Throughout history, the Balkans have been a crossroads, a zone of endless military, cultural and economic mixing and clashing between Europe and Asia, Christianity and Islam, Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Subject to violent shifts of borders, rulers and belief systems at the hands of the world's great empires--from the Byzantine to the Habsburg and Ottoman--the Balkans are often called Europe's tinderbox and a seething cauldron of ethnic and religious resentments.
Much has been made of the Balkans' deeply rooted enmities. The recent destruction of the former Yugoslavia was widely ascribed to millennial hatreds frozen by the Cold War and unleashed with the fall of communism. In this brilliant account, acclaimed historian Mark Mazower argues that such a view is a dangerously unbalanced fantasy. A landmark reassessment, The Balkans rescues the region's history from the various ideological camps that have held it hostage for their own ends, not least the need to justify nonintervention. The heart of the book deals with events from the emergence of the
nation-state onward. With searing eloquence, Mazower demonstrates that of all the gifts bequeathed to the region by modernity, the most dubious has been the ideological weapon of romantic nationalism that has been used again and again by the power hungry as an acid to dissolve the bonds of centuries of peaceful coexistence. The Balkans is a magnificent depiction of a vitally important region, its history and its prospects.
The Balkan wars of the 1990sDwhich Mazower persuasively calls a civil warDreinforced the meaning of the word "Balkan": the meaning that has little to do with geography or even ideology, yet everything with a violent way of life. The main challenge of this work is to denounce this one-dimensional Western stereotype and to approach the crisis of the Balkan lands "without seeing them refracted through the prism of `the Balkans.'" Mazower, professor of history at Princeton and author of Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century, has written a concise history of Europe's troubled southeastern corner that is both sympathetic to the region's never-ending struggle for identity and freedom from invaders and critical of its inhabitants' recurring failure to reconcile the religious and cultural differences imposed on them by the powers of the West and the East. But it is always the West that has written off the violence in the Balkans as primitive, argues Mazower. He realistically concludes that it is the nature of civil war rather than the Balkan mentality that is responsible for the recent violence. While this is not an innovative argument, it is surely a compelling and a significant one as it prudently clarifies how the Balkans got to this place, and then optimistically recognizes the promise of the region's much-needed economic and cultural renaissance. Mazower's tone is that of an aloof but skilled academic who often abandons chronological order and rushes through decades and centuries of a complex history in order to get to his point. This strategy will make it difficult for the less informedDa natural audience for such an introductionDto follow the argument, but those who are at least moderately familiar with the Balkans' past will value his thought-provoking implications. Containing as much opinion as fact, this is a highly suggestive analysis of an inexhaustible subject. Maps.