sealPurdue News

September 17, 2001

International scholars to write Balkans history, future

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The way we write history creates the reality of the future, says a Purdue University history professor who is among several dozen international scholars who will meet next week to begin work on a history of the recent Balkan wars.

The conference, Sept. 24-26, near Novi Sad, Serbia, is drawing leading authorities from the United States, Canada, western Europe and Serbia and key representatives of the newly democratic governments of Serbia and Yugoslavia. The Scholars' Dialogue is sponsored by the provincial government of Vojvodina, the university and municipality of Novi Sad, and several regional and non-governmental and human rights organizations.

"Amid all the bitter debates about the wars of Yugoslav succession, there has been one element of agreement by all sides, namely the pivotal role that history has played in shaping people's minds," says Purdue Professor Charles Ingrao, who is helping organize the Scholars' Dialogue.

"This has been particularly true among the Serbs. Divergent interpretations of history have divided nations by sowing mistrust, resentment and hatred among people who had coexisted with one another for long periods of time. In the hands of nationalist politicians, media and historians, the events of the past decade can also easily be molded in ways that will intensify these feelings, further widening the gap among Serbs and their neighbors.

"The historians hope to bring together Serb and non-Serb scholars to examine dispassionately the key documentary evidence that informs public perceptions about the underlying causes and tragic course of the Yugoslav conflicts. By employing shared scholarly methodologies, the historians' dialogue could hopefully reach a reasoned consensus on at least some of these contentious issues. Achieving at least some common ground would help replace yet another round of distortion and outright myth-making with mutual understanding that could help heal the wounds and bridge the divisions of the past decade."

Although the dialogue would initially focus on the 15-year period 1986-2000, its successful application could lay the groundwork for a subsequent examination of key historic developments both before the rise of Slobodan Milosevic and beyond the former Yugoslavia to other central European countries that also have experienced the difficult transition from multiethnic coexistence to ethnic conflict. No discussion of the Yugoslav tragedy can begin without the broader historical context, especially the record of ethnic interaction and its representation by the agents of nationalism over the past two centuries, he added.

Ingrao says some key controversies likely to be discussed include:

• Slobodan Milosevic's use of Kosovo's Serb minority to arouse Serbian nationalism.

• The Serbian Academy of Sciences' memorandum that keyed Milosevic's takeover of Yugoslavia.

• Independence and the fate of minorities as Yugoslavia imploded.

• "Ethnic cleansing" and the many war crimes committed against civilians.

• U.S. and European policy toward the various belligerents.

• The numerous peace plans that failed to end the war.

• The three-year siege of Sarajevo.

• The safe havens, especially Srebrenica, where 7,000 people were massacred.

• The Croatian army's reconquest of the Krajina and the resulting flight of its ethnic Serbs.

• The rebellion in Kosovo that brought NATO intervention.

• U.S./NATO military intervention in 1999.

• The role of the Hague Tribunal.

Writer: Jeanne Norberg, (765) 494-2084;

Source: Charles Ingrao, (765) 494-8385,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Professor Charles Ingrao will leave Friday (9/21) for the Balkans. He can be reached after he arrives there on Saturday via the cell phone of his English-speaking host, Goyko Mishkovich, until he leaves the area to return to campus Oct. 1. That cell phone number is: (381-63) 538719. The conference will be held in one of the palaces of former Yugoslav leader Marshal Josip Tito, just outside the village of Morovic, two miles east of the Serbian-Croatian border. To phone the palace, which is in possession of the Yugoslav army, phone (381-22) 733013, or (381-22) 733023; FAX: (381-22) 736123.

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