This article examines Russia's response to the 1999 Kosovo crisis in order to evaluate theoretical propositions about the relationship between historical memory and conflict-causing misperceptions. For decades, Russian society consumed, especially through mass education, a particular interpretation of Russia's imperial wars and interventions in the Balkans and its historical relations with Serbia and the West. A comparison of the content of this view to the Russian elite and popular response to the 1999 Kosovo crisis shows how particularly pernicious historical ideas influenced a number of serious misperceptions about Balkan realities and Western motives in 1999. The case reveals that historical memory is more far-reaching than accounted for by traditional theories of misperception. Those theories, when they do incorporate historical memory, ignore or minimize the role of popular historical ideas as independent causes of misperceptions; perceptual distortions result largely from cognitive limitations in the processing of information, hence little can be done to avoid them. This study shows how historical ideas themselves may be a source of misperceptions. This has important policy implications: since historical beliefs are hardly immutable, efforts taken to scrutinize and challenge particularly pernicious interpretations of the past could help avoid conflict-causing perceptual distortions.

Additional Metadata
Keywords Foreign policy, Historical memory, Identity, Kosovo war, Misperceptions, NATO, Russia, Serbia
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1177/0010836707086736
Journal Cooperation and Conflict
Citation
Mendeloff, D. (2008). 'Pernicious history' as a cause of national misperceptions: Russia and the 1999 Kosovo war. Cooperation and Conflict, 43(1), 31–56. doi:10.1177/0010836707086736