cover image Kosovo: How Myths and Truths Started a War

Kosovo: How Myths and Truths Started a War

Julie A. Mertus. University of California Press, $23.95 (378pp) ISBN 978-0-520-21865-9

An essential document for understanding the crisis in Kosovo, this hard-hitting study blends political analysis, history and interviews that Ohio Northern University law professor Mertus conducted in Kosovo, Serbia proper and Macedonia between 1993 and 1998. Mertus, who completed this book just months before the NATO bombing campaign began, argues that the international community's years of inaction pushed the Kosovo Albanians away from a posture of passive resistance to Serb repression and toward militant demands for an independent state. She establishes a systematic pattern of human rights abuses perpetrated by Serb police and paramilitary forces against Kosovo Albanians since 1989, and she shows how Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic, employing state-controlled media, used Serbian claims to Kosovo (whose population is 90% ethnic Albanian) to build his power base while whipping up nationalist sentiment into fervid hatred of Kosovo Albanians. Western perceptions that Islamic fundamentalism must lie at the heart of the Kosovo Albanian movement for autonomy are off the mark, argues Mertus, because the Kosovo Albanians are both Muslim and Christian. She structures her revealing narrative around a number of polarizing events, including the 1981 Kosovo Albanian student demonstrations, which erupted into a populist revolt, and the alleged poisoning in 1990 of thousands of Kosovo Albanian schoolchildren (variously blamed on Serbs or Albanian separatists). Her study concludes with broad recommendations to humanitarian, relief and conflict-resolution groups working to rebuild shattered Kosovo. Photos. (Aug.)