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The Serbs

The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia

Tim Judah
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 368
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    The Serbs
    Book Description:

    Who are the Serbs? Branded by some as Europe's new Nazis, they are seen by others-and by themselves-as the innocent victims of nationalist aggression and of an implacably hostile world media. In this challenging new book, Timothy Judah, who covered the war years in former Yugoslavia for the LondonTimesand theEconomist, argues that neither is true. Exploring the Serbian nation from the great epics of its past to the battlefields of Bosnia and the backstreets of Kosovo, he sets the fate of the Serbs within the story of their past.This wide-ranging, scholarly, and highly readable account opens with the windswept fortresses of medieval kings and a battle lost more than six centuries ago that still profoundly influences the Serbs. Judah describes the idea of "Serbdom" that sustained them during centuries of Ottoman rule, the days of glory during the First World War, and the genocide against them during the Second. He examines the tenuous ethnic balance fashioned by Tito and its unraveling after his death. And he reveals how Slobodan Milosevic, later to become president, used a version of history to drive his people to nationalist euphoria. Judah details the way Milosevic prepared for war and provides gripping eyewitness accounts of wartime horrors: the burning villages and "ethnic cleansing," the ignominy of the siege of Sarajevo, and the columns of bedraggled Serb refugees, cynically manipulated and then abandoned once the dream of a Greater Serbia was lost.This first in-depth account of life behind Serbian lines is not an apologia but a scrupulous explanation of how the people of a modernizing European state could become among the most reviled of the century. Rejecting the stereotypical image of a bloodthirsty nation, Judah makes the Serbs comprehensible by placing them within the context of their history and their hopes.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14784-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. Preface to the New Edition
    (pp. x-xi)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xii-xiv)
  6. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xv-xv)
  7. Author’s Note
    (pp. xvi-xvii)
  8. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xviii-xviii)
  9. 1 Death Does Not Exist
    (pp. 1-16)

    Deep in the bowels of the patriarchate building of the Serbian Orthodox church in Belgrade is a great canvas depicting one of the most traumatic events in Serbian history. It shows Patriarch Arsenije Čarnojević leading tens of thousands of his people into exile. In 1689, Arsenije encouraged the Serbs living in the Ottoman Empire to rise in rebellion and aid the Austrian Army, which had penetrated deep into Turkish-held lands. On New Year’s Day 1690 the Austrians and Serbs were crushed in battle. Fearing the wrath of the vengeful Turks, Arsenije led great columns of refugees away from their ancestral...

  10. 2 An Empire on Earth
    (pp. 17-28)

    Although it was migrations which determined where Serbs lived, it was the kingdom of the Nemanjas which transformed these hitherto disparate tribes into a people and gave them an identity which would survive hundreds of years of Ottoman domination. It is for this reason that the period is one of such fascination for Serbs today and indeed such a crucial historical reference point.

    Before the Nemanjić era, the Serbs were a collection of loosely organised tribes. After the Nemanjas, within two decades of the demise of Tsar Dušan in 1355, the Serbs were again divided. And it was this inglorious...

  11. 3 It Is Better to Die in Battle Than to Live in Shame
    (pp. 29-47)

    The rise of Slobodan Milošević, the man who was to become Serbian president, was sealed by an apparently impromptu speech he gave in Kosovo Polje on 24 April 1987. The leader of the League of Communists of Serbia emerged from a meeting of angry Kosovo Serbs who were complaining of harassment at the hands of the local ethnic Albanian-dominated authorities:

    First I want to tell you, comrades, that you should stay here. This is your country, these are your houses, your fields and gardens, your memories. You are not going to abandon your lands because life is hard, because you...

  12. 4 Resurrection and Beyond
    (pp. 48-72)

    In 1664 a history published in England dismissed ‘Servia’, as it was then called, in a couple of contemptuous lines: ‘The country was rich till the Turks got it, being stored with mines of Gold and Silver. . . . The people are rude and gross, and notable wine-bibbers; so false that little credit is to be given to them.’¹ A French encyclopaedia published in 1765 had even less to say and some of that was wrong: ‘The whole of Servia is today depopulated, without culture or money. One may count there barely a thousand Christians, under a Latin [sic]...

  13. 5 Cutting the Turks into Pieces
    (pp. 73-89)

    Nena Mejra was a hundred years old. She was dressed in traditional Bosnian Muslim baggy pants and sat on the sofa next to the body of Selma Hodžić, her seven-year-old great-granddaughter. ‘Please sit down,’ she said. A relative hissed, ‘She has seen three wars.’ The day before, on 3 May 1992, a Bosnian Serb militia had spent their Sunday torching Hranča, Nena Mejra’s eastern Bosnian village. Selma, worried about her pet lamb, had slipped out while the masked Serbs poured petrol into buildings and then set them on fire with grenades. She was shot dead.

    In the next house Hanija...

  14. 6 Union or Death
    (pp. 90-112)

    There is no better place to contemplate Serbia’s changing fortune in the world than at the top of the Grand Staircase of the Foreign Office in London. During the First World War the artist Sigismund Goetze painted a series of large murals representing the triumphs of Britannia. The central painting is that of Britannia Pacificatrix. She stands resplendent alongside America and France, the colonies and other suitably bosomy or bemuscled allies. While Britannia grasps the hand of America with one hand, with the other she ‘encloses within the folds of her royal mantle’ those whom she had hastened to protect...

  15. 7 We Chose the Heavenly Kingdom
    (pp. 113-134)

    Was it the spirit of Kosovo, sheer folly or bungling that led to the militarycoupin Belgrade on the night of 26–27 March 1941? That night the government and the regency of Prince Paul were overthrown less than forty-eight hours after they had succumbed to Hitler’s threats and signed up to the Axis Tripartite Pact. In London, Winston Churchill exulted:

    Early this morning the Yugoslav nation found its soul. A revolution has taken place in Belgrade, and the Ministers who but yesterday signed away the honour and freedom of the country are reported to be under arrest. This...

  16. 8 You Used to Warm Us Like the Sun
    (pp. 135-167)

    It was one of the strangest events to have taken place in Belgrade for decades. Marshal Josip Broz Tito, the man who had ruled Yugoslavia until his death in 1980, had returned saying that he was back to see ‘what’s going on’. Resurrected for two days in 1994, the man who had reunified Yugoslavia in 1945 strolled around the city to be greeted by adoring crowds and also by angry individuals who accused him of being responsible for the misfortunes that had befallen the country since his death.

    As he toured Belgrade, women crowded around the dead leader to give...

  17. 9 Frankie and Badger Go to War
    (pp. 168-190)

    ‘There’ll be war, by God,’ said Slobodan Milošević. Borisav Jović, Milošević’s ally, confidant and Serbia’s representative on the Yugoslav federal presidency, begged to differ: ‘We won’t allow it, by God. We have had enough war and death in two World Wars. Now we shall avoid war by all means!’ General Veljko Kadijević, Yugoslavia’s defence minister, added his own view: ‘There will not be the kind of war which they want . . . but it will be the kind of war which it must be, and that is that we shall not allow them to beat us.’¹

    It was 13...

  18. 10 We Are the Strongest
    (pp. 191-203)

    Frustrated, angry and politically impotent, Ante Marković, the last prime minister of the old Yugoslavia, told his cabinet in September 1991 what he had gleaned from a wiretap that had come into his possession:

    The line has been clearly established [between the Serbian government, the army and Serb politicians in Bosnia]. I know because I heard Milošević give the order to Karadžić to get in contact with General Uzelac and to order, following the decisions of the meeting of the military hierarchy, that arms should be distributed and that the TO of Krajina and Bosnia be armed and utilised in...

  19. 11 It was War . . .
    (pp. 204-224)

    ‘It was war,’ said a Serbian soldier. For more than fifteen kilometres every single house along the Kozarac road had been devastated. Grimly cradling his AK-47 he said, ‘Those that didn’t resist are in the camps, those that did were killed. There will never be Muslims here again.’

    In the little riverside town of Bosanska Kostajnica, the mosque had been dynamited and the Catholic church was a charred skeleton. In a backstreet a Muslim woman hissed from behind half-closed blinds, ‘Help us please, help us to get out.’

    In Prijedor a line of women and children queued silently in the...

  20. 12 The Madmen Take Over the Asylum
    (pp. 225-241)

    Bosnia was shattered, madness reigned and in the asylum the doctors envied the patients. This was how it was at the height of the war. In one of the cruellest but least noticed episodes of ethnic cleansing, Serbian forces closed in on Sarajevo’s City Psychiatric Hospital, shelled it and then told the patients to get out or die. Despite the shooting, the patients left and wandered the few miles into town. No one knew what happened to those who were left behind. The only place that could be found to house the patients who had escaped was a kindergarten.


  21. 13 The War for More
    (pp. 242-258)

    Serbian leaders conducted the wars in Croatia and Bosnia with such cynicism that it is hardly surprising that, for many, ‘defending Serbdom’ was indistinguishable from making money. The vast arsenal bequeathed to the Bosnian and Krajina Serbs by the JNA meant not only that they could seize large tracts of land but that there were also plenty of guns left over to sell to the enemy. Although some trade was pure corruption and war profiteering, other transactions also had a strategic aspect, for example ‘rent-a-tank’ services rendered to the Bosnian Croats.

    When the war began, there was little if any...

  22. 14 363 Quadrillion Per Cent
    (pp. 259-278)

    ‘I would like to inform you that our economy has collapsed.’ So said Ljubomir Madžar, a distinguished economist and former government minister speaking before a gathering of his colleagues in July 1993. Whatever the suffering caused to ordinary people by the destruction of Yugoslavia and the general impoverishment that accompanied it, the one group that cannot complain of not living through ‘interesting times’ are Serbia’s economists. Rarely has the profession had the luck — or misfortune — actually to experience such economic turmoil. At one point hyperinflation meant that a bunch of carrots cost a year’s salary while a thirty-six-hour international telephone...

  23. 15 Skull Towers
    (pp. 279-294)

    Travelling through the Ottoman lands in the early 1830s, Alphonse de Lamartine, the French Romantic poet, came to Niš. It was then the last Turkish town before the border of the Serbian principality:

    the sun was scorching. When I was about a league from the town, I saw a large tower rising in the midst of the plain, as white as Parian marble. I took the path which led to it, and having approached it . . . I sat down under the shade of the tower to enjoy a few moments’ repose. No sooner was I seated than, raising...

  24. 16 . . . For Nothing
    (pp. 295-311)

    There is a theory which holds that history is accelerating. While the great empires of the past, the Chinese, the Roman or the Ottoman for example, lasted for centuries, ‘modern’ empires are increasingly short-lived affairs. Take the British or French colonial empires: at their maximum extents they lasted for only a matter of decades, as did Sovietde factorule in eastern Europe.

    Serbian history provides its own modest parallel. The new Serbian Empire founded by Slobodan Milošević reached its territorial peak in the autumn and winter of 1992. Apart from ‘inner Serbia’ and Vojvodina it covered Kosovo, 70 per...

  25. 17 End of Empire
    (pp. 312-337)

    It was a clear Sunday morning at the beginning of June 1998. Running down a hill came a group of sixteen women and children, in flight. Seeing the car with Belgrade number plates and two men jumping out, waving their arms, shouting at them to stop, the women backed off. They were terrified, pulling their children with them. They were wide-eyed; fear was etched on their faces. They thought the journalists were going to shoot them. They came from the village of Čitak, on the edge of Drenica territory held by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which had been visited...

  26. 18 Revolution and Beyond
    (pp. 338-363)

    On 20 September 2000, Vojislav Koštunica made one of his boring speeches. Boring, not in the sense of being a speech that was actually boring, but rather one that promised a boring life for all. ‘I am like you,’ he said, ‘an ordinary person, and I have no intention of reorganising the world, but rather of reorganising our state together with you. You want to live in an ordinary, average state, in which everything is more or less average — the economy, standard of living, industrial growth, banks, health care, the media.’

    Koštunica was running for president of Yugoslavia in the...

  27. Appendix 1: National Structure of Yugoslavia, 1918
    (pp. 364-364)
  28. Appendix 2: Yugoslav Census of 1961
    (pp. 365-365)
  29. Appendix 3: Yugoslav Census of 1981
    (pp. 366-368)
  30. Appendix 4: Yugoslav Census of 1991
    (pp. 369-370)
  31. Appendix 5: Population of Kosovo, 1948–91
    (pp. 371-371)
  32. Notes
    (pp. 372-389)
  33. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 390-396)
  34. Index
    (pp. 397-414)