One reviewer described this book as “Not sufficiently anti-Serb for the Ministry of Truth.” That’s more profound than he realized. Gerolymatos argues that the Kosovo myth functions as a prism through which Serbia would forever understand its struggles with outsiders (Gerolymatos 8). He makes the neat argument that even after the Battle of Kosovo and the death of Holy Prince Lazar, Serbs and Greeks had numerous opportunities to annihilate the Ottomans. Not simply win battles, but to eradicate them from the planet. When Timur the Lane destroyed most of the Ottoman empire, the creme of officials and army were trapped at the Straits. Greeks and Serbs rallied them across. Even Timurlane couldn’t imagine why they let that chance slip by. That wouldn’t be true if Kosovo were indeed the final point of medieval Serbian independence.
Ottoman Era: Creating a Mythology
The sack of Constantinople ended a “universal Hellenism” and began to create a specifically Greek consciousness (69-70).
He argues that the Ottoman rule actually made the Greek Church (better called the Phanariot Church) more powerful. Other Orthodox jurisdictions temporarily disappeared, leaving the Phanariot Patriarch as Patriarch over all the East (Russia excluded). Indeed, the Patriarch assumed the role of a vizier. Of course, it also made the Patriarchate dependent on the Sultan for its survival (sort of throws a new light on the “Caesaropapism” charge).
Most importantly, no matter how brutal the Ottomans were (and he doesn’t pull punches), there was always collusion between between Muslim and Christian (81). This is best illustrated in the person of Ali Pasha, the Ottoman strongman who was by far the most interesting persona in the book. Pasha’s life represents the problem of the Balkans: he exploited divisions and weaknesses to make himself more powerful. This meant, ironically, defending and strengthening some Christian communities (if only to weaken his Ottoman rivals).
Among the many reasons modern Western politicians fail to understand the Balkan crisis is the critical role of “land” (167). Men die and identify themselves for what they believe in, who they are, and where they are–and not for pious platitudes chanted on CNN.
One key failure, perhaps earlier than the “Modern” period, was the Great Powers’ ignoring of Macedonia. According to the author, “Macedonia was a microcosm of the Balkans” and a strategic pathway for all cardinal directions (207). The Powers gave it back to the Ottoman Empire without regard for future upheavals.
He sees economic success as the only way to combat the fatigue of war (245). Time will tell.
I enjoyed the endnotes almost as much as anything else in the book. They were a veritable bibliographic feast. If you read this book you will know infinitely more political science than the news anchors on CNN.
Some of these criticisms might seem overly nitpicky, but that’s only because this book is so good and well-written.
*He notes that the Koran said a city that did not surrender would be subject to three days of pillaging (253 n2). I don’t dispute that, but where is that referenced?
*He is more or less fair in his handling of Kosovo. He acknowledges Milosevic engaged in cruelties but points out America’s own role in intervening: a) establishing an anti-Russian, anti-Serb state in the heart of the Balkans, b) conveniently allowing transit to Western and Central Asia. Serbia had to be destroyed for the Neo-Con/Neo-Lib world order to flourish.
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