Guide To The Collapse Of Yugoslavia 1991-1999, by Alastair Finlan
Among the free books on history I was able to download and read was this gem, which takes a distinct approach to the Balkan conflicts that reduces the emphasis on the Ottoman period (particularly the often-cited battle of Kossovo in 1389 ) and instead looks at the origin of the collapse of Yugoslavia in the events of the Balkan Wars as well as the world wars. In fact, it may be argued (albeit implicitly) from what this book discusses that the real flaw in the collapse of Yugoslavia was its creation in the first place, seeing as it put together groups of people that did not particularly want to be together in order to appease the interests of Serbians after WWI in order to punish the Austro-Hungarian Empire for its errors . Once the restraining hand of Tito was removed, the failure of the leaders of Serbia in particular to avoid seeking cheap popularity through appeals to ethnic populism lead to growing division and the politicization of the Yugoslav army (always a dangerous sign for lovers of freedom and the well-being of ordinary people), and the collapse of Yugoslavia followed rapidly from there, starting with Slovenia and rapidly progressing to Croatia, Bosnia-Herzogovina, Macedonia, and even Kosovo. This particular book stops with the Kosovo war of 1999, and so it does not cover the Macedonian troubles with its own Albanian minority nor the independence of Montenegro, which took place after 2000 and are outside the scope of this book, but which continue the book’s general themes concerning the collapse of Greater Serbia. Likewise, the book tends to minimize the importance of Russia’s alliance with Serbia, which has only come more important since 2000.
This particular book takes a largely chronological approach, which also happens to be a largely geographical approach, as few particular historical matters contain the domino effect that we can see most notably in the collapse of Yugoslavia. It was Slovenia, distant from Serbian power and close to the burgeoning European Unit, that was the first to separate, with only a short conflict, as Serbia was unable to project much power that far from its core. Croatia had sought to separate but was faced with a lengthy conflict against Serb-supported separatists that took over large territories because of Serbia’s military superiority (until the support of the United States for Croatian sovereignty). This was even more the case in Bosnia-Herzogovina, which had a more cosmopolitan identity reflecting its far more divided identity. After years of destruction and immense damage to Bosnia’s infrastructure, a fragile peace was enforced through NATO military might that remains to this day. After this, conflict in the former Yugoslavia moved to Kosovo, with its Albanian majority as well as its importance to nationalist Serbs because of its historic importance. The book does an excellent job in discussing the failures of the complex international approach as well as the complex players within the former Yugoslavia, pointing out British failure in particular under John Major’s government and a great deal of nuance and even contradiction in many of the governments and nations involved in the effort, as well as the role of Milosevic in using Serb minorities in Croatia and Bosnia and Kosovo as tools for his own political ambitions.
Among the more touching aspects of this particular book are the occasional commentaries on particularly noteworthy people in the long struggle for peace in the former Yugoslavia as it fractured into its various quarreling constituent parts. One of the people discussed in these sections was an articulate and very insightful young lady from Sarajevo, Zlata Filipovic, whose diary gave her, her insights as a humane and intelligent young lady, and the plight of her suffering people some much needed attention, allowing her and her family to escape the horrors of that besieged city and a new life in Paris. Not everyone got to escape, but it is sad when ordinary people possess great insight but political leaders are mired in moral cowardice dealing with corrupt criminals and violent murderers, unable to tap into that wisdom because they only like dealing with other people of their kind. The lengthy humanitarian crisis in the former Yugoslavia is just one example of many where this lack of insight and moral courage on the part of political leaders is apparent, and it is a very valid one in examining the contemporary moral failures when it comes to treating criminals and terrorists like responsible parties for international dialogue and neglecting the plight of the common people whose lives they harm because of their evil and folly. As the author points out sadly, the lessons of Yugoslavia’s collapse appear not to have been learned or remembered well.
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