The Death of Yugoslavia: A Film Review

I just finished watching the documentary The Death of Yugoslavia, and I'd have to say that it's an amazing piece of journalism and an amazing piece of history that's very much worth watching. The film covers all of the significant events involved, beginning with the death of Tito in 1980 and then covering in detail the period of Slobodan Milošević's rise starting in 1989 all the way through the battles of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina for independence, which brought about the bloody wars and genocide that finally ended with the Dayton Accords in 1995.

What is perhaps most amazing about the documentary is that it was made by the BBC only six months after the signing of accords, and there are interviews of every major person involved, including all the major presidents and politicians; Milošević, who died in prison in 2006; and also Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, both of whom have since been arrested for war crimes. In many documentaries, footage is shown of the people involved, and then there's a switch to an interview with someone who was close to those people, or someone who's an expert on them. In The Death of Yugoslavia, footage plays of those involved, and then they switch to interviews of the very same people! My one possible criticism is of the subtitling, as it's clear the translators often didn't put what was literally said (for example writing only "the capital" in the subtitle, when the interviewee clearly said "Ljubljana"). Other than that, however, the sheer quantity and quality of the interviews is amazing.

The wars and conflicts that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia took place during the first five years of my life, so I naturally have no memory of hearing about them as they took place. All the same, I think I've felt for a long time that, even though I didn't know much about the Yugoslav wars, they hold a very important place in the recent history of Europe and the recent history of international relations. Watching this documentary definitely confirmed that feeling, and I think it sets a high bar in terms of quality filmmaking and quality journalism. Often I think historians have the idea that it's only possible to accurately look back on history after a long time has passed. The Death of Yugoslavia demonstrates that these days, however, it's absolutely essential to look at history as it's being made.

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