Another attempt to make some kind of sense of what's going on east of the Dniester. Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan come in for special attention.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Getting back into Balkan history

When I was doing my M.A. at Carleton, the Russian and Slavic Studies Programe offered a course on Balkan history, for which I eagerly signed up. Strangely, no one else did. I was afraid that the course would be cancelled but, mercifully, the department decided to go ahead with it.

The prof in charge was a great guy - John Fraser. Long-time civil servant with the Department of Foreign Affairs and former Canadian Ambassador to Yugoslavia, John was not only a Rhodes Scholar, but a man who could tell a story. His Oxford background and the size of the class (i.e. me) combined to turn the course into an Oxford style tutorial. I was inundated with reading and had to do a 10-page paper every week, but the intensiveness, coupled with John's superb wit and style, made it one of the most memorable courses I have ever taken (along with Serge Hervouet-Zeiber's fabulous Russian Comparative Grammar course at McGill.)

There's just something about one's teacher saying, "Well, as Tito told me..."

Among the reading that John assigned was the weighty tome by Dame Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, The Yugoslavs by Dusko Doder, Misha Glenny's Balkans, and endless other worthy titles.

I think it fair to assume that - if the course is still being offered - Robert D. Kaplan's Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History would be one of the books assigned. While I'm not a fan of his politics, he does write a good book, with far fewer set assumptions that one would normally ascribe to the author of Imperial Grunts. For those who are fans of his politics, I heartily recommend the blog (named after one of Kaplan's books) The Coming Anarchy.

Anyway, having been away from full-time study for a long time, reading more Harry Potter and Dr. Seuss than serious history, I've decided to get back into the real stuff, starting with a re-reading of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. What could be a scarier bedtime story for kids than the exploits of IMRO?

Any recommendations for further reading in the area would be greatly welcome.

1 comment:

shpresa said...

Hello there, .....when reading about Balkan keep in mind that it is a very complex old part of Europe with rich history that unfortunately most of the time gets twisted and changed to suit the "writers" ..."black lamb and grey falcon" simplify the history of balkans to suit author`s bias, and that is where it loses credibility....a great author is Ismail Kadare, he writes novels but they are great. History and culture of balkans are always portrayed in his book...as for historical reading there are plenty more, one that comes to mind now is: A short history of Kosovo, By Nolel Malcom....history of balkans from early 300 and up to Ottoman invasion is fascinating....did you get to learn about Illiryans in your course, I`d be interested to know what you know about that...

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