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Relations with Djilas

In response to:

Progress of a Revolutionary from the April 11, 1985 issue

To the Editors:

In her review of Rise and Fall by Milovan Djilas [NYR, April 11], Madame Nora Beloff made such insulting remarks about me, in a manner totally uncharacteristic of English behavior, that one can only wonder what lies behind them?

Could the explanation lie in the following statement of Madame Beloff found in her review:

Western readers will find even more objectionable Dedijer’s statement, based on no evidence, that in 1942 the British and Nazis were in collusion to destroy the Partisans.

First, she is in error to say 1942, the collusion occurred during 1943. At the vital battle of Jablanica, in March 1943, in the Nazi and Fascist offensive against the Partisans along with the Germans, Italians and Croat Ustashe, twenty thousand Chetniks of Draza Mihailović participated, and according to documents, found in the personal archives of Draza Mihailović, they did so on the instructions of Colonel Bailey, chief of the British Mission to Draza Mihailović. Bailey himself was at the Chetnik Headquarters during the battle. Does Madame Beloff imagine that he was actively protesting the whole time? For historical truth, I must stress that this was not the only time that Draza Mihailović was pushed, into collaboration by the British.

Madame Nora Beloff also maliciously misrepresents my relations with Milovan Djilas.

  1. From 1954 to today I have defended his right to freely express his thoughts and publish his books. When he was first arrested I sent an open letter to Marshal Tito which was published in the London Times on November 23, 1956. Recently in the Zagreb review Start in November 1981 I protested because Djilas’ books were still not published in Yugoslavia, and recently in December 1984 I protested again because no book of his had been published for 31 years in Yugoslavia. This protest was published in the London Guardian and in some Yugoslav youth papers.

For such protests I have been bitterly punished. I lost my chair at Belgrade University. No book of mine was published in Yugoslavia for 13 years. My family had no income throughout that period. To this day I continue to receive anonymous death threats, and I lost two of my sons in circumstances still not clarified. More recently the house of my German publisher was blown up (the German press said that the villains came from Zagreb) and someone tried to burn down the building housing my archives.

  1. At the same time, throughout these three decades I have retained my right to my own opinions on the various political actions and statements of Milovan Djilas.

  2. It is silly of Madame Beloff to state I made a deal with the Yugoslav authorities about Milovan Djilas. No conditions or understandings on the nature of my book on Tito were ever made. I, after all, am a free man in the full sense of the word. Madame Beloff also repeats the charges made by Yugoslav neoStalinists that I obtained material for my Tito books by claiming I was collecting it for a work against Djilas. This accusation is totally untrue. This particular allegation was aired in 1982 on Yugoslav television in a program for which the same politicians hired a group of neo-Stalinist scribes to attack me. I was accused—in a way similar to that of Madame Beloff—of being a thief, a liar, a paid agent, and so on. Similar things were said of my family. Dusan Biber, on January 8, 1982, spent 10 minutes of his time sneering and sullying my first wife, Olga’s, memory: these insults were repeated over Yugoslav television to millions of viewers. I was refused the right to answer. I tried to sue Yugoslav television, but my complaint was rejected. At least in America I hope I may be allowed my answer.

  3. Madame Beloff accuses my book of being full of bias and enmity against Djilas; but some Yugoslav papers have taken exactly the opposite view. The editor of Vjesnik of Zagreb, Pletikoza, wrote in September 1984 that my book on Tito is extremely pro-Djilas. I propose that he and Madame Beloff meet on some neutral ground, perhaps Switzerland, to exchange views on who is right and who is wrong.

  4. In Yugoslavia there is still much opposition to my book on Tito. The chief of Belgrade Television, Mr. Manević, porte parole of some politicians of the neo-Stalinist school, stated at a party ideological conference in Belgrade that my book should have been banned a long time ago because I was throwing mud at Tito, and now there are growing up all over Yugoslavia little Dedijers (see Belgrade Politika on April 4 of this year).

  5. Milovan Djilas has suffered a lot, yet this suffering does not make him infallible nor give him the right to immunity from independent scholarly assessment. I have given critical views of Tito, Kardelj, Ranković and even of myself, so I cannot give Djilas a privileged position. I do not share the ideological basis of either the official Yugoslav agitprop people or the ideological propagandists of the type of Madame Beloff.

Vladimir Dedijer

Istra, Yugoslavia

Nora Beloff replies:

Neither General Mihailović nor Colonel Bailey was present at the battle of Jablanica. Had there been a document showing that Bailey was instructing Mihailovic’s men to collaborate with the Germans, Mr. Dedijer should give us the text. He protests that his evidence is not as I said from 1942 but from March 1943, but why quibble about dates? For he also claims “that this was not the only time that Draza Mihailović was pushed into collaboration by the British.”

Anyone familiar with the memoirs, letters, and dispatches of the British political and military leaders of the time will regard allegations of British–Nazi collusion against the Partisans as confirmation of Mr. Djilas’s supposition that what is wrong with Mr. Dedijer is either slovenly research, malice, or madness, “or all three at once.”

Mr. Dedijer lists six allegations that I maliciously misrepresented his relations with Mr. Djilas:

  1. He does not deny that, when the Yugoslav authorities delayed the publication of one of his books, he publicly threatened to take his case to the Russell Tribunal. He should surely have taken up the much stronger case of Mr. Djilas who, by his own account, has been silenced for almost three times as long as Mr. Dedijer.

  2. I never questioned Mr. Dedijer’s right to express his personal view about Mr. Djilas.

  3. I never asserted that Mr. Dedijer had made a deal with Tito’s men that he would vilify Mr. Djilas in order to obtain material for his own book; I only reported that Mr. Djilas cited Yugoslav newspapers suggesting that this was so. But Mr. Dedijer has never told us why else, after thirteen years of disgrace imposed for his earlier championship of Mr. Djilas, he was welcomed back by Tito and allowed to publish his massive tomes while Mr. Djilas was still silenced.

  4. Among other unlovely traits, which Mr. Dedijer perceives in Mr. Djilas, is “a lust to kill.” If this does not signify enmity, what does?

  5. I never denied that some Yugoslav politicians disliked Mr. Dedijer’s books.

  6. I admire Mr. Djilas as a writer and revere his moral courage, but I never suggested he is infallible. Indeed in my review I criticized his inclination to romanticize his revolutionary past rather than accept Milan Kundera’s thesis that “the totalitarian poesy leads to the Gulag.”

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