- Balkan Genocides: Holocaust and Ethnic Cleansing in the Twentieth Century by Paul Mojzes
If Europe in the twentieth century was marked by the tragedies of ethnic conflict, Southeastern Europe has been popularly cast as particularly steeped in ethnic cleansing and genocide. Recent scholarship has done much to contextualize ethnic violence in the region, but such studies generally have focused on events and countries in isolation. The question of whether there are commonalities between instances of ethnic cleansing and genocide in the Balkans invites comparative study that links the policies of disparate states across the modern period. In Balkan Genocides, author Paul Mojzes seeks to provide a balanced synthesis that brings together episodes of ethnic cleansing and genocide in the region throughout the twentieth century.
The first two chapters define the author’s approach to the subject. Mojzes’ own definitions of “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” hinge on intent: cleansing seeks removal but not destruction, while genocide pursues extermination (p. 7). Within the Balkans, he argues, the frequency of ethnic cleansing rests at least in part on a history of violence and conquest that “prepared the ground” (p. 20). The remaining ten chapters frame ethnic conflict in Southeastern Europe in episodic terms. Chapter three examines the Balkan Wars of 1912–13 and, briefly, the First World War. Chapters four through six focus on genocidal acts in the region during the Second World War, with seven surveying “retaliatory genocides” during and after the war. Chapters eight through eleven focus on the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, while Chapter twelve provides a summary of the efforts of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Chapter thirteen addresses Macedonia’s ethnic conflict in 2001.
The strength of Mojzes’ work rests in drawing together and defining major instances of genocide and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. His definition of the region (p. 1) excludes Romania; this is a pity, given the scholarship on that country’s role in the Holocaust, which would have strengthened the comparative elements of the book. The voluntary Bulgarian, Greek, and Turkish cleansing agreements of the 1920s (p. 44) and the ethnic dimensions of the Greek Civil War after 1944 (p. 108) are touched upon but not given an in-depth examination. These are not significant problems in an otherwise comprehensive survey, yet including them would have helped explore the diversity of ethnic cleansing in the region. While the magnitude and suffering caused by genocide in Yugoslavia in the 1940s and 1990s rightly should take center stage in any comparative study, attention to them threatens to overshadow acts in other Balkan states. In particular, it obscures the role of less violent efforts to cleanse ethnic minorities—efforts that typified the way in which Southeastern European states sought ethnic homogeny.
The author notes his intent to provide a balanced overview of the conflicts he describes; he generally succeeds in assessing events even-handedly. Problematic, [End Page 535] however, in a work based on broad secondary scholarship, are gaps or omissions in the bibliography. While the lack of attention to Bulgarian or Greek-language scholarship may be a practical one, the absence of some English-language works is surprising. Both established and recent works by Julie Mertus, Michael Mann, Aron Rodrigue, Jozo Tomasevich, and Tim Judah, among others, are not referenced. To take one example, in depicting Bulgaria’s actions during the Holocaust, most of the relatively small body of English-language work (including the seminal text by Frederick Chary) goes unreferenced—and thus, too, some of the historiographical debate about what precisely happened, and why. Such gaps do not diminish the work’s importance and utility in introducing and surveying the topic, but they prevent it from securing an authoritative position.
Mojzes stresses the importance of history in shaping the possibility for ethnic conflict. In this, he seeks to redress scholarship that has assigned the primary blame to manipulation by political leaders and has rejected the importance of “ancient hatreds” (p. 137). Both are important, he argues, in...