R. J. Crampton. The Balkans since the Second World War. London and New York: Longman, 2002. xxxiv + 374 pp. $22.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-582-24883-0.
Reviewed by Joe Mocnik (Department of History, Bowling Green State University)
Published on H-Diplo (September, 2002)
A Survey of Post-1945 Balkan History
A Survey of Post-1945 Balkan History
It is anything but easy to write a single-volume history of Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and "the territories which between 1944 and 1992 made up the [Socialist] Federal Republic of Yugoslavia" (p. xiv). The people of this south-eastern European region on the mountainous Balkan Peninsula have exceptionally diverse heritage in virtually every aspect of life including culture, economy, politics and religion. The region has a rich history of initiating and participating in local and global conflicts. The Great Schism of 1054 between Rome (Western, Catholic) and Constantinople (Eastern, Orthodox) divided the population's spiritual allegiances and created artificial differences that were for centuries habitually exploited by belligerent rulers on both sides. Since the Middle Ages the Balkans served as the bulwark of western civilization against the Ottoman Empire and the Islam. In the modern times, the region became infamous for providing an immediate cause for the First World War. The assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by Serbian radicals detonated the explosive international situation. During the Cold war the "iron curtain" arbitrarily separated all Balkan countries, except Greece, from the rest of Europe and the democratic world in general. Following the collapse of communism, the region dominated the headlines once again during the last decade of the twentieth century because of the bloody dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, which destabilized the region and brought the horrors of ethnic cleansing and [un]civil war back to Europe.
Professor R. J. Crampton, a prominent historian who teaches East European history at the University of Oxford, starts this survey of the post-Second World War Balkan history by focusing on the problem of terminology. It is important to define terminology when dealing with this region because virtually nobody who lives there wants to be associated with the term "Balkan." This is so not only because of the stigma attached to the term, that the Balkan states are often characterized by mutual hostilities, but each nation claims to have individual unique reasons as well. The Slovenes and Croats emphasize their historic ties with Austria and the western tradition; the Rumanians stress their regional linguistic uniqueness that ties their nation together with the French; and the Greeks have never considered themselves to be a proper Balkan nation because of their Mediterranean orientation and because of the impressive historical tradition that dates far back in time before anyone had ever heard of Balkanization. The Albanians, Macedonians, Serbs as well as some other groups of people stress their particular uniqueness and do not consider themselves to be small and mutually hostile Balkan units, as the world often characterizes them. This may be particularly true for the Muslims living in the region who are the remnants of the Turks and consider themselves to be a part of the universal Muslim community. Thus, the Bulgarians may be the only Balkan nation which does not openly dispute its association with the term.
Although the author, whose expertise is the history of Bulgaria, tries to devote equal attention to all countries in question, one should not discredit Crampton's book for his strong bias towards the former Yugoslavia. Each of the three parts of the book--covering the period before 1949, the Cold War, and the post-communist era, respectively--starts with the examination of Yugoslavia. Altogether more than 120 pages--one third of the book--is solely devoted to Yugoslav history and politics. Crampton justifies his disproportionate coverage by arguing that Yugoslavia dominated the region: Yugoslavia "had the major impact on the peninsula as a whole ... [since] Albania feared Yugoslav expansionism ... Romanian aspirations to greater freedom from the Soviet bloc were much encouraged by the Yugoslav example, while Bulgaria found its safety and protection in becoming the only fully pro-Soviet state in the area" (p. xvii). Even Greece, the one that got away from communism, paid close attention to what was happening at its northern border. Consequently, the reader is endowed with an impression of Yugoslav relative regional importance that may not be too far from the actual reality for the given period. Despite its comparatively small size, Yugoslavia during the Tito era commanded a respect of both superpowers like few other communist or non-aligned states in the world. Perhaps for the same reason the international community was so slow in acknowledging the imminent dissolution of Yugoslavia once Serbian nationalism brought into question the country's fragile unity.
The book is skillfully written, the argument is easy to follow and the language is jargon-free. The bibliography is not comprehensive but it lists some of the most important readings on the topic. Crampton demonstrates great skill, knowledge and objectivity in dealing with complex topics. For instance, he explains how communism came to power in particular states (in all except Greece), what methods were used to keep it there, and how it eventually collapsed. Though space does not permit him to provide a detailed examination of all significant events and developments in each country, the ones that he deals with are satisfactorily discussed. In the second chapter, for example, the author spends ample time discussing the 1948 Tito-Stalin split, which had critical ramifications for international relations and the overall course of the Cold War in Europe. This event meant that Yugoslavia had to find a unique path "which retained the essentials of socialism but avoided reliance upon the Soviet Union and its minions" (p. 37).
Particularly refreshing is the author's focus on social trends and his ensuing conclusions. He correctly argues that in the 1940s the middle class was considerably weaker in the Balkan states than in other European countries. The peasantry, the relatively small industrial working class and the disunited intelligentsia lacked international support, and were thus too weak to oppose communist claim to power. Therefore, active international involvement, or lack of it, proved to be crucial. Greek communists would have won the civil war in 1949, making the whole Balkan Peninsula red, had it not been for the overt and timely American and British support. Therefore, in the same way as "the cocoon of the EU and NATO" insulated Greece in the post-war period from the problems that other Balkan states experienced, the continued international support will prevent the infant Balkan democracies from "feeling forsaken" by the west (p. 345). Active and timely involvement of the international community will prevent future destructions on the scale the former Yugoslavia experienced in the last decade of the twentieth century. This is not to say that the Balkan stability exclusively depends on the external involvement, but there will be no stable and prosperous Balkan without it.
One has to commend Crampton for the consistent transliteration, one that includes the original diacritical marks. This is usually a minefield for any non-native scholar but in this book spelling mistakes are rare and do not distract the reader or undermine the overall value of the work. Thus, even a reader who is relatively unfamiliar with the complexities of the subject should with ease trace the important characters and their contributions to the regional and global developments.
Crampton's book lives up to its initial goal of providing "an introduction to the political evolution of an area which has seldom been out of the headlines in the last dozen or more years" (p. xvi). The crisp, textbook-like style makes this book a useful preliminary reading for any student of Balkan history. The local politicians as well as the general public may also want to consult it in order not to repeat the mistakes of their predecessors.
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Joe Mocnik. Review of Crampton, R. J., The Balkans since the Second World War.
H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews.
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