MacDonald, Balkan Holocausts?
reviewed by Florian Bieber
Balkan Academic News Book Review 11/2003
David Bruce MacDonald, Balkan Holocausts?: Serbian and Croatian Victim
Centered Propaganda and the War in Yugoslavia. Manchester: Manchester
University Press, 2003. 308 pp. 24.95 USD, ISBN 0-71906467-8 (softcover).
Reviewed by Florian Bieber (ECMI), Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This study is a comprehensive comparative analysis of nationalist myths in
Croatia and Serbia before and during the disintegration of Yugoslavia. The
focus on myths of victimization follows the research (e.g. Vesna
Pesic or Ivan Colovic) conducted on nationalist mobilization in former
Yugoslavia, which has identified it as one of the most forceful mobilizers.
The comparative dimension allows David Bruce MacDonald to highlight the
similarities between the two cases.
In the first theoretical chapter, the author develops what he calls a
teleological model of nationalism, in which he identifies the functions of
different myths (myths of covenant, renewal, gold age and decline). While
largely following Anthony Smiths typology of myths, he concludes his book
with the correct observation that the myths of the golden age (which Smith
emphasizes) played a subordinate role in comparison to the myths of decline. The choice of
'victim-centered' propaganda and how it has drawn from different historical episodes, in particular
World War Two, is very useful, as this self-victimization facilitates both denying the
self-perception as a (possible) perpetrator and at the same time mobilizes fear, which has been
crucial in securing support for the nationalist projects of former Yugoslavia. Furthermore the myth
of the fall and decline allowed the new nationalist regimes to portray themselves as the beginning
of a new gold era and having a 'window of opportunity' to correct the past injustices (p. 259). At
the same time, the myth of an utopian future, as some authors have described in recent literature on
nationalist myths , did not figure prominently in the nationalist
discourses in Croatia and Serbia.
The reference to propaganda in the title is actually somewhat misleading,
as the politization of myths stands in the foreground of the book. Most sources
analyzed extend beyond government-disseminated distortions and include
writings of historians and other intellectuals. In fact, the emphasis of
propaganda prevents the author from exploring in greater detail the reasons
why these myths achieved such political salience in the past two decades.
It is the politization of the myths of decline and victimization, which is
remarkable in the case of former Yugoslavia, not necessarily the existence
of these myths as such.
One considerable draw-back of the book is its exclusively reliance on
sources in English. The author has nevertheless managed to drawn together a large number of
translated sources, which allowed him to conduct the study. It is, however, often at the expense of
materials which have not been translated . Furthermore, diacritic marks are somewhat randomly used
throughout the book. Related, but perhaps more seriously, some mistakes throughout the book do notalways demonstrate the author's close knowledge of the subject matter, thus Vasilije Krestic is
described as a politician rather than a 'historian' (p. 87) or Nikolaj Velimirovic is described as
having maintained anti-Semitic views until the 1990s (p. 146) despite his death in 1956. These
mistakes, of which there are a number throughout the book, are by themselves less disturbing than
the sense while reading the book that there is a certain lack of depth. When discussing historical
events, the author relies heavily on journalistic sources. For example, when highlighting the
conflictual number on the victims at the Jasenovac camp, he refers to Misha Glenny, Ed Vulliamy and
Brian Hall, rather than to numbers suggested in historical studies on the period (p. 161). Other
important writings on the subject of victimization or the approporation of the Holocaust are not
included, such as Marko Zivkovic's article of the appropriation of being a Jew in former Yugoslavia
 or reference to Vuk Draskovic's letter to Israel in 1985 where he underlines the similarities
between Serbs and Jews .
Altogether the book is balanced and insightful and covers ground not
discussed in this detail in the literature on the dissolution of
Yugoslavia. The focus on victimization in nationalist mythologies is indeed
important and can be found in nationalist mobilization across the world.
The quality of the analysis is somewhat reduced by the uneven usage of
sources. Nevertheless the book is useful reading for understanding
nationalist mobilization in former Yugoslavia.
This an earlier book reviews are available at: www.seep.ceu.hu/balkans (as
the website is awaiting a major revamping, this and recent reviews have not
be included yet)
© 2003 Balkan Academic News. This review may be distributed and reproduced
electronically, if credit is given to Balkan Academic News and the author.
For permission for re-printing, contact Balkan Academic News.
Tomislav Z. Kuzmanovic
Hinshaw & Culbertson
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