Media coverage of the turmoil in the Balkans, particularly television, pervasively gives the impression of irrational, possibly thick witted cultures run amok. This produces high mass market entertainment values, but little basis for understanding what is really happening. There is, indeed, a great deal of violence in the Balkans, but it results from the breakdown of indigenous social institutions and the simultaneous failure of international security institutions to cope with these unfamiliar regional problems in the post-Cold War world. As the essays in this book demonstrate, the thesis of Balkan irrationality does not stand up under even casual scrutiny: A logic of self interest, distorted by the wrong incentives, is definitely at work.
The media, again particularly television, and not only the media but also American policy makers propelled by media images, oversimplify the Balkan cast of characters into heroes ("democrats") and villains (authoritarian thugs). Serbian President Slobodon Milosevic, for example, becomes "the butcher of the Balkans," single handedly responsible for the dissolution of Yugoslavia. But this facile impression ignores the reality that Yugoslavia was on its deathbed, beyond hope of resuscitation, at the mercy of many sorts of nationalists of which Milosevic was probably, but not indisputably, the worst. On these matters experts will disagree. Without making an explicit point out of their differences, the essays in this book show that reasonable disagreement is possible, even fruitful. The contrast in outlook here with the United States is stark. Instead of striving for objectivity, American officials, in a sort of trained automatic reflex, coddle their favorites -- whether President Sali Berisha in Albania or President Alija Izetbegovic in Bosnia -- and punish their scapegoats at every turn. That clouded vision of Balkan politics builds mistrust, making future relations more problematic.
These essays individually and collectively emphasize that all the problems in the Balkans are in one way or another interrelated. Because American policy makers have failed to understand that also, they can not adequately predict events and find themselves on the defensive, reacting to events only after moderate scale disturbances become full blown crises. The media has had a pernicious role in this, too, selectively distorting reality to make things more or less important