Hammond A (2012) An uneven killing field: British literature and the former Yugoslavia. In: A Piette & M Rawlinson (eds) The Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century British and American War Literature. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. ISBN: 9780748638741
This essay explores the British literary response to the wars in the former Yugoslavia that took place in the 1990s. Its core argument is that literature absorbed and perpetuated the dominant discourse on the conflict which had been established in governmental rhetoric in the early half of the decade. Summarised by Kofi Annan as the discourse of ‘amoral equivalency’, this sourced the roots of the fighting in notions of ‘tribal chaos’ and ‘ancient ethnic hatreds’, refusing to allocate blame for the war in Bosnia and justifying the international community’s policy of non-intervention.
Forming the only comprehensive study of the topic, the essay ranges through some 30 travel books, autobiographies and novels, analysing how such work tends towards blanket condemnation, confusion of victim and aggressor, and disinclination to take sides. Using key concepts of postcolonial criticism (cross-cultural discourse, transnational power) for elucidating patterns of intra-European representation, Hammond offers here a detailed account of the literary turn to vilifying the Balkans after the more complimentary styles of representation dominant during the Cold War. The article also reflects on the way that the vilification of the former Yugoslavia soon led to a wider resurgence of denigratory balkanism in British literature of the 1990s.