Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Surviving the Peace: The Struggle for Postwar Recovery in Bosnia-Herzegovina


Peter Lippman’s book Surviving the Peace: The Struggle for Postwar Recovery in Bosnia-Herzegovina represents a unique effort. It is the work of an activist with a genuine love for Bosnia who has been researching the country for over twenty years, involving a level of fieldwork that very few, if any, foreigners can match. Lippman has travelled all over the country many times and extensively interviewed many local people in many different places, often tracing their personal stories over years or decades. Few PhD students working on Bosnia today manage to attain expertise in the local politics of even one locality, but Lippman’s achievement is to have attained expertise in several. This is a study of the struggle for refugee return in Bosnia following the war of 1992-1995, the struggle of ordinary people to rebuild their lives after the war, and the struggle against the abusive behaviour and corruption of nationalist politicians. One of the book’s five parts is devoted to Srebrenica and one to the Prijedor region, while the struggle in other parts of the country, including Sarajevo and Mostar, is also covered in considerable detail. Lippman’s book is a worthy companion to the excellent Bosnia Remade: Ethnic Cleansing and its Reversal by Gerard Toal and Carl T. Dahlman, which also focused on refugee returns but is now nearly ten years old. Lippman’s book is naturally up to date, but given the long period of its research, it does not focus only on recent years, but on the late 1990s and intervening periods as well, for a thorough treatment of the subject matter.

This is a multi-faceted study that carefully explains and analyses the interlocking factors of the refugee return movement, local Bosnian power-politics and the actions of the international administration. It does not limit itself to any one set of authorities or group of refugees, but considers the full picture, of all groups in relation to each other. Thus, for example, it examines in detail the politics of the Bosniak return movement to Srebrenica, but considers also the experience of the Serbs of Srebrenica. It focuses on obstruction to refugee returns not only by Bosnia’s Serb-majority entity Republika Srpska, but also by its larger entity, the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The reader gains an insight both into the differences in behaviour and policy of these different bodies of refugees and local and entity actors, but also into their relationship with one another, with an unprecedented level of inter-regional and inter-local comparison. The quality of nuanced analysis achieved makes this one of the best books on post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Lippman is not a professional academic, which gives the book some advantages. The book was written primarily with the help of local people; the acknowledgements list very many Bosnian and other former-Yugoslav names, but relatively few foreigners; this is not a book that was written to please a Western academic audience, which gives it greater readability and authenticity. The reader is spared the frequently overlong, rambling and skippable introductory theoretical section with which many academic studies are burdened, and the book is admirably free of academic jargon or clichés. One of the limitations of this book, conversely, is the absence of a proper historical background or framework for understanding Bosnian politics and history since 1995. Long-term historical trends from the pre-1992 period are not really considered, while the treatment of the war of 1992-1995 is fairly token, and while these were not the subject of what is already a lengthy book, a more careful consideration of them would have provided more perspective on the period since 1995.


One or two erroneous clichés have crept into the book; the author describes the Serb exodus from Croatia in response to Operation Storm as ‘the largest single expulsion of the war’ (pp. 17-18), which is incorrect, given that the expulsion carried out by Serb forces across Bosnia-Herzegovina in the spring and summer of 1992 was much larger, also because the Serb exodus of August 1995 was ordered by the Serb occupation authorities in Croatia themselves, not forced by the Croatian authorities. The attribution of the ICTY’s acquittal of senior war-crimes suspects such as Momcilo Perisic to string-pulling by ‘powerful states in the world’, that Lippman cites with approval (pp. 175-176), is an unwarranted concession to a conspiracy theory that originated with the Serb nationalists, of the ICTY as a political or ‘imperialist’ tribunal. But these are minor gripes regarding a book that is, for the most part, mercifully free of such clichés.

The book’s fifth and final part concerns atrocity revisionism; the author competently summarises and critiques the appalling record of Bosnia war-crimes deniers such as Noam Chomsky and Diana Johnstone. This section will be appreciated by Bosnia activists and those with an interest in the phenomenon of atrocity revisionism more generally; it undoubtedly reflects the author’s personal interest, though thematically it does not have a lot to do with the principal subject matter of the book. A more relevant section, which the book lacks, would have been an analysis of the politics of the international community in relationship to Bosnia-Herzegovina since 1995, which would have provided an overview of the international context in which the struggle for post-war recovery in the country operates. These caveats, however, do not make this book any less essential reading for anyone with an interest in contemporary Bosnia-Herzegovina.




Saturday, 15 August 2020 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide | , , | Leave a comment