Historical Institute of the Serbian Academy of
Sciences and Art
Belgrade, 2000

Response to the Book of Noel Malcolm
Kosovo - A Short History

Prof. Mile Bjelajac, Ph. D
Institute for Recent Serbian History

Pro 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 Critical Approaches

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 consultants listed.

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… a 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.

"Caught In Kosovo" by George Kenney, NATION, July 6, 1998.

"Kosovo History", 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.

"Imagining Kosovo. A Biased New Account Fans Western Confusion", by Aleksa Djilas, FOREIGN AFFAIRS, September/October 1998, p.124-131.

Responses: "Is Kosovo Real? The Battle Over History Continues" (Editor's title), FOREIGN AFFAIRS, Volume 78, No. l, January/February 1999.

"What Ancient 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.

"No Return 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, Albania.

"Greater Albania Ahead", Predrag Simic, pp.136-7. Former Director of the Institute of International Politics and Economics, Belgrade.

"Facts First", Stevan K. Pavlowitch, p.137. Pavlowitch is Professor of Balkan History, University of Southampton, UK.

"Djilas Replies", Aleksa Djilas, p.137-139. Djilas is former Fellow at the Russian Research Center at Harvard University.

"Kicking Kenney on Kosovo", by Noel Malcolm, NATION, November 16, 1998, p.2, 76.

"Kenney Replies", NATION, November 16, 1998, p.76.

"Challenging 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 Alex Popovic).

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, pp. 16-17.
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.
8. Ibidem.
9. T. Emerat, Challenging Myth in Short History of Kosovo, HABSBURG Review, 5 May 1999.
10. Ibidem.
11. Ibidem
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).