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Solzhenitsyn and Yugoslavia

Novi Sad, Yugoslavia

Recently the Western press reported that Gulag Archipelago would be translated and published in Yugoslavia. All those acquainted with the present political situation in a country that for decades has been the most liberal communist state were gladdened by this news. But at the same time it stirred some deep doubts. And sure enough, a week after the report in the Western press, an article appeared in the Zagreb weekly Vjesnik u sredu (Wednesday Herald)1 explaining that the reports by Western journalists were false. Even though two Yugoslav publishing houses had inquired about an “option” and had received a copy of Gulag Archipelago, this did not mean the book would be finally published. It would first have to be approved from an ideological and artistic point of view.

The tone of this article leaves little doubt that Gulag Archipelago will not provoke any ideological enthusiasm among those in power in Yugoslavia Nor does the recent cultural atmosphere in Yugoslavia, where, since the beginning of this year, the fiftieth anniversary of Lenin’s death has been observed with countless exhibitions, celebrations, lectures, movies, theatrical and televised tributes to the “greatest humanist of mankind.” Still, one cannot say with complete assurance that the book will not be published.

The question of Solzhenitsyn in Yugoslavia is a highly interesting one which deserves serious consideration. Yugoslavia is a communist country in which the monopoly of power by one party does not essentially differ from that in the Soviet Union. It is true that all of Solzhenitsyn’s earlier writings have been published in Yugoslavia. Yet, at the same time, the smallest criticism of the Yugoslav regime and any attempt to deal with recent Yugoslav history from the same point of view that Solzhenitsyn treats post-revolutionary Russia are activities no less dangerous than in the USSR.

The greatest paradox is that the publication of Solzhenitsyn’s works here not only indicates nothing about democracy in Yugoslavia but in a very definite way helps to maintain the one-party communist dictatorship and suppress dissent. To understand this paradox is to understand contemporary Yugoslavia. It is also to understand that the ideals in the name of which a dictatorship is justified and carried out make no difference. A one-party dictatorship is always a one-party dictatorship, even if it is anti-Stalinist.

The example of anti-Stalinist communism in Yugoslavia could not escape Solzhenitsyn’s attention. In his novel The First Circle he makes Stalin continually refer to Tito and Yugoslavia. The Serb Radovich, an old Bolshevik, secretly delights over workers’ control in Yugoslav enterprises. The official called Makarygin muses about the “semi-Fascist regime in Yugoslavia.”2 Solzhenitsyn gives a splendid description of how the accusing memory of Joseph Tito haunts Stalin and poisons his seventieth birthday anniversary:

Iosif had tripped over Iosif.

Kerensky, who was still alive somewhere, did not disturb Stalin in the least. For that matter, as far as Stalin was concerned, Nicholas II or Kolchak could come back from the grave—he felt no personal enmity toward them: they were open enemies, they didn’t dodge around offering some new, better socialism of their own.

Better socialism? In some other way than Stalin’s? Snot! Who could build socialism without Stalin?…

Everyone was long since asleep who had disagreed, who had been mentioned in the old footnotes, who had thought of building socialism in some other way. And then, when even in the northern forests neither criticism nor doubts could be heard, Tito had crawled out of the woodwork with his dogmatist-theologist Kardel and declared that things ought to be done differently!…

Tito would steal his last peace, his last appetite, his last slumber.3

The appeal and popularity of Tito’s more liberal communism have been for years the greatest temptation to all the East European “revisionists” and Soviet satellites. The West took account of this and closed its eyes to many things that were happening in Yugoslavia. Thus, paradoxically, one could for a long time find out about the sins of the “Yugoslav variety” of communism mainly through Stalin’s press, which, of course, nobody believed. Only after 1955 and after Khrushchev admitted that Tito was right, and after the fall and imprisonment of Djilas, did the situation become more normal: the Soviet press avoided criticizing Yugoslavia and the Western press started publishing news about Yugoslav dissidents.

But the history of communist Yugoslavia has repeated in a condensed form the entire history of the USSR, and, in a historical sense, has jumped a decade ahead of the development of Soviet communism. That is the reason why the present events in Yugoslavia stir such interest among all the observers of the communist world. If one does not consider local and specific conditions and considers the development of Yugoslav communism only roughly and schematically, then the period of World War II and the postwar period up until the dispute with Stalin in 1948 represent the entire Yugoslav revolution, civil war, and the period of “War Communism.” The period after 1948, which seemed in the eyes of the outside world to be that of the greatest struggle with Stalin for independence, represented internally a full historical parallel to the years of collectivization in the USSR—the “Yezhov period.”

And indeed the forcible collectivization of the Yugoslav farm sector began after 1948. While it is true that the party abandoned it after several years, agriculture was destroyed for long afterward and still has not been completely revitalized. Only after the clash with Stalin and during the bloody struggle with the Stalinists in 1948 and afterward did Tito’s Communist party take a definitive form (just as Stalin’s Communist party was born in the struggle with the opposition within the party). One must emphasize however that in Yugoslavia the “Stalinists” had little in common with Soviet Stalinists. In Yugoslavia the almighty general secretary of the party was not Stalin, but Tito; and in the eyes of the Yugoslav fanatics of the revolution who opposed Tito, Stalin was a distant mythological creature, just as Lenin was for the anti-Stalinist opposition within the party in Russia.

If one also takes into account the fact that Tito’s struggle against the Yugoslav “Stalinists” was carried out by typical Stalinist methods (waves of arrests, recanting of repentants, terror, provocations, denunciations, prison camps, etc.), then it is not difficult to understand that the Yugoslav “Stalinists” are in a fundamental sense the counterparts of Soviet Trotskyites and of all kinds of party opposition.

But to conclude from this that Titoism is simply a Yugoslav form of Stalinism, as some people do, is in my opinion incorrect.

Caught between two worlds, the democratic West and the totalitarian East, the Yugoslav Communist party has been forced to search for its own new way. Acting pragmatically, it has brought about innovation and liberalizing changes in all spheres of life—social, economic, cultural, ideological, legislative, and so on. The only invariable condition, not subject to any doubt, has been the monopoly of power by a single party, which has been the party’s permanent goal. Constitutions were periodically changed, economic, administrative, and legal reforms were carried out; party purges were conducted and party committees in republics and cities were occasionally crushed; waves of suppression gave way to waves of liberalization and vice versa; the forces of State Security were first smashed and then allowed to regain power. But the one-party monopoly remained firm.

This monopoly still remains unbudgeable after the clamorous proclamation of the most recent constitution—“the most democratic constitution”—which, by the way, as legal experts already have noticed, closely resembles Mussolini’s constitution, the difference being that in Italy corporations elected their delegates, while in Yugoslavia there are “organizations of united labor.” But the basis of the entire system, one-party political monopoly, remained in Italy and remains so in Yugoslavia.

However, because Stalinism became a synonym for extreme totalitarianism, and Yugoslav communism did not put large spheres of life under its direct command, although it tried to control them, it seems to me that it is more correct to consider Titoism as “Yugoslav Leninism” or “Khrushchevism” or even “post-Khrushchevism” than Stalinism. If there were a phase in Yugoslav life which could be most easily, compared with Stalinism, then it would be, again paradoxically, the period of the struggle with Stalinism.

Hence the ambiguous position of Solzhenitsyn in Yugoslavia. For a quarter of a century now we have not only been allowed to criticize Stalin but indeed have had to do so; and for the least open expression of affinities with Joseph Vissarionovich one can still go to prison. I remember with what amazement I watched in prison a group of nationalists from a small neighboring country, who were secretly copying and studying The Issues of Leninism by Stalin. It was very difficult to argue with those essentially wonderful fellows, because they were punished for the same transgressions for which the state was putting and is still putting people in prison in Stalinist and post-Stalinist USSR; in debating with them I had to defend the Yugoslav struggle with Stalin. My references to Solzhenitsyn were of little use, for one’s own experience is always much more impressive.

About Stalin’s USSR as many books have been written and published in Yugoslavia as in the West. Back in the early 1950s there were published in Yugoslavia memoirs of former inmates of Soviet concentration camps and victims of bloody purges, including the well-known books by Weissberg-Zibulski, Margaretta Buber-Neuman, Georgy Klimov, Arthur Koestler, and those by Yugoslav communists who were former Soviet “Zeks” [the initials ZK stand for inmates of Soviet prison and concentration camps—trans.]. When One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich appeared in Novy Mir, the largest newspapers in Yugoslavia published a translation in serial form. Sakharov’s Thoughts on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom was published in the same way. Journey into the Whirlwind by Evgenia Ginzburg, the selected works of Trotsky in six volumes, and many other books banned in the USSR have also appeared here.

But all this, in a certain sense, helped to support and still supports the political and ideological justification of Communist party dictatorship in Yugoslavia. It also serves as a muzzle with which the men who have gone through similar ordeals in the “Yugoslav Kolima” [Kolima is a notorious Soviet concentration camp in Siberia—trans.] are silenced before world public opinion. The deeds of Stalin and Stalinism came as great strokes of fortune for the Yugoslav Communist party since all dictatorships look democratic and humane compared with Stalin’s. Moreover, the dictatorship which itself fought with Stalin is bound to be judged with a certain sympathy.

But the difference between totalitarianism in Yugoslavia and in the Soviet Union, just like the difference between Lenin and Stalin, is not in quality but in quantity. There are fewer people in prisons here; the number of taboo subjects is smaller; access to free information is less restricted because of our open borders; the standard of living is higher since there is no party “administrative” leadership in the economic sphere, and so on.

But the essence of one-party monopoly is the same. A ruthless struggle is still being fought against any manifestations of “bourgeois nationalism,” against “enemy propaganda” and “slander of the socialist state,” and against the “vestiges of religion.” In the same way, the most recent history and especially the history of the Yugoslav Communist party is being falsified, and the Goli Otok [barren island—trans.]—the “Yugoslav Kolima”—is being hushed up. Ideological campaigns against various “deviations” in art and philosophy are led periodically by the party. Similarly, statements which are not in accord with the resolutions of the last plenary session of the Party Central Committee can be published only in the Western press, with the same consequences as in Russia.

There is no small number of people in Yugoslavia who suffered during the years of the struggle with Stalinism and who hate Solzhenitsyn precisely because his books serve to justify the actions of their oppressors—they are the counterparts of the Soviet “old Bolsheviks,” who suffered in prison camps without losing their faith in Lenin. Nevertheless the impact of Solzhenitsyn’s works has another aspect. Nowadays one can often hear people say, “Oh, if only we had a Solzhenitsyn who could describe all….” Besides, the continuous efforts by the party to limit any criticism only to Stalin and Stalinism are less and less successful.

Every thinking man realizes sooner or later that there is beyond any doubt an inseparable link between Lenin and Stalin. During the past two to three years a number of books by Yugoslav philosophers have exposed that link. Two volumes on Lenin Without Myth, written by a group of experts, have been published; as was (in Ljubljana) a very interesting work on Leninism as the Ideology of Imperialism by the young Slovenian philosopher Urbanchich. In 1972 Vassily Grossman’s book All Is in Flux was translated and published without being banned. (This book treated irreverently the “sacred” person of Lenin.)

All this and other circumstances have caused the present dogmatic reaction of the party, which with reason finds that the criticism of Lenin endangers its own monopoly of power. That is why the publication here of Gulag Archipelago—the first book by Solzhenitsyn openly showing that the roots of Stalinism are to be found in Leninism—is so unlikely.

The history of the Yugoslav Communist party has ranged from “Lenin’s” revolutionary phase to a post-Khrushchev phase. But since its leaders cannot be removed and its struggle with Stalin had a typical Stalinist form, one has to expect in Yugoslavia in the future a variation on the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU [Communist Party of the Soviet Union—trans.], with the appropriate denunciations. It is not clear what direction the basic criticism will take, and one cannot exclude even the possibility of a relapse into radical Stalinism.

One hope that this relapse will not happen lies in the fact that for decades after the introduction of the Communist dictatorship there were incarcerated in the camps and prisons not only Stalinists but also numerous participants of various armed movements of Yugoslav nationalities during the war. These included leaders and members of former political parties, democrats who had simply made statements against dictatorship, peasants resisting forced collectivization (they were so-called zhitars—zhito in Serbian meaning wheat), priests, and just ordinary talkers. The only difference from the Soviet situation was the fact that there was never any anti-Semitism in Yugoslavia and Jews were never put in prison for no reason at all. Because of all this, a Yugoslav Gulag is destined to appear in the future. It will, however, be unable to outdo the horrors and scale of the Soviet original.

Solzhenitsyn’s article of last year, “Peace and Coercion,” shows that he himself views the “Yugoslav variety” of communism realistically. In it he wrote the following about the possibility of awarding the Nobel prize for peace to Secretary General Tito of the Yugoslav Communist party: “The honoring of a statesman, who possibly partly contributed to the relaxation of world tensions with his policy of ‘non-alignment,’ but who is known in his own country as a suppressor of freedom and nationalist movements, would at this time provoke extreme bewilderment and confusion in the minds of people.”

Nevertheless, if Gulag Archipelago, which reveals the mechanism of every communist one-party dictatorship and not only of Stalinism, gets translated and published in Yugoslavia after all, then Solzhenitsyn, in spite of everything, will have to change to some extent the opinion he states in the article I have mentioned. And together with citizens of Yugoslavia, he will no doubt be glad about that.

translated by Maria Mihajlov Ivusic

  1. 1

    Issue of March 6, 1974.

  2. 2

    The First Circle (Bantam Books, 1968), p.429.

  3. 3

    Ibid., pp. 105-106.

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