War and Change in the Balkans: Nationalism, Conflict and Cooperation
  • Alternative view 1 of War and Change in the Balkans: Nationalism, Conflict and Cooperation
  • Alternative view 2 of War and Change in the Balkans: Nationalism, Conflict and Cooperation

War and Change in the Balkans: Nationalism, Conflict and Cooperation

by Brad K. Blitz

The violence following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia has lasted for more than a decade and continues to mark the region. This volume analyses the causes of the conflict and describes its course from the onset of war in Croatia to intervention in Kosovo. The book concentrates on four key transformations: the demise of Yugoslavia and the creation of new


The violence following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia has lasted for more than a decade and continues to mark the region. This volume analyses the causes of the conflict and describes its course from the onset of war in Croatia to intervention in Kosovo. The book concentrates on four key transformations: the demise of Yugoslavia and the creation of new states; the importance of nationalist ideologies in the preparation of war and their subsequent decline in the post conflict era; the role of international actors as policy makers, implementing agencies, and arbiters; and the process of democratization and integration into European structures. With contributions from some of the world's leading scholars of the Balkans and personal accounts from journalists, diplomats, and civil servants drawing upon their own experiences of war and transition, War and Change in the Balkans provides an unparalleled insight into contemporary European history.

  • Provides an overview of the history of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, their causes, and the ways in which they were resolved from historical, domestic political, human rights, and international policy perspectives
  • Includes both historical analysis and personal accounts from journalists, high ranking diplomats, and civil servants
  • Likely to appeal to scholars and advanced students of Balkan politics, peace and conflict studies, and international relations

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An impressive collection of essays that provides valuable insight into the forces of change that have buffeted the former Yugoslavia since the end of the Cold War. Blitz has brought together in a single volume some of the world's leading scholars, journalists and diplomats to produce an excellent guide to this troubled region."
-Richard Caplan, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford and author of Europe and the Recognition of New States in Yugoslavia

"War and Change in the Balkans will smash some of the major illusions and myths about the Yugoslav break-up and wars. It is full of good sense and a welcome corrective to the various contrived explanations which abound in the field of Yugoslav studies. Brad Blitz and his contributors bring clarity, integrity, and insight to their task and have produced a volume which will be useful for specialists, generalists, practitioners, and students alike."
-Sabrina P. Ramet, Department of Sociology and Political Science, Norwegian University of Science and Technology and author of Balkan Babel: The Disintegration of Yugoslavia from the Death of Tito to the Fall of Miloševi; and Thinking about Yugoslavia: Scholarly Debates about the Yugoslav Breakup and the Wars in Bosnia and Kosovo

"The collection is excellent and a valuable contribution to the ever expanding body of scholarship on the Balkans and on issues related to the former Yugoslavia in particular. It reminds us that there are still many unanswered questions as we assess the recent past and many critical challenges as we look past an era of conflict toward a brighter future for the region."
-Thomas Emmert, Gustavus Adolphus College, Slavic Review

Product Details

Cambridge University Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.98(w) x 8.98(h) x 0.63(d)

Read an Excerpt

War And Change In The BalkansCambridge University Press
978-0-521-86042-0 - WAR AND CHANGE IN THE BALKANS - Edited by Brad K. Blitz

1War and Change

Brad K. Blitz

For over a decade events in the former Yugoslavia dominated Western attention. The issues of secession, conflict and the horrific abuses that took place in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo gave rise to a series of diplomatic conferences and plans which put the former Yugoslavia and surrounding states on the map as an international trouble spot. Thousands of journalists were drawn to the region and witnessed crimes first hand alongside the victims of aggression.1 Their reports from the battle-field also ensured that the abuses committed against the peoples of Croatia, Bosnia and later Kosovo would enter permanent record. Previous experience of war reporting in Vietnam and even in the first Gulf War just a couple of years earlier could not compare to the live reports, combined with satellite imagery, which brought home the horrors of war and produced a chronicle of conflict in ‘real time’. Neither Western politicians nor the Western public could escape the reality of the siege of Sarajevo where the media lived among the local population and provided a detailed account of daily suffering under occupation. As sociologists Mestrovic and Cushman write in their discussion of genocide in Bosnia, what distinguishes the conflicts in theformer Yugoslavia from previous wars is that this time we knew about the events as they were happening.2 For this reason, the events in the Balkans and the responses they generated in Western capitals form a particularly important chapter of contemporary history and also set the scene for subsequent reporting, not least of all in Iraq.

There are many explanations for the break-up of Yugoslavia including domestic-interest-based arguments which centre on competing claims made by rival ethno-national groups3 and economic-based theories in which structural conditions and unrealistic austerity programmes imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are blamed for destroying the existing socialist state and the constitutional order.4 At first glance these arguments appear quite attractive.

In the first argument, the claim that rival ethno-national groups unsettled the political design of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) is often attributed to selective scholastic writings on nationalism and the role that ethnic attachments play in nation-state formation. From the 1960s to mid-1980s theoretical studies of nationalism flourished and in the absence of empirical research stressed the importance of political and ethno-national congruity for stability. Ernest Gellner, for example, claimed that the expression of nationalist sentiment was the result of the violation of this principle of congruity. Elsewhere, others such as Ellie Kedourie maintained that nationalism pretended to supply the criterion for the exercise of state power and was derived from the natural occurrence of national blocs. In this setting, nationalism was the inevitable product of state formation and political transition.

If the first argument is based on theoretical claims, the second argument can find greater evidentiary support in national and macro-economic studies of the later 1980s. Yugoslavia’s economic position had undeniably worsened throughout the 1980s and after Tito’s death Yugoslavia’s debt stood at $20 billion, representing a quarter of the national income at the time. By the late 1908s, the former socialist showcase was subject to mass redundancies, and economic conditions deteriorated just as nationalist ideologies were given greater voice both at home and next door in Central Europe. Further, the role of international financial institutions in the destabilisation of much of Latin America during the 1980s lent weight to the claim that Yugoslavia was yet another victim of harsh structural adjustment policies which included currency devaluations, wage freezes, price controls and debt repayment programmes set by Western institutions.

There are several counter arguments to the above claims, some of which are explored in this book. The central question that must be posed is why it was that Yugoslavia, unlike other multinational and socialist states, descended into war as it did? Also, while the above accounts focus on ideological positions and structural conditions, they simultaneously ignore the role of political leaders in Yugoslavia’s new direction in the 1980s – an essential theme of this study. A useful starting point in our analysis is a review of Yugoslavia’s history as a multinational state and the ideologies that sustained its political leadership both during and after the communist period.

The relationship between communism and nationalism in Yugoslavia played a central role in Yugoslavia’s demise. As George Schöpflin argues in his now classic article, ‘Nationhood, communism and state legitimation’,5 at a point when its neighbours were looking to the West, democratic option in Yugoslavia was defeated by a strong ethno-national consciousness among the Serbian population that felt itself to have been suppressed under communism and this feeling was actively manipulated by political leaders, above all Slobodan Milošević. It is important to recall that in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia ethnic tension was institutionalised and played out within the state apparatus both during and after the communist period. Contrary to popular opinion, the creation of a socialist state did not placate nationalist agitators but simply incorporated them in a different political system. Most obvious was the way in which the old nationality disputes continued within the Yugoslav communist movement which became increasingly ‘nationalised’ after the mid-1960s. Attempts to rebalance the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia were notable in the early Titoist plans to deprive Serbia of its hegemony over the state by devolving power to the republics by means of a new constitution in 1974. However, this constitution included a number of contradictory provisions: on the one hand, it devolved power to the six republics and two autonomous regions (including Kosovo); on the other, it was also predicated on the rule of the central Communist Party.

After Tito’s death in 1980, Serbian communists challenged the constitution and sought to re-establish Serbia’s hegemony over the federal state, most dramatically by cancelling Kosovo’s autonomy in 1987. As Branka Magas writes, in a chapter in this volume, the next phase of Yugoslavia’s troubles was sparked by the attempts of the Serbian political elite and Milošević’s own agents to devise a policy of unionism as a means of preserving their hegemony. This policy, which set the scene for a Greater Serbia project exploited the nationalist ideals of Serbian intellectuals and married them to a programme that could only be carried out by means of population transfers. In the name of protecting Serbs from the fall-out of Slovenia’s and Croatia’s secession from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Milošević was able to legitimise his unionist aims and used his most powerful weapon, the Yugoslav National Army.

The processes by which political elites contrived to undermine the possibility of a smooth transition from communism by fostering tensions between Yugoslavia’s ethnic communities have been described in considerable detail elsewhere6 but it is useful to recall that Yugoslavia remains an anomaly among post-communist states precisely because the drive to separatism and eventual secession was activated not by disgruntled minorities in the periphery but as Daniele Conversi argues from the political elites at the very centre.7 In other contexts, the circulation of former communist elites in the late 1980s was associated with recentralisation and the development of new markets as seen in Russia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.8 However, what distinguished Milošević’s Yugoslavia was the way in which the Belgrade political establishment was prepared to regroup around the politics of ethnic antagonism and xenophobia even over material interests.9 The rationale for this regrouping was to preserve the establishment figures’ legitimacy in the hope of maintaining Serbia’s hegemony over the fragile federation. As an era of single-party rule was coming to an end, the people and institutions that characterised communism in Yugoslavia thus helped to legitimise the nationalist path. The formal dissolution of the League of Communists (SKJ) in January 1990 ensured that there was no central arena in which the issue of Yugoslavia’s potential transition from communism to democracy could be addressed.10

Other factors furthered weakened the prospect of a democratic transition. Structuralist critics are correct to point out that the deterioration of the Yugoslav economy in the 1980s with inflation reaching 1,950 per cent by 1989, also hampered Yugoslavia’s political evolution. Further, it is important to stress that in the absence of a defined post-communist polity, the growing unrest between the republics which contrasted with peaceful elections and transition from single-party rule elsewhere in Eastern Europe, was ripe for manipulation by the national media.11 Above all, the emergence of a determined leader in Slobodan Milošević, who was able to exploit the Communist Party’s extensive organised networks, was an essential factor in Yugoslavia’s demise. While scholars debate the merits of leadership as an explanatory variable in international relations, Milošević filled a political void at a critical time and thus his role (and his wife’s influence over his leadership) was of paramount significance for the future of Yugoslavia.12 Similarly, the rise of Franjo Tudjman in Croatia cannot be underestimated. As Yossi Shain and Juan Linz note in their important study of interim governments and democratic transitions, since interim periods are characteristically marked by ‘uncertainty, anxiety and high expectations concerning the future distribution of power and loyalties … the nature and action of the interim government are of enormous political moment’ and in this context the role of political leaders is also of paramount importance.13

The wars that followed in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo raised additional questions regarding the involvement of external actors. One central question that remains in dispute is how did foreign actors, above all the United States and the governments of Western Europe, react to events in the Balkans and influence the conduct and eventual conclusion of these conflicts? Several scholars charge that, in addition to the economic policies of international financial institutions, the West encouraged the break-up of Yugoslavia, and they blame Germany in particular for destabilising the region by recognising Slovenia and Croatia in advance of the European Union and United States. Yet, as Ivo Banac and George Schöpflin write in this volume, such causal arguments are overly simplistic and do not help to explain the initial rationale for war which they believes lies in Yugoslavia’s history as a multinational state. Elsewhere, Daniele Conversi contends that the attempt by some to displace blame and focus on external actors reflects a post-Cold War anxiety over a recently unified Germany rather than a detailed consideration of other explanations including personal culpability.14

The debate over Germany’s recognition of the former Yugoslav republics does, nonetheless, raise some important questions over the West’s conduct during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. After the first Gulf War, why did the West refuse to intervene and put a stop to the conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia? While scholars disagree over the motives for inaction – the range of explanations include the claim that Yugoslavia fell outside the interests of the United States, a gross overestimation of Serbian military strength and the mistaken belief that the war in Bosnia would end quickly, and fear of igniting a wider war between Greece and Turkey – the West’s refusal to intervene cannot be divorced from the legacy of Cold War policies and preferences that had guided the West for the previous fifty years. In spite of the brief incursion in the Gulf in 1991, the crisis in the former Yugoslavia presented the first major test for the Atlantic powers in the dawn of the post-Cold War era and there was little evidence from the West that it had established a new robust framework which it could apply to the changing times. The Soviet Union had disintegrated with remarkably little violence, leaving Washington and its European partners at a loss for foreign policy guidance. As a result of this unspectacular break-up, the West was not compelled to review the assumptions which had dominated its diplomatic tenets over the previous fifty years. Unfortunately for the peoples of the former Yugoslavia, above all the citizens of Croatia and Bosnia, one constant of Cold War foreign policy had been the United States’ preference for dealing with large multilateral states as opposed to smaller independent actors.

In the early 1990s, the American preference for conducting diplomacy through large configurations was given added weight by the short-lived appearance of regional trading blocs in Asia and North America, and particularly the accelerated move towards closer political and economic integration in the European Union. In addition, with the previous rationale of containing Communism now a distant memory, the evolving US foreign policy doctrine shifted from ideology-based policy-making to consensus politics which necessarily gave the European states greater influence over international matters in which the two Atlantic partners had common concerns. During the initial conflicts, the international consensus favoured keeping Yugoslavia together as a loose federation even though facts on the ground suggested that under the new leadership of Slobodan Milošević a powerful Serbian elite was centralising control and destroying the remnants of the socialist federal state. The most egregious attack on the constitutional order was evidenced by the revocation of autonomy in three of Yugoslavia’s federal units, Kosovo, Vojvodina and Montenegro, and by denying their people freedoms guaranteed under the 1974 constitution. This was the start of the West’s reluctant relationship with the former Yugoslavia.

From 1991 until 1999, the West’s response to Milošević and the violence he created in the former Yugoslav republics was reactive and self-deceptive at best. Warren Zimmerman recounts in his Origins of a Catastrophe, the former US ambassador to Yugoslavia was entrusted with implementing the Bush administration’s policy of ‘unity and democracy’ even though the constitutional order had been destroyed prior to his arrival. As Human Rights expert Srdja Popovic writes in this volume, American policy at this time was characterised by ‘confusion, wishful thinking, procrastination, evasions, a lack of focus and determination’. At its worst, the West’s response to the conflict in the Balkans was characterised by a tendency to moral equivalence in which Western states refused to reign in aggressors and simultaneously punished victim states such as Bosnia. Indeed, the most compelling evidence of such Western bias was seen in the imposition of an arms embargo against Bosnia which left the small state exposed to Milošević’s powerful army as it began its programme of ‘ethnic cleansing’ and unleashed a genocidal campaign against the non-Serbian population in 1992. It was not until the Kosovo crisis in 1999 that the Cold War preferences described above were laid to rest and a new Western doctrine of selective intervention was heralded.

By 1999, the West had experimented with a number of tactics that failed to produce a halt in Milošević’s brutal campaigns, this time in Kosovo. After failing to bring security to the region by means of high-level diplomatic conferences, the deployment of peacekeepers, intermittent air strikes and formal peace agreements, the situation facing the West was all too familiar. As Milošević stationed troops on the border of Kosovo, Western governments were finally forced to review their foreign policies and consider increasingly vocal protests for intervention. After years of prevarication during which thousands of innocents were killed, US President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly reversed their policies of non-intervention when they issued the attack on Milošević and authorised NATO to bomb targets within Serbia. In the hope of forestalling Milošević’s murderous assault on Kosovo’s Albanian population, Clinton and Blair made the case for defending a people against the probable threat of genocide, crimes against humanity and other gross abuses of human rights. Writing in Newsweek, Tony Blair acknowledged that the West had learned by ‘bitter experience not to appease dictators’ and that ‘Milošević’s policy of ethnic cleansing must be defeated and reversed’ as part of a new internationalism.

We need to enter a new millennium where dictators know they cannot get away with ethnic cleansing or repress their peoples with impunity. In this conflict we are fighting not for territory but for values. For a new internationalism where the brutal repression of whole ethnic groups will no longer be tolerated.15

Most importantly, Blair recognised that inaction in Bosnia had led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and that the previous policy was, in his own words, a mistake.

This policy shift, which finally put an end to Milošević’s expansionist ventures, ultimately paved the way for a change of leadership in Serbia and gave rise to claims that Western foreign policies could be grounded on liberal humanitarian principles. Two years after his incursions into Kosovo, Slobodan Milošević was removed from Serbia and taken to the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague where he died in custody as he was on trial for crimes against humanity. Many questions still remain to be answered. The peoples of the former Yugoslavia are now faced with the challenge of consolidating new democratic regimes and engaging in the arduous task of reconciliation with their neighbours. While Montenegro and Kosovo test out new independent structures, their neighbours will prepare for the equally daunting prospect of securing membership to the European Union.

This book is about war and change in the Balkans during the Milošević years and up to the present day. The contributors to this volume provide a range of assessments of the wars in the former Yugoslavia and explanations for the ways in which these conflicts have been settled. Several of these are based on historical analysis but there are also personal accounts from journalists, diplomats and civil servants who draw upon their own experiences of war and political change in the former Yugoslavia. In addition, the scholars included in this study assess the impact the conflicts have had on foreign actors and the neighbouring countries which are now preparing to enter the European Union following the example of the former Yugoslav Republic of Slovenia, and thus the current study seeks to provide a contemporary historical account of political developments across Southeastern Europe.

For analytical purposes, one can discern four key transformations that enable us to explore the effects of war and change in the Balkans. These are: (1) the transformation of formal state structures, the demise of Yugoslavia and the creation of new states; (2) the importance of nationalist ideologies in the preparation for war and their subsequent decline in the post-conflict era; (3) the role of international actors as policy-makers, implementing agencies and arbiters; and, finally (4) the process of democratisation and integration into European structures. The authors in this volume address the above themes over the course of this volume, which is divided into two parts to provide balance and reflect the often conflicting agendas of local actors in the former Yugoslavia and the international community both during and after the conflict.

The first part of this book develops the analytical framework by focusing on the key political structures, ideologies and institutions that are central to any study of transition. The demise of Yugoslavia and the rise of nationalist sentiment are explored in chapters by George Schöpflin on state construction and state failure and Ivo Banac on the politics of national homogeneity. While Schöpflin’s article focuses on the way in which communism sustained nationalism and provided a source of conflict in the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Banac considers the role nationalist ideologies played in the mobilisation of ethnic groups and the conduct of war aims in the 1990s. Noting the failure of previous partitions and population transfers, Banac laments the way in which a settlement was imposed on Bosnia. The future for a truly multiethnic and European identity is held out as the best possible conclusion to the disastrous effects of partition and displacement in the Balkans. These chapters are complemented by an important study of Milošević and the personality of leadership by Srdja Popović. While the notion of leadership as a variable in international relations is subject to considerable debate, few would contest Milošević’s preeminence as the architect of conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

The role of international actors is then considered by Daniele Conversi who examines the way in which Germany’s recognition of Slovenia and Croatia was used as a means of dividing support for a concerted European policy, to the benefit of Slobodan Milošević. The effects of European policies on the conduct of the war, the genocide in Bosnia and its eventual reorganisation are discussed in an important essay by former editor of the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjene, Kemal Kurspahic. In his chapter, ‘From Bosnia to Kosovo and Beyond: Mistakes and Lessons’, Kurspahic writes that the mission of ending the war in Bosnia was not compatible with the task of building foundations for a lasting peace and, as a result, half of Bosnia’s population was left homeless, in exile and unable to return. In the years since the Dayton Agreement was first signed, efforts have been made to ensure freedom of movement between Bosnia’s two entities, but as Kurspahic notes the state remains divided along cantonal and ethnic lines where there is great disparity among the regions and populations. As we move further away from Dayton, it is clear that the original Belgian-style model for Bosnia was fraught with difficulties in terms of design and has led to the exponential involvement of the international community to ensure its implementation.16

This section concludes with two analyses of international involvement from the vantage point of supranational institutions that are central to the reconciliation process, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the European Union. William Stuebner chronicles the development of the ICTY and the role that the United States played in its early years and describes how the problems of intelligence ultimately slowed down the work of the chief prosecutor. In a personal account of the development of the ICTY, Stuebner chronicles how dedicated civil servants advanced the cause of justice during their terms in office but were nonetheless constrained by budgets and other essential resources. Fraser Cameron then reviews the European Union’s involvement in the region and the difficulties it encountered during the inception of its common foreign and security policy. He notes how the former Yugoslavia provided an important testing ground for the European Union and how more than ten years later, the EU’s involvement in the Balkans pushed it to develop a greater range of external policy instruments which are in use today.

The second part of the book focuses on the experiences of the former Yugoslav republics and their neighbours and the subsequent attempt at regional stabilisation and European integration. It begins with the Macedonian crisis of 1991 which is set apart from the chronicles of war and destruction in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo that follow. Andrew Rossos argues that the Macedonian crisis in 1991 was not instigated by the break-up of Yugoslavia but had been a constant since the Congress of Berlin in 1878. In Rossos’ account, the Macedonian crisis was caused by the determined opposition by some of its Balkan neighbours. Macedonia’s declaration of independence was, in his view, the only way to resolve the Macedonian question. Rossos credits the Glikorov government which skillfully avoided war and ultimately enabled the newly independent state to survive the Greek embargo.

Croatia was less fortunate than Macedonia and its fate is explored in two chapters which examine the origins and conduct of the first war of 1990–91 and the difficulties of enforcing a peace. In the first of two chapters, Branka Magas argues that the intention behind the attacks by the Yugoslav National Army was to drive out local populations and, as the war continued, to destroy any cultural or civic monuments which were associated with secessionist states and alien cultures. In the second study, former US ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith, provides a personal account in which he describes American attempts to bring peace to Croatia. Galbraith recalls the high-level discussions that led to the relatively unknown Erdut peace agreement that ended the conflict in Croatia’s Danube region and paved the way for the Dayton Peace Agreement.

The campaigns of terror and vandalism in Croatia were to spill over into Bosnia, as Serbian paramilitary units imported the politics of ethnic purity to Croatia’s neighbour. The cumulative effects of these campaigns is recorded in a remarkable piece of investigative journalism by Pulitzer Prize winning author David Rohde who documents the most horrific outcome of the battle for ethnic purity – the fall of Srebrenica and the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims by Serbian forces which has since been recognized as an act of genocide by the International War Crimes Tribunal.

The focus then shifts from Bosnia to Kosovo. In the first of three studies, Noel Malcolm discusses the diplomatic efforts in 1999 which aimed to avert war over Kosovo, and provides a useful introduction to the KLA. Malcolm’s attempt to demystify the sources of conflict in Kosovo is followed first by Mark Bartolini’s account of NATO’s air campaign, from the perspective of humanitarian organisations on the ground, then an assessment of the international community’s attempts to administer the province, following NATO’s intervention, by Bryan Hopkinson, chief political officer to the United Nations in Kosovo. Hopkinson reviews the work of the UN mission in Kosovo and considers the factors which made it so difficult to govern and which are central to Kosovo’s final status talks.

Relations between NATO members Greece and Turkey, as well as NATO hopefuls Bulgaria and Albania, and their relationship with Russia are analysed in chapters by regional experts Thanos Veremis, Ali Karaosmanoglu and Philip Shashko. Veremis and Karaosmanoglu record how public opinion in Greece and Turkey was divided by NATO’s actions against Belgrade and provide explanations for such divisions. Veremis’s account sheds light on the ‘anti-Americanism’ exhibited in Greece and dispels any notion that the Greek population was in sympathy with coreligionists, as others have suggested. Karaosmanoglu then considers the range of interests behind Turkey’s policies. The transition and

© Cambridge University Press

Meet the Author

Brad K. Blitz received his PhD from Stanford University and is currently Reader in Political Geography at Oxford Brookes University. He has written extensively on the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and has taught causes in international and comparative politics, refugee and migration studies at Stanford University, the University of California Santa Cruz, Middlesex University, Roehampton University and Oxford Brookes University.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >