From IWU Magazine, Spring 2013 edition
Josip Glaurdić: The Personal and Historic
At Clare College, University of Cambridge, Glaurdić encourages his students to pursue
questions that hold no easy answers.
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.”
Glaurdić's book was hailed by critics as a landmark study on the breakup of Yugoslavia.
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
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.”
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