Books about the breakup of Yugoslavia
April 21, 2021 12:20 PM   Subscribe

Before Osama bin Laden, before 9/11, before ISIS, before the End of History, there was Bosnia. Years ago, there was a fair amount of primary content regarding Bosnia on the internet, but I don't think I ever saw anything that brought it all together. And now a lot of that information is gone. Does anyone have any recommendations for books about the breakup of Yugoslavia in general or the war in Bosnia more specifically? I am particularly interested if the book covers the flow of events: the whos, the whats, the wheres, and the whens. Illustrations with maps and such would be a plus.
posted by Stuka to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Balkan Ghosts by Robert Kaplan or To End a War by Richard Holbrooke come to mind for giving a good context to the Bosnian war.
posted by jacobean at 12:32 PM on April 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Not a book, but I found the BBC documentary The Death of Yugoslavia quite comprehensive and easy to follow. My only caveat is that it's from 1996, so it misses some after-the-fact contextualization. It makes up for it by having an extremely impressive amount of interviews, including with really big players like Milosevic, Karadzic, and Mladic.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:37 PM on April 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have a copy of Burn This House: The Making and Unmaking of Yugoslavia which I haven't read but which looks good. It's from Duke Press, anyway, so it isn't just made up and it does draw a good bit on local sources. It was originally published in 1997 and has been updated.
posted by Frowner at 12:41 PM on April 21, 2021

At the time I read Misha Glenny's The Fall of Yugoslavia: The Third Balkan War 1996. It explored how media was manipulated (and as far as I recall media law changes, much in the way US law was altered to facilitate Murdoch) to make breakup of the state inevitable.

Glenny also also explores a toxic speech speech by Milosevic at The Field of Blackbirds (Kosovo Polje), a foundational myth and a fuse for the war to come.

While checking back on my source I found Precursor to conflict: The Cultural Re-Coding Of Serbia by Patten II from the Naval Postgraduate School Monterey. [link goes to a us .mil] "Through extensive manipulation of the Serbian culture and its historical symbols, President Milosevic..."
posted by unearthed at 1:03 PM on April 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

Looks like this is currently very expensive, but the Sarajevo Survival Guide is written as a sort of Michelin guide to the city with a focus on survival during wartime.

The Zoo, which is located in the Valley of Pioneers, is closed. The only inhabitants, still alive, are two ponies and several peacocks. Animals in the Zoo served as experimental targets for brave snipers on the nearby front-line. Others gradually died of hunger and thirst - their guards were too afraid to reach them. All perished - monkeys, llamas, camels, tigers, wolves, lions. The last died on November the third. It was a bear, whose innocent death was shown all over the world.
posted by FencingGal at 1:25 PM on April 21, 2021

Love Thy Neighbour: A story of war by Peter Maass, who was a WaPo journalist covering the war. There's a lot of his own first-hand accounts of events, as well as interviews with the leaders of all sides of the conflict, including Milosevic. It's a long time since I read it but I remember it making a huge impact on me.

Slavenka Drakulić is a great writer, and her book Balkan Express is a series of short essays chronicling the day-to-day experience of living in Croatia as the war rolled through there. So, not Bosnia, but it's a good read, and a good opportunity to read something in English written by someone who was actually born and raised in the Balkans and saw people she'd grown up with take opposing sides and start killing each other.

In terms of the bigger sweep of events, key points and the background, when I first started reading about Eastern Europe, I found reading A History of Eastern Europe for Beginners was the first time I got some understanding of what it was all about. Might be too simple for you if you already know something about the region, but if not it's a good start point - don't be put off by the graphic novel vibe, they get a lot of basic but important info in there which was then helpful to me when I read other stuff.
posted by penguin pie at 2:53 PM on April 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Joe Sacco wrote and drew some comics journalsim about this era: The Fixer, Safe Area Gorazde, and War's End
posted by vrakatar at 7:24 PM on April 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Not the politics but the infrastructure; I've just finished War Doctor by David Nott who started his part-time career as MSF trauma surgeon in Sarajevo.
posted by BobTheScientist at 12:41 AM on April 22, 2021

Robert Kaplan is a questionable source, at best. There's controversy around a fair bit of his writing, and the few academics in the field who I know have a rather dim view of his work. (For personal anecdata/full disclosure I was a layperson who had read and enjoyed several of his books before living in Romania for a few years; then the sloppy errors and badly-researched history Balkan Ghosts had about places I'd got to know quite well became apparent. Further investigation only lowered my opinion.)

I'll second Misha Glenny's Fall of Yugoslavia and Slavenka Drakulić.
posted by myotahapea at 2:37 AM on April 22, 2021

From Mefi's own Dee Xtrovert, some incredibly moving and profound commentary on her time in war in Sarajevo.
posted by lalochezia at 3:20 AM on April 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

I knew nothing about Yugoslavia before I was assigned Vermeer in Bosnia in my first year of undergrad. It's a collection of New Yorker/Harpers-ish longform essays, and as a nonfiction non-reader, I found them very compelling reading.
posted by wintersonata9 at 9:02 AM on April 22, 2021

Response by poster: All of these replies are excellent and I hope to get to them in time. kevinbelt, there is a The Death of Yugoslavia book based on the documentary that you mentioned. That book provides the perspective I was looking for. Thank you.
posted by Stuka at 12:27 PM on May 21, 2021

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