truth" itself is a loaded and contested concept, demanding to be both deconstructed and challenged through multiple meanings. For those awaiting the definitive history of the Kosovo conflict, recent works by Miranda Vickers and Noel Malcolm will have to suffice in the meantime.

Dr. Alan Bullion
The Open University

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