Crises in the Balkans: Views from the Participants

By Constantine P. Danopoulos; Kostas G. Messas | Go to book overview

2
Of Shatter Belts and Powder Kegs:
A Brief Survey of Yugoslav History

John D. Treadway

It is simplistic and misleading to suggest that the fighting that broke out in Yugoslavia in the summer of 1991 was preordained, the result of some sort of malicious historical inevitability. However, in order to understand the origins, the ferocity and complexity of the Yugoslav wars of the late twentieth century, one must give due consideration to the region's development over the course of centuries.

The Balkans have long been known as the "Powder keg of Europe" -- in part because of the mountainous region's highly combustible mixture of nationalities and ethnic and religious groups, and in part because of great power rivalries in the area which have often manipulated the former. 1 In a talk before the German Reichstag in 1876 -- two years before becoming the "honest broker" at the Congress of Berlin, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck opined that the Balkans were "not worth the healthy bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier." Just as Washington had warned Americans to avoid entangling European alliances, so Bismarck warned Germans against becoming mired in Balkan quicksand. Bismarck's opinion concerning the region's mischief making potential did not change much over time. When, shortly before his death in 1898, he was asked what would start the next big European war, he suggested "some damn foolish thing in the Balkans."

Over the years numerous guidebooks have referred to the Balkans as the land bridge between Europe and Asia, a colorful region where "East" meets "West," and an area where three of the world's major religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, have coexisted, albeit uneasily at times, for centuries. It is also an area

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