Balkan Ghosts is a pretty horrific book. Sources close to former President Bill Clinton report that the president read the manuscript shortly after publication, greatly influencing his decision not to commit US ground troops to the region in the early 1990s (and only attack with air strikes when the conflict reached a crisis point in the later 1990s). Kaplan’s argument, in a nutshell, is that the peoples of the Balkans have been killing each other for centuries. The logical interpretation is that outsider intervention would do precious little good.
I understand how Clinton must have felt. I’m just 1/8th through the book and already I’m horrified by what I read. Below is an exerpt of a Romanian attrocity from 1940. Read at your own risk. . .
BALKAN GHOSTS, by Robert D. Kaplan Exerpt from the Prologue: Saints, Terrorists, Blood, and Holy Water
It was 10:30 A.M., November 30, 1940. Snow was beginning to fall in Bucharest. Inside the Church of Hie Gorgani, built in the seventeenth century to honor a Romanian general who fought the Turks, hundreds of candles illumined the red-robed Christ in the dome. Coffins, draped in green flags with gold embroidery, lined the sides of the nave. Altar boys carried in trays of coliva (colored sugar bread) for the dead. Fourteen members of the Legion of the Archangel Michael-the fascist “Iron Guard” — including the organization’s leader, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, were about to be buried and canonized as “national saints” by priests of the Romanian Orthodox Church, who had been chanting and swinging censers all night.
Two years earlier, in 1938, King Carol II’s police had strangled the fourteen men, stripped the bodies naked, and doused them with sulfuric acid in a common ditch to hasten their decomposition. But in late 1940, Carol fled and Romania fell under an Iron Guard regime. The victims’ remains, little more than heaps of earth, were dug up and placed in fourteen coffins for reburial. At the end of the funeral service, the worshipers heard a voice recording of the dead Legionnaire leader, Codreanu. “You must await the day to avenge our martyrs,” he shrieked.
A few weeks later, revenge was taken. On the night of January 22, 1941, the Legionnaires of the Archangel Michael — after singing Orthodox hymns, putting packets of Romanian soil around their necks, drinking each other’s blood, and anointing themselves with holy water — abducted 200 men, women, and children from their homes. The Legionnaires packed the victims into trucks and drove them to the municipal slaughterhouse, a group of red brick buildings in the southern part of Bucharest near the Dimbovitsa River.
They made the victims, all Jews, strip naked in the freezing dark and get down on all fours on the conveyor ramp. Whining in terror, the Jews were driven through all the automated stages of slaughter. Blood gushing from decapitated and limbless torsos, the Legionnaires thrust each on a hook and stamped it: “fit for human consumption.” The trunk of a five-year-old girl they hung upside down, “smeared with blood. . . like a calf,” according to an eyewitness the next morning.