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.

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