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Modernism/Modernity 9.2 (2002) 356-358

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Book Review

Fires of Hatred:
Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe

Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe. Norman M. Naimark. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001. Pp. xvi + 248. $24.95.

Determining the nature of an atrocity—whether it is a casualty of war, a case of mass murder, an incident of ethnic cleansing, or part of a policy of genocide—is a heartbreaking, nearly impossible task. Yet it is one that must be undertaken, if underlying tendencies and processes are to be uncovered, identified, and prevented. In Fires of Hatred, Norman Naimark attempts to do just that, by addressing the function and operation of ethnic cleansing in twentieth-century Europe. Too often dismissed as a euphemism for genocide, ethnic cleansing, Naimark suggests, is actually "a useful and viable term for understanding not just the war in former Yugoslavia but other similar cataclysmic events in the course of the twentieth century" (3). Moving chronologically through some of the most poignant disasters of European history, he examines what happened to the Armenians and the Greeks in Turkey, the Jews in Nazi Germany, the Chechens-Ingush and the Tartars in the U.S.S.R., the Germans in post-World War II Poland and Czechoslovakia, [End Page 356] and the inhabitants of former Yugoslavia. In each case, he traces state-sanctioned processes of ethnic cleansing which in some cases mutated into genocide, but which were all horrific in their effects. Naimark argues that ethnic cleansing and genocide do not result from ancient hatreds, nor do they reflect cultural tendencies towards barbarity. Rather, both ethnic cleansing and genocide are produced by what he calls "modern, racialist nationalism" (6).

Debates about the difference between genocide and ethnic cleansing reflect the extent to which these terms possess a political and rhetorical potency that should not be wielded too casually. Naimark uses intentionality to distinguish between them: the intention of genocide is the "killing off of a part or all of an ethnic, religious, or national group," while the intention of ethnic cleansing is "to remove a people and often all traces of them from a concrete territory" (3). The analogy to first-degree murder is apt, since the intent of genocide is too often achieved in the process of ethnic cleansing. "Ethnic cleansing bleeds into genocide," writes Naimark, "as mass murder is committed in order to rid the land of a people. . . . Even when forced deportation is not genocidal in its intent, it is often genocidal in its effects" (3-4).

Defining genocide as an effect rather than the cause of ethnic cleansing raises some intriguing questions about the role of intentionality, culpability, and the potential of intervention and deterrence. Naimark's emphasis on modern nationalism rather than engrained cultural animosity locates this intentionality in the minds and machinations of the political elite, "the conscious choices of a [Slobodan] Milosevic or [Franjo] Tudjman" (139). But such sources tend to be less than forthcoming with concrete evidence, leaving the burden of proof with the historian. Here, a significant lack of evidence poses no deterrent to the assignation of intentionality. For example, Naimark writes:

There can be no question of the direct responsibility of Hitler or the Young Turk triumvirate for the mass murders; yet . . . there are no direct orders and few unambiguous documents that prove beyond question that the leadership intentionally ordered mass murder. Despite this lack, bureaucrats in both the Ottoman and German states claimed they were following orders and fulfilling their duties. In that sense, the evidence for state-organized mass murder is overwhelming. [81-2, emphases mine]

The point here is not to dismiss Naimark's meticulous research or the validity of his conclusions, but to register a concern with the prominent role granted to intentionality and the concurrent emphasis on modern nationalism. If intentionality is what distinguishes ethnic cleansing from genocide, and if genocide can only be attributed after the fact and in the absence of orders, documents, or other historical "proof," then Naimark's point is difficult to discern. If the...


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