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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest


Kosovo - The politics of delusion
Edited by Michael Waller, Kyril Drezov and Bulent Gokay

Frank Cass: London and Portland, Oregon

If in the 1930s Czechoslovakia was a far - off land, about which we know littleš (Neville Chamberlain), Kosovo certainly qualified for this dubious label in the 1990s. Kosovo - the politics of delusion attempts to push back some of the frontiers of ignorance about this small but important state and its pivotal role as the endgame of the Balkan wars of the 1990s. This is a book of 20 essays, written by quite a range of authors from a broad span of political perspectives and different academic disciplines. This is both itsstrength and its weakness. For people not familiar with Kosovo (I include myself and I imagine most non-specialized readers) this has the disadvantage of making it difficult to establish a coherent pattern in the commentaries. This is always a problem for an area as complex as the Balkans, exemplified by the industry standard in this area, the recent history of the Balkan wars written by Misha Glenny.

For those least familiar with the conflict, the early historical chapters may be perhaps the most useful: Land of conflicting myths, by Aleksandr Pavkovic and Albanian schooling in Kosovo by Denisa Kostovicova. These do much to explain how a manageable problem of conflicting loyalties turned into a lethal cocktail for civil war and later, international conflict. Of the subsequent chapters, most of the following ones analyse the actual war, the humanitarian crisis and the legalities of international intervention. Although the book does attempt to be balanced, most of the authors tend to be against international intervention and to actively dislike the American and European roles in the conflict, pointing to the follies, negative outcomes, contradictions and the limits of the NATO intervention. From the point of view of those concerned with conflict prevention and resolution, this book will probably disappoint. Few authors seem to suggest how a structured approach to conflict prevention could have prevented the horrors of Kosovo from having arisen in the first place (only one chapter seems to address this possibility at all). The logic of many of the authors is that events should have been allowed to take their natural Balkan course as they always used to - although it is hard to see how this would have led to a better result, with fewer overall causalities.

Which brings me on to a fundamental criticism in analysing the western role in the Kosovo crisis, which is the central preoccupation of the book. If we look to the index, we see the word ?Srebrenicaš referenced only twice in all its 190 pages. Surely Srebrenica explained, conditioned, framed the European response to Kosovo more than any other event in Europešs postwar history? Ignoring Srebrenica here is like trying to write a history ofmodern Israel while making the holocaust a mere historical footnote; or of pretending that Chamberlainšs experience at Munich had nothing to do with his policy on Poland a year later. Srebrenica became a crucible of western attitudes to Balkan issues, the one event that forever reshaped its attitudes for good or bad on Europešs borders, to the extent that a European government (the Dutch) crumbled in 2002 because of a report on its record there several years earlier. But just as Srebrenica is missing, so too are the many European voices that reshaped NATO and western European attitudes - the Dutch, the Germans (notably foreign minister Joshka Fischer) and the French. Instead, the Kosovo intervention is portrayed, sometimes quite polemically, as a largely American project to create a protectorate in Bosnia as part of its post-cold war unipolar world.

Kosovo - the politics of delusion achieves one thing often lacking in our blinkered western European perceptions of events in the Balkans - a range of other voices, experiences and opinions. But in giving space to the critics of American policy (not necessarily a bad thing) it understates the full range of forces that came into play in the tangled events that shaped the region. A missed opportunity to explain.

Brian Harvey

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