Philosophers, Poets and Psychos; Janine Di Giovanni's Dispatches from War Zones Forced World Leaders to Face Uncomfortable Facts

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MADNESS VISIBLE: A Memoir of War by Janine di Giovanni (Bloomsbury, [pounds sterling]16.99)

TO recall the snipers, the genocidal rape, the arson of libraries, and the massacres which tore Yugoslavia into ribbons and shamed Europe, is to look back through warm, rose tinted lenses of nostalgia.

Then, there were certainties.

There seemed no depths which extremist Croat and Serb leaders would not plumb, and no shortage of vile creatures of the deep to carry out their hideous fantasies. During the early 1990s it was just as certain that our politicians would ignore the horrors.

But we all knew what was going on. And the politicians were herded up the moral high ground on the pitchforks of basic truth by journalists like Janine di Giovanni, who didn't let what was going on go unlamented.

The journalists put human faces on the dead. They chronicled the hours, days, weeks, months and years that the towns and cities of the condemned spent waiting for the executioner's bullet.

When the masked men came, their murders were quickly reported. Too little was done, and too late - but in the end we did the Right Thing - we bombed Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic - in the end toppling their regimes.

Major, Blair, and Clinton could not ignore the disasters unfolding in the Balkans, because people like di Giovanni were around to make sure that we didn't. And of course, we could indulge in moral certainties. What was going on in the Balkans was wrong, and (in the end) we stopped it.

Di Giovanni is a war reporter whose courage is matched only by her compassion for her subjects. In Madness Visible, she casts a surprisingly unsentimental eye on the seven years she spent covering the Balkans - working back through the years of hate from the liberation of Kosovo (by a bizarre combination of Nato and Russian troops) to the early days of the end of Yugoslavia more than a decade ago. …


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