Tim Judah is The Economist’s Balkan correspondent and, however justified O’Neill’s reservations about that magazine might be in general terms, he remains arguably the most authoritative British journalist writing about the region. ‘Kosovo, What Everyone Needs to Know’, is his latest book, a slim, but surprisingly detailed account of Kosovo’s history, up to and including the unilateral declaration of independence and its aftermath.
In previous books Judah has drawn on personal experience and enlivened his histories with a smattering of anecdote. The confines of this OUP series demand a more concise approach. Nevertheless, the book is readable and manages largely to furnish its readers with both sides of the story. Occasionally impartiality is achieved at the expense of the flow of prose, often place names are provided in two or even three languages.
Judah ably charts the current conflict’s origins in a low intensity Albanian terrorist campaign. He notes the unwitting role which the international community played in aggravating the conflict into serious aggression. He explains the lamentable mismanagement with which Slobodan Milosevic invested his campaign of counter insurgency as well as the manner in which Nato became effectively the KLA’s airforce, negating any possibility of compromise between the two sides, then underwriting the possibility of Kosovo’s independence.
As to Kosovo’s future, Judah does not have any easy answers. In the most propitious circumstances, it is possible that the province could become (just about) a viable state. However with the north retaining its links to the Serb administration, with its current lack of infrastructure, the pervasive influence of crime, Albanian ethnic nationalism and its questionable legal status, it will remain a Nato protectorate for the foreseeable future.