The Precarious Country

British Policy Towards Wartime Resistance in Yugoslavia and Greece

edited by Phyllis Auty, edited by Richard Clogg
Barnes and Noble/Harper & Row, 308 pp., $23.50

British Policy in South-East Europe in the Second World War

by Elisabeth Barker
Barnes and Noble/Harper & Row, 320 pp., $27.50


by Milovan Djilas
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 470 pp., $14.95

The Yugoslav Experiment 1948-1974

by Dennison Rusinow
University of California Press, 410 pp., $16.50

R.W. Seton-Watson and the Yugoslavs, Correspondence 1906-1941

British Academy and University of Zagreb, 468, vol 2 pp., £10 the set

Nations in Arms: The Theory and Practice of Territorial Defense

by Adam Roberts
Praeger, 288 pp., $18.50


The Belgrade-Bar railway took one hundred years to plan and build. It now joins Serbia to the Adriatic, and clings to the mountains of Montenegro like a tendril. On the night train up from Bar, I was awakened early in the morning by a hand shaking my shoulder; when I opened my eyes I saw, three inches away, a revolver pointed straight between them. Behind it, standing over me, was a man with a sharp face and a long suede overcoat. “Vi Engliez?” “Yes.” He waved the gun at me, then laughed at his friend on the top bunk, stood up, slipped the gun into his waistband, and began to comb his hair.

Montenegrin humor. But it is hard not to feel a certain precariousness about Yugoslavia in general. JAT flights from the West are searched for bombs more carefully than most other flights, and still one has been exploded by right-wing exile terrorists. Yugoslav missions in Western Europe and the United States are frequent targets; émigrés of all persuasions are themselves constantly being gunned down or blown up.

In Belgrade the writers argue so fiercely that they have to have two writers’ clubs to keep the factions apart; each is very convivial. Gigantic trucks on the narrow Belgrade-Zagreb highway pay little attention to cars. One month after the controllers of Zagreb’s airport caused the world’s worst mid-air collision and sent 176 bodies splashing and burning into the cornfields last year, two more planes narrowly missed each other high over Croatia. Train accidents are frequent and often the drivers are found to be drunk as well as dead. In Montenegro a truck in front of my car drove off a bridge and disappeared under the brine sixty feet below. A few days later, in an incident reminiscent of Lawrence Durrell’s own tales of diplomatic niceties in Belgrade, the Austrian ambassador shot dead the French ambassador during a hunt organized by the Yugoslav foreign minister.

Yugoslavia has been a cause for concern ever since the question “After Tito, what?” was first asked in 1943. Last year Henry Kissinger’s adviser Helmut Sonnenfeldt jarred the Yugoslavs by asserting in his so-called “doctrine” that Yugoslav independence of Moscow could upset Europe’s stability, and the country’s defense obtruded briefly into the presidential election. Tito’s hepatitis caused a flutter and Brezhnev’s November visit kept dozens of pundits busy. Above St. James Park a member of the British establishment confided that he was informed that World War III, like I, would begin in the Balkans; recently a Yugoslav general said that his country might need nuclear weapons to stop such a war.

Now eighty-five, Tito has been taking his own steps to ensure that the coalition of twenty-two million Serbs, Croats, Muslims, Turks, Slovenes, Albanians, Montenegrins, Macedonians, and Hungarians survives him. An eight-man collective presidency, representing each of the republics and autonomous areas, has been picked to succeed him. Executive authority is being decentralized from Belgrade to the nationalities. Greater ideological uniformity is being imposed and the Party is being emphasized as “one ring to bind them all.” The police have become much more active in restricting certain freedoms. Hundreds of so-called “nationalists,” “Stalinists,” and other dissenters have been arrested. A defense system has been installed in which resistance is compulsory and surrender illegal.

Some of these measures are obviously grim and they have aroused the fury of the former US ambassador to Belgrade, Laurence Silberman, who has now denounced the State Department for being soft on a country he sees as both paranoid and anti-American.1 Mr. Silberman’s polemic could hardly make him more unpopular in Belgrade. Last year he became the first ambassador to be publicly denounced by Tito since he attacked the Soviet ambassador in 1948. Silberman’s main offense was to campaign openly rather than discreetly for the release of an American, Laszlo Toth, who had been jailed on obviously trumped-up spying charges. Silberman succeeded but some of his colleagues considered, perhaps wrongly, that he would have done so more quickly by being less abrasive. They wondered if he was joking when he tiptoed around rooms, one finger on his lips, the other pointing at the chandelier. He probably was not.

Silberman’s irritation about Yugoslav “paranoia” may be understandable, but he fails to take account of the origins of that mistrust. These have to be sought in the experience of World War II; many Yugoslavs, particularly of Tito’s generation, will always think of their former allies in Britain, the US, and the USSR in the light of what happened thirty-five years ago.

In Britain one recent attempt has been made to show how a decisive part of the establishment finally decided that their alliance with Draza Mihailovic was a failure and then turned to Tito in the war against the Axis. Typically, for Britain, that attempt was made not by outside inquiry but by a cluster of those privy to the secrets. Their recollections, edited by Phyllis Auty and Richard Clogg, are nonetheless fascinating. They show how bureaucratic schism, particularly between the Foreign Office and Special Operations Executive (SOE), almost lost Tito.2

Churchill institutionalized subversion during the war, and arguably for all time, by creating SOE after the fall of France in 1940. Its mission was “to set Europe ablaze.” In 1941 the Joint Planning Staff ranked subversion with bombing and blockade in importance: “We should be able overnight to produce the anarchy of Ireland in 1920 or Palestine in 1936.” The difference was that Britain now sought to fire as well as to fuel the revolt. “Such rebellions can occur only once,” a Joint Planning Staff paper argued. “They must not happen until the stage is set.” In fact, of course, as one of the participants to this discussion suggests, combustion tends to be internal, a lesson still unlearned.3

Yugoslavia was the test case. In March 1941 a pro-Allied coup d’état in Belgrade led to invasion, dismemberment, and occupation by the Axis. The exact history of the resistance that followed is much disputed but the books by Auty and Clogg, Roberts, and Barker, as well as Public Records Office documents, generally agree on the pattern of events. First, royalist Serbian officers took to the hills; then, after Hitler’s attack on the USSR, communists followed them. The communists began to fight first but in late summer London picked up signals from the royalists, or Chetniks, led by Colonel Draza Mihailovic. They had to be aided, if only to encourage similar resistance elsewhere, but, Churchill said, they were simply to “embarrass” and tie down Axis troops. “They should now do all they can to prepare a widespread underground organization ready to strike hard later on, when we give the signal.”4

This was ideal for Mihailovic. A withdrawn, melancholy man, he was obsessed with the sufferings of Serbia during World War I, when almost a third of its six million people were slaughtered. His tactics now apparently derived from the long history of Turkish occupation, when, through the winter months when the snows were thick and bright and the trees devoid of cover, the Serb guerrillas would come down to the villages, drink coffee and play trictrac with their Turkish enemies. When the spring thaw returned, they would wave goodbye, climb back into the hills, and fight until the first snow fell again. The Turkish occupation lasted 550 years.

Tito’s ideas of resistance were rather more robust, and the Partisans and Chetniks began to clash at once. In September the first of SOE’s British liaison officers, Captain Hudson, arrived in Yugoslavia; he met both Tito and Mihailovic and thought Tito the more effective of the two. But his intention was to create a united front under Mihailovic and he stayed with him even when talks between the two leaders broke down in November. Mihailovic, however, considered Hudson a communist agent and told him nothing. This made little difference since Hudson had no working radio (SOE had thoughtfully provided him with a plug-in set) and since the Allies, occupied with Singapore and Stalingrad during much of 1942, had little time for the Balkans.

It was during 1942 that Tito created and developed the concept of a mobile army in the form of the Proletarian Brigades. In dealing with his allies, it was a disillusioning year for him. He discovered that the Russians were more concerned with protecting their relationship with the Allies and the royalist government in exile than with aiding Balkan revolution. At the same time, the Allies seemed to ignore Mihailovic’s increasing collaboration with the Axis troops and, worse still, Chetnik attacks upon the Partisans. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff reported to Churchill in June 1942: “Although the activity of these wilder elements [the Partisans] in the country will always necessitate considerable Axis garrisons, the policy of Mihailovic is to curb their activities in order to conserve his potential forces…for civil war and wait until the time is right.”5 That the Partisans would “hold down” more Germans later became a crucial argument for their support.

Approximately 1.9 million of the 16 million Yugoslavs were killed during the war. But over half of these were killed in civil war;6 at least two hundred thousand Serbs were massacred by the Croatian fascist regime set up by the Italians, and many thousands more were killed in fighting between Chetniks and Partisans. Nonetheless, the reality of civil war is still not a part of the Yugoslav myth of liberation. And since Mihailovic was later executed for collaboration, for which there is ample evidence, little mention is made of the Partisans’ own far less significant attempts to deal with the Germans. But in his superbly documented book Walter Roberts shows that in March 1943, discouraged by British and Soviet attitudes, a Partisan delegation which included Milovan Djilas met with the Germans. According to both German and Partisan documents they negotiated a prisoner exchange; but the Partisans also said that the Chetniks not the Germans were their first enemy and they proposed a truce. This was the mirror image of what Mihailovic himself had told the Germans. In any event, Ribbentrop in Berlin rejected the Partisans’ offer.7

In his book Conversations with Stalin (1962), Djilas dealt sparingly with the incident and left out his own role altogether. Walter Roberts revealed his participation and the account has apparently encouraged Djilas. In his new volume of memoirs, Wartime, Djilas writes of the affair dramatically and at length, admitting that silence today would serve only “to preserve the idealized image of the Yugoslav revolution, as if it weren’t sufficient for them to have carried out the original revolution.” He says that none of the Partisan leaders worried that negotiating with the Germans betrayed the USSR, internationalism, or their own aims. “Military necessity compelled us. The history of Bolshevism—even without the Brest-Litovsk Treaty and the Hitler-Stalin Pact—offered us an abundance of precedents.” Nonetheless, he writes, the talks infuriated Moscow; this was the first open quarrel between Tito and Stalin.

It was now, in spring 1943, that Allied plans for the invasion of Sicily finally gave strategic significance to the Balkans and that long-simmering resentment between SOE and the Foreign Office boiled over. From the start SOE had been a maverick organization composed of businessmen, stockbrokers, journalists. To the Foreign Office they seemed brash if not trash; to them the FO was a stuffed-shirt brigade. Bureaucratic rivalries became wars; Foreign Office papers constantly refer to the “ramps” being perpetrated by SOE and describe telegrams from SOE, in a choice manner, as “Pearls from Swine.” In the case of Greece, the FO accused SOE of inventing the entire guerrilla movement in order to explain away its own vast expenditures. (Even Eden, then foreign secretary, who had little love for SOE, noted, “I really think this is an exaggeration.”) The mistrust was reciprocated.

The precise way in which the British switched to Tito is still both contentious and complicated, and any summary of it is necessarily simplified. By early 1943 the Foreign Office had become convinced that Mihailovic’s collaboration was a liability. Members of SOE, which had sent him more liaison officers, at first resisted the FO’s suggestion that contact be made with the Partisans and claimed that there were not enough planes, it was impossible to work with both sides, the Partisans were unreliable. But when, in April 1943, the Chiefs of Staff demanded that the Balkans be “tuned up,” SOE’s Cairo headquarters (which often disagreed with SOE London) saw the inevitable and reversed its position in order to preserve for itself all contacts with the potential new allies. William Deakin, an Oxford don, was dispatched from Cairo as first British liaison officer to Tito. The Foreign Office, having initially encouraged these contacts, then began to try to protect Mihailovic. In July, Churchill, now genuinely interested in the Balkans and what he had heard of Tito from Deakin’s reports, upset almost everyone by appointing the Tory MP Fitzroy Maclean his personal “daring Ambassador-leader to these hardy and hunted guerrillas.”

SOE, according to Maclean, did not give in gracefully. In London they told him that all planes to Cairo were grounded by bad weather—not true. From Cairo, he says, they sent cables of protest from the commander-in-chief to Churchill—faked. When he finally arrived there, Maclean was told by SOE’s chief of staff, Brigadier Keble, that he would never even get to Yugoslavia, whatever Churchill wanted; he could not see any files at all. (Keble is an astonishing figure whose ambitions for SOE and willingness to frustrate his prime minister are almost magnificent in their madness. They have not been adequately chronicled.) Only after deflecting SOE-inspired rumors in the bar of Shepheard’s Hotel and in the bazaars that he was a drunken homosexual coward did Maclean finally get to be dropped over Yugoslavia. He says he did not accept the first parachute SOE offered him.

After meeting Tito, Maclean reached the conclusion that the Partisans were meeting Churchill’s requirements and killing more Germans than the Chetniks were; as a result of his report Churchill overrode Foreign Office objections and in February 1944 withdrew the liaison officers from Mihailovic.

Deakin had done the groundwork with Tito but Maclean, an accomplished publicist, has obtained the fame. Both he and Churchill are bitterly attacked by Vane Ivanovic in his entertaining memoir LX, which describes his life as a member of the prewar Croatian haute bourgeoisie, consul general of Monaco in London, and a dandy of enjoyable if arrogant eccentricity. Understandably, he is not Titoist, and he has a provocative section on the war in which he complains that the number of Axis divisions the Partisans are credited as “holding down” varies between eight and thirty-four, depending on the source. In any case, he argues, a large German force would have had to defend the Balkan Peninsula against Allied landings, Partisans or no Partisans. He charges that the decision to aid the Partisans derived largely from information provided by the Partisans themselves.

This, of course, ignores the intelligence provided by Enigma codebreaking and it seems clear from papers now available in the Public Records Office in London that the Partisans had, by the end of 1943, managed to cut many of the German lines of communication in Istria, Slovenia, and to the Dalmatian coast. Elisabeth Barker, who has made the most use of these papers in her recent book, believes that the Partisans were tying down between nine and ten German divisions by the end of 1943. German sources suggest that there were 125,000 Germans fighting the Partisans in 1944.

Ivanovic is particularly angered by Maclean’s book Eastern Approaches, first published in 1949 and reprinted many times since. This somewhat romanticized epic contains no hint whatsoever of the real bureaucratic and personal intrigues that made the policy—no mention, for example, of the machinations of SOE of which Maclean finally disclosed a part at the London seminar recorded in the collection by Auty and Clogg. But Ivanovic’s outrage about disclosure seems disingenuous; members of the British establishment, whether pro- or anti-Tito (and many are pro-Tito), do not believe in the public’s right to information, as Ivanovic knows perfectly well. (Even Roy Jenkins, as Labour home secretary, was appalled by the US Freedom of Information Act.)

The Russians sent an official mission to Tito only in February 1944; its leader, Lieutenant-General Korneyev, was not inspiring, and the Partisans soon agreed with Stalin’s view, expressed to Djilas, that “he is a drunkard, an incurable drunkard.” A fair proportion of Soviet aid turned out to be alcohol, and at his weekly meetings with the Allied missions Tito would note that the British and Americans sent a great deal more matériel than Moscow did.8

Allied postwar policy was still undecided. Roosevelt proposed as late as 1944 that Serbia should be detached from the rest of the country. Churchill tried in vain to persuade Tito to allow the exiled King Peter back. (Stalin’s advice on this was to do so and stab the king, literally, when convenient.) In October 1944, in Moscow (not, as often thought, later in Yalta) Churchill and Stalin made their famous percentage agreement for the future division of Europe; influence over Yugoslavia was to be split fifty-fifty between East and West.

Fitzroy Maclean claims that Tito was not amused by the agreement,9 and Churchill subsequently maintained that it had been only a temporary plan; but in his new book of memoirs Djilas recalls that at the time no Partisan leader objected to the terms. Certainly this recognition by the Russians and the West of shared interests in Yugoslavia helped it (unlike any of the East European countries which Churchill had ceded to Stalin) to break with the USSR in 1948, and to develop—through “non-alignment,” “self-management,” and “an independent road”—its own unique combination of one-party socialism and relative freedom, and thus remain a source of concern and contention today.

To understand the legacy of the civil war—a phrase not permitted in Yugoslavia today—one must read the concluding pages of Djilas’s Wartime. He tells how, in 1945, some 130,000 Germans surrendered to the Partisans and were sent to camps or put to work. But, as he records, the Yugoslavs who opposed the Partisans were treated differently:

…enemies who collaborated with the invaders or bound their destiny to the fascist powers—the Chetniks, the Ustashi Home Guards, and the Slovenian Home Guards—also laid down their arms. Some of these groups got through to the British in Austria, who turned them over to us. All were killed, except for women and young people who were under eighteen years of age—so we were told at the time in Montenegro, and so I later heard from those who had taken part in these senseless acts of wrathful retribution.

…A year or two later, there was grumbling in the Slovenian Central Committee that they had trouble with the peasants from those areas, because underground rivers were casting up bodies. They also said that piles of corpses were heaving up as they rotted in shallow mass graves, so that the very earth seemed to breathe. In Zagreb, too, purges were conducted according to Belgrade standards. Serbian and Croatian nationalists each echo the other in claiming that their own side was treated more harshly than the other side.

As for the Chetniks, who continued fighting, “The fate of Draza Mihailovic’s forces was even more terrible, because of the uncertainty and duration of their calamity.” Djilas describes how the Croatian fascist Ustashi induced a large number of Chetnik officers to surrender, “then disarmed and slaughtered them”; how the remaining Chetniks were encircled by the Partisans and no prisoners were taken; “some seven thousand were killed.”

Djilas seems agonized by these memories. He recalls his wartime hatred of those who were killed: “side by side with the invader they had waged war for many years against the children of their own people…; they took no prisoners.” But then he accuses himself of accepting the collective extermination of these fellow Yugoslavs, “as if there were no justice, truth, and mercy outside the ideology, the party, and an aroused people, and outside us leaders as their essence!” He concludes:

The war and the revolution were at an end. But the hatreds and divisions continued to bring destruction and death, both inside and outside the country…. Revolutions are justified as acts of life, acts of living. Their idealization is a cover-up for the egotism and love of power of the new revolutionary masters. But efforts to restore prerevolutionary forms are even more meaningless and unrealistic…. Let us hope that in the end monolithic ideological revolutions will cease, even though they have roots in idealism and idealists.

But still today it is on an idealization of the Partisan experience that the country’s defense is based. The invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 hastened the reorganization of the armed forces to exploit the relative independence of the self-management system. In theory every factory, farm, village, and suburb now has its own plans for attack and defense in which surrender has no place. War is described as “an all-embracing conflict in which boundary lines between front and rear, people and army, disappear.” Alongside and theoretically co-equal with the regular multinational army of 190,000 men are the local territorial defense forces of between one and two million. The current strategy calls for the army to retreat in front of a large tank and airborne assault—by the Warsaw Pact through Hungary, perhaps—while shifting from full heavily armed combat to light guerrilla warfare.10 Then the enemy is to be harassed from the mountains and worn out, as the Axis were, until the pattern is reversed as guerrilla bands unite into larger groups.11

The efficiency of this plan may be doubted if only because the country is far more urbanized today than it was in 1943, and even then, as Vane Ivanovic points out, only a small minority of the population sought to take up arms with either the Chetniks or the Partisans against the Axis occupiers. Nonetheless, the country’s reputation for guerrilla war is at least as important a part of its defense as the advanced equipment it is now seeking to purchase from the United States. And while the government has welcomed détente, the generals have pointed out that it “makes possible an intensified contest between the big powers in those regions where their interests are not clearly defined.”12

For the public record Yugoslav strategists speculate that after first conquering and occupying part of the northern lowlands or Macedonia, the Russians would then invent a quisling government that would “request assistance.”13 But, although it is literally impossible to identify any Yugoslav politician or soldier who might perform for the Russians as the Czechoslovaks Alois Indra, Vasil Bilak, and then Gustav Husak did after August 1968, the real fear is that the quisling government might come first, without an invasion. It is therefore against subversion that defense is now most obviously directed.


Vladimir Dapcevic has led, even for a Montenegrin soldier, a turbulent life which reflects both Yugoslav-Soviet relations since the war and the country’s fear of subversion today. Montenegro was always a pro-Russian principality and in 1941 Montenegrin communists declared it the seventeenth Soviet Republic. (Stalin was horrified, lest Churchill be upset.) Dapcevic and his step-brother Peko fought with the Partisans, but whereas Peko was (and is) close to Tito, Vladimir, with about 14,000 other Yugoslav communists, sided with Stalin’s Cominform when, in 1948, it denounced Tito’s government as “a purely Turkish terrorist regime” and incited all communists to overthrow him. Caught trying to flee to Rumania, Dapcevic was committed to the brutal prison island of Goli Otok—a place where opposition tended to be reinforced, not diluted; he was released with others after the Tito-Khrushchev reconciliation in 1955, which recognized, in part, Yugoslavia’s independence.

Dapcevic then escaped into Albania where he and another Cominformist, Milita Perovic, formed a pro-Soviet Yugoslav Communist Party in exile; in 1960 the Russians gave them facilities in Kiev and Odessa to coordinate all pro-Soviet exiles and build up cells in Yugoslavia itself.

Dapcevic left Russia rather mysteriously in 1967 and later claimed that only Albania attracted him now. He made his way to Brussels, acquired political asylum, a Belgian wife, jobs on construction sites, and a regular seat to play chess in expatriate Yugoslav cafes like the Escargot d’Or.14 What else he did and for whom is a matter of dispute: his wife denies he was at all interested in politics but other exiles remember him promising that Titoism would eventually be destroyed. Certainly by 1970 the Yugoslav press was attacking him as a Soviet “Cominformist” agent.

Official Yugoslav concern over “Cominformist” activities increased during the early Seventies, particularly after Tito undertook a campaign to suppress both “nationalist” and “liberal” Croats and Serbs during 1971 and 1972. In December 1973 a young man named Slobodan Mitric was arrested in Holland and charged by the Dutch police with murdering three other Yugoslavs in Amsterdam. He testified at his trial, and the Dutch authorities apparently believed him, that he was an agent of the Yugoslav secret police—the UDBA—who had been sent to discredit or kill Dapcevic. He had certainly visited Dapcevic but testified that he had decided not to kill him. The UDBA then sent three other men to kill Mitric himself, he said, but he shot first. He is now serving an eighteen-year sentence in Holland. He still insists that the UDBA wants to murder him.

In 1974 a more open campaign against the Cominformists began in Yugoslavia itself. First a group of twelve men was arrested and accused of holding in the port of Bar a “congress” of an illegal, pro-Soviet Communist Party pledged to destroy self-management, nonalignment, and independence of Moscow. They were all given stiff sentences; since then the Yugoslavs have accused Dapcevic and Milita Perovic of meeting in Paris to draw up the program of this illegal party. One of Tito’s closest colleagues was sent to Moscow, apparently to protest. The second-ranking man in the Soviet embassy in Belgrade was recalled to Moscow.

Throughout 1974 and 1975 Cominformist groups were rounded up in every part of Yugoslavia except Slovenia. All of their trials were secret but it appears that some of the accused were guilty of no more than nostalgia for the lost days of Stalinism. One of the most important groups was in Novi Sad; its members were highly disciplined and conspiratorial and had close links with Kiev.

At the same time dozens of other people were being arrested elsewhere in Yugoslavia and accused of either Croatian nationalism or Albanian irredentism. Officials from Tito down insisted that in themselves they were no threat; they were dangerous only because the appearance of instability they suggested might one day be used to legitimize outside interference. “They are just bait for the bear,” said one Party leader to whom I talked.

Dapcevic cannot have been unaware of the purges and, according to his wife, he knew of Mitric’s allegations. Nonetheless, in August 1975 (a Belgian citizen now) he was brave enough to fly to Rumania to visit old comrades in Bucharest.15 On the night of August 8 he and two friends, Alexander Opocevic (who lived in Bucharest) and Djoko Stojanovic, were set upon by a crowd of men as they stepped out of the elevator on the tenth floor of his hotel, the Dorobanc. Dapcevic was chloroformed, pushed semiconscious onto the floor of a large car, and driven to a cottage. There he was told, when he came around, to behave or be liquidated, given an injection, and spirited unconscious across the border. When he recovered he was in the Central Prison, Belgrade. His two friends were less fortunate; they have never been heard of again.

In prison he was treated for broken ribs and teeth, and then interrogated, politely, for three months. The government finally announced he had been captured “while engaged in anti-state operations on Yugoslav territory.” His half-brother Peko, now a well-known official, would not help him, but his sister came up from Montenegro to hire one of the best civil rights lawyers in Belgrade, Jovan Barovic, who also represents Milovan Djilas and Mihajlo Mihajlov. Dapcevic’s trial was held in secret and, ironically, was interrupted by the June 1976 Conference of European Communist Parties at which the USSR underwrote the right of all European Parties to pursue their own unmolested roads to socialism.

Barovic was unable to summon the police witnesses whose testimony might have proved that Dapcevic had been kidnapped—an offense under Yugoslav antihijacking laws—but the state had no trouble finding its witnesses. The public record of Dapcevic’s crimes was very slim—it did not even establish whether he had been working for Moscow or for Albania—but he was given a sentence of death, immediately commuted to twenty years. He is now in Pozarevac prison, where he is said to be well treated, and mixes with mere traffic offenders.

After Dapcevic’s kidnapping, and a bomb attack on Tito in Zagreb in September 1975, Belgrade issued protests, publicly and privately, about Soviet conduct. On November 27, 1975, Pravda openly disassociated the USSR from “conspiratorial sectarian groups” in Yugoslavia (not, cynics noted, outside it) “who represent no one but themselves.” But in Belgrade officials scoff at such disclaimers and even suggest that Cominformists were among the unnamed clandestine delegates to the Soviet Party Congress in March 1976. In April that year a Soviet woman, married to a Yugoslav, was imprisoned in Zagreb for carrying messages between dissidents and the Soviet consul general. That official, who had been expelled as a spy from Britain in 1971, quickly returned to Moscow. (The woman has since been released.)

During the summer of 1976 two leaders of the Kiev Cominformists, Milita Perovic and Bogdan Jovovic, left the USSR and began a curious journey which took them to Paris, Haifa, and Nepal, among other places. Belgrade had apparently demanded their expulsion from the USSR but, according to French police, they organized a grand anti-Tito congress in Paris last August.16 It was apparently attended by both right-wing and pro-Soviet exiles; hatred of Tito transcends the ideologies of his opponents and for many years there have been rumors of right-wing exiles, including former Ustashis, accepting money from Moscow.

Among the delegates to the Paris congress was Miodrag Boskovic, a Serb who had published a royalist paper, Serbia Awake, in Brussels. According to the French police, Boskovic was chosen to travel around Europe enlisting the support of other groups. He returned first to Brussels and on August 10 he and a friend were found shot dead in a seedy Brussels rooming house.17 Their murders have not been solved. 18

Eighteen days later a loud explosion smashed shop windows in the Place Thiers-Gambetta in Nice. A Renault 15 waiting at the traffic lights had been blown up by a bomb; seven bystanders were injured, and in the car Ivan Tuksor was killed. Tuksor had been the leader of a right-wing Croat exile group. It is not known whether he had attended Perovic’s congress, but in his flat police found anti-Tito propaganda and letters from other exile groups.

Was the UDBA responsible for these deaths? The exile groups predictably say so; and their suspicions are increased not only by such stories as Dapcevic’s but by Belgrade’s ambiguous attitudes toward terrorism: Croat extremists are condemned as fascists, Palestinian hijackers are applauded as freedom fighters. In Belgrade officials maintain that Yugoslavia is under such threat as to make almost any means of self-defense legitimate.19

Last September Western suspicions, and Yugoslav fury with Ambassador Silberman, increased after a bizarre incident involving “Carlos,” the terrorist. After a tip from INTERPOL, the West Germans and Austrians informed the foreign ministry that Carlos was in Yugoslavia, that he was sought in their countries, and that they would be grateful for his arrest until he could be extradited. Although Carlos is not wanted in the US, Silberman also intervened. The Yugoslavs told the Germans that the man they thought was Carlos was merely an Algerian professor who looked like him.

Silberman was angry at Yugoslav allegations that the FBI was supporting the coincidental hijacking of a TWA plane by Croat terrorists in New York. He began to tell the press that the Yugoslavs had wantonly let “Carlos” fly on to Damascus. The State Department then denounced Belgrade, and the Yugoslavs publicly denied he was ever there. But the Germans and the Austrians (and Silberman) remained convinced that the “professor” was indeed the terrorist and that he was on a special mission for the Yugoslavs which was aborted by the publicity. When I asked one Yugoslav bureaucrat about the affair and whether the UDBA was really pursuing its enemies across Western Europe, he replied that his office was not the place to discuss such a matter.

Whatever the truth, the Yugoslav government was much more forthright about continued Russian interference in its own affairs. Last November, just after Brezhnev ended his meeting with Tito, the government spokesman was asked at a press conference if the two men had discussed the issue of the Cominformists. “No,” he said, “but that does not mean that it has been settled.”


In the enforced absence of Vladimir Dapcevic, or turncoats like the Czech Vasil Bilak, it is with loyal Yugoslavs like Mahmut Bakali that the Russians would be forced to deal. Bakali is only forty; he is the first Party leader in the Kosovo, the country’s poorest region, who has either dared or been allowed to exploit his Albanian origin in this over-whelmingly Albanian area. He is one of the most obviously impressive of the thousands of highly qualified younger officials who have no use for the Soviet Union and on whose merit and lack of dogmatism the governing of Yugoslavia will depend after Tito.

In Belgrade the waiting lists for inclusive tours to London, Malta, Istanbul, Paris are long. (The British ambassador found himself next to Milovan Djilas’s cook on one package to London.) In Ljubljana and in Zagreb the streets are jammed with Audis and Mercedes. The hills of Slovenia, Croatia, and to a lesser extent Serbia are dotted with “Weekendista” cottages. But in Pristina, capital of Kosovo, where Bakali lives, there is only one traffic light, horses and carts are almost as common as cars. Old beggar women sit on cardboard mats and scuttle away at the sight of the police, and dozens of men and boys line the pavements hoping to shine shoes.

Multinationalism is both an achievement and a danger for Yugoslavia. The eight-man presidency Tito has created to succeed him represents each of the republics and autonomous areas, and has a leadership that rotates annually. Belgrade has turned over a great deal of administrative power to the republics and the organs of government have been duplicated in each of them. Thus there are nine parliaments, nine trade union movments, nine federal chambers of the economy, and many more than nine police forces in Yugoslavia today. How they will relate to one another after Tito’s death it is impossible to predict, for although Tito does not now take all executive decisions, real power still derives from him. Individuals, not office-holders, have authority in Yugoslavia. One of the men considered most likely to emerge into real national power after Tito is Kiro Gligorov, a very able and “liberal” Macedonian economist who is now president of the Yugoslav Assembly.

While institutional arrangements to control the country’s fissiparousness have been made, the threat of nationalist passion is still considered so grave that no serious discussion of it is allowed. It seems impossible to obtain statistics on intermarriage between nationalities. (The best statistical analysis of Yugoslav society is that provided by Bogdan Denis Denitch’s book.) Last year a professor was expelled from the University of Sarajevo for making a study of Muslims and self-management. “Nationalist” is the conventional term of abuse with which dissent is degraded and denied. Only in Kosovo is de facto nationalism, to some extent, humored.

It took a long time. Until 1968 the Albanian majority here was completely controlled by the Serbs, who make up only 20 percent of the population. Then, although the government now does not care to admit it, widespread rioting took place in the summer of 1968. As a result the most officious signs of Serb control have been removed. The bureaucracy is bilingual; so are the road signs. Pristina now has its own university, its own TV station, its new Academy of Sciences, a program of industrialization with rising credits from the north and from the World Bank. And to the disgust of Croats, who would be imprisoned for anything comparable, on national days the Albanians are allowed to fly the flag they choose; houses in all the villages around are decked out with the black eagle of the neighboring regime in Tirana.

Pristina now is a boom town with clattering construction, where suave young men declare their interest in translating Joyce’s Ulysses (I met two such activists in one day) and old men in Turkish clothes sit quietly on their doorsteps. Party officials sit at alcoholic lunches until seven in the evening. Many of the heavy-set guests in the only hotel, where the plumbing is overworked, look like pipeline engineers from Alaska; indeed, they are prospecting for lignite, oil, ferrous metal in the hills between here and Albania.

Bakali himself dresses more like a West German businessman than an East European bureaucrat. A man of some humor and frankness, he agrees that per capita income is not rising fast enough here; average income is about $450 a year, whereas in Slovenia most people earn five times that, and the gap is not closing. One problem, he admits, is the very high birth rate in Kosovo—a predictable source of distaste further north. Others are the lack of roads and other facilities for industry and the fact that 30 percent of the population is still illiterate.

It appears that in Kosovo the problems of self-management are both greater and fewer than elsewhere. When they were first set up in Yugoslavia, workers’ councils were allowed to allocate small amounts of surplus income. Now they are supposed to appoint the management, fix incomes, and make over-all policy of their enterprise. Although 80 percent of agriculture is still private, self-management has been extended to cover local government, culture, welfare. At least formally, the means of production are managed by the workers’ councils.

The relationship between the councils and management is complicated and depends in part on free exchange of information, as well as on the degree of control exerted by Party and government officials. In Kosovo there are no collective traditions on which to base the system; nor, it seems, is there any great demand for them. I was taken around the Balkan Rubber Works by a self-assured young man who spoke airily of Yugoslavia’s move West, toward the EEC and a totally free market. (Closer links with the Common Market are being arranged, partly in order to offset the possible fading of relations with the nonaligned nations.) The factory has been negotiating a $60 million joint venture with Dunlop. It was clear that the workers’ council lacked the information to approve and control this scheme, let alone to oversee the management generally. Indeed, since its foundation this enterprise has been totally controlled by its founder and general manager, an obviously efficient entrepreneur, who runs it as a personal fief.

Elsewhere in the country, however, the workers can be much more effective. “Work stoppages” are called and, although in most factories meetings on wage scales are the best attended, the councils have sometimes overridden joint ventures worked out by management. In one plastics firm the management was bribed by a junket to Italy to substitute Italian machinery for the British plant already installed. The workers’ council disowned the Italian contract.

Bakali admits that despite the relative improvement in Albanian rights in Kosovo since 1968, Albanian “irredentists” are still arrested fairly frequently and some have been sentenced to prison terms of up to nineteen years. Nonetheless he claims that the problem is only an external one (by which he means that Albania’s and Moscow’s foreign policies are the real concern) and that the groups of nationalists are isolated. This may well be true, but Yugoslav officials tend to ignore indigenous reasons for the growth of regional movements all over Europe in the Seventies; it is not a purely Yugoslav phenomenon. In Yugoslavia the excuse for dealing so harshly with them is, officials say, “because of the sensitivity of the question,” the need to provide no “bait for the bear.” The policy is one of bludgeoning rather than of confronting the fundamental problems.


In the name of the fear of the bear, the powers of the police, the control of the Party, and the interventions of the state have increased perceptibly since Tito dismissed the Croatian “nationalist” leaders in 1971. This has involved, as Dennison Rusinow points out in his excellent book, a coup by Tito himself against what many Western visitors regarded as “Titoism”—laissez faire socialism, newspapers that were more wide-ranging and provocative than in any other Eastern European country, increasing power in the hands of the technological elite, and a more and more tolerant Party. The “liberalism” of the Sixties was leading, said Tito in 1971, “to shooting, to a civil war. And you know what that would mean…. How could I…permit someone else to come and restore order and peace?”20

To his dismay, Tito found it much harder to dismiss those Serbian leaders of whom he disapproved. He was driven to state publicly that “there have been instances of unfavorable and impermissible comment (in the Serbian Party) not only about me as a personality and man, but also not taking account of the fact that I am the President of the [Party] and have been for a long time—since 1937.” Eventually he had his way, but only by threatening to call in the army, which, with the Party, is now among the country’s few genuinely multinational institutions, and all the more powerful for that, as well as for the fact that 98.5 percent of its officers are members of the Party.

Since 1972 a recentralized Party, purged of thousands of its members, has reasserted control over political and economic life. Its “leading role” has been restored. Party membership has again become compulsory for a great many jobs, particularly in the press and television, and “administrative measures” like dismissal or imprisonment have been used against a growing band of “enemies.” The minister of the interior, Franjo Herljevic, is a rigidly doctrinaire army general; under his supervision and the new law of “Social Self-Protection” every enterprise is now supposed to have its own police force and everyone must be his own policeman.

The attacks of the 1960s on “dogmatists” and “centralists” are gone now, dismissed as “one sided”; Dennison Rusinow points out that since 1972 “liberalism,” “spontaneity,” “pluralism,” and “the federalization of the Party” have been categorically condemned. The state might continue to wither away (as enterprise self-management began to work better) but the Party would not.21

Intellectuals” as well as “nationalists,” “liberals,” and “Cominformists” have been persecuted. Among the most notorious cases are the editors of the Marxist philosophical journal Praxis and the Belgrade professors associated with it. Praxis began publication in 1964 with the intention of allowing criticism of “everything that exists” according to the precepts of “Marxist humanism.” For eleven rather turbulent years the men around Praxis rigorously attacked Stalinism, consumerism, nationalism, calling for a government that would preserve both socialism and individual freedoms. Their continued criticisms of the dogmatism and the petty bourgeois aspects of Yugoslav society (“consumer Stalinism”) infuriated Tito, and the journal was finally closed in the more ordered world of 1975. The row has, however, continued, with the harassment of Praxis editors and contributors. The Belgrade professors are no longer allowed to teach at all, and their books have been gradually removed from the curricula, from libraries, from shops. 22

In April this year Johan Galtung, the outgoing Norwegian director of the international study center at Dubrovnik, complained in his final report that severe pressure was put upon him to deny some of the Praxis professors the right to lecture at the center’s seminars. “The issue,” he said, is whether the center “will let itself become an instrument of repression, a tool in the hands of those who want to limit academic freedom, or not.”

At the same time the Party has recruited more members than ever before, and all criticism of Party dogma, from right or left, has been foresworn. Newspapers are far more drab than they were five years ago. Last year Vlado Gotavac, a Croatian editor and supporter of the dismissed leadership, ended a four-year prison term and now sits at home, denied the right to talk in public, let alone to publish. Mihajlo Mihajlov, the intransigently critical author of Moscow Nights, is still in prison after two and a half years and countless hunger strikes. Last year a Ljubljana judge was jailed for five years, eight months, after the secret police found a private diary in which he apparently reflected on the advantages of pluralism over communism. (He had also published an article about wartime myths in a Trieste paper.) The Serbian attorney general prosecuted a lawyer for declaring in court that his client, a writer who was accused of “making hostile propaganda” in a speech, had been telling the truth when he was critical of Yugoslavia.

The lawyer was Srdja Popovic, a partner in one of the most prosperous law firms in Belgrade, which numbers many embassies, including the Soviet embassy, among its clients. Popovic enjoys the trappings of the Yugoslav bourgeoisie—a racehorse, skiing holidays in Switzerland, a large country house—but since 1966 he has also been one of the two most courageous civil rights lawyers in the country. (The other is Jovan Barovic, the lawyer for Dapcevic, as well as Mihajlov and Djilas.) Popovic saw his harassment as a symptom of the ideological sclerosis which is increasing with Tito’s age, and as a warning to other lawyers and to “dissenters” that the courts—which have recently been ordered to adopt a more “class-based” approach—were not inviolate. After his case was widely noticed in the Western press he was given a suspended sentence and barred from practicing in court.

As with everything else in Yugoslavia, freedoms of speech differ from republic to republic, and from time to time. Life is much more ambiguous and, for many intellectuals, more enjoyable, than such a dismal recitation suggests. In Croatia there appears to be a total divorce between intellectuals and the Belgrade-imposed leadership. In Slovenia there is somewhat closer rapport, but in Bosnia, says one writer, “all is dark.” A Bosnian engineer, Zivojin Radovic, was recently sentenced to two and a half years in prison for saying, in a cafe, that he expected more freedoms after Tito—a view which is surprisingly widely held among the intelligentsia. The temper of the Montenegrin police (and, possibly, Tito’s anger with Milovan Djilas’s new book) was reflected in May when Djilas’s cousin Vitomire, a lawyer, was put on trial in Titograd. He was charged with “hostile propaganda” under Article 118 of the Criminal Code because of an unpublished letter he had written to the newspaper Politika asking if “we in Yugoslavia can also fight for a democratic society, whether there is now a possibility of free speech and freedom of the press here, or does fear of arrest and suppression still exist.” His question was answered.

Some writers, like Danilo Kis and Mirko Kovac, have had some books refused for publication and others accepted. Kis’s latest book, A Tomb for Boris Davidovic, deals with the way in which Stalin destroyed foreign communists during the Great Purge. The book has had great success throughout the country, except in Bosnia where the Party leadership abused the author energetically. As Johan Galtung pointed out when he resigned, there is no consensus among the republican parties, and “the federal party seems to be divided between on the one hand a dislike for the dissidents and on the other hand a dislike for public scandal.” He believes that the meeting of the Helsinki Review Conference in Belgrade this summer has restrained the attacks upon intellectual life. But those dissenters who hoped that an amnesty for political prisoners would accompany the opening of the conference have so far been disappointed.


Underlying all Western speculation about the future of Yugoslavia is the implicit assumption that Soviet intentions, at least after the death of Tito, are bound to be aggressive. A pro-Soviet Yugoslavia might pressure both Greece and Italy toward neutralism and diminish the heterodoxy of the socialist world. But this view tends to ignore the realities of Soviet power today, failing to take account of the difficulty Moscow has in policing those parts of Eastern Europe it already controls and in maintaining a reasonable relationship with the Western communist parties. The added difficulties of dominating Yugoslavia might outweigh any possible gains.

Nonetheless, the Russians clearly are still putting constant pressure upon the country both diplomatically and illicitly through such means as the Cominformists. Brezhnev’s November visit to Belgrade showed that. The visit took place after Tito and the Western European communists had compelled the Russians to agree, in Berlin, to the right to an independent road to socialism such as Tito has pursued since 1948. The Berlin communiqué also acknowledged the legitimacy of “nonalignment,” which the Russians, like the United States, had resisted ever since Tito founded this largely African and Asian movement in 1961 as “one of the most significant factors in world politics.” Former Ambassador Silberman dismisses Yugoslavia’s relations with the nonaligned nations because those nations lack divisions. While he may be right in saying that Yugoslavia exploits its position with the Third World nations for its own prestige, these relations are certainly not insignificant as an insurance designed to increase the political costs to Moscow of any intervention in Yugoslavia. Indeed, since Berlin and since the Nonaligned Conference in Ceylon last year the Russians have been trying, through Cuba, to challenge Yugoslavia’s leadership. The next conference, in 1980, will be in Havana.

During Brezhnev’s Belgrade visit in November, Soviet journalists complained bitterly about Yugoslavia’s uncooperative attitude. For his part Brezhnev deliberately irritated his hosts by declaring publicly that, despite Western speculation, the USSR was not a big bad wolf intent on devouring Little Red Riding Hood. After Brezhnev left the government spokesman was asked what Yugoslavia made of this remark. “That is a very delicate question,” he said. “It would have been much better had you not asked it.” The Izvestia correspondent then leaped up and complained about the use of the word “delicate.” The spokesman replied quietly, “We are neither a poor Little Red Riding Hood, nor do we regard Russia as a terrible wolf. We are an independent country with great potential and we do not see any wolf big enough to swallow us up.”

A few weeks later “highly placed Yugoslav sources” leaked to Western journalists the demands that Brezhnev had apparently made during his visit. They were heavy and clearly unacceptable: greater access for the Soviet navy to the Adriatic port of Tivat than it already enjoys; closer cooperation with Comecon (while in fact Yugoslavia is establishing links with the Common Market); participation in Warsaw Pact ideological activity; a more “positive” approach to nonalignment (i.e., following the Cuban example); an end to anti-Soviet propaganda and all allegations of Soviet links with the Cominformists; the establishment of a Yugoslav-Soviet association. That the Russians made such demands at all demonstrates the continuing pressure they are determined to exert upon Yugoslavia. That the Yugoslavs leaked them shows how they use the Soviet threat as a means of uniting the country and of preserving what Tito refers to as its greatest, but sadly diminishing, asset: “the brotherhood and unity of the Yugoslav peoples,” the stirring slogan of the Partisan war.

Brotherhood and unity, however, have not been and cannot be imposed upon the Yugoslav peoples any more than upon any others. Just after the First World War began, R.W. Seton-Watson, Britain’s greatest expert on Central Europe, wrote to the Foreign Office that the Southern Slav question “provided [in Sarajevo] the causa causans of the conflagration” and “is likely to provide the key to many future developments.” Unless it were solved, he wrote, trouble was bound to be caused between at least Britain and Russia. “Only by treating the problem as an organic whole, by avoiding patchwork remedies can we hope to remove one of the chief danger centres in Europe.”23 Since then it has become clear that treating the region as a whole can only be to treat it as a patchwork. But how tight the threads will be pulled, and whether they will hold, remain the real questions.

  1. 1

    Yugoslavia’s ‘Old’ Communism: Europe’s Fiddler on the Roof,” Foreign Policy, Spring, 1977.

  2. 2

    Auty and Clogg, passim.

  3. 3

    F.W.D. Deakin, the first British liaison officer to Tito, 1943.

  4. 4

    Churchill to Hugh Dalton, August 1941. Quoted by Deakin in Auty and Clogg, pp. 100-101.

  5. 5

    Auty and Clogg, p. 101.

  6. 6

    Denitch, p. 39, quoting George W. Hoffman and Fred Warner Neal, Yugoslavia and the New Communism (20th Century Fund, New York, 1962). Rusinow quotes a figure of 1.7 million.

  7. 7

    Walter Roberts, pp. 106-112.

  8. 8

    Djilas, Conversations with Stalin, 1962.

  9. 9

    Auty and Clogg, op. cit., p. 246.

  10. 10

    One alleged Warsaw Pact plan was “revealed” in February 1974 by former Czechoslovak General Jan Sejna, who had been in the hands of US Intelligence since defecting in 1968. This so-called “Polarka Plan” envisioned Warsaw Pact occupation of eastern Yugoslavia and of Yugoslavia’s border with Italy in order to prevent NATO intervention.

  11. 11

    See especially chapter six of Adam Roberts’s Nations in Arms, a fine study of the Yugoslav and Swedish defense systems.

  12. 12

    Speech by the Deputy Defense Secretary, General Milos Sumonja, to the Federal Assembly, December 5, 1975.

  13. 13

    See, for example, the interview by three generals in the Belgrade paper Nedeljno Informativne Novine, December 21, 1975.

  14. 14

    Unemployment has been necessary to the growth of the Yugoslav economy. There have been as many as one million Yugoslav workers in Western Europe and 500,000 unemployed at home at a given moment. The pitiable individual amounts of foreign exchange sent home by Yugoslav peasants performing menial tasks in Munich, Brussels, Paris, Stockholm, have been crucial to the development of “socialist self-management.”

  15. 15

    This account of Dapcevic’s tribulations is based on conversations with his wife and with those who have talked with him since his abduction.

  16. 16

    I am grateful for research in Paris to Anthony Terry.

  17. 17

    Intriguingly, the second man was Uris Milicevic, who was involved in the unsolved, scandalous 1968 murder of Stefan Markovic, the Yugoslav bodyguard of French film actor Alain Delon.

  18. 18

    Two other anti-Tito exiles were killed in similar circumstances (and with an identical firearm) in Brussels in 1974. Their murders have never been cleared up.

  19. 19

    In his Foreign Policy article Silberman quotes an unreported speech given by the foreign minister, Milos Minic, which alleges not only that Western intelligence is involved with fascist exiles but also that Western press coverage of Yugoslavia is synchronized to discredit the country. In fact underlying sympathy for Tito’s unique position has led many British and American journalists to treat Yugoslavia very gently indeed.

    A recent exception is Malcolm W. Browne, the Belgrade correspondent of The New York Times; when he tried to apply the standards by which he had won the Pulitzer Prize in Vietnam to reporting Yugoslav abuses of human rights, the Yugoslavs attacked him bitterly. He received little support from Western diplomats (except Silberman) or other members of the press; he had broken the comfortable conventions.

  20. 20

    Dennison Rusinow, p. 311. Rusinow’s book provides the most comprehensive, accessible account of the development of the Yugoslav revolution. It can be complemented by Bogdan Denis Denitch’s The Legitimization of a Revolution, a sociological study of the impact of socialism on this disparate country.

  21. 21

    Rusinow, p. 338.

  22. 22

    Three of the Praxis professors have produced a reader, containing documents from twenty countries, to show the development of self-managing socialism in the twentieth century—Self-governing Socialism, by Branko Horvat, Mihailo Markovic, and Rudi Supek.

  23. 23

    The Institute of Croatian History at the University of Zagreb has published, in conjunction with the British Academy, a superb two-volume collection of Seton-Watson’s letters 1906-1941. It is exquisitely produced, each letter in its original language, and is a marvelous source of Central European scholarship between the wars.