For Josip Glaurdić ’01, study abroad brought him closer to understanding the tumultuous events that were a part of his experience growing up in a nation devastated by war.
Glaurdić was 12 years old when the breakup of Yugoslavia led to a civil war in his home country of Croatia. Four years later, 20,000 of the country’s habitants were dead, and much of its infrastructure and economy had been decimated.
From hazy childhood memories grew an intellectual thirst to truly understand how the seeds of this conflict had been sown and why so little was done to prevent it. Research he began at Illinois Wesleyan continued at the University of Cambridge and at Yale University, where he received his Ph.D. in political science in 2009.
“Every researcher is influenced by his or her past, and I am no different,” Glaurdić says. The Croatian war and surrounding events “had such a profound impact on the lives of the people around me and their communities that I just had to understand them.”
His decade-long search for answers culminated in The Hour of Europe: Western Powers and the Breakup of Yugoslavia. Published in 2011 by Yale University, Glaurdić’s book has been hailed internationally as a “groundbreaking study,” a “masterpiece” and “among the most important scholarly works on the demise of Yugoslavia to appear since the country was torn apart by a series of brutal wars in the 1990s.”
Reflecting on the journey that led to The Hour of Europe, Glaurdić says, “Coming to IWU was by far the best academic decision I made in my life.” At Wesleyan, Glaurdić majored in political science and international business. As a junior, he also spent a year as a study-abroad scholar at Oxford University’s Pembroke College in England.
“Oxford, Yale and Cambridge — which came later — never would have happened without IWU,” notes Glaurdić, who adds that leaving his coastal hometown of Split, Croatia, for the American Midwest “somehow just felt natural and self-evident.
“Even my mother felt the best way for me to move forward personally and intellectually was to take a step back from my local environment, which was still heavily burdened by the war atmosphere.”
Among the IWU faculty who shaped his growth as a budding scholar was Kathleen Montgomery, associate professor of political science. “Her guidance was deeper and more helpful than any I received in graduate school and gave me the confidence to continue pursuing research when similar guidance was lacking.”
Both confidence and diligence were essential to Glaurdić’s path of research. Part of what makes The Hour of Europe groundbreaking in its scholarship is Glaurdić’s use of hundreds of CIA, White House and U.K. Foreign Office documents declassified through the U.S. and U.K. Freedom of Information acts.
He also interviewed 42 foreign policymakers and diplomats from 12 different countries. “It was fascinating to see in flesh and blood the people who were making truly important decisions — to see how they still struggled with the consequences of those decisions, how they remembered or ‘misremembered’ them.”
The goal of Glaurdić’s exhaustive research was to “shed a more focused light on various aspects of the West’s involvement in the breakup of Yugoslavia.” Examining why both the European Community and the U.S. failed to react effectively to the crisis, Glaurdić concludes that the West mistakenly came to regard Slobodan Milošević as a “willing and able protector of Yugoslavia’s unity.”
Instead, Milošević used his power as president to attempt to establish a new Serb-dominated state in the former Yugoslavia, “resulting in thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, devastated economies and torn families and communities,” Glaurdić writes in his book. Though Milošević died in a detention cell in The Hague where he was held on war crimes, his legacy transformed the former Yugoslav region “into a dark hole on the map of Europe whose troubles continue to destabilize the continent to this day.”
It’s a legacy that was not inevitable, Glaurdić asserts in The Hour of Europe. In their desire for stability after the Cold War, Western leaders who were committed to a more pragmatic brand of foreign policy “stared straight into the face of evil and failed to even call it by its proper name.”
It’s a reality that seemed to haunt many of the policymakers who Glaurdić interviewed for his book. “Some of them were still tormented by the whole experience, and some sort of neatly put it in a mental box, which they buried deep in their minds and tried to forget it all. Some have built walls in their heads and have actually constructed completely new realities — probably in order to deal with their own roles. That personal side of the whole story did not factually affect my narrative,” he says, “but I think it still somehow made it better.”
Of his own quest to “understand how it was possible for such a war to happen and how it was possible for the international community to do so little to stop it,” Glaurdić says, “I am satisfied with the answers I reached on an intellectual level. But I don’t think I could ever come to terms with them on a personal level.”
Glaurdić is now a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the Department of Politics and International Studies and a fellow of Clare College, University of Cambridge. He has supervised Cambridge undergraduates writing papers on complex questions such as: Can democratic elections promoted by outsiders ever be successful? Has the fall of communism unfrozen nationalism in Eastern Europe? To what extent was the fate of Yugoslavia caused by the end of the Cold War?
His current research builds on The Hour of Europe by relating the lessons of Yugoslavia’s disintegration “to the contemporary EU crisis,” Glaurdić says. “Failing to learn the lessons from that period could have disastrous consequences for the whole continent.”