Origins of a Catastrophe, by Warren Zimmerman, 1999, Times Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York
Warren Zimmerman was the last U.S. ambassador to Yugoslavia and the Balkan War broke out in the 1990’s. The book relates his meetings with the leaders of the various republics (Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia) that split from Yugoslavia and he provides his assessment of their personalities and ideologies. In fact the book is a little bit like a memoir in addition to a historical work.
This book was a very hard read for me as the names were hard to keep track of and I didn’t know much about these countries or their histories. Although I have rated this book fairly high due to its content, I found myself having a hard time staying with it In fact, I usually started to fall asleep while reading it after only a few pages.
The most startling conclusion that I came to after reading this was the damage that certain individuals can inflict on their fellow countrymen when they implement their intentions, particularly when their intentions are fused with a extreme nationalistic ideology. In our recent presidential campaign here in the U.S. one of our candidates has professed strong nationalistic views, i.e., America First. As I read this book I was struck by how similar the personalities and ideology of Slobodan Milosevic and Donald Trump seem to be. Both seem to have had a strong dislike of foreigners, want to control the press (media), and harbor feelings that they have been somehow wronged by their enemies. These are all the characteristics of a demagogue. Scary.
While I greatly appreciate Zimmerman’s analysis of what caused the breakup of Yugoslavia and the subsequent wars, it was a bit depressing to read while at the same time our own presidential election was underway. Both of these together was a bit too hard to take.