Reviews by me

Old ones from the Ethnic Conflict Review Digest, 1998-2000:

Making A New Nation, ed. by Danica Fink-Hafner & John R Robbins (about Slovenia)
Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood, by Anastasia N Karakasidou (about Greek Macedonia)
Bosnia: Faking Democracy After Dayton, by David Chandler
Northern Ireland: A Political Directory 1968-1999, by Sydney Elliott and W.D. Flackes with John Coulter

The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest 1998, Vol. 1 No. 2

Making a New Nation, Danica Fink-Hafner & John R Robbins eds (Aldershot: Dartmouth, 1997) 330pp. bibl. Hb. ISBN 1-85521-656-6. £42.50.

The small southern European republic of Slovenia seems in some ways to have escaped the ethnic conflicts which otherwise characterised the break-up of Yugoslavia. The economy is undeniably the most successful in Eastern Europe; elections are free and fair, with a viable multi-party system; the country itself is charming, if not very exciting. The government vehemently favours joining the EU and the single currency at the earliest opportunity – even the car number-plates are difficult to distinguish from those of neighbouring Austria. The ‘native minority’ Hungarian and Italian populations, a few thousand each in a country of two million, are constitutionally protected with guaranteed parliamentary seats.

But as recently as 1991, Slovenia was part of the same country as Bosnia, as Kosovo, as Macedonia, as Croatia which then had a substantial Serb minority (and no longer does). And the many Slovenian-registered cars which can be seen on the roads of Bosnia today demonstrate that the largest ethnic minority currently living in Slovenia are the tens of thousands of Bosnian refugees who migrated during the war. Although Fink-Hafner and Robbins’ collection of papers tends to present Slovenia as a historic nation newly liberated from an alien Yugoslav state, a less comfortable truth peeks through the contradictions between Janko Prunk’s historical introduction (pp. 21-30), Drago Zajc’s review of the changing political system (pp. 156-171), and Bernik, Malnar and Toš’s essay on the paradoxes of Slovenian democratization (pp. 56-82). This last is one of the most interesting contributions, presenting polling data from 1980 to 1994, including the 1990-91 independence process. The authors point to the sudden crystallisation of support for secession from Yugoslavia in 1990, and to continuing poll evidence of ethnocentrism and xenophobia, to argue that Slovenian political culture is not as whole-heartedly democratic as it is usually portrayed.

Much of the rest of the book concentrates on economics in Slovenia alone. John R. Robbins, who as well co-editing the collection is its only non-Slovene author, contributes an insightful prologue (pp. 1-20), which discusses the problems of democratization, ethnicity and pluralism in a global context, and also an epilogue (pp. 278-294) measuring Slovenia’s “attainment of viability” and prospects for long-term stability. Ethnic homogeneity is no guarantee here; however Robbins’ main concern is the political system’s shallow institutional roots. He is frank about the problems facing a small European nation struggling to enter the New World Order, but basically shares the optimism of his fellow contributors.

Nicholas Whyte, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs – Croatia

The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest 1999, Vol. 2 No. 1

Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood, Anastasia N Karakasidou, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997). 334pp. Index. Bibl. £30.50; ISBN 0-226-42493-6, £30.50. Pb.: £14.95; 0-22642494-4.

This is a gripping and moving account of the construction of Greek nationhood in a municipality near Thessaloniki. Using both oral and official history, Karakasidou reveals how the inhabitants of the town once called Guvezna and now known as Assiros were altered from an Ottoman cocktail of Turks, Slavs and Greeks to the mono-ethnic culture present there today. The space left by departing Turks and Slavs after the town came under Greek control was partly filled by refugees forced to resettle in Greek Macedonia after the disastrous war of 1922. They mostly spoke Turkish themselves as a first language, but, like those Slavic speakers who remained in the town, they became assimilated during the course of the twentieth century. “In many ways,” the author concludes, “the past has become very much a foreign country to the Assiriotes”. (p.217)

But this book is not just about Macedonia, it is about nation-building. Karakasidou complains that “while there is overwhelming concern among Euro-American politicians and diplomats over what nationalism has brought to Eastern Europe in recent years, many seem unaware of the fact that nation-building processes are a longue durée“, (p. 146) and she describes the process in all its brutality. War, religion, politics and capitalism all contributed to constructing the ‘official narrative’ of this particular nation in this particular place over the last 120 years.

Cambridge University Press declined to publish this book, fearing attacks on their Greek staff if the crisis over the official name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia were to escalate. Fortunately it did not, and many Greeks now look to their new northern neighbour as a business opportunity rather than a military threat. Perhaps Karakasidou’s courageous research helped to open up the space in which this became possible. There may be hope for all of us.

Nicholas Whyte, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.

The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest 2000, Vol. 3 No. 1

Bosnia: Faking Democracy After Dayton, David Chandler, (London: Pluto Press, 1999) 239pp. Index. Bibl. £45.00; ISBN 0-7453-1408-2. Pb.: £14.99; ISBN 0-7453-1403-1.

David Chandler subjects the international community’s efforts to impose democracy on Bosnia and Herzegovina to a rigorous analysis. Beginning with a critique of the concept of democratisation, he gives a chapter each to the issues of sovereignty, power-sharing, human rights, political pluralism, and building civil society, and concludes that the West’s democratisation policy has been driven more by an “external dynamic” of post-Cold War security concerns than by the needs of the country, or indeed of the region. The book is well referenced and includes URLs for the many documents cited from the Internet.

The catalogue of failures in the process of Bosnian democratisation is indeed dismal, but at times Chandler over-eggs his pudding. For instance, on p. 77 he says that in the summer of 1997, “NATO troops occupied the public buildings in Banja Luka, handed them over to [Bosnian Serb President]Mrs Plavsic and disarmed local police loyal to the Pale faction, while a British officer sat in Mrs Plavsic’s office answering her phone.” Police stations were indeed occupied by NATO (and Czech) troops, but other public buildings were not, and the police were disarmed only of items not often included in day-to-day police work elsewhere such as rocket launchers and grenades. Many strange things did happen to the phones in Banja Luka, including my own, during that dramatic time, but I do not recall the incident described relating to Mrs Plavsic’s office.

He also underrates the admittedly modest achievement of the “multi-ethnic” parties in the 1997 municipal elections by stating that they won only 6% of the seats, compared with 5% the previous year. There was considerable variation in the number of seats in each municipal assembly/council, and when votes rather than seats are tallied the “multi-ethnic” parties got more like 10% in 1997.

Chandler is undeniably right to point out that the democratisation of Bosnia has not been successful, as demonstrated by the steadily increasing legislative authority of the international community’s High Representative (not the “United Nations High Representative” as Chandler calls him). He is right also to suggest that the logical development of current policy is towards protectorate rather than democracy. However it is difficult to concur with his key recommendation of simply “granting people greater autonomy”. The international community stood back in 1991-92 when the war began; this should not be repeated. The biggest gap in this book is Chandler’s dismissal of the importance of the process of European integration of Eastern Europe. That is the most hopeful future direction for Bosnia and its neighbours.

Nicholas Whyte, Centre for European Policy Studies, Brussels

Northern Ireland: A Political Directory 1968-1999, Sydney Elliott and W.D. Flackes with John Coulter, Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 730 pp, index, hb, £30.00, ISBN 0-85640-628-7

Since its first edition in 1980, this directory has been an essential reference tool for anyone interested in the politics of Northern Ireland. The fourth edition was published early in 1994, just before the paramilitary ceasefires. It was exhaustive, authoritative and definitive – up to that point. However it contained little information on the new groups and personalities that came to prominence in the six dynamic years that followed. The new fifth edition, completed during a pause in the peace process in summer 1999, therefore has a tough act to follow. It does not completely succeed. This is particularly true in the “Dictionary of Northern Ireland Politics” section which lists key personalities, themes and events of the Troubles in alphabetical order. One of the joys of previous editions was their wealth of detail on obscure politicians who won an election sometime in the 1970s (or earlier). For the new edition, this should have been judiciously pruned. More space should have been given to those who were elected to the Northern Ireland Forum in 1996 and the new Assembly in 1998, some of whom have entries only two lines long. The Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition gets only a short entry, and the Northern Ireland Labour group which also participated in the 1996-98 talks has no entry at all. A leading supporter of the Orange Order’s “right to march” is listed, but the leaders of the residents groups opposed to her are not.

There are a number of inaccuracies relating to the most recent period – John Alderdice was not a candidate in the 1994 European election (p. 155); names such as Glendinning (p. 211) and Ramaphosa (p. 443) are misspelt. Besides the “dictionary” section, the other parts of the new edition – a chronology, lists of office holders, notes on security and systems of government – have been updated as necessary. One high point: in the section listing election results, the descriptions of the most recent campaigns are vivid and accurate. This book is still essential, but the new edition is merely useful rather than excellent. I am looking forward to the seventh edition.

Nicholas Whyte, Centre for European Policy Studies

One thought on “Reviews by me

  1. I know nothing of the circumstances of this particular child (or Denmark in general) but I know of a few people born in various countries who are not citizens of that country because either the parent who was a national of that country couldn’t be bothered filling in the paperwork, the parents thought they would be returning home sooner rather than later and therefore it wasn’t necessary or the parents felt that they were of country x not the country of birth and therefore made sure that the child got the other nationality instead.

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