Always the Balkans
by Leon Dennen.
New York, Chicago, Ziff—Davis Publishing Co., 1945. 173 pp. $1.50.
Leon Dennen spent nine months in 1944 in the Near East as a representative of an American relief agency. Upon his return he announced that Soviet Russia was building a zone of influence in the Balkans that was “being nailed down with bayonets and terror by regimes deriving their authority not from the local nationalities but from the Soviet libererators.”
Mr. Dennen cites chapter and verse to support his contention. He shows that the peoples of the Balkans and the Near East, unable to order their own destinies, have become mere pawns in a gigantic battle for power between Britain and Russia—with Russia, propelled by the dynamism and ruthlessness of the newcomer and in a better geographical position, distinctly having the upper hand.
Unfortunately, Mr. Dennen has nowhere attempted to probe deeper into the social and political structures of the countries he discusses. There is hardly any mention of the tremendous problems involved in agrarian reform, industrialization and the quest for markets. And only if these are taken into account can this region be fully understood.
Thus the book often dissolves into generalities. The indiscriminate use of the adjective “democratic” to characterize those who for any reason are opposed to Russia is especially irritating. The Soviet-sponsored regimes did not replace democratic regimes but illiberal and corrupt police states, and many of those who now oppose Russian domination participated in one way or another in the administration of these police states. And so Mr. Dennen’s efforts to build a case for the present Turkish regime are pathetic. On page 54 he states that “Atatürk was—even as his successor Inonu is today—virtually a dictator,” but on page 53 he had just informed us that “the Turkish republic had gradually freed itself from the fetters of totalitarianism,” and on page 57 he asks whether “Turkey will continue as a democratic state.”
It is indeed quite strange that a journalist so concerned—and rightly—with the fate of the Jewish victims of Nazi mass-slaughter (the most eloquent passages of the book deal with their fate) should forget that it was precisely Atatürk’s regime that was responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in the early twenties.
And Mr. Dennen’s admiration for the achievements of Jewish colonization in Palestine also makes him forget that Palestine is inhabited by a majority of Arabs, so that a Jewish state would not be a democratic solution in the most exact sense.
But this criticism does not touch the main value of a book that boldly challenges current myths when it states that “the great basic hungers of mankind for freedom and human decency which were well to the fore at the beginning of the war seem to have been forgotten since. The thrilling promises of a better world . . . seem to have been brushed aside in the name of higher politics. . . .”
It is because Leon Dennen still believes in these goals that he is able to state that “Yalta was in essence a great appeasement. It put Anglo-American acquiescence on deeds of tyranny in the Trouble Zone.” Yet: “Nations like individuals have a stubborn will to survive,” and “to the measure that the present settlement in Europe deprives peoples of their nationhood, the fuel for new conflagrations is being piled up.”
More books like this are needed to help us realize that the present European settlement is no settlement at all, but only an unstable balance of power at the price of incredible human suffering.