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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .


Identity and Security in Former Yugoslavia
Zlatko Isakovic

Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000
326pp. Biblio. Index. Hb.: 45.00; ISBN 0-7546-1503-0.



Zlatko Isakovic has produced a serviceable book focusing on societal security in the successor states to the former Yugoslavia. Drawing on the 1993 work of Ole Waever in "Societal security: the concept" in Ole Waever, Barry Buzan, Morten Kelstrup and Pierre Lemaitre (eds.) Identity, Migration and the New Security Agenda in Europe (London: Pinter Publishers Ltd.), the author defines societal security as the ability of a society [read: ethnic group, nation or nationality] to persist in its essential character under changing conditions and possible or actual threats. The threats to a nation's identity, Isakovic explains, may range from the seizure by others of the society's historic territory and the deportation or killing of its members, to the suppression of expressions of its identity and to interference with its ability to reproduce itself, either by forbidding the use of the society's language, ethnic names and traditional attire or by closing its schools and churches. If the "nation" is not the same as the state - and Isakovic explains that in the former Yugoslavia that was the case for all peoples who are now in successor states - threats may come not only from forbidding ethnic "markers" but also by allowing them, since they can undermine the homogeneity of the state, e.g., the markers of Serbs in Croatia, Albanians in Serbia and Macedonia.

For Isakovic, studying societal security in the successor states requires looking at the way the elements of national identity are weighted and combined among the several ethnic groups and noting whether or not the group is a majority or minority community in the successor state in which it now resides. After an introduction on the theme and methodological approach to societal security, there follow five individual chapters on the successor states, with attention given for each resident ethnic group to widely held myths, shared memories of a common origin and ancestry, traditions of statehood, religious affiliation and commonalities of language and culture. The final chapter sums up what has been presented and offers prognoses for the future.

The bibliography is rich and detailed and its usefulness in reflected in the many generally impressive footnotes. It is, however, disconcerting to see superficial articles in the Encyclopedia Britannica cited and quoted as well, particularly with reference to the early history of the various peoples. Better sources were obviously available to the author, who has a good command of the literature.

The work shows many of the drawbacks of a hastily processed dissertation. The editors did not serve Isakovic well in allowing to pass errors of grammar and syntax as well as intrusive infelicities of language that make the reading harder. For all that, the book is worth reading, offers some fresh insights into the post-Yugoslav successor states and has its uses as a compendium of what should be known and thought about.


Thomas J. Hegarty



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