Habits of the Balkan Heart
Social Character and the Fall of Communism
Cold War
5.5 x 8.5, 200 pp.
Pub Date: 12/01/1993
Price:        $32.50 s

Price:        $15.95 s


Published by Texas A&M University Press

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Habits of the Balkan Heart

Social Character and the Fall of Communism

By Stjepan G. Meštrovic, Slaven Letica and Miroslav Goreta

Almost as soon as Communism fell in Eastern Europe in 1989, Western politicians and intellectuals concluded that the West had "won" the Cold War and that liberal democracy had triumphed over authoritarianism in the world. Euphoria spread with the expectation of a New World Order. Within months, the giddy optimism began to fade, especially in the face of what soon became a brutal war in former Yugoslavia.

Why did Serbia choose to replicate many of Germany's methods and aims from World Wars I and II, including ethnic cleansing (read "genocide") and a campaign to establish a Greater Serbia?

Sociologist Stjepan Meštrovi, writing with Slaven Letica and Miroslav Goreta, argues that the social and political character of the Dinaric herdsmen--which dominates Serbian culture and politics, even though it is found in all Balkan nations--accounts for the form Communism took there, the fall of Communism, and the savagery and brutality of the post-Communist war.

With carefully reasoned analysis, the authors show how sociological theories of social character--propounded by such thinkers as de Tocqueville, Veblen, and Bellah--can shed light on the conflicts in the Balkans, which, according to conventional wisdom, were not supposed to occur when Communism fell. They demonstrate that ancient, traditional ethnic, social, and nationalistic tendencies--"habits of the heart"--of the various people of the Balkans have taken precedence over pressures for democracy in the political and cultural vacuum left by the end of Communism in the region.

Unfortunately, the difficulties in the Balkans will persist for a long time to come, and similar conflicts could break out in the former Soviet Union. This thought-provoking book has much new to say about the causes of such ethnic and class conflicts in the region, and the feasibility of policies for dealing with these sores. If democracy is to be achieved in post-Communist East Europe, the authors argue, it must be based on the "good" habits of the heart that coexist there with "bad" or authoritarian social character.

Stjepan G. Meštrovic is professor of sociology at Texas A&M University. He holds a Ph.D. from Syracuse University, Master's degrees in theological studies and education from Harvard University, and a bachelor's degree in psychology from Harvard. He has published books on Emile Durkheim, the coming fin de siecle, and sociopolitical culture in Eastern Europe. Research for this book included three trips to Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1990-93.Slaven Letica is a professor of sociology at the University of Zagreb.Miroslav Goreta is a professor of forensic psychiatry at the University of Zagreb Medical School.

What Readers Are Saying:

"Although the authors have a distinct political bias, their book challenges the naive optimism of the West after the fall of the Berlin wall, and raises sobering questions about the future of the Balkans and Eastern Europe." --Choice

"It is indeed refreshing to find a generalizing sociological theorist who displays such sensitivity to local `habits of the heart.' . . . Mestrovic's analysis grows even more compelling when he notes that the most aggressive protagonists from the three major countries involved in the curent conflict--Serbia, Coratia, and Bosnia and Hercegovina--are also from the Dinaric Alps. . . . If Mestrovic is right, then nationalism itself ceases to be as important as other cultural practices in the determination of social outcomes. Mestrovic infers that there is something that underlies expressions of nationalism, and that something is not rational choice but cultural `habits of the heart.' If this is the case, rational choice theory (which has made a fetish of the study of nationalism) will have to be rethought in light of Mestrovic's findings. This book . . . is a major contribution to the renascence of a sociology of culture in which culture and emotion are viewed as independent forces in social life. . . . The second strength of Mestrovic's book is his use of sociological theories of culture to advance thinking about the process of democratization in postcommunist societies. . . . Mestrovic brilliantly infers that at least one of the consequences of our acceptance of theories of rational choice is genocide and, more generally, the toleration of barbarism. This line of thought is certainly worth further exploration." --Contemporary Sociology, vol. 24 no. 1

“The book has much of value to offer. I heartily recommend it to those who are aware that ours is not the only interesting and worthwhile culture and that, like foreign travel, a book like this is likely to expand one's intellectual and emotional horizons significantly." --Journal of Psychiatry and Law

“An ambitious, speculative and occasionally apocalyptic book, much wider in scope than is suggested by its title. The authors cover a remarkable amount of ground in less than two hundred pages." --Klokan


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