Robert J. DoniaRadovan Karadžič: Architect of the Bosnian Genocide

Cambridge University Press, 2014

by Kelly McFall on February 6, 2015

Robert J. Donia

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As a graduate student at Ohio State in the early 1990s, I remember watching the collapse of Yugoslavia on the news almost every night and reading about it in the newspaper the next day.  The first genocidal conflict covered in real time, dozens of reporters covered the war from the front lines or from a Sarajevo under siege.

Not surprisingly, the media coverage was accompanied by a flood of memoirs and histories trying to explain the wars to a population that, at least in the US, knew little to nothing about the region.  These were valuable studies–informative, interesting and often emotionally shattering.  I still assign them in classes today.

But histories of the present, to steal a phrase from Timothy Garton Ash, are always incomplete and impressionistic.  They lack both the opportunity to engage primary sources and the perspective offered by distance.

Twenty years on, we’re now in a position to begin to reexamine and rethink many of the conclusions drawn in the midst of the conflict.  Robert J. Donia‘s new book Radovan Karadžič: Architect of the Bosnian Genocide (Cambridge University Press, 2014) is an excellent step in this direction.  Donia takes advantage of a remarkable depth of sources, including wiretap records of the phone calls Karadzic made with leading officials in Bosnia and Yugoslavia, to paint a compelling picture of a man transformed by conflict.  His argument is simple, that it was the events of the late 1980s and especially early 1990s that made Karadzic into a nationalist willing to employ ethnic cleansing and genocidal massacres in his quest to secure safety and power for his people.  In elevating Kardzic, Donia revises our understanding of the role and guilt of Slobodan Milosevic.   His argument is detailed and well-supported, made even more compelling by Donia’s recollections of his encounters with Karadzic when Donia was a witness at before the ICTY.  It’s a book anyone interested in understanding what happened in the former Yugoslavia will have to read and engage.


James Mace WardPriest, Politician, Collaborator: Jozef Tiso and the Making of Fascist Slovakia

December 25, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Eastern European Studies] In his biography of Jozef Tiso, Catholic priest and president of independent Slovakia (1939-1944), James Ward provides a deeper understanding of a man who has been both honored and vilified since his execution as a Nazi collaborator in 1947. Priest, Politician, Collaborator: Jozef Tiso and the Making of Fascist Slovakia (Cornell University Press, […]

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Thomas KuehneBelonging and Genocide: Hitler’s Community, 1918-1945

December 23, 2014

As a teenager, I heard or read or saw (in films or on television) story after story about the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police.  Despite the occasional ‘corrective’ offered by Hogan’s Heroes, the impression given was that the Gestapo were all knowing and ever present. We now know differently, of course.  But knowing that the […]

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Joyce Apsel and Ernesto VerdejaGenocide Matters: Ongoing Issues and Emerging Perspectives

November 19, 2014

The field of genocide studies is surprisingly young.  As Sam Totten and I discussed in an interview earlier this year, it dates back to the late 1980s or early 1990s.  That makes the field about 25 years old.  That’s about the time it takes for a generation of scholars to lay out their ideas and […]

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Thierry CruvellierThe Master of Confessions: The Making of a Khmer Rouge Torturer

October 31, 2014

What is justice for a man who supervised the interrogation and killing of thousands?  Especially a man who now claims to be a Christian and to be, at least in some ways and cases, repentant for his crimes? Thierry Cruvellier has written a fascinating book about the trial of ‘Duch’ the director of the S-21 […]

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Deborah MayersenOn the Path to Genocide: Armenia and Rwanda Reexamined

September 23, 2014

I live and work in the state of Kansas in the US.  We think of ourselves as living in tornado alley and orient our schedules in the spring around the weather report.  Earthquakes are something that happen somewhere else. Recently, however, our southern neighbor, Oklahoma, has been rocked repeatedly by minor earthquakes.  Why this is […]

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Lars Waldorf, Lee Ann Fujii, and Scott StrausRoundtable: What Do We Now Know About the Rwandan Genocide Twenty Years On?

September 13, 2014

In 1994 I was in graduate school, trying hard to juggle teaching, getting started on my dissertation and having something of a real life. The real life part suffered most of all.  But every once in a while, the world around me would startle me out of my cave and remind me that life was […]

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Martin ShawGenocide and International Relations: Changing Patterns in the Transitions of the Late Modern World

August 8, 2014

Works in the field of genocide studies tend to fall into one of a few camps.  Some are emotional and personal.  Others are historical and narrative.  Still others are intentionally activist and aimed at changing policy or decisions. Martin Shaw‘s works fit into a fourth category.  A historical sociologist, Shaw brings the very best of […]

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Samuel TottenGenocide by Attrition: The Nuba Mountains of Sudan

July 18, 2014

Most of the authors I’ve interviewed for this show have addressed episodes in the past, campaigns of mass violence that occurred long ago, often well-before the author was born. Today’s show is different. In his book Genocide by Attrition: The Nuba Mountains of Sudan (Transaction Publishers, 2012), Samuel Totten addresses the violence against the people of the Nuba Mountains […]

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Michael BryantEyewitness to Genocide: The Operation Reinhard Death Camp Trials, 1955-1966

July 15, 2014

My marginal comment, recorded at the end of the chapter on the Belzec trial in Michael Bryant‘s fine new book Eyewitness to Genocide: The Operation Reinhard Death Camp Trials, 1955-1966 (University of Tennessee Press, 2014), is simple:  “!!!!”  Text speak, to be sure, but it conveys the surprise I felt. One can ask many questions about […]

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