Magas, Branka

Updated About content Print Article Share Article
views updated

MAGAS, Branka


ADDRESSES: Home—London, England. Offıce—The Bosnian Institute, 14-16 St. Mark's Road, London W11 1RQ, England; fax: +44 20 7243-8874.

CAREER: Historian and journalist. Bosnia Report, joint founding editor; Bosnian Institute, London, England, consultant.

MEMBER: Alliance to Save Bosnia.


The Destruction of Yugoslavia: Tracing the Break-up, 1980-92, Verso (New York, NY), 1993.

(Editor) Question of Survival: A Common Education System for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bosnian Institute (London, England), 1998.

(Editor, with Ivo Zanic) Rat u Hrvatskoj i Bosni i Hercegovini, 1991-1995, translated as The War in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1991-1995, Frank Cass (London, England), 2001.

Contributor to periodicals, including the New Left Review, New Statesman, and London Review of Books.

WORK IN PROGRESS: A history of Croatia.

SIDELIGHTS: Croatian historian and socialist commentator Branka Magas is regarded as a perceptive analyst of Yugoslavia's postwar political development and dissolution. In The Destruction of Yugoslavia: Tracing the Break-up, 1980-92, she analyzes the gradual fragmentation of the former socialist Balkan state that occurred in tandem with the decline of the Soviet economy in the late 1980s and early 1990s. An Economist reviewer quoted Magas as saying that "Yugoslavia did not die a natural death." Rather, she contends, the nation was deliberately destroyed from within by a cabal of Serbian nationalists intent on creating a racially pure Serbian state and excommunists and Serb-military officers who were desperate to retain their power. In Magas's view, as quoted in the Economist, Yugoslavia was "destroyed for the cause of Greater Serbia." In this climate, she explains, former communist leader Slobodan Milosevic found a way to exploit the ethnic tensions that had flourished underground in the prewar Yugoslavia and to promote a rabid nationalism.

As Magas notes, Serbian nationalists drew upon ideology that flourished in Yugoslavia during the relatively open period under Marshal Tito. "How many people realize that the concept of 'ethnic purity' (a direct predecessor of 'ethnic cleansing') first surfaced in Serbia as long ago as 1986?" observed Michael Scammell in the Washington Post Book World. "How many know that it was the dream of the intelligentsia in the form of two hundred prominent professors, writers, lawyers, journalists, and other intellectuals who introduced it in a petition to the Yugoslav and Serbian national assemblies calling for 'radical measures' to protect the Serbian population in the autonomous province of Kosovo?" Michael Ignatieff, a New York Review of Books contributor, took issue with Magas's suggestion that "the entire Yugoslav tragedy can be traced back to Milosevic's program, first set out in the 1986 Serbian Academy of Arts and Science Memorandum, to build a greater Serbia on the ruins of Tito's Yugoslavia." Countering Magas's suggestion that "the Croatian drive for independence was a protective response to Milosevic's expansionism," Ignatieff argued that burgeoning Croatian nationalism was itself an "independent force" that contributed to Yugoslavia's "descent into tragedy."

Despite the fact that Magas's book, based largely upon her left-wing journalism during the period, concludes several years before the initiation of diplomacy to end the Balkan war, critics recognized the work as a significant contribution to the history of Eastern Europe. "Those who traced the crisis of Yugoslavia as it grew during the 1980s have a special claim upon our attention at this point in the unfolding tragedy," wrote Dan Smith in the Journal of Peace Research. Smith continued, "in that sense, Magas deserves more than ordinary commendation for her efforts over the years to keep a clear eye on the combination of political opportunism and irresolution which finally exploded into a multi-front war." Writing in Dissent, Bogdan Denitch stated that Magas's book "will remain indispensable for those who need to know the details of the internal struggles in the Yugoslav League of Communists that lead to Milosevic's de facto coup against the federal 'Titoist' Constitution of 1974. It is solid in its coverage of the Serbian repression in Kosovo, an autonomous province with an Albanian majority where the disintegrative processes began." However, while praising Magas's "first-rate" knowledge, Times Literary Supplement critic Norman Stone found shortcomings in her socialist perspective, noting that "her arguments still follow something of the old Marxist track—that you cannot really explain nationalism without reference to the free market."

Magas has also served as editor, with Ivo Zanic, of Rat u Hrvatskoj i Bosni i Hercegovini, 1991-1995, a volume of essays that grew out of a 1998 conference in Budapest sponsored by the Bosnian Institute in London and Central European University. Translated as The War in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1991-1995, the collection consists of contributions by academics and military experts on the strategy, combatants, and conduct of the Balkan conflict. In particular, the volume works to demystify the Serbian army's aura of invincibility, a false notion that colored Western commentary on the war. According to Matthew R. Schwonek, a reviewer for Aerospace Power Journal, "for the next decade this volume of essays is likely to be the starting point for both academic and military professionals" interested in the subject. A critic for the Contemporary Review similarly praised the collection as "one of the crucial studies of a conflict whose end has not yet been seen."



Aerospace Power Journal, spring, 2002, Matthew R. Schwonek, review of The War in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1991-1995 p. 123.

Choice, February, 1995, Peter Rutland, review of The Destruction of Yugoslavia: Tracing the Break-up, 1980-92, pp. 901-905.

Contemporary Review, December, 2001, review of The War in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1991-1995 pp. 383-384.

Dissent, fall, 1993, Bogdan Denitch, review of The Destruction of Yugoslavia, pp. 569-571.

Economist, May 22, 1993, review of The Destruction of Yugoslavia, pp. 96, 101.

Foreign Policy, winter, 1993-94, Ivo Banac, review of The Destruction of Yugoslavia, pp. 173-182.

Journal of Peace Research, November, 1993, Dan Smith, review of The Destruction of Yugoslavia, pp. 468-469.

London Review of Books, December 16, 1993, Francoise Hampson, review of The Destruction of Yugoslavia, p. 10.

New Statesman, June 12, 1994, Branka Magas, "We Have in Our Hands a Piece of Paper . . . ," pp. 15-16.

New York Review of Books, May 13, 1993, Michael Ignatieff, review of The Destruction of Yugoslavia, pp. 3-5.

Times Literary Supplement, May 14, 1993, Norman Stone, review of The Destruction of Yugoslavia, pp. 10-11.

Washington Post Book World, April 25, 1995, Michael Scammell, review of The Destruction of Yugoslavia, p. 6.*

More From