Sunday, July 22, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [28]

Epilogue 1996 [concluded]

Glenny devotes six of the final ten pages of his book to "Operation Storm", the military operation in which Croatian forces retook the Krajina region and through a mixture of direct action and failure to provide security managed to expel virtually the entire Serbian population of the region. I have no real quarrel with his account, although he does seem to be using it to support his implicit case that Tudjman and the Croats bear an equal share of the blame for the Yugoslav wars.

This leaves four pages for the "end game" in which the United States and NATO used bombing to force the Bosnian Serbs to the negotiating table. Being that Glenny had always argued that using force against the Serbs would backfire, he employs some verbal gymnastics arguing that what actually happened was more complicated and a matter of timing than simple causation. There's some merit in that view, but he pushes it a little too hard and a little too inflexibly. In Glenny's world, he's the only person who always understood the root of the matter. He is right about much of what he says here--it's true that the US was not interested in actually defeating the Bosnian Serbs, and that the Contact Group plan they were pushing for amounted to institutionalizing ethnic partition. But it seems strange, and a little disingenuous, for him to harp on this now when throughout the book he was adamant that intervention was pointless and that the war had its own logic which must be allowed to play out. Glenny grants none of the wars actors--particularly the Serbs--any agency whatsoever. Everything they did was in Newtonian reaction to historic and international forces. 

And so this updated edition ends--with Glenny somberly lecturing the Western world and the international community that although it is too late for the Yugoslavs, we must learn the lessons of this war. What those lessons are--I don't know if Glenny really expects us to draw any. He certainly doesn't waste any ink spelling them out.

I have no final thoughts on this book--I've said my piece throughout this 28 part review, and others have already eloquently pointed out Glenny's failings. He is an excellent reporter, with a great eye for detail and human interest. And I think he is an essentially humane man who genuinely loathed the suffering he saw. But his analytic abilities were overtaxed, and his grasp of history and politics was simply inadequate. He knew the details and the facts, but could not recognize his own biases interpretive framework, and in the end that conceptual limitation undermines the usefulness of this book. 

Sorry to end with a whimper rather than a bang, but it's past time to move on.


Steve said...

Not sure how interested you'll be in this, but on the off chance, there's a good article up on the London School of Economics website this morning about the EU's policy failures in Bosnia:

Anonymous said...

Thanks very much for following the task through to the end. I don't have the feeling that I understand any better than I did in 1991 why the voice of doom warning opaquely about terrible things ahead if the concerns of the Serbs weren't taken into account was so reluctant to hold them accountable for the desperate measures he seems to suggest they were almost forced to take. To give him credit he was insistent in warning us of those bad times when few other people were. But he almost seems to suggest that nationalist Serbs had responsibility for the bad things that happened forced on them against their will. The book doesn't seem to clarify how he arrived at that position.

Kirk Johnson said...

@Steve--a belated thank you for sharing that.

@Owen--I agree, the book really doesn't resolve anything. It just sort of peters out.

I think the real problem is that Glenny is a reporter--and, in many ways, a good one--who thinks he's a historian and an analyst.