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  • Slobodan Milosevic and the Destruction of Yugoslavia
  • Dennis Reinhartz
Slobodan Milosevic and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, Louis Sell (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), xvii + 412 pp., $34.95.

Events across Eurasia during the 1990s have had an extraordinary effect on modern world history. The once feared Soviet Empire and its aggressive ideology came to a dramatic end. From Germany to Mongolia, new countries were born and reborn in its wake. With the collapse of forced multinationalism in the USSR, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and elsewhere, the banked fires of nationalism raged anew. The Cold War officially ended, and the United States emerged as the undisputed victor and sole global superpower. The United Nations and Cold War alliances, especially NATO, are now undergoing redefinition. A "new Europe" is already emerging.

Since at least the early 1980s, such developments, particularly in the former Yugoslavia, have been chronicled by journalists, political analysts, diplomats, and representatives of international organizations, though not yet by professional historians, either from the areas in question or the West. Slobodan Milosevic and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, by Louis Sell, a retired U.S. foreign service officer with a background in Russian, East European, and Yugoslav affairs and currently an adjunct professor at the University of Maine at Farmington, is one of the more commanding accounts.

Sell focuses on what he considers the pivotal role played by the former Yugoslav and Serbian leader in the destruction of Yugoslavia and Yugoslavism. This is not a full-blown biography of Milošević , nor does it cover all the facets of the period of his leadership from the 1980s to his transfer under extraordinary foreign pressure to the Hague tribunal in 2001. Instead, the book details the political manipulation he used to achieve and stay in power, and his career's significant consequences. Sell draws on his personal experiences, including eight years in Yugoslavia, to present a good picture of Yugoslav internal disintegration and the story of the Western interventions and their ramifications.

The book opens with a helpful chronology of Milošević 's life. The first two chapters introduce the man, his Yugoslavia, and his rise to power in the Belgrade and Serbian Communist Party leadership in the 1980s. Interestingly, both of his parents committed suicide. His relationship with his wife, the notorious Mirjana Marković, is developed here and in subsequent parts of the volume.

Chapter 3 introduces one of the most important themes in the book and Milošević 's career—Kosovo; the subject is concluded in chapter 10. Milošević 's rapid ascent and dramatic fall in the years 1987-99, highlighted by his now infamous ultranationalist speech there on the 600th anniversary of the tragically romanticized Serbian defeat by the Turks, are intimately linked to the rebellious ethnically Albanian province. The intervening chapters trace his transformation from a communist to a Serbian nationalist leader and champion of Greater Serbianism and ethnic cleansing.

It is Milošević 's adoption of this Greater Serbianism, rooted in past oppressions of the Serbs by others, that fueled his ethnic wars, or what historians are more properly coming to call the wars of Yugoslav succession. Sell concludes that Milošević 's [End Page 333] actions, especially in Kosovo, denied proper nation-state status like that of Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Macedonia, and Montenegro to the Serbs and Albanians.

Sell does not believe that Milošević was ever wholly committed to communism or Greater Serbianism, but rather used them to further his rise and rule as a rather traditional dictator. The disarray of his foreign opponents and "emulators in other republics" such as Franjo Tudjman of Croatia and Alija Izetbegović of Bosnia further encouraged his "aggressive nationalism." While international diplomatic failures initially helped Milošević , Sell concedes that once the Western and other opposition to the Serbian leader solidified somewhat, it was "more effective than NATO bombers." And although Sell does lay some of the blame for the ethnic conflicts on other Yugoslav leaders, Milošević is ever the main culprit.

Chapter 11 deals with Milošević 's alleged war crimes. Given the leader's personality (the same one making The Hague dance to his tune today) and his control of the Serbian military with...


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