The Serbs: History, Myth, and the Destruction of Yugoslavia
Yale University Press, 2000 - 382 pages
Who are the Serbs? Branded by some as Europe's new Nazis, they are seen by others—and by themselves—as the innocent victims of nationalist aggression and of an implacably hostile world media. In this challenging new book, Timothy Judah, who covered the war years in former Yugoslavia for the London Times and the Economist, argues that neither is true. Exploring the Serbian nation from the great epics of its past to the battlefields of Bosnia and the backstreets of Kosovo, he sets the fate of the Serbs within the story of their past.
This wide-ranging, scholarly, and highly readable account opens with the windswept fortresses of medieval kings and a battle lost more than six centuries ago that still profoundly influences the Serbs. Judah describes the idea of "Serbdom" that sustained them during centuries of Ottoman rule, the days of glory during the First World War, and the genocide against them during the Second. He examines the tenuous ethnic balance fashioned by Tito and its unraveling after his death. And he reveals how Slobodan Milosevic, later to become president, used a version of history to drive his people to nationalist euphoria. Judah details the way Milosevic prepared for war and provides gripping eyewitness accounts of wartime horrors: the burning villages and "ethnic cleansing," the ignominy of the siege of Sarajevo, and the columns of bedraggled Serb refugees, cynically manipulated and then abandoned once the dream of a Greater Serbia was lost.
This first in-depth account of life behind Serbian lines is not an apologia but a scrupulous explanation of how the people of a modernizing European state could become among the most reviled of the century. Rejecting the stereotypical image of a bloodthirsty nation, Judah makes the Serbs comprehensible by placing them within the context of their history and their hopes.
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It annoys me to hear rhetoric about "Greater Serbia." As a descendant of ethnic Serbs in Croatia, I give Milosevic credit for attempting to defend the Serbs marooned throughout the seceding Republics. The western media never covered the depth of persecution they were experiencing. Old-fashioned, homicidal racism was being inflicted on us for several generations before the split up, including the most sadistic exterminations of WWII. The world never heard about that. Tito made it illegal to even talk about what happened, and ordered concrete poured over mass grave sites. The term 'Greater Serbia' looks to us like a smear job to hide the sins of very aggressive, fascist neighbors intent on diminishing the size of the largest Yugoslav population, which they felt vastly superior to. Many, many events were portrayed to the West as aggressive on the Serbs' part when the stories about attacks on them prior to their response had not been reported on at all. Milosevic is painted as an aggressive dictator over his quote at Kosovo, "No one shall beat you." People had just wandered into the meeting who'd just gotten beaten up trying to get there. That was the context of his statement. Then you watch the video of his speech and he's telling everybody to just try to get along. Huh? Aggressive?
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