After Civil War: Division, Reconstruction, and Reconciliation in Contemporary Europe ed. by Bill Kissane (review)
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Reviewed by
Bill Kissane, editor, After Civil War: Division, Reconstruction, and Reconciliation in Contemporary Europe. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2015. Pp. 312. 14 illustrations. Cloth $69.95.

Bill Kissane’s After Civil War: Division, Reconstruction, and Reconciliation in Contemporary Europe describes nine intrastate armed conflicts that took place from 1919 until the present, including those of Greece and Cyprus in addition to Bosnia, Finland, Kosovo, Northern Ireland, Spain, and Turkey. The conflicts erupted in such distant areas ranging from the Mediterranean south to the Arctic north, and from the Atlantic to the eastern frontier of Turkey, which makes the collection of cases both geographically representative and politically diverse. Each article in this compendium covers a particular civil war. Based on the individual author’s extensive research in a given area, it examines whether the process of reconciliation and reconstruction that was put in motion after the termination of the conflict proved to be successful or failed and the reasons why this happened.

Though the theme of post-conflict rebuilding is thoroughly examined in the selected cases, the sample of cases remains incomplete. The book would have given a fuller account of European violent discord if similar chapters were included on Hungary (1919), Poland (1942–1948), Italy (1943), and the Baltic countries (1918), where [End Page 423] civil wars also occurred. But even with the present composition, After Civil War is an authoritative analysis of the economic and political challenges in the reconstruction process. It provides valuable information regarding not only the evaluation of policy followed afterwards but also the origins, participants, and magnitude of the conflicts.

The book argues that each of the conflicts described developed in a particular historical context; rather, each was affected by several idiosyncratic factors, none of which is likely to happen again anytime soon. Despite the idiosyncrasy, two important conclusions are established that make the book valuable for contemporary politics. The first is (perhaps surprisingly) the realization that Europe has so frequently faced the misery and destruction of civil war during the last hundred years. Today, it is customary to consider civil wars as a plight typically associated with underdeveloped and undemocratic countries outside the Western system, and the book serves as a useful warning that such tragedies might happen in Europe, too. If rivalries run high and the political institutions cannot contain them early enough, adversaries may not hesitate to enter into an armed domestic conflict even in a European location, no matter how richly endowed with cultural advances and democratic traditions.

The second conclusion—and presumably the key reason for writing the book—is that the termination of a civil war by no means implies a smooth transition to a peaceful coexistence and consensual nation-building in its aftermath. It is highly likely that the country will remain under the spell of discord and, by doing so, risk another conflict unless specific policies are put forward. This happens when the post-conflict outcome falls far below reconciliation expectations, and thus hatreds may eventually return in one form or another. The authors of each case study provide detailed analysis showing that reconciliation and reconstruction are two separate processes that should not be viewed as substitutes but which complement each other: if one fails, the other is endangered, too.

In this way, the book makes an important addition to the vast (and ever-expanding) literature on civil conflicts. Most of the current scholarship focuses on the root causes of civil wars and aims to highlight policies that—if are adequately applied in advance—may diffuse tensions and thwart a looming clash. One of the key findings in such studies is that a prolonged lack of economic growth in a country seems to be conducive to the eruption of hostilities, whenever the appropriate political and military opportunities arise. By implication, one of the top priorities of peace-building institutions is to apply policies that put a country’s economy on a path to recovery, so that inequalities and socioeconomic grievances can eventually subside and not lead to the repetition of violence.

The book describes many cases where European nations proved to be unable or unwilling to go along the path of reconciliation...


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