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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest


Outcast Europe : The Balkans, 1789-1989 ; From the Ottomans to Milosevic
Tom Gallagher

London and New York, Routledge, 2001
314 pp. HB 55.00. ISBN 0-415-27089-8.

The Balkans have suffered a bad historical press for centuries, with pejorative terms like 'Balkanisation' serving as relatively recent manifestations of long-standing Western contempt for south- eastern Europe. To greet the new millennium by re-examining the prejudices of the past, two books covering the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been published to correct alleged misperceptions of this much-maligned region : Mark Mazower's 'The Balkans' in 2000 and Tom Gallagher's 'Outcast Europe' in 2001. Mazower's shorter study lays pronounced emphasis on the West's always condescending and often misguided outlook on the 'uncivilised' Balkans, a perspective effectively scuppering all realistic prospects for mutual understanding. Gallagher's more substantial work readily accepts Mazower's contention but goes much further : the historical record of outside intrusion into the Balkans, whether from West or East, has vacillated wildly between the negligent and the catastrophic, ultimately not so much exacerbating indigenous 'ancient ethnic hatreds' as inflicting 'traumas of modernisation' which may not have occurred, at least on the same epidemic scale, without such unwarranted and calamitous interference.

'Outcast Europe' is very much a product of its time, in the sense that the occasion of its writing has profoundly influenced both its fundamental argument and the unapologetic passion - no less - of its overall tone. Gallagher explains in his preface how the book was conceived in 1992, when external involvement in the Balkans seemed restrained to the point or irresponsibly minimal, but written during the Kosovo Crisis of 1999, when the switch to military incursion by NATO proved even more controversial. As a consequence, foreign powers across the years are assured of a critical roasting from Gallagher either for unpardonable neglect or inexcusable bungling. Such is the fervour of his condemnation that the reader is sometimes tempted to sympathise with the Great Powers : where intercession in the Balkans is concerned, they are damned if they do and damned if they don't. But only sometimes : it would be perverse to deny the comprehensive catalogue of historical instances (from Ottomans through to Soviets) detailed by Gallagher to justify his accusation about the long-term damage visited on the Balkans by patronising or predatory extraneous intervention.

Whether 'Outcast Europe' is the ideal title for this authoritative, stimulating and (above all) combative account is debatable. It could be argued that the Balkans were never really considered part of Europe over the two centuries in question, so they cannot logically have been 'cast out'. Never recognised as sufficiently 'civilised' to qualify for inclusion in the West, the Balkans might better be collectively regarded as 'Outsider Europe'. One could even go so far as to suggest that the (undeservedly) low esteem in which the Balkans have been held, so convincingly demonstrated and consistently deplored by both Gallagher and Mazower, might best be summed up in the emotive phrase 'Pariah Europe'.

The coverage cut-off point of 1989 identified in the subtitle leaves the reader eager for a chronological update. Tantalised subscribers to the 'Ethnic Conflict Research Digest' will be impatient to read Gallagher's promised sequel analysis of developments in the Balkans and savour his characteristically salty judgement on Western sins of commission and omission over the last turbulent decade of the twentieth century.

Raymond Pearson, University of Ulster

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