Book Review: The Balkans in the Cold War edited by Svetozar Rajak, Konstantina 
E. Botsiou, Eirini Karamouzi and Evanthis Hatzivassiliou

8-10 minutes


In The Balkans in the Cold War, editors Svetozar Rajak, Konstantina E. Botsiou, 
Eirini Karamouzi and Evanthis Hatzivassiliou bring together contributors 
drawing on recently released archival documents to explore the origins, 
development and impact of the Cold War in the Balkan regions. While less 
convinced of the book’s treatment of culture in the region, this is a forceful 
challenge to prevailing historical interpretations and a valuable contribution 
to scholarship on the Balkans in this period, writes Eliot Rothwell.

The Balkans in the Cold War. Svetozar Rajak, Konstantina E. Botsiou, Eirini 
Karamouzi and Evanthis Hatzivassiliou (eds). Palgrave. 2017.

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1989 was a tumultuous year for Europe. Across the continent, Communist parties 
and leaders gave way to a tide of discontent. In the Balkans, their removal 
precipitated the arduous beginnings of the transition to market capitalism and 
the rise of ethnic tensions. For scholars, the events of 1989 also brought 
about sudden shifts. The bi-polar world receded and the analytical categories 
that came with a ‘two-camp’ Europe lost their relevance. Instead, 
post-communist states began to open their archives, offering scholars the 
chance to re-evaluate the Cold War and its manifestations throughout the world.

Like much of the scholarship in the last two decades, The Balkans in the Cold 
War, edited by Svetozar Rajak, Konstantina E. Botsiou, Eirini Karamouzi and 
Evanthis Hatzivassiliou, utilises recently released archival documents to 
reconsider the history of the period. These new gleanings from the archives are 
ordered into five sections in the book, covering the period from the late 1940s 
to the 1980s. The book begins with an outline of the onset of the Cold War in 
the Balkan region. It then details intra- and inter-bloc relations, before 
concluding with an exploration of the intersections of ideology and culture in 
the peninsula.

The book’s most notable chapters are those which employ new documentary 
evidence to challenge prevailing attitudes. Mark Kramer’s work delves into the 
archives of the former Soviet bloc to explore the relationship between 
Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union around the split of 1949. Kramer contends that 
Stalin attempted to reach a peaceful agreement immediately after the split, but 
then settled on a military solution in the final years of his life, directing 
troop movements along the Yugoslav border. Jordan Baev utilises Bulgarian 
military documents to boldly suggest that the creation of the Warsaw Pact in 
1955 marked the end of already ongoing military and political integration, 
rather than its beginning. Laurien Crump’s contribution rests on documents from 
Bucharest and Berlin, which she mobilises to demonstrate the 
‘multilateralisation’ of the Warsaw Pact, especially in the cases of Romania 
and Albania (166). Benedetto Zaccaria aims to redress the predominant view of 
Yugoslavia’s relationship with the European Economic Community (EEC). He 
suggests that, rather than neglecting relations between each other, Yugoslavia 
and the EEC successfully broadened ties in the 1970s and 1980s.

Image Credit: (Brian Eager CC BY 2.0 
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Each of these chapters is anchored in the main threads that run throughout The 
Balkans and the Cold War. Kramer’s contribution is situated in the relationship 
between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, which provides an overarching 
framework for much of the book. Ties between Yugoslavia, the largest state in a 
predominantly Communist Balkans, and the Soviet Union, the world’s dominant 
Communist power, oscillated between fracture and partial repair for much of the 
period. The Yugoslav-Soviet split of 1949 left deep resentment, despite the 
temporary mending of relations provided by Tito’s trip to Moscow in 1956 and 
Brezhnev’s visit to Yugoslavia in 1971. It also encouraged Yugoslavia to pursue 
a non-aligned course, developing connections with the Global South and NATO, as 
well as the EEC, the latter of which comprises much of the third section of the 

Yugoslavia’s cultivation of ties across Cold War divides also emphasises 
another of the book’s major themes: the agency exercised by Balkan countries in 
their dealings with power blocs. Yugoslavia’s break from the Soviet Union, its 
fostering of relations with the West and its role as a leader of the 
non-aligned movement demonstrated what could be possible. Other Balkan states 
then began to explore their room to manoeuvre. As Crump suggests, Romania and 
Albania widened the boundaries of the permissible within the Warsaw Pact, 
developing links with China to contribute to ‘the multilaterisation of the 
former monolith’ (166). But Greece and Turkey, the two NATO-aligned Balkan 
states, also carved out their own positions. Both attempted to reduce their 
reliance on the US by negotiating with the EEC, ‘the significant other’ (219) 
of Cold War Europe. On each side of the Cold War divide, Balkan states mapped 
their own interests onto regional politics, balancing the global with the local 
to further their aims.

The interactions between the Balkan states and larger powers are consistently 
drawn upon in The Balkans and the Cold War, but the final section treads a 
different path. The three chapters included in it are grouped under the title 
‘Identity, Culture, Ideology’. Each makes interesting contributions but the 
section feels grafted on to the end of the book: more of an afterthought than a 
continuation of the overall threads running through the rest of the work. Here, 
the book encounters some of the problems of its broad scope. Including a 
chapter on Turkey’s Westernisation debate alongside an essay on Yugloslavia’s 
reaction to the Prague Spring remains a challenge. For the most part, The 
Balkans and the Cold War succeeds in bringing together its various strands, but 
the final section is too restricted to sufficiently explore its chosen subject 
matter of identity, culture and ideology in the Balkans from 1945 to the late 

Within the final section, Miroslav Perišić’s chapter on cultural shifts in 
Yugoslavia also provides some issues for consideration. He outlines the 
broadening of ties between Yugoslavia and the West, demonstrated by a 1950 
exhibition of Yugoslav frescoes in Paris and a 1957 Yugoslav film festival in 
Britain. But Perišić presents these cultural shifts as singular to Yugoslavia, 
locating them in the move away from the Soviet Union. He neglects the similar 
processes taking place in the Soviet Union in the same decade, as cultural 
exchanges with the West blossomed and cooperation agreements were signed with 
Britain, the United States and France. Rather than being unique, Yugoslavia and 
the Soviet Union both attempted – among other things – to dispel Western myths 
by expanding their programmes of cultural exchange.

Despite these difficulties, The Balkans and the Cold War provides a forceful 
challenge to many of the prevailing interpretations of the region’s history. It 
effectively makes use of recently released archival documents to alter the 
understanding of Yugoslav-Soviet relations and the agency of the Balkan states 
with regards to the Soviet Union, the United States and the EEC. The book 
falters somewhat in its treatment of culture in the period, but remains a 
valuable contribution to the history of the Balkans in the Cold War.


Eliot Rothwell is currently finalising his MA dissertation at UCL’s School of 
Slavonic and Eastern European Studies. He is researching the expansion of 
cultural ties between the Soviet Union and Western Europe in the Khrushchev 
era. He also holds a BA Hons in History from the University of Warwick and 
spent an Erasmus year at Boğaziçi Üniversitesi in Istanbul. He tweets 

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the 
LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 



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