Balkan Holocausts Hardcover – Apr 2003
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- excellent in providing a picture of how myths/historical memory were created, re-shaped and sustained throughout the 1990s, as well as why they was so potent
- examines the strength of negative myths in nation-building (as opposed to positive ones - like myths of the Golden Age) and the disastrous effects of building national identity on negative symbols and imagery
- helps provide a glimpse into the sustenance of victimization and martyrdom narratives and their effectiveness in mobilization
- I found some minor errors, for example when mentioning Kostunica and Mesic as non-nationalists (although admittedly the book was written in 2001 and at the time their nationalism was still rather well-contained in a pro-democratic image)
- I found the emphasis on the Jewish case (one of the book's central arguments is that the Holocaust was a template for restructuring nationalist histories in the two countries) a little redundant, I think even without making this comparison the book would have been equally as powerful -- similar applies to the book's development of a teological definition of nationalism (basically the first 2 chapters).
I disagree with one of the previous comments that the book relativizes war crimes or is biased -- I find it to do exactly the opposite. A complete picture of myth-making and manipulation of historical memory in the 1990s wars can only be fully understood if the cases are examined comparatively, because much of the identity construction was done relative to the "Other". By comparing the cases, Macdonald isn't trying to make them seem "equal", just setting them both in context and very rightly demonstrating that they developed in response to one another. Also, the author doesn't at all discuss issues of blame or how the war was waged -- he just helps the reader understand how the narratives of victimization and persecution were created and sustained and how they became so potent, which is in itself a critical piece for understanding the conflict. For debates on the actual war and war crimes, other books are better suited.
For anyone studying nationalism, nation-building, identity construction, or historical memory and myths in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, this book is indispensable. (Along with Kolsto's "Myths and Boundaries in Southeastern Europe", Perica's "Balkan Idols", Gordy's "Culture of Power in Serbia", Wachtel's "Making a Nation, Breaking a Nation", Dragovic-Soso's "Saviours of the Nation" and similar).
MacDonald weighs in heavy with Western interpretation of myths based on Christianity
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