Donald P. Kommers

This short book advances bone-shattering propositions about the fall of Yugoslavia. It argues that U.S. policymakers and western European leaders knowingly set out to destroy Yugoslavia in the interest of globalized capitalism; that the (1999) Rambouillet Peace Agreement was an ambush amounting to outright colonial domination; that Slobodan Milosevic, though hardly angelic, was not the monster that the West made him out to be; that they lied about the extent of Serbian atrocities; that the U.N.-created International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia is a sham; and that the Western media, The New York Times included, went along with the massive deception because they are owned and controlled by...the self-serving neoliberal ideology of international finance capital.

Michael Parenti brings his flaming indictment to a boil in chapters bearing titles such as Hypocritical Humanitarianism, Divide and Conquer, NATO’s War Crimes, Where Are All the Bodies Buried? and Ethnic Cleansing, KLA-NATO Style. The chapters are mean and lean. Some are little more than op-ed articles in length, and all bite deeply to the quick. It’s the kind of book the author, a well-known political scientist who revels in the role of gadfly, likes to write.

Admittedly, truth is the first casualty of any war or military action. As Parenti points out, the truth behind the death of Yugoslavia is yet to be fully told. For one thing, it appears that Serbian atrocities in Kosovo and elsewhere may well have been exaggerated. For another, NATO bombs may have produced more refugees than anything the Serbs did on the ground. In support of these suppositions and other propositions already mentioned, the author has sifted through a number of prominent American and British newspapers for reports that tended to support his case, thus lining the book with a veneer of impartiality.

To Kill a Nation should nevertheless be read with caution. First, it is a militantly one-sided account of Yugoslavia’s fall from grace. Second, on a related note, it relies disproportionately on socialist-oriented sources and ignores the rich bibliography of books and articles on Yugoslavia published in the 1990’s. Finally, it lacks the penetrating historical perspective of works such as Rebecca West’s classic Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941). Parenti defends the old Yugoslavian federation as a viable multicultural society and model of humane socialism. But whether it was viable or humane is more controversial than he lets on. One could plausibly argue that with Tito gone, Yugoslavia was in time bound to fall apart. Croatia’s breakaway the author finds especially galling. To hear him tell it, Croatia’s liberation from Milosevic’s grip was brought about by thugs and reactionaries abetted, of course, by Pope John Paul II, who never had a harsh word for right-wing autocratsan example, by the way, of this book’s tone and character.

Equally troubling is the omission of events that would lead to a more balanced view of the Balkan conflict. The reader hears nothing of Milosevic’s famous 1989 speech whipping a million Serbs into nationalist frenzy with his talk of creating a Greater Serbia. We learn too that Albanian extremists systematically set about to eradicate the Serbian religious and historical culture in Kosovo, but we are never told that in 1991 the Serbs drove tens of thousands of Croats from Krajina, burning their homes and villages along the way, and systematically torching, demolishing or damaging all Catholic properties in sight, including monasteries, convents, chapels, churches and cemeteriesdeeds calculated to erase the physical record of Croatian Catholicism. But when the Croats responded in kind in 1995, we are informed of all the gory details.

That is the measure of this book’s impartiality.

Donald P. Kommers is the Robbie Professor of Law and Government at the University of Notre Dame.