Institute of the Serbian Academy of
Sciences and Art
to the Book of Noel Malcolm
Kosovo - A Short History
Prof. Mile Bjelajac, Ph. D
Institute for Recent Serbian History
Et Contra: Some Western Echoes of Noel Malcolm's Book
Kosovo, A Short History
When two books appeared
- Rudolf Bicanic's The Economic Background of the Croatian Question
(1938), which was introduced by the leader of the Croatian Peasant Party
dr. Vlatko Macek, and The Black Lamb and the Grey Falcon (Macmillan,
London, 1941)l, probably nobody supposed that those books, in spite
of their ideological orientation, would for some sixty years figure
as inevitable reading of the historians and politicians focusing on
the Balkans. The impact of these books not only on these two professions,
but also on many journalists and "instant analysts", has been
anything but negligible. Now, almost at the very end of the century,
we are once again helpless witnesses of the promotion of a book that
has bound its career with a flourishing political trend. Its function
is that of the advance guard and subsequent legitimation of new politics
in relation to the Balkans.
How was Noel Malcolm's book received by American and British historians?
Historians, but also other scholars or analysts, responded to Noel Malcolm's
book soon after its appearance, the way they responded to the book by
Miranda Vickers dealing with the same theme published some time before
Malcolm's. Such a prompt response is to be attributed to the fact that
the publication of these two books coincided with the beginning of repeated
terrorist actions by the separatists against the civilian population
and armed confrontations of the KLA with the police throughout the area
of Kosovo and Metohija.
The available critical reviews and polemics inspired by Malcolm's work
suggests that the majority of the authors voiced well grounded objections
to Malcolm's book, whereas only a minority embraced it unreservedly.
It also seems that the authors giving priority to the book by Miranda
Vickers were more numerous. This finding perhaps contrasts with the
reception of Malcolm's book by some political circles.
Among the critical points on which the greater part of the reviewers
agree, the most frequent objections are to Malcolm's disregard for Serb
archival sources, the Serb scholarship, to his insufficient knowledge
of recent history, his misunderstanding of myths in Serb history, his
deficient criticism of Albanian myths and Albanian scholarship, as well
as to his open political (pro-Albanian) choice in relation to the solution
of the Kosovo issue today.
A Summary of
The reviews of
Malcolm's book, affirmative and negative alike, have been inspired both
by his approach to historical topics and the messages he formulates
in his introductory and concluding discussions. Very often, the authors
have reviewed Malcolm's book along with that by Miranda Vickers, and
in a few cases with that by Richard Holbrooke (To End the War).
The first review, predominantly affirmative, was written by Oxford University
professor Richard Crampton. It should be added that Crampton has in
a way contributed to the promotion of Malcolm's "Kosovo Cycle".
Namely, his and Robert Evans's influence was responsible for Malcolm's
becoming a visiting professor at the Brasenose College of the University
of Oxford teaching on "The Great Migration of 1690". They
were also instrumental in obtaining for him, in 1995/1996, a grant from
that university - its St Antony College - enabling him to write his
history of Kosovo. The reading of Crampton's review gives the impression
that this distinguished professor was too easily taken in by Malcolm's
impressive apparatus criticus, by his seemingly skilful use of sources,
by his "passionate" delving into such problems as the Kosovo
Battle, the Great Migration, etc. Judging by his latest synthetical
monograph, it is obvious that Crampton is not well versed in the subject
matter in question.
In short, Malcolm's colleague accepts his arguments against the myths
dealing with the Kosovo Battle, the Great Migration, his advocacy of
the thesis propounding the Illyrian origin of the Albanians, his challenging
of the historical and ethnological proofs pertaining to the Arnauts,
etc. So Crampton enthusiastically writes:
"The greatest strength of this book, however, is not the range
of its sources, but the skill with which they have been used."
Crampton illustrates his claim by referring to "brilliant"
passages discussing the "Illyrian origin" of the Albanians
and a "brilliant passage proving that Kosovo has never legitimately
entered into the composition of the Serbian state."
Another British historian, Stevan K. Pavlowitch, professor of Balkan
history at the University of Southampton, penned an acute, rather ironical
judgement on he way in which Malcolm uses his sources :
"As one who has studied Balkan history for 40 years and taught
it for 30, I do not think that Malcolm's book is a profound, as opposed
to an impressive work of scholarship. The very name of Kosovo is imprecise.
The site of the Battle of 1389 and the Ottoman province are not the
same as the 1945 Yugoslav province to which we refer today. For Malcolm
to say that we can read a Kosovan history to ancient times is cheating.
Kosovo. A Short History is often just Ottoman history or Albanian history.
) Malcolm compounds popular nineteenth-century simplifications
of the kind once widespread in Europe into an authorized version that
he attributes to 'Serbian historians' and then proceeds to knock it
down with the help of
twentieth-century Serb historians (using
them selectively and out of context, we might add). Malcolm wants to
demonstrate that the twentieth-century Serbian, Montenegrin, and Yugoslavian
politics from 1912 onward are the core of the Kosovo problem (
I happen to agree, but it should have been drawn from the evidence,
not an assumption made first and then bolstered with evidence (that
fit him - M. B.)."
Not long after the positive, political-professional review by Richard
Crampton, another expert in Eastern and Middle Europe had his review
of Malcolm's book published, Istvan Deak, professor at the Columbia
University (New York). This rather long review is moderately affirmative,
but it demonstrates Deak's poor knowledge of the subject matter. Due
to his rare use of quotations, one can tell Deak's own prejudices from
Malcolm's claims only with the help of Malcolm's book. Nevertheless,
Deak warns that it is not worthwhile to seek the Albanian ethno-genesis
by tracing the concept "Albanian" since that very people did
not use that name but the appellation "Shqiptar". "Unfortunately,
an enormous quantity of ink and blood is being spilled over this nonsensical
question." Deak gives priority to Vickers, who accepts the results
of Serbian historiography related to the Great Migration. He considers
that procedure more just ("and, truly, it is more likely").
Among the academic historians, perhaps the sharpest criticism of Malcolm's
book came from Professor Thomas Emerat (Gustavus Adolphus College).
Paraphrazing the opinion of one of his students, Emerat agrees with
him that Malcolm's is a history "with an attitude", a thing
which we here call writing "with a preset thesis". Revealing
Malcolm's deceits concerning his precedence in exposing Serb myths,
Emerat immediately and without beating around the bush, pours out precisely
the facts offered by the history of Serb critical historiography, in
particular those supplied by the work of Ilarion Ruvarac and his followers.
Emeret finds that Malcolm is not aware that myth exists in itself, that
it has its duration and that it also represents a reality, as well as
that challenging myth is the craziest enterprize one can undertake.
By his book Malcolm has demonstrated the arrogance to do so. But that
is not the only proof of his arrogance. As a writer and scholar, Emerat
ironically remarks that Malcolm, only four years after he had made a
bold step into the dark of Balkan politics and history with his short
history of Bosnia, "perhaps gives hope to all historians and other
scholars who labor endless years in producing definitive studies of
their particular regions of the field".
Identifying the central targets of Malcolm's book (the myth of Kosovo
and Metohija as the cradle of Serb state consciousness, the Kosovo Battle,
the Great Migration), Emerat demonstrates the absurdity of Malcolm's
efforts. For instance, Emerat is of the opinion that the most important
things are historical evidence and present times - what the Serbs consider
as their cradle and not how that conviction came about. Or, Emerat goes
on to say, it is quite wrong to account for the myth of the Kosovo Battle
by nineteenth century Serb national ideology. That myth, Emerat reminds,
existed before the time of Vuk Karadzic, who wrote down the popular
epics. The third of the above mentioned myths cannot be knocked down
by the sheer mass of the sources offered by the author.
However, Emerat makes his most serious objection to Malcolm in the last
sentence of the review, before turning to the book by Miranda Vickers:
"Once he does bring us to the twentieth century, Malcolm chronicles
as closely as he can the discrimination, harassment and outright terror
directed at Albanians by Serbs. One senses, however, that he is reluctant
to examine and document more carefully and critically the Albanians'
own serious acts against the Serbs in Kosovo both in this century and
during the last decades of Ottoman rule there." This passage hits
precisely Malcolm's preset thesis - that everything began in 1912.
Tim Judah, in a long review published in the New York Review of Books
(May 14 1998), challenged Malcolm's distortion of the historical evidence
related to the Great Migration. Malcolm does that by using one-sided
sources, Judah says, asking the author why Serb archives are missing
from his listing and why only a meagre selection of Serb works is included.
He had his review reprinted in The Economist.
In his reviews published in the British press, Misha Glenny also criticizes
Malcolm for the evident absence of Serb archival sources in his book.
Glenny is the author of a study dealing with the disintegration of Yugoslavia.
Where is Malcolm
most sensitive to criticism and where did he respond vehemently?
Two kinds of objections
were most upsetting to Malcom. In the first place, those were the objections
underlining that he had relied on quite a scanty selection from Serb
literature and sources as well as that he had not included a single
Serb specialist among his consultants, as opposed to the abounding Albanian
To the criticism of those inattentive critics who thought that he had
relied more on Albanian than on Serb historians he answered by flourishing
his massive list of literature, which really includes a lot of shorter
or longer contributions by Serb historians. He added, as a particular
support to his argument, that those works were supplied by his Albanian
friends! In a similar way, he almost succeeded in convincing his critics
that he had nothing whatsoever to seek for in Serb secular or church
archives because even Serb historians relied on the evidence to be found
in Turkey, Austria, Venice, the Vatican, Dubrovnik or Paris. However,
in truth, he tried, except once, to ignore his duty and explain why
he didn't find it fitting to use those archives in his discussion of
the nineteenth and twentieth century history. This was noticed by professor
Christian A. Nielsen (Columbia University) during the polemic between
professor Emerat and Malcolm. Pressed by this perceptive remark, Malcolm
answers to Nielsen: "The direct knowledge of Serbian archival sources
is certainly a deficiency in my work but I think the deficiency is nevertheless
a minor one, given chronological range of the book." Only a few
passages following this sentence Malcolm admits - this is the only case
we have found - that his book, discussing the period 1912-1915 and 1918-1941,
does not use first-class sources, though they are available in Serb
archives. Yet, in order to justify himself and confuse his critics,
he adds that the period in question is, after all, chronologically the
shortest one and that, consequently, "the deficiency is
minor one". He says that he referred to such outstanding Albanian
specialists as Liman Rushiti and Hakif Bajrami who had carefully examined
those sources. That is how the thesis that Kosovo did not become a legitimate
component of the
Serbian state in 1912 and that 1912 marks the beginning of a de facto
colonial rule became acceptable for Noel Malcolm.
The other point in the critical reviews of Malcolm's books which particularly
disturbed him is their challenging his contribution to the "dismantling"
of the myth concerning the Great Migration of the Serbs under Patriarch
Arsenije Carnojevic in 1690. In his answer to the review by Aleksa Djilas
published in Foreign Affairs, Malcolm remains self-confident, thereby
supplying additional arguments against his own ignorance and disdain
for his scholarly public. He says:
"Djilas complains bitterly of my 'previous eagerness' to dismantle
the myths surrounding the so-called 'Great Migrations' of the Serbs
in 1690. Unable to challenge the historical truth of my findings, which
differ from the traditional Serb nationalist account, Djilas denigrates
my motives instead."
As an expert in the media, and taking advantage of the pages of this
prestigious periodical, Malcolm, criticizing Djilas's reception of Tim
Judah's position, repeats that this journalist used the hyperbole with
the "Mayflower" in order to show that Malcolm's points, though
essentially different from his own, were convincing.
In his long and polemical reply to the review by Thomas Emerat who had
objected to his conclusions in relation to the Great Migration, Malcolm
only adds to the arguments against himself. He did not like the qualification
that his interpretation was quite unconvincing, that he uses an insufficient
number of sources to be able to challenge the position advocated for
decades by Serb historians. Malcolm is again showing off with quotations
and his findings in French, Vatican and Viennese archives. He is again
bragging that he had carefully studied each of his sources, as well
as that his account is based on a far greater number of sources than
the Serb historiography referred to by Emerat. He challenges the finding
of many a Serb historian that 37,000 families from Kosovo and Metohija
migrated during the Great Migration.
In general, in answering the scholars who are established historians,
and with whose work he seems to be familiar, Malcolm, aware that the
issues in question belong to their field of study, defends himself in
a reserved manner, resorting to tactical manoeuvres. In his polemic
with scholars, publicists or professionals in political analytics, he
takes a haughtier attitude, resorting even to personal insults and avoiding
to provide precise answers to the critical points in question. This
approach marked his polemic with Aleksa Djilas in Foreign Affairs, with
George Kenney in The Nation. Both Kenney and Djilas mentioned a host
of facts pertainng to his political career or political background,
the papers he had contributed to, and the like.
"The Great Balkan Illusions, An unbunkered approach to history,
myth and identity in Kosovo by Richard Crampton, Times Literary Supplement,
April 24, 1998
By Tim Judah, New
York Review of Books, May 14, 1998.
"Out of the
Past" by Istvan Deak, THE NEW REPUBLIC, June 8, 1998.
Kosovo" by George Kenney, NATION, July 6, 1998.
Noel Malcolm to The New York Review of Books, July 17, 1998.
Reply to Tim Judah
("Kosovo. A Short History", NYRB, May 14, 1998; also in The
Econmomist) and to Misha Glenny.
By Mark Mazower,
"The Times Literary Supplement", August 7, 1998.
Kosovo. A Biased New Account Fans Western Confusion", by Aleksa
Djilas, FOREIGN AFFAIRS, September/October 1998, p.124-131.
Kosovo Real? The Battle Over History Continues" (Editor's title),
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, Volume 78, No. l, January/February 1999.
Hatreds?" (Noel Malcolm) pp.130-134.
"Modern Problems" (Norman Cigar) pp.134-135. Cigar is a Senior
Associate, Public International Law & Policy Group, Washington D.C.
Home", Melanie McDonagh, p.135. McDonagh is a journalist, formerly
with The Evening Standard of London.
"Wrong on Albania",
Kathleen Imholz, pp.135-6. Imholz is a Fulbright Fellow and Director
of the Program for Improvements in Albanian Legal Education, Tirana,
Ahead", Predrag Simic, pp.136-7. Former Director of the Institute
of International Politics and Economics, Belgrade.
Stevan K. Pavlowitch, p.137. Pavlowitch is Professor of Balkan History,
University of Southampton, UK.
Aleksa Djilas, p.137-139. Djilas is former Fellow at the Russian Research
Center at Harvard University.
on Kosovo", by Noel Malcolm, NATION, November 16, 1998, p.2, 76.
NATION, November 16, 1998, p.76.
Myth in a Short History of Kosovo", by Thomas Emerat from Gustavus
Adolphus College, on HABSBURG-NET (HABSBURG Reviews), May 5, 1999.
By Noel Malcolm,
on HABSBURG-NET (HABSBURG Reviews), May 10, 1999 By James P. Nissen,
on HABSBURG-NET (HABS-BURG Reviews), May 11, 1999.
By Christian A.
Nielsen, Columbia University, on HABSBURG-NET (HABSBURG Reviews).
By Noel Malcolm,
on HABSBURG-NET (HABSBURG Reviews), May 18, 1999 (Reply to Niessen and
By James P. Niessen,
on HABSBURG-NET (HABSBURH Reviews), May 19, 1999.
1. D. Alimpic, M.
Bjelajac, Sve je vise Albanaca na brodu "Mejflauer", DUGA,
No 1699, 29 August - 11 September 1998, p. 27-31; Tamara Spaic, Svetski
bestseler knjiga u kojoj se tvrdi: Kosovsku bitku protiv Turaka vodili
Albanci (Razgovor povodom knjige N. Malkolma sa A. Dilasom, P. Simicem,
M. Bjelajcem i B. Dimitrijevicem), Nedeljni telegraf, 18 November 1998,
2. We discussed the most recent book production dealing with Kosovo
in a series of longer or shorter reports: D. Alimpic i M. Bjelajac:
Kosovo - Kratka istorija, ALEXANDRIA, June 1998; 3. M. Bjelajac: Propaganda
zaogrnuta plastom nauke, Vojska, 16 July 1998, pp. 20-21; Noel Malcolm,
Kosovo. A Short History, Macmillan, London 1998 (review by M. Bjelajac),
Tokovi istorije, 1-4, 1999, pp. 355-359.
3. M. Vickers, Between Serb and Albanian. A History of Kosovo, Columbia
University Press, New York - London, 1998.
4. Malcolm's book has been expressly promoted (recommended) by Richard
Holbrooke, Paddy Ashdown (former leader of the British Liberal Democratic
Party), Norman Stone (former advisor to Margaret Thatcher, now professor
of International Political Studies in Turkey).
5. "The Great Balkan Illusions", Times Literary Supplement,
24 April 1998; R. Crampton teaches history of Eastern Europe at Oxford
University. His books are: Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century (1994,
1997); Bulgaria (1990); A Short History of Modern Bulgaria (1987); The
Hollow Detante: Anglo-German Relations in the Balkans 1911-1914 (1981).
6. S. K. Pavlowitch, Facts First, Foreign Affairs, January/February,
1999, p. 137.
7. I. Deak, Out of the Past, The New Republic, 8 June, 1998.
9. T. Emerat, Challenging Myth in Short History of Kosovo, HABSBURG
Review, 5 May 1999.
12. Tim Judah studied law, diplomacy and economics in London. He was
a correspondent of The Times and The Economist from a number of European
countries including Yugoslavia. He wrote the book The Serbs, History.
Myth and Destruction of Yugoslavia, Yale University Press, 1997).
13. "Noel Malcolm has left untouched one of Emeret's most salient
points of criticism. Why, given obvious linguistic and intellectual
talents Malcolm possesses, did he not conduct research in the archives
in Serbia?" (Habsburg-Net, Habsburg Reviews, May 11, 1999)
14. Foreign Affairs, Vol. 78 No 1. p. 132.
15. "In fact I have examined all the sources that have been used
by Serbian historians, plus a few more which they have not known about
or properly considered
Emerat is apparently so wedded to traditional
claims of those Serbian historians that he wishes to dismiss my account
as 'not overwhelmingly convincing."
16. Bringing his polemic with Malcolm to an end, Kenney repeated: "Malcolm
claims to be objective. I say he is not. (...) It is important to note
that Malcolm comes from an editorial background with a pro-Thacher bent.
An opinion-page writer at heart, he nevertheless seems to crave a stamp
of academic legitimacy from the covey of Thacherite academic thugs he
runs with." (Nation, November 16, 1998, p. 96).