When Cigarettes are Currency

War Profiteering in Blue Helmets and Black Markets

Most of us have spent more time than usual at home over the past few months. I spent some of that time reviewing my current events/history bookshelf (yep, I’m the kind of person who has organized and dedicated bookshelves). It’s interesting how current events become history. Today’s newspaper is nothing more than tomorrow’s fish wrapper if we don’t take the time to study, analyze, and learn from current events, history, and were the two meet. We should all keep a current events/history bookshelf and review it on a regular basis. One of the books I recently reviewed is Peter Andreas’ Blue Helmets and Black Markets The Business of Survival in the Siege of Sarajevo. Its message is as timely today as it was over a decade ago.

Blue Helmets and Black Markets (book cover)
Blue Helmets and Black Markets by Peter Andreas

History can be viewed as a series of specific events over a general period of time. Some of these historical events can be too specific to appeal to a wide audience. Andreas’ book covers the Siege of Sarajevo which lasted from 1992 to 1995. This event, and time period, may be too narrow to appeal to some readers but it shouldn’t be a surprise that wars tend to be wars and politics tends to be politics. Andreas contends that various political and military groups, including UN soldiers, profited from the black market that existed during the siege. This profiteering also served to prolong the siege for the citizens of Sarajevo. Andreas states, “Cigarettes were so valued in wartime Sarajevo that they became an alternative form of currency.” At another point in the book reporter Maggie O’Kane states, “The UN soldiers here are making themselves and the Sarajevo mafia rich. The soldiers are the importers and the locals are the middlemen for a trade in cigarettes…worth millions of dollars.” This is not the first, or last, time soldiers and politicians have profited from war, but without analysis of historical events it is difficult to develop an understanding and learn from history.

Peter Andreas’ book is an insightful look into the lives of the citizens who lived through the Siege of Sarajevo and the politicians and soldiers who prolonged and profited from the siege. It is a book worth study and analysis for its historical context. It is also worth a read in a time when current events are fraught with individuals who willingly manipulate and prolong conflict for profit.

-K-

Blue Helmets and Black Markets The Business of Survival in the Siege of Sarajevo (2008) by Peter Andreas.

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