Events

Yugoslavia: The Avoidable War

March 22, 2002 // 1:00am4:00pm

Summary of the East European Studies screening of the film produced by George Bogdanic.

Four years in the making, "Yugoslavia: The Avoidable War" is a two hour and forty minute documentary by American film producer and journalist, George Bogdanic. This film goes to great lengths to demonstrate that the causes of the wars of secession in Yugoslavia were much more complicated than coverage in the U.S. media at the time indicated and that there was no good and evil or "good guys" and "bad guys," as much of the media coverage and government statements at the time indicated. The film also asserts that several key opportunities for bringing peace to Bosnia and later to Kosovo were missed due to actions by several western governments, including and particularly Germany and the United States. This showing at the Wilson Center was the first Washington screening. The film is currently showing in a small theater in New York and has previously been aired on television in Great Britain and Canada.

The film links documentary footage of events on the ground with snippets of interviews and analyses by major players in the peace process and veteran Balkan experts. Lord Carrington, former Secretary General of NATO later in charge of the EU efforts to bring peace to Bosnia, and his successor Lord David Owen, former British Foreign Minister, both detail how their efforts to negotiate peace in Bosnia ended up being scuttled by behind the scenes interventions of U.S. diplomacy. Veteran Balkan experts, including former Brookings expert Susan Woodward, long-time NY Times correspondent in the region David Binder, and others, argue that the causes of the breakup of Yugoslavia and its disastrous aftermath involved many more factors and problems than just the rise of Slobodan Milsoevic as the Serbian leader in the late 1980s. Interviews with commanders of the UN peacekeeping force in Bosnia, UNPROFOR, Canadian General McKenzie and his successor British Brigadier General Sir Michael Rose, provide dramatic testimony that several of the worst massacres and bombings in Sarajevo during the war could very well have been launched by the Bosnian government forces in an effort to gain international sympathy.

As with most political arguments involving the former Yugoslavia, this film, while very revealing and thought provoking, itself demonstrates a certain one-sidedness. There is little or no mention of the pulverization of the Croatian city of Vukovar by Serb forces in 1991, there is no mention of the slaughters inflicted by rampaging Serbian paramilitary groups in Bosnia and Croatia, and the tragedy of Srebrenica in July 1995 is given relatively short shrift.

Perhaps the best summary of the film is contained in the NY Times' review of its commercial opening in New York on March 15, 2002 by Stephen Holden, in which he writes "whether or not you're convinced by the film's assertions, many of which are based on information provided by the Red Cross, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other organizations that investigated reported events after the fact, 'Yugoslavia: The Avoidable War' does an impressive job of relating the complicated history of the war and of filling in the background."

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Kristina N. Terzieva // Program Assistant
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant

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