Book review: Kosovo: What Everyone Needs to Know

Take the foremost foreign correspondent from the Balkans, years of work in the region and an author of historic works on Kosovo and Serbs and you could potentially have the best mix for some great all-encompassing work on Kosovo. In his latest work Tim Judah sets out to give you in broad lines everything you need to know about Kosovo. And for the most part, he does it pretty well.

He does have a slow start with history. It is all over the place, unnatural and devoid of the authoritative voice that permeates the book once it gets into the 20th century. Because of the short and review nature of the book, it fails to bring anything new to the historical discourse on Kosovo. And in such a game Albanians and readers are bound to come out losers due to the more prolific Serbian “historical” work.

But once it starts heading into the modern history of Kosovo, the tone gets more relaxed and we see Judah at its best. He is able to connect the present situation and characters with the historical events decades back and be critical about it. The prose flows with ease and should captivating even to the most uninitiated of you who want to understand how we got here.

That said, it does have a few flaws. At one point Judah compares Kosovo’s right to independence to that of Republika Srpska, an entity whose borders were established during the Bosnian war based on ethnic cleansing and genocide. He also does not seem certain that Recak, which precipitated the NATO war, was a massacre of innocent civilians. On the flip side, he does dismantle myths, such as the widely quoted figure of over 200,000 Serbs having left Kosovo since 1999 (the number is around 70,000).

Other than that, the book is one of a kind. It is very well done and covers Kosovo up to the present day, including laying out some of the challenges that Kosovo will face in the coming months and years and some of the internal controversies that provide a great illustration of what Kosovo feels like on the ground. On the downside, presumably to appeal to the wider international audience and following an established tradition, the book is moored into the Albanian vs. Serb duality, illustrated by the decision to refer to geographic names in both Serbian and Albanian. But in Kosovo itself, Serbs/Serbia takes only a miniscule portion of the general debate.

Kosovo: What Everyone Needs to Know. By Tim Judah. Oxford University Press. Out on 23 October 2008. £8.99

Published on on 12 October, 2008.

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