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Noel Malcolm: Bosnia: A Short History

Rating: 3.5

Malcolm's "Bosnia: A Short History" has a few virtues and, alas, numerous faults. Yet- those faults lie mainly in that shadowy region of unspoken word: Malcolm is vociferously silent on those facts that would erode the book's central thesis (and which is buried deeply enough for an uninformed reader (some 99% of the general reading public) to diagnose the author's partisanship): this is a book on and about Bosnian Muslims, with Croats and Serbs appearing on the scene only because they are unavoidable (well, one cannot easily write a chronicle of a region ignoring two thirds of its populace) or as betes noires whose stale nationalist mythologies ("hands off Bosnia!") are Malcolm's special concern. So, since this is a book full of blanks and unwritten sentences, I'll just throw in my $ 0.02 re a few historical facts, avoiding the heated topic of recent (years following the 1992.-1995. war) tumultuous events.
Which are the merits of Bosnia: A Short History?
1. Very concise & informative survey on the "Bosnian Church" controversy, based on John Fine’s groundbreaking works on Bosnian “Kristians”. This is Malcolm's finest hour.
2. Scattered throughout the book, one can find a wealth of information on many variables defining the societal condition in Bosnia at the particular moment of time (demographic statistics, travellers' observations and picturesque “Orientalist” tales on the ways of these exotic Balkan peoples, evaluation of essential historiographic references)
3. This work is a tombstone to megaserb expansionist lunacy based on Serbian outright falsifications and distortions of Bosnia’s history (ethnic composition of medieval Bosnia, misappropriation of much of Bosnia and Herzegovina multicentenary literary and artistic cultural heritage) that has, combined with loudspeaker propaganda, in past century or so permeated the academia throughout the world-and, in addition, general uninformed Western perception of Yugoslavia and its central region.
Which are Malcolm's blind spots and failures?
Since his (hidden) focus is the growth of Bosnian Muslim ethnicity to national self-awareness & any form of statehood (the more, the better), he must of necessity exclude or disregard a multitude of facts that would refute his multiculturalist dogma (Trojan Horse of Bosnian Muslim drive for domination, and very hip at that). So:
1. He has (cautiously, I'd say) avoided inclusion of maps that would show the territorial compass of the medieval Bosnia, especially if a succession of maps from the 10th to the 15th centuries had been juxtaposed on the current "sovereign" Bosnia and Herzegovina state boundaries map. An imaginary innocent reader would have been greatly surprised had he been shown that the medieval, pre-1379, Bosnia covered somewhere between 20 and 40% of the contemporary republic and that more than 50% of the contemporary "Bosnia" has historically been part of the Croatian state in one form or another. Current boundaries are a legacy of the Ottoman expansion and nothing sacrosanct per se-a product of balance of powers and something intrinsically contestable. This doesn't mean that we can nonchalantly brush off last 5 centuries; but it equally shows that "hands off Bosnia" slogan is just politicos's claptrap. Which Bosnia? What boundaries?
2. Malcolm has done a heavy cultural/historical misrepresentation in a few cases (again, a vocal silence):
a) the vast majority of extant pre-Ottoman Bosnian written works of art (illuminated manuscripts decorated mainly in Romanesque style -the best examples being the Hval miscellany and Duke Hrvoje missal) are written in Croatian Glagolitic and Western Cyrillic (bosančica) script & are a part of Croatian cultural heritage, as are the oldest monuments of literacy on the Bosnian soil, for instance the Humac tablet and Gršković’s fragments (one can see examples at the address .) So much for pre-Ottoman Bosnian "Slavic" diffused/confused identity that is neither Croat nor Serb.
b) author's survey of cultural development from 1600s to 1800s is "monumentally" myopic. He has enumerated almost exclusively Bosnian Muslim writers (mainly in Oriental languages) and has neglected (not entirely, but nearly) Bosnian Croat Franciscan writers who, writing both in Croatian and Latin, had dwarfed their Muslim contemporaries beyond dispute. Of course- measured by European best writing standards of these times (Milton, Defoe, Johnson, Racine, Prevost, Lessing,..)- these are provincial and dated works. But, they are the best literature that has come from Bosnia during these times. And are ignored only to give boost to author's implicit thesis: it's Bosnian Muslims who center, one way or another, the region portrayed in the myopic narrative.
To conclude: the author's partiality in service of giving credence to Bosnian Muslim political agenda is glaringly evident. But not to the average perplexed reader.



Ivo Goldstein: Croatia: A History
Rating: 2.5

This book is a fine example of prejudiced and politically correct diatribe against Croat "nationalism" (the central stigma for "liberal" kowtowing historical revisionists thinly disguised as professionals in the field). One thing cannot be dissected in full measure, because it lies beyond the scope of the review. And this is that Ivo Goldstein is a PC historian (PhD and all that jazz notwithstanding), a product of socialist revisionism that sought to curb all "nationalisms" by falsifying many facets of national histories. Goldstein is a product of this Marxist reductionism that coalesced with newer political correctness (after the collapse of Communism) in joint diatribes against that “malign nationalists” who prevent the materialization (a la Sai Baba, I guess) of liberal conflict-free paradise on earth. Also, it is completely in line both with Goldstein's previous work on medieval Croatian history (a book and numerous articles), where he expounded his own "shrinking" and minimalist version of Croatian medievalistics (hopelessly wandering in the desert left by his former mentor, a self-appointed iconoclastic historian Nada Klaić (although he has gone far beyond her; in a perverse irony of historiography’s meanders, Goldstein transmuted her quirky iconoclasm into a dogma reminiscent of Stalin’s revisionist scribes’s canon of falsification)).
Goldstein's previous work consists of a book (Hrvatska povijest ranog srednjeg vijeka/Croatian history in the early Middle Ages) and numerous articles. They all show similar traits:
a) reductionism (Goldstein’s misuse of early historical chronicles (Byzantine, Venetian, Frankish) is legendary). His mentor's (Nada Klaić) works had blundered this way, but not so radically. More- his pseudoscholium is based on free distortions of historical sources ("hey- this passage fits. I'll take it. Hmm. And-*this* must be wrong, some kind of mistake since it gives a mental fodder to nasty nationalists. Hence- I'll ignore this manuscript (Byzantine, Arabic, Venetian) altogether") without a clear argumentation- just pompous pronouncements). For instance, much more qualified historians like Stanko Guldescu, Ivo Perić, Miroslav Brandt etc. are in direct collision with his "findings". He hilariously chopped Croatia's territory in 9th/10th century by more than 30-40%, with no argument whatsoever save a few dismissive remarks.
b) he consciously ignored some "unpleasant" facts about early Croat architecture (complexities with Stonehengean astronomic resonances) and minimized the worth of Croatian Renaissance and Baroque literature (which is the best literary output of any Slavic nation in that period, although it lags behind masterworks of Renaissance Italy, France or England.)
c) even as a medievalist Goldstein flunked. As a national history surveyor, his short book is a case of heavy misreading serving, as has been said, the new revisionism which tries to rewrite last 10 (or so) years of ex-Yu history as a sort of mixture of nationalist hysterics heyday and redistribution of "guilt" (not entirely- he knows some things are too transparent). His "treatment" of president Tudjman and his political manoeuvres whereby Croatia acquired her independence virtually against the majority of "international players" is instigated by his vitriolic hatred of all things Croatian that have even an angstromsize connection with the fallen Independent State of Croatia (NDH). Hell- Goldstein always preferred Yu integrations and Tito’s velvet dictatorship- a pet of Western leftist/liberal dogmatists. Under the guise of impartiality the author sells his own agenda: good (but misinformed) internatonales, bad provincial Balkan chauvinists, ineradicable Croat fascist leanings, “progressive” ideology of “Yugoslavism” as a sort of John the Baptist before the EU Christ,.......
Virtually the only merit of Croatia: A History illustrates La Rochefoucauld’s apothegm:”Our virtues are mostly vices in disguise”. Goldstein has, thanks to his version of “historical minimalism”, avoided the fabrications and fictions of national grandomanias which plague the official historiographies of neighboring nations, especially Serbs and Bosnian Muslims. Other than that- for more reliable Croatian histories in English one should consult works of Ivo Perić, Stjepan Antoljak’s "A Survey of Croatian History", Stanko Guldescu, Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts history series, Marcus Tanner, Mikulic’s “Opened seals” and Eterovich’s guide to Croatian genealogy. In Goldstein’s case- professional credentials (recently heavily questioned) are just a smokescreen.



Laura Silber, Alan Little: Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation
Rating: 1.5

I suppose the reason why this book usually gets unbelievably good ratings is its simplicity: essentially, the title should read “Complete idiot’s guide to Western stereotypes on hows and whys of Yugoslavia’s collapse”. Virtually the only virtue of Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation (the title is deceptive- in non-US terminology, Yugoslavia was never a nation; only a country consisting of several nations) is that you’ll get acquainted (very stereotypically) with key players of the 1991-1995 war and be told a banality that the Greater Serbia ideology was the root cause of the rampage and bloodshed (other nuances aside). The authors are journalists (the book is based on a BBC series), and this is, I suppose, the best output media professionals with superficial knowledge of history, culture, national and ideological programs can come up with. So, for complete ignorants interested in ex-Yugoslavia wars, this is probably both the beginning and the end of the story. Others- forget it.




Vladimir Dedijer: The Yugoslav Auschwitz and the Vatican
Rating: 1.5

This book is a kind of disappointment. I am having Dedijer, the author of a few worthy and intriguing history books on my mind- not this trashy propaganda consisting of chunks of unverified and sloppily pasted lists, black-and-white generalizations and dubious analyses based mainly on hearsay. Anyone who considers this baggy monster of pamphleteering anything but a sign of the author's mental and moral decrepitude, should have their head examined. Nay, the weakness lies elsewhere. For all his controversial (and exhibitionist) stance, Dedijer was not a proponent of Serbian "hysteriography" and chauvinist grandomania, culminating in the planned ex-Yu genocides. His masterwork, "War Diary", plus a few other biographical hilariously scandalous & entertaining rants (Tito, Djilas), ensure him the place of a publicist who will survive current disputes full of sound and fury. He'll survive even this slip into megaserbian hallucinatory inflation (Croatia proper had circa 650,000-700,000 Serb inhabitants in 1941- virtually the same percentage of Croatia’s population as in the first post-war census. Had genocide of such monstruous proportions as Dedijer claims really happened, this would certainly have left a vast and all-too-visible hole in the country’s demographics. No such thing, as other researchers have shown: ). Also-had this mythic martyrological numerology been at least partially true, there wouldn't have been Serbs left to start their irredentist/genocidal "spontaneous" rebellion during which they had temporarily carved out and seceded 1/4 of Croatia's territory. Yet, in this pamphlet Dedijer (unlike his brother, respected intelligence expert and professor Stevan Dedijer) allowed himself to be swept into the vortex of malign Serbian mythic consciousness (distorted self-image of a people victimized and humiliated by a legion of purported enemies, ranging from Croats and Vatican to Muslims and Tehran- which in turn led to hostility and aggression on almost all neighboring nations that constituted Communist Yugoslavia) that was intentionally nourished and intensified in the concentrated effort of vast majority of Serbian intelligentsia (if this is the proper word) to create Greater Serbia on the ruins of destroyed Yugoslavia. So, albeit this perverse pamphlet deserves less than one star, I'm giving it one and a half for the sake of author's whole opus.



Morton Benson: Standard English-SerboCroatian, SerboCroatian-English Dictionary
Rating: 2

I wouldn't comment on technical & pedagogical aspects of this book (nouns, declensions, adjectives etc.) As a native speaker of Croatian, I can see this book as (at best) an effort to give reader some basic stuff to linguistically get by in what used to be called "Serbian or Croatian diasystem" (funny phrase) or “Serbo-Croatian” language. But, give or take- this is basically a Serbian dictionary. I don't intend to nitpick, but a few things have to be addressed: Croatian and Serbian are different standard languages. Bosnian (or, more precisely, Bosniak) is in the process of standardization, and will certainly achieve the stable norm in near future. Also, there was not, ever, a "Serbo-Croatian" standard language. The same with "Portol" (Portuguese and Spanish), "Hurdu" (Hindi and Urdu), "Czechoslovakian" (Czech and Slovak) or "Bulgaronian" (Bulgarian and Macedonian). These are similar languages which crystallized out of basically the same dialectal "prime matter"- as is the case with bokmal Norwegian and Danish or Malay and Bahasa Indonesian. But to describe them as "variants of a language" (British and American English analogy is frequently (ab)used) is sheer nonsense. And here is the center of the paradox- entire books have been translated from one language to another. Probably the most bizarre case is Swiss psychologist Jung’s masterwork “Psychology and Alchemy”, translated into Croatian in 1986, and retranslated, in late 1990s, into Serbian not from the original German, but from Croatian. A translation and “translation’s translation” differ on virtually every page: orthographically, lexically, syntactically, semantically. Yet, to intensify the paradox: the two languages remain mutually intelligible to a very high degree for their respective speakers (especially on the colloquial level), which is the product of two different facts: virtually the same dialectal basis for both standard languages and effective bilingualism (still alive) as a result of living almost a century in one state.

Croatian and Serbian differ in:
1. script (Latin and Cyrillic)
2. grammar and syntax (ca. 100 different syntactic rules)
3. morphology (ca. 300 different prescriptions. Also, Croatian is a purist language-unlike Serbian. Moreover, even "internationalisms" like organize are different: organizirati in Croatian, organizovati in Serbian. Bosniak language tends, in this respect, to overlap with Croatian- but not entirely, since it was subject of forced Serbianization in past 50 years and more).
4. vocabulary (ca. 20-30% of everyday vocabulary is different. The thesaurus of an average high school graduate is ca. 40,000 to 50,000 words. Draw the conclusion).
So, this dictionary will, at best, make you an "expert" in "pidgin South-Slavic". If this is enough- buy it. If you want more-avoid it.



Croatia in the Early Middle Ages
Rating: 5

Croatia in the Early Middle Ages is the first volume of the intended 5 volumes series that intends to present to the wider audience (in French and English editions) the, in the alchemist parlance, “quintessentia” of Croatian culture and civilization, spanning thirteen centuries (7th to 20th ). The entire series is a project of Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, and the other four volumes will see the light in the next few years (the second volume which covers the 13th to 16th century period-mature Medieval Age and Humanism and Renaissance- has already been published in Croatian, with English and French translations to appear till the end of 2003.) This voluminous (630+ pages; dimensions 22 cm x 30 cm) book, written by pre-eminent Croatian academicians and scholars, lavishly illustrated, both scholarly impeccable and accessible to the interested general reading public, is divided into 8 major chapters and 30 minor ones. The major chapters are: Croatia in European History and Culture; Croatian Territorry in Classical Antiquity and in the Middle Ages; Origins, Society, State and Religion; Sources-Inscriptions; Language and Literature; Fine Arts; Music; Science and Philosophy. Since it is beyond the scope of the review to enumerate all minor chapters, it will have to suffice to name just a few in order to get “the flavor” of the Croatia in the Early Middle Ages survey: Croatia-historical and cultural identity; Greek and Roman Antiquity; The archaelogical heritage of early Croats; The Church and Christianity; The Croatian glagolitic and cyrillic epigraphs until 1200; Language and literature; Glagolitism and glagolism; The pre-Romanesque in Croatia; Sculpture from the 8th to the 12th century; Illuminated manuscripts; The first centuries of Croatian music; Glagolitic chant; Science and philosophy among Croats.

The best way to conclude this review is to quote the foreword, written by the foremost authority on the medieval European civilisation Jacques Le Goff:

“It was an excellent idea, born in the early 1990s following the creation of the independent state of Croatia, that the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts (founded in Zagreb in 1861) should undertake the publication of a history of relations between Croatia and the rest of Europe written from a cultural, scholarly and artistic point of view. Here we have the English translation of the first volume of the five which are to be devoted to that history, and it covers the period extending from the genesis of Croatia in the 7th century to its mediaeval apogee at the close of the 12th century.
In these pages the authors, all Croats, demonstrate in an erudite, intelligent and brilliant way, that Croatia is both a culturally distinct and yet profoundly Western European component of the rich ensemble which constitutes Europe, and that, from the Early Middle Ages, she has contributed to it in an outstanding manner within the specific domain most important to her, that of civilisation. Croatia manifests most clearly her Western European character through the remarkable combination of a personality which, right up to the present day, and through all her torments and tribulations, has expressed her awareness of her cultural identity, coupled with the appropriation of a wide range of elements derived from the many different cultures with which she has been in contact. As with Europe itself, Croatia is the product of successive cultural contributions which have enriched her without changing her fundamentally.
This diversity is in the first place dictated by geography, located as she is in the immediate zone of contact between the East and the West, between Northern Europe and the lands of the Mediterranean.
She has thus been the fruit of history. Croatia brought together the heritage of the Roman Empire, around Salona, the capital of Roman Dalmatia. Of Slavonic origin, she has absorbed into the ongoing Slavonic heritage contributions from her Carolingian, Byzantine, Venetian and South Italian, Pannonian and, above all, Hungarian neighbours. Croatia converted to the Latin tradition of Christianity - the first of the Slav peoples so to do- which placed her in the zone of dynamic interaction (as it still is to play) between it and Greek Orthodox Christianity, but this also integrated her, in a way which is now becoming better understood, with Latin Christianity, the cradle of modern Western Europe. As “the easternmost region of Europe in which the Latin language and alphabet were employed for diplomatic purposes”, she knew how to unite written Latin with Cyrillic characters and, above all for liturgical purposes, with the Glagolitic, which Pope Innocent IV finally approved in the middle of the 13th century. Furthermore, Pope Paul VI was able to say that she belongs to the “territories of encounters and dialogue”.
You will see in this superb book-— which will bring blushes to many of its English-speaking readers, not least myself, on account of their ignorance - the flowering of one of the finest artistic traditions of the Early Middle Ages. They will meet there two of the most outstanding intellectual figures of the Middle Ages: the theologian Gottschalk from Saxony who was the guest of Prince Trpimir from 846 until 848, and the great scholar Herman Dalmatin, a brilliant product of the School of Chartres (1130—1134) and one of the first to introduce Arab culture into Western Europe together with Greek literature transmitted by the Arabs.
I do not doubt that readers of this work will find here more than sufficient reasons to accord to the Croatian people of today, notwithstanding the vicissitudes of our tragic century, admiration, friendship and a certain zeal, into the new millenium, to help to encourage wider recognition of her position within the Western European family.”


Michael Sells: The Bridge betrayed
Rating: 1.5

Michael Sells’s overpraised pamphlet (there is a story that former US president W.J.Clinton was so fascinated with this sloppy fiction that he (in his intimate circle) referred to it as one of his favorite contemporary politics/history books. Bearing in mind that Clinton, during his “rake’s progress”, listed Marcus Aurelius as his mind/psyche formative reading experience and Koestler’s hero Rubashov (from “Darkness at Noon”, describing Stalin’s purges) as a fellow victimized individual-one should better abstain from a comment.) had achieved its purpose: it sold well and had had some influence on GRP.
This book possesses at least two peculiarities: the author’s presumed genealogical “credentials” and the cartoon “paradigm” of three villains and one guileless victim. As far as “genealogy” is concerned, Sells’s much publicized partly Serbian descent served as *the* shield from attacks on his biased pseudoscholium (his tenure as Arab-Islamic scholar and translator at Haverford College gave him no expert authority and informed insight into ex-Yu and Bosnia & Herzegovina collapse causes and effects). One might add (cynically) that Sells’s case is a good example illustrating the triumph of “nurture” over “nature”- his life career, studies and sympathies centred on Islamic “oikomena”/Dar-al-Islam, he probably couldn’t had done it otherwise than in a glaringly partisan way.
So, the three principal villains are Serbs, Croats and the “international community”. While they have their own separate agenda, the first duo is, in author’s view, at least partially united in the “Christoslavism”- neologism signifying a quasireligious genocidal ideology no one has heard of until Sells made this archaeideological “discovery”. The reality of multicentenary Islamic theocratic oppression in Bosnia under Ottoman rule (now resurfacing within Bosnian Muslim community in the series of (largely ignored by the Western press) atrocities grounded in Islamic fanaticism- one can see a gruesome example at the address ) - this reality is simply glossed over as a trifling compared to the ogre of the “Christoslavism” phantasm. The banality of the fact that so radically conflicting ideologies like Croatian and Serbian national unification programs cannot be subsumed under one “umbrella”, mutually neutralizing “Christoslavism” mindset- didn’t bother Sells at all. The only pathetic excuse of balanced approach he attempted at consisted in laying more burden of blame and guilt on the Croat side- in his myopic vision of the chain of violence, Serbs got a partly “extenuating circumstances” excuse in one respect: they are portrayed as victims of Croatian villains.
This reviewer has not found in The Bridge betrayed a single reference on Croat martyrdom in Bosnia and Herzegovina, both at the hands of Serbs and Bosnian Muslims. An uninformed reader may get the impression that Croats tried to cleanse Muslims from Central Bosnia and Herzegovina. Numbers speak the opposite: intercommunal fighting ethnically "cleansed" 150,000 Croats from Muslim-held areas & 50,000 Muslims from Croat-held areas. Civilian victims of coldly calculated massacres: circa 200 Muslims and 960 Croats. In Central Bosnia, Croatian forces (HVO) fought (successfully) an uphill battle-they were outnumbered 12/1 by Muslim soldiers.
In short, this book can be summarized thusly: the “international community” are admixture of dupes, hypocrites and machinators; Bosnian Muslims are pure and innocent victims; Serbs are the biggest villains, but with the redeeming quality of being victimized by Croats (both in WW2 and wars for Yugoslav succession); at the end, Croats are genuine and unrelenting Fascists with no positive trait whatsoever.


Alex Dragnich: Serbs and Croats: The Struggle in Yugoslavia
Rating: 3

Dragnich’s Serbs and Croats is an interesting book for at least three reasons: it is written in so elementary manner that proverbial “complete idiots” (literally) are its target audience; then, given the quality of this historical narrative and Dragnich’s professional credentials (former professor at Vanderbilt University, Tennessee), one should ask some unpleasant questions about the academic tenure criteria of the US higher education system; and, after finishing the book, one is left with a kind of contemptuous pity for Serbian propaganda machine. Serbs and Croats is a litany of contradictory and easily refutable Serbian national myths: Croats are both inferior servile pro-German puppets and diabolical Serbocidal fanatics equipped by formidable survival skills, both as Fascist Ustashe and Communist Partisans; royal Yugoslavia was a bit flawed, but still a country close to embodiment of justice, freedom and democracy for all (especially for ungrateful non-Serbs); Croatian and Muslim Ustashe killed more than 500 thousand innocent Serbs (or million- Serbian national mythology has always been generous with figures); Communist Yugoslavia was dominated by Serb-hating Croatian dictator Tito (who, immediately after the WW2, ordered the killing of more Croats- both sexes and every age-than Serbian Chetniks, German Nazis and Italian Fascists combined had succeeded to murder); the republics boundaries in Tito’s federal Yugoslavia were drawn with intent to dismember Serbian ethnic corpus (never mind that Serbs were more dispersed than any other nation in Yugoslavia due to the historical fact that they have, in past three or four centuries, migrated into other peoples’s lands while remaining a minority there. As the last war has shown, their behavior exemplifies the case of colonial minorities elsewhere-from French in Algeria & British in Zimbabwe to Russians in Chechnya & Central Asian Republics. They either rule as a privileged caste or flee to their motherland when the system of exploitation, which they have been so avid a part thereof, breaks.)
Be as it may, I would recommend this book to those interested in tallying all the pathological fixations oppressing the Serbian collective psyche. Here you got them all, clearly cut and neatly packaged.


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