The Truth About Yugoslavia

The Yugoslavs

by Dusko Doder
Random House, 256 pp., $10.00

Perhaps the greatest pleasure of my three months-old stay in the United States has been the appearance of this new book about Yugoslavia by Dusko Doder, correspondent for The Washington Post. And this is because since the time of my arrival I have not ceased to be amazed at the lack of understanding here, at times even deliberate silence, concerning what goes on in that small but independent communist country. I think of the articles that have appeared in the American press, such as Eric Bourne’s in The Christian Science Monitor of July 25, 1978, under the heading of “The Yugoslavs: Proud of Their Freedoms”; of the constant repetition of the untruth concerning a “general amnesty” supposedly granted last year; of the perplexed questions put to me (“Can there really be any political prisoners in Yugoslavia?”).

If these provoke no more than mild irritation and a bitter smile, then the activity of the congressional commission for monitoring the Helsinki Accords has completely mystified me, while at the same time it has pointed to the full depth and seriousness of the question of the relation of the democratic world to a country which, though the most liberal, is still a communist country. It seems that the congressional commission regularly publishes collections of documents on violations of rights in all the countries of Europe, including communist ones, with two exceptions; Albania and Yugoslavia. With Albania there is no problem: that country did not sign the Helsinki Accords. The exclusion of Yugoslavia from the group of countries where human rights are violated is, however, at first sight mysterious, even inexplicable.

Yet, in spite of this silence, there is everywhere a great interest in Yugoslavia’s future, and every day I am asked by almost all the Americans I meet, what will happen there after Tito departs from the scene? This mixture of correct apprehension of how important Yugoslavia’s fate is for Europe’s future and for the future of the whole world, and of unwillingness to contemplate the truth of the Yugoslav version of communism—this is what I found so depressing until I read Doder’s book. For this book (though not completely) does fill in the gaps in that rosy picture of “liberalized communism” created by the Western press. And the book has appeared just at the time it is most needed.

I first heard of Doder’s book from Milovan Djilas last spring, when the author sent him a part of the manuscript. And soon the still unpublished work became the subject of conversations among Belgrade intellectuals. And no wonder, for it was a work that did not describe the historic events of bygone years, or the beauties of the Yugoslav landscape, but rather portrayed contemporary, unretouched Yugoslav reality. I recall that we were all amazed at Doder’s story, one which he had somehow come across, that the general secretary of the Yugoslav Communist Party, Stage Dolane (Tito is Party chairman as well as the country’s president), had, in his youth, been a member…

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