paul roeI had high expectations when selecting this book, as the subject matter is ethnic conflicts in Eastern Europe, a sensitive topic, and the focus on society as the level of analysis, rather than the individual or the state, may provide an interesting perspective of events. The following book review will be structured as follows: first, I will explore the aims of the author, next I will discuss the structure of the book, and I will conclude with a discussion of the case studies involved and how convincing I found them.

In this book, Paul Roe, an Associate Professor at CEU, strives to make a theoretical contribution to the literature on societal security studies in two main ways. First, by introducing new categories within the societal security dilemma, so that, in cases of ethnic conflict, the right set of policies could be applied to prevent an violent escalation. Second, he tries to move away from the traditional state-centric and military-centric constraints of neo-realism. In doing so, he distances himself from Barry Buzan’s early sectorial approach, who first used the concept of “societal security”, referring to ”sustainable development of the traditional patterns of language, culture, religion and national identities, and customs of states” [42]. This is because despite Buzan adding five new sectors to his analysis, they remained connected to national security. In contrast, Roe makes society the referent object of security, which involves two additional steps: the broadening of the types of threats beyond military ones and a shift in the core value being under threat. While for states it is sovereignty, for society it is identity.

The structure of the book consists of two main parts a theoretical, and an empirical one. Roe begins his conceptual journey with an exploration of the security dilemma. He uses Barry Posen’s definition to represent the traditional view of the security dilemma : “what one does to enhance one’s own security causes reactions that, in the end, can make one less secure”.[8] The traditional, or essentially Realist view of the security dilemma is focused on the state as the referent object of security and is military – centric. While Paul Roe lists many scholars’ contributions to the subject, he argues that the current definitions of the security dilemma allow too many different conflicts to be placed in the same category, and that this often makes the term so conceptually-stretched, that it becomes inapplicable.

To deal with this issue, he introduces three further categories of security dilemmas: tight, regular and loose. A tight security dilemma is a “two (or more) actors with compatible security requirements misperceive the nature of their relationship and thus employ countermeasures based on an illusory incompatibility”. [16] This can be described as the classical security dilemma which is based on a Hobbesian fear or an expectation of the worst case scenario, even though the other party’s security interests might not contradict the existence of one’s own. After adapting this model to fit the societal security  conceptual framework, Roe applies it to the case study of the Magyar population in Transylvania.  The second type is the “regular” security dilemma which occurs when “security-seekers [have] incompatible  security requirements”[17]. This type, fits the predicament of the Serbs in Krajina quite well, as the contradiction in security requirements of both parties is real, not perceived, which means that a deepening of the conflict can only be avoided if one of them makes concessions, or both. The third type of security dilemma is “loose” in this case “actors are not necessarily only security-seekers but rather power-seekers”. [23] In this case Roe admits that it may be problematic comparing with the other two subtypes, as the essential component of “unintended consequences” [23] does not apply.

The empirical part of this book is equally divided between the conflicts in Krajina and Transylvania. The confidence and chronological detail with which both case studies are handled is impressive.  In fact, in each case the first chapter is devoted to the historical context of the conflict, which helps track the build-up of ethnic tensions in both regions over centuries and thus understand the inherent mistrust that these societies felt towards the other.

In the case of the Croamapts and Serbs, we have two Slavic peoples with similar languages, yet different religions and who have ended up on contrasting sides of the Habsburg and Ottoman empires. During the period of Royal Yugoslavia 1918-41, as well as later Federal  Yugoslavia 1945-90 they lived under one rule, yet the Serbs usually won the upper hand in controlling the centre of rule. This was an uncomfortable fact if it is true that “for a Roman Catholic people on the periphery of Europe, Serbian hegemony signified submission to an inferior, oriental culture” [81]. During the Yugoslav civil war 1941-45, Croatia was able to unleash its wrath for being suppressed. As a supporter of Germany, it gained independence from Yugoslavia. WW2 was a period during which the Croatian fascist – nationalists, the Utashe murdered around 700 000 Orthodox Serbs. In contrast, the time of Federal Yugoslavia was a period of relative peace. However, shortly after his Tito’s death, democratization began, and in 1990 the first elections in Croatia were won by Hrvatska Demokratska Zayednika, a party that claimed a desire for “Croatia for Croatians” and refused to give the Krajina Serbs the control over local education in Serb majority areas, they demanded.

In the case of Hungary and Romania both countries have different religions, languages and even different accounts of history. While, Romanians believed in “Daco-Roman Continuity Theory”, which meant that their origins could be traced back to the ancient Dacians, the Hungarians supported the “No Man’s Land Theory”. The Hungarians insisted that when they colonised Transylvania in the 10/11th centuries, it was deserted. While, it is unknown which variant is correct, the consequences of Hungarian settlement were evident : “Transylvania kept Magyar identity and the tradition of Hungarian national independence alive” (114) It didn’t take long, however, from the 19th century “Magyarisation”[116], which was a policy of replacing the Romanian language and culture in the area with Hungarian, to the beginning of the 20th century, when Transylvania was united with Romania. Ceausescu’s assimilatory policies were very unrelenting, he intentionally used “cultural and educational policies designed to weaken if not eradicate the national identity of the other”[131] In 1989, Ceausescu fell from power and the National Salvation Front assumed rule of the country. They promised the Transylvanian Magyars separate Hungarian schools, only to delay the implementation of this plan due to economic difficulties. This delay led to a series of protests which culminated in a violent conflict in the city of Tirgu Mures.

To conclude, I would say that this book is very well planned and the comparison of the Krajina and Transylvania cases is suitable, and their labelling as tight and regular societal security dilemmas is convincing. Perhaps, Roe didn’t discuss the conflicts in Bosnia or Kosovo, because arguably the conflict in Krajina triggered the separation of Croatia from Yugoslavia, which catalysed the full disintegration of the Yugoslav state. Overall, Roe achieves what he originally set out to do, which is to apply his new conceptual categories successfully.

Additional info: The book is quite easy to get a hold of in most university libraries in the UK and is also available on Amazon.