James Ridgeway

Burn This House

Edited by Jasminka Udovicki
and James Ridgeway

"This anthology is based on the premise that authors from the former Yugoslavia have yet much to teach us about their country's tragedy. The result is a collection of rich insights drawn from the history of Ottoman rule through the burdens of implementing the Dayton Accords. Specialists will particularly applaud articles revealing the critical importance of the current opposition press in Croatia and Serbia. Susan Woodward (Brookings), the single non-Yugoslav contributor, adds an excellent chapter on foreign involvement in the early phases of the conflict. Other contributors sharpen our image of the overall situation by demolishing the 'ancient hatreds' thesis of violent conflict and identifying President Tudjman's 'ultranationalism' as the 'single most important ideological resource' for Serbia's Milosevic. Editor Udovicki's concluding plea for the West to enunciate clearly a 'firm universal principle' of minority rights is compelling. Highly recommended for all academic and larger public libraries.
--Zachary T. Irwin, Penn State, LIBRARY JOURNAL


PREFACE by James Ridgeway

This book grew out of a reporting trip Jasminka Udovički and I made with Village Voice photographer Sylvia Plachy to former Yugoslavia in 1992. Like Yugoslavia's Ethnic Nightmare: The Inside Story of Europe's Unfold­ing Ordeal, which we published in 1995, the present book -- incorporating aspects of the previous work -- discusses the history of the Yugoslavs and the roots of the 1991-95 war from the point of view of journalists, histo­rians, and former diplomats still living in the region.

The understanding of the war among the Western public was shaped by the pronouncements of Western politicians and the writing of Western journalists -- of whom far too many stubbornly stuck to their claim that at the root of the war lay ancient Balkan hatreds. With this kind of inter­pretation, the term Balkanization was reintroduced into the vernacular, implying incessant feuding and fragmentation.

The authors of this book argue differently. Providing a historical analy­sis of a broad range of subjects -- cultural, political, and economic -- the contributors project an infinitely more complex picture of the ethnic dy­namics in the region and, ultimately, of the causes of war.

The book begins with the sixth century, when the South Slavs settled the Balkan peninsula, and follows the origins, development, and fall of their medieval states, from the ninth century to the fourteenth. The par­tition of the Balkans between the Ottomans and the Hapsburgs that fol­lowed divided its population -- peoples of the same language and origin -- forcing them to fight against each other in the armies of their conquerors. Yet in the nineteenth century, despite the divisions imposed by the for­eign powers, the movement for the unification of all South Slavs emerged, laying the ground for the twentieth-century creation of Yugoslavia.

The writers in this volume see the roots of ultranationalism that de­stroyed Yugoslavia not in some insidious historical pattern of ethnic hatreds and conflagration, but rather in the quite specific set of circum­stances that crystallized following the death of Marshal Tito in 1980. Among those, three were of utmost importance: the leadership vacuum; the deep economic crisis; and the absence of liberal political traditions, which had much to do with the preceding waves of foreign conquest. To explain the particular character of the Yugoslavian crisis, the authors dis­cuss Tito's legacy and the experience the Yugoslavs had with socialism. Particular attention is paid to the 1980-90 decade of political and moral disillusionment and economic downfall. At the end of that period, Slo­bodan Miloševic and Franjo Tudjman, relying heavily on the use of tele­vision, carried out their fatal nationalistic programs, deeply destabilizing the ethnic balance and destroying the Titoist pledge to uphold "brother­hood and unity."

In the approaching war, the Yugoslav People's Army played a signifi­cant part. Its role is examined in a separate chapter. The authors argue that the wars in Croatia and Bosnia, presented in detail, did not start out as ethnic wars, and that the extreme brutality witnessed by the world was not inherent in the Balkan -- or the Serbian -- national character. On the contrary, the assumption of some unfathomable ethnic conflict surfacing of its own momentum provided the rationale for the international community to stay on the outside while attempting to manage the crisis.

Finally, this book offers valuable insight into the activity since 1991 of the forces of the non-nationalist opposition and the independent media in Serbia and Croatia -- an aspect of the war years that remained largely un­reported in the United States. Without the commitment and the moral in­tegrity of non-nationalist journalists working for the independent media in Split, Belgrade, Zagreb, and Sarajevo -- journalists whose eyewitness reports and analysis supply a wealth of hard data for the story of Yugoslavia's ruin -- a good part of this book could not have been written.

Selected Works

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Remember Bush's signature health care initiative? My life depends on it—and that's not very reassuring.
In Search of John Doe No. 2
The story the Feds never told about the Oklahoma City bombing
The 5 Unanswered Questions About 9/11
What the 9/11 Report Failed to Tell Us
It's All for Sale
The Control of Global Resources
Blood in the Face
The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads, and the Rise of a New White Culture
Blood in the Face
A film by Anne Bohlen, Kevin Rafferty, and James Ridgeway
A Comedy About Running for President by Kevin Rafferty and James Ridgeway