↑ comment by satt ·
2014-12-11T02:52:25.292Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
It does seem to me that if there were someone on Less Wrong with a background in PR (or constitutional law, or the Yugoslav conflict,
To fill that last gap while we wait for an actual expert to arrive, I offer my own reading list on the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Actually, it is also a watching list, because I recommend doing as I did by starting with
Watching TV science documentaries mostly soured me on documentaries in general, because I realized they have a woeful information density compared to academic books. But as an introduction to a tranche of history, a lower density documentary* was extremely useful for learning the names & places I needed to know to understand chapter- and book-length treatments of the wars.
If I read someone's name in a book I'm likely to forget it before it crops up again, but if I see ten clips of someone answering questions with their name hovering by their head, I have a good chance of remembering who they are. (Something I like a lot about the documentary is that it's not stingy with the name captions.) It also helps that the series mixes things up with photographs, maps, tourist adverts, state TV cartoons, contemporary news reports (and yes, old Yugoslav TV looks about as you'd expect it to), at least one snippet of hidden camera footage, recordings of phone calls, and amateur camcorder film.
A downside of Death of Yugoslavia is that it's too old to cover the war in Kosovo, but it's still indirectly helpful there because it gives a fair amount of background information about the province. I've also seen allegations that the film's English translations are tendentiously inaccurate, but the only remotely reliable source I have for those claims is a couple of references to ICTY transcripts in the documentary's Wikipedia article.
Once you know the broad structure of the wars, it's time for books. The documentary has an accompanying book, also called The Death of Yugoslavia, and I've yet to find an academic who dislikes it, but I haven't read it. I assumed it was a bit redundant after watching the series, and I wanted something else. I wanted academic books with contributions from many people of different nationalities (to reduce the risk of reading one-sided propaganda), written in English, and available for free somewhere on the Internet. Which led me to:
- Charles Ingrao & Thomas Emmert (eds.), Confronting the Yugoslav Controversies: A Scholars' Initiative (1st ed. 2010, 2nd ed. 2012)
- Jasminka Udovički & James Ridgeway (eds.), Burn This House: The Making and Unmaking of Yugoslavia (2000)
- Sabrina P. Ramet, Thinking about Yugoslavia: Scholarly Debates about the Yugoslav Breakup and the Wars in Bosnia and Kosovo (2005)
The books are all a bit different. Confronting is very much an ivory tower product, with each chapter drafted by its own team, and each team headed by a pair of researchers who wrote a first draft for multiple rounds of critique & editing. The line-up of contributors has 300+ people from 30 countries, including every ex-Yugoslav country, and the introduction describes an arduous composition process which makes me picture a Yugoslavia-themed IPCC. Burn This House is a more straightforward edited volume with chapters by 11 authors from different fields (journalism, theology, history, Yugoslav foreign affairs, broadcasting, academia, and think-tank punditry). Finally, Thinking is basically a compilation of Sabrina Ramet's reviews of "more than 130[!] books about the troubled region", so you get some idea of what many scholars think even though the book is a single person's effort. All three books sport copious references to specific sources.
None of the books are perfect.
The e-book of Burn This House is missing the pictures, replacing them with boxes labelled "Image Not Available".
Confronting and Burn This House both suffer from typos and similar slip-ups, some of which corrupt dates and other numbers. I made a note of a few examples from my copy of Confronting:
- it is not true that in "December 1991 the European Community (EC) had just redesignated itself as the European Union (EU) with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty", because that treaty was signed on February 7, 1992
- it is arithmetically impossible for the ICTY's budget to have had "a tenfold increase" from "$276,000" to "$278,500,000"
- chapter 9's title page mentions the "three-part documentary film" The Fall of Yugoslavia, which does not exist (the authors confused The Death of Yugoslavia with the later series The Fall of Milošević)
- every time it gives the date when Operation Storm began (August 4, 1995), the book gets it right, except in the most relevant chapter, "The War in Croatia, 1991-1995", which mis-dates it to "2 August"
Ramet's Thinking has much less of this, though I have spotted at least one iffy statement. p. 22 says, "[m]ore than 200,000 people died in Bosnia during the war of 1992-5", a number broadly accepted when Ramet was writing, but since halved to around 100,000 (on which see Calic & Mitrović's "Ethnic Cleansing and War Crimes, 1991-1995" in Confronting).
So, worthwhile as these books are, they still call for critical thinking and careful attention. Fortunately, the bulk of the problems which set off my bullshit detector are unintentional bloopers like those I just listed, rather than vague warning signs which give me a creeping sense of "I can't put my finger on specific factual errors, but I doubt I'm getting a full, fair picture here".
Two exceptions do fall into that last category, namely the chapters on the Kosovo war by Udovički in Burn This House, and by Gow & Hadžić in Confronting. Udovički gives me pause by guilelessly citing Washington Times articles, a Cato Institute speaker, and Diane Johnstone. Gow & Hadžić take an oddly uncritical perspective on the West's actions in Kosovo, focusing on evidence supporting NATO's bombing of Serbia & Montenegro, failing to rebut opposing evidence, and arguing against charges of NATO war crimes on the naive basis that the ICTY didn't think the charges worth pursuing (and that NATO ran its mission plans past lawyers before executing those plans).
Other books. My Neighbor, My Enemy: Justice and Community in the Aftermath of Mass Atrocities is an edited volume about justice and social reconstruction in ex-Yugoslavia & Rwanda. Quite dry, but some of the chapters have interesting data or descriptions of how war crime courts and other post-war projects work. Sarajevo Under Siege: Anthropology in Wartime is an inessential but engrossing ethnography documenting life in (duh) besieged Sarajevo. Debating the End of Yugoslavia, a just-released anthology springing from this conference, might prove to be a solid literature review in the vein of Ramet, but more up to date.
* Which is not to say that Death of Yugoslavia dilutes its facts to the point of becoming boring. It goes at a steady clip — except for the final half hour, which covers the juddering stop-start progress towards a peace agreement in great detail.
Replies from: satt
↑ comment by satt ·
2015-07-18T15:34:37.834Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I've also seen allegations that [The Death of Yugoslavia]'s English translations are tendentiously inaccurate
An update for future readers on the Death of Yugoslavia documentary and the accuracy of its subtitles: idupizdu (heh) on YouTube is the first person I've seen to step up and list specific subtitles they think are tendentiously mis-translated.
They give 17 examples, each comparing idupizdu's transcription of the spoken Serbo-Croat, idupizdu's own English translation, and the documentary's subtitled translation. Most of the examples strike me as fairly innocuous, and I reckon the subtitles' imprecision in general is explained by the usual preference of TV editors for concision over accuracy. Still, I'm grateful to idupizdu for cataloguing examples so others can decide for themselves.