The Allies during World War II shifted support from the Royalist Chetniks to Tito's Soviet-backed Partisans. A great deal of weaponry and supplies were delivered to the Partisans. Yugoslavia was the only country liberated by the resistance movement during the War. Despite Western aid , after the NAZI surrender (May 1945), Tito set up a Stalinist-style people's republic in Yugoslavia. He took a hard-line attitude toward the West. He instituted a police state, thousands died in concentration camps, and democratic parties were suppressed. British and American planes were shot down along the border. While Tito set up a Stalinist police state, it was different than in the rest of Eastern Europe because he was not a puppet installed by Stalin. Gradually Tito became uneasy about Stalin's efforts to gain control in Yugoslavia as he had done in the rest of Eastern Europe. There were also economic problems. The Soviets as they were doing in the rest of the East Bloc were delivering low quality goods at very high prices. Yugoslav state-owned companies were unable to obtain needed equipment. Officials in other East Bloc countries did not dare complain about such matters. Stalin was increasingly concerned about Tito's independence. Stalin did not permit dissension in the Soviet Union or within the East Bloc satellite countries. Hr saw Tito's independence at setting a bad example. Red Army units were dispatched to the borer. For awhile it looked like a Soviet invasion would occur. Soviet propaganda charged that Tito was "pursuing an unfriendly policy to the Soviet Union" and called Tito a Trotskyite. This was virtually the worst thing you could say about someone in the Soviet Empire. (Stalin had Trotsky killed--an ice pick through the skull. This of course was not lost on Tito. Stalin cut off trade with Yugoslavia and encouraged dissent with the Yugoslav Communist Party. The Soviets had the Yugoslav Communist Party expelled from the Cominform. Tito turned to the West. He accepted U.S. Marshall Plan assistance (1950). Tito also founded the Non-Aligned Movement.
Hitler forced Prince Paul to join the Axis. Riots forced Prince Paul from power. A furious Hitler orders an invasion and the terror bombing of Belgrade (April 1941). The Wehrmacht rapidly moves through the country, experiencing little resistance from the Yugoslav Army. The lack of resistance doomed whatever chance the British might have had to establish a position in Greece. Not all Yugoslavs saw the Germans as invaders. The Germans were enthusiastically greeted by the Croats. Tito did not a first organize a resistance effort. At the time, the Soviet Union was a NAZI ally. When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, this changed (June 1941).
The NAZI conquest of Yugoslavia took inly a week with the lost of 100 men. What happened afterwards was anything but bloodless. A guerrilla war began began between the NAZIs and Italians the two Yugoslavians partisan groups (Tito and Mihajlovic) and the Greek guerrillas. This was a very complicated struggle. Croat national forces joined the Germans as did Muslims in Kosovo. Tito the communist was a Croat and Mihajlovic was a Serb. The ethnic disputes had begun before the War and with NAZI encouragement, Yugoslavia became a vast killing field. The Yugoslav and the Greek guerrillas managed to tie down almost 1 million German soldiers. It proved to be a costly diversion for the Axis, caused largely by Mussolini's miscalculation. The Mihajlović partisans became known as the Chetniks. They gradually became reluctant to attack the NAZIs, in part because of the horrendous reprisals and also hostility to Tito's partisans. Because of this reluctance, the Allies gradually lot faith in the Chetniks and began supporting Tito's partisans. Mihailović's partisans saved over 500 American airmen in Operation Halyard and got them back safely to the Allies. The NAZIs were shooting 100 civilians for every German soldier killed. A HBC reader, tells us, "My friend John Roberts who was saved by the Serbs when his B-24 was shot down. John told me his story how the Serbs hid him and later was put on a boat in the Adriatic sea and was picked up by a US Navy ship. After the war John contacted the Serbs who help him and was told about one hundred civilians from that village were shot to death. John past away a few years ago and he was one of the 500 airmen that were saved in the Operation Halyard pipeline."
The Mihajlović Chetnik partisans became known as the Chetniks. They gradually became reluctant to attack the NAZIs, in part because of the horrendous reprisals and also hostility to Tito's partisans. Because of this reluctance as well as open collaboration with the Germans and Italians, the Allies gradually lost faith in the Chetniks and began supporting Tito's partisans. The first Big Three Conference (Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin) was held at Tehran (1943). One of the decisions taken was to recognize the Partisans as the legitimate national liberation force. The Allies established the RAF Balkan Air Force at the instigation of Brigadier-General Fitzroy MacLean. This played a role in expanding the delivery of supplies and even some tactical air support. A great deal of weaponry and supplies were delivered to the Partisans. Yugoslavia was the only country liberated by the resistance movement during the War.
Yugoslavia was one of the two European countries that were liberated in part because of Communist-dominated partisan forces. This of course was possible because the Red Army advances to the borders of the Reich posed the danger of cutting off German forces in the Balkans and thus the Germans were forced to withdraw. Albania was the other country liberated by partisans, in the case of Albania aided by Yugoslav partisans. This of course determined the post-War course of Yugoslavia.
Tito conducted a vicious campaign against political opponents, especially those associated with the Chetniks Despite Western aid , after the NAZI surrender (May 1945), Tito set up a Stalinist-style people's republic in Yugoslavia. He took a hard-line attitude toward the West. He instituted a police state, thousands died in concentration camps, and democratic parties were suppressed. British and American planes were shot down along the border. The border was closed.
Yugoslavia was one of the country's more devastated by World War II. The Communist Government faced an enormous job of relief and reconstruction. than any other country in Europe. The damage began with the German invasion (April 1941). Hitler was furious that the Yugoslavs overthrew the Government he forced to sign the Axis Pact. He decided to punish the Yugoslavs by the terror bombing of Belgrade. About 17,000 people were killed in the Luftwaffe terror bombing of a largely undefended city. The ensuing German invasion quickly succeeded and left the country in Axis hands. The country was occupied by Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, and Italy. The Germans granted a kind of independence to Croatia. The occupation progressed differently in these various zones. The Germans distrusted the Serbs because they had fought with the Allies in World War I and for racial reasons. They quickly round up the Jews. About 70,000 were killed even before the death camps in Poland were opened. It was the Serbs who were killed in large numbers. The Germans reacted viciously to acts of resistance. But even more deadly than the Germans were the Croat Ustaše. A complicated civil war developed in addition to the Resistance. Mihailović's Chetniks and Tito's Partisans fought the Axis occupiers, primarily the Germans and Italians. The Axis occupiers executed large numbers of civilians in retaliation for attacks and sabotage, especially when Axis soldiers were casualties. But the Chetniks and Partisans also fought each other. The Albanians/Kosovars were also targeted by both the Serbs and Croats. The Ustaše allied themselves with the Germans and targeted civilians by launching an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Serb people. Hundreds of thousands of Serbs were murdered in the most brutal manner. Whole villages were destroyed in the Axis anti-partisan campaigns and the Ustaše ethnic cleaning operations. Large areas of the country were devastated. Relatively little damage except in Belgrade was done in the initial German invasion. There were also Allied air raids. Much more damage was done during the partisan struggle and the fighting as the partisans with Soviet help pursued the Germans at the end of the War. As in the East, the retreating Germans destroyed much of the country's infrastructure and industrial base. In addition to war casualties and deliberate killing operations, large numbers of people died because of food shortages, famine, and disease. Accounts vary but as many as 1.7 million Yugoslavs perished in the War out of a total population of 15.0 million people. Large numbers of people were left homeless and many children displaced and abandoned.
While Tito in many ways pursued Stalinist policies of silencing any domestic dissent and confronting the West. He pursued a number of his own initiatives, often without first consulting Moscow. Tensions rose with the West when he attempted to obtain the important port city of Trieste. He also pursued minor claims along the Slovene-Austrian border. Stalin was not impressed with his efforts ton build a Yugoslav-led Balkan federation and attempted to negotiate a system of bi-lateral treaties with neighboring states, which were mostly controlled by the Soviets. He began to pursue a kind of protectorate over Albania through a common currency and joint economic enterprises. And he wanted Soviet support for rapid industrial development and agricultural modernization. The Soviets at the time were more interested in using Eastern Europe to help Soviet recovery.
Stalin move to block Tito's initiatives. He maintained that the Soviet Union needed time to recover. This meant essentially that the Eastern European satellites should assist the Soviet Union through adverse trade agreements. Tito was the only Eastern European leader in a position to resist Soviet demands. He had defeated the Nazis and Chetniks and liberated Yugoslavia. As the leader of an independent state, he saw himself as Stalin's equal rather than a Soviet installed puppet. This probably aggravated Stalin more than any policy disagreement.
The Bulgarian-Yugoslave effort to form a Balkan Federation ultimately lednowhere, but had a significant impact on the futures of both countries' leaders--Dimitrov and Tito. And it also affected the Soviet Yugoslav break--the firt chip in a monolithic Communist world. Thus it is useful to look at it in some detail. Dimitrov once in control of of Bulgaria began negotiating with Tito in Yugoslavia over the creation of a Federation of the Southern Slavs. Discussion of the possibility began almost as soon as the Red Army reached the Balkans. A federation was of interest to Communist Party officials in both Bulgaria and Yugoslvia. Discussions began (November 1944). [Gallagher, p. 181.] It is unclear to what extent Stalin was aware of the interest or consulted on the matter. Or to what extent he took an interest in it. This union seems based on the idea that Yugoslavia and Bulgaria were the only two homelands of the Southern Slavs who were separated from the larger Slavic world to the north. Bulgarians have mixed ethnic origins, but the adoption of a Slavic language suggests that Slavc tribes over time dominated the population. The concept of a Slavic union eventually led to the Bled Accord signed by Dimitrov and Tito (1947). This involved abandoning frontier travel barriers, preparing for a customs union, and Yugoslavia unilaterally forgiving Bulgarian World War I reparations. One of the key issues in the plan was the Blagoevgrad Region of Bulgaria -- Pirin Macedonia or the couthwest province of Bulgaria. This was to becombined with Yugoslav Mavedonia and turned into the Socialist Republic of Macedonia. Serbia (Yugilavia) would then return of the Western Outlands to Bulgaria. Bulgaria in preparation for this agreed to accepted Yugoslav (Macedonian) teachers to teach the newly codified Macedonian language in the the Pirin Macedonia schools. Until this time, Bulgaria had been rutlessy supressing Macedonian culture and language in the povince. Bulgarian officials in the Blagoevgrad Region were suddenly ordered to begin promoting a Macedonian identity. [Sygkelos, p. 156.] Before the Bakan Federation envisioned by the Bled Accord became a reality differences surfaced between Tito and Dimitrov. There were fundamental differences between the two Communist leaders, especially regarding the nature of the new state that they were creating. Dimitrov's concept for the Federation was a state inwhich Yugoslavia and Bulgaria would have an equal status with Macedonia basically overseen by Bulgaria. Tito had a very different view. He envisioned Bulgaria a Yugoslavia's seventh republic in an expanded Yugoslavia which would be ruled by Belgrade. [Wilkinson, pp. 311-12.] There were also differences over the national character of the Macedonians. Dimitrov saw the Macedonians as a kind of offshoot of the Bulgarians nation rather than a real national group. [Meier, p. 183.] Tito in contrast saw them as an independent nation with no special relationship with the Bulgarians. [Poulton, pp. 107-108.] Dimitrov does not seem to have understood Tito's vision or the implications for Bulgaria. It is difficult to understand how there could have been such miscommunication and given such differences how the Bled accord could have been signed. What ever the reason, Dimitrov's initial willingness to accept Macedonization of Pirin Macedonia switched suddenly to concern about Yuggoslav encroachment. We are not sure just when Stalin became aware if the Federation Dimitrov and Tito were preparing or the extent to which they cleared it with him. We do know that Stalin began to see the Federation as a threat to his absolute control control over his new Eastern Eurpean Soviet empire. [Gallagher, p. 181] Stalin invited Dimitrov and Tito to consult on the Federation (January 1948). This probably meant Stalin was gong to give them instructions. Dimitrov readily accepted the invitation, but Tito sensing danger given that differenes were energing with Stalin sent Edvard Kardelj, a close associate, to represent him. Shortly after the break betweem Tito and Stalin erupted into the public eye. The Cominform which Dimitrov had headed and Stalin's principal instrument through which to to exert his control over the Soviet empire formally expelled Yugoslavia from the Assembly, charging that Tito had deviated from the correct Communist line. Stalin through the Comintern charged that Tito was guilty of flouting the 'unified communist front against imperialism'.[Armstrong] Meaning of course that he differed with Stalin. Another charge was that Tito was taking the nationalist road. [Bass and Marbury] This was a startling event in world Communism, the first hallenge to Stalin's control of world Communism. In the aftermath of Tito's split, Dimitrov the opportunity to pull back from the Federation ad join the chorous of Eastern European Communits (all under Stalin's control) attacking Tito. Dimitrov denounced Tito and described Yugoslav policy in Macedonia as expansionistic. He claimed that Tito had 'reversed' his policy on Macedonia. [Wilkinson, pp. 311-12] The idea of a Balkan Federation and a United Macedonia once so enthusiastically pursued was abandoned like a hot potato. The Yugoslav Macedonian teachers were abruptly expelled and teaching of Macedonian throughout Pirin Macedonia ceased. In fact, Pirin Macedonia today is a Bulgarian province that has been totally de-Macedonianized. The population now has a virtually universal Bulgarian identity. There was a further fall out that is impossible at this time to know with any surity. Dimitrov had been a loyal Stalinist from the point Stalin rose to power. But no matter how much he joined the Stlinist chorus against Tito, it seems that Stalin who was pathologically prone to conspiracies, was influenced by the idea that his staunch supporter had once so closely embraced Tito. There are of course aong history of close associates who subsequently were the unfortunate recipients of Stalin's ire. Given their role in Stalinist attrocities, historians for the mot part shed few tears for them.
Stalin outwardly was especially interested in maintaining Slavic unity, although the proposed Federationof the Southern Slavs was apparently a step to far, complicating Soviet control. He reportedly told Tito associate Milovan Djilas that there would be a war with the West in about 20 years. He believed that by that time the Soviet Union would have recovered from World war II. He apparently was looking forward to pursuing that War as his concept of unity. He told Djilas,"If the Slavs keep united and maintain solidarity, no one in the future will be able to move a finger against them. Not even a finger!" We are not entirely sure Stalin believed this. After all, he was not even Slav, but a Georgian. This sounds more like a rationale as to why Yugoslavia should toe the Soviet line.
While Tito set up a Stalinist police state, it was different than in the rest of Eastern Europe because he was not a puppet installed by Stalin.
Gradually Tito became uneasy about Stalin's efforts to gain control in Yugoslavia as he had done in the rest of Eastern Europe. There were also economic problems. The Soviets as they were doing in the rest of the East Bloc were delivering low quality goods at very high prices. Yugoslav state-owned companies were unable to obtain needed equipment. Officials in other East Bloc countries did not dare complain about such matters.
Stalin was, however, not entirely satisfied and attempted to gain control of Yugoslavia as he had in the rest of Eastern Europe (1947-48). Stalin was increasingly concerned about Tito's independence. Stalin did not permit dissension in the Soviet Union or within the East Bloc satellite countries. Hr saw Tito's independence at setting a bad example.
Yugoslavia became the first Communist state to break with the Soviets. Stalin sent Red Army units to the border. It looked for a while that Stalin might order the Red Army to launch a military invasion, but he never did so. The outcome was the Tito-Stalin rift. Soviet propaganda charged that Tito was "pursuing an unfriendly policy to the Soviet Union" and called Tito a Trotskyite. This was virtually the worst thing you could say about someone in the Soviet Empire. (Stalin had Trotsky killed--an ice pick through the skull.) This of course was not lost on Tito. Stalin cut off trade with Yugoslavia and encouraged dissent with the Yugoslav Communist Party. Stalin attempted to gain control of the Yugoslav Communist Party through an anti-Tito purge. This failed.
The Soviets had the Yugoslav Communist Party expelled from the Cominform.
Stalin's failed purge and his decision not to invade Yugoslavia, left Tito free to pursue his on course. Ironically Tito used Stalinist police state tactics to silence the critics who had followed Stalin's orders to purge him. Tito's initial economic moves were orthodox Socialist ones. He aggressive collectivized farms, promoted heavy industry, and instituted a command economy.
Tito turned to the West. The Western Allies began courting Tito. There was even talk of NATO membership. He accepted U.S. Marshall Plan assistance (1950). Yugoslavia also received World Bank aid. Closer relations were disrupted, however, when a crisis developed over Trieste (1953).
Communism where ever it appears attacks religion and pursues atheism. Karl Marx saw religion as both an expression of material realities and economic injustice. As a result, religion inevitably became involved with problems in society. Religion was not the findamental problem, but was a symptom. He saw it as a mechanism that oppressive forces could use to make the popultion feel better about their condition even though they were being ecploited and reduced to poverty. This is why he described religion as the 'opium of the masses'. Marx's view on religion were more complex than often depicted. This is because Communist leaders not only hated relgion for ideological reasions, but because they represented an alternative belief systems. And Communist leaders can not tolerate diversity, especially any ideplogical challenge. The Bolsheviks in particular launched a major often brutal attack on religion. Anf Stalin intensifued the brutality. This effort was pursued by the Communists imposed on Eastern Europe by Stalin after World War II. None of the campaigns were as brutal as in the Soviet Union, but they were strong enough to sharply reduce the role of religion in each country, except in Poland where the Catholic Church effectively resisted the Party. Yugoslavia was also different in that Stalin failed to gain control of the country leading to Tito's 1948 split. We have been unable to find much information on the theist campaign in Yugoslavia. There ceryinly was one. Some Catholic prelates were assuced of connectiins with the Fascist Ustaša. Sone were involved, but not all that were charged. Party members could not advance if they practiced religion. We have not been able to find much information Communist Yugoslavia's policies on relgion. As far as we can tell they were less intense than any of the Soviet Bloc countries.
Tito and his Communists established the Young Pioneers. Under Soviet tutelage the same occurred throughout Eastern Europe. The Scouts and other youth groups were banned. The Pioneers were the only permissible uniformed youth group. We know very little about the group in Yugoslavia.
Marxist ideology foresaw that the state would some day wither away. Of course Lenin built an all powerful state in the Soviet Union. Tito plunged into the ideological debate. He predicted that the Communist Party of Yugoslavia would indeed "wither away". He changed the name of the party to the League of Communists. He also banned party secretaries from government appointments. He also initiated a program of reducing central control. These reforms did not mean that Tito was permitting open political expression. A wartime associate went too far and actually criticized Communism. [Djilas] Tito had him expelled from the party (1954). He was arrested and jailed. Even so Yugoslavia was developing a much more open approach to Communism than demanded by the Soviets in the rest of Eastern Europe.
The Partisans prevailed in the World War II guerilla struggle and after the War established another Soviet-style police state and began to pursue Soviet-style economics (1946). There were in sharp contrast to the post-World War I era, major economic changes after Worrd War II. The Communist Government immediately began implementing a Soviet model. The state seized control of private holdings and a major effort was made to industrialize the country. Communists in general see industrialization as the future and generally marginalize agriculture. The poor results achieved by Yugoslavia's orthodox socialist initiatives caused Tito to reconsider his initial doctrinaire economic policy. He began to experiment with economic policy. Political decentralization was followed by comparable economic steps. The Soviet-style central planned economy was replaced by "workers' management councils". These employee groups were given the authority to make economic decisions directing their own enterprises. Each individual factory and collective farm were given the authority to set its own production targets and expected to plan for future initiatives, including investment planning. And wages were tied to enterprise results. Factories that proved unprofitable were allowed to fail.
Tito finally got his Balkan pact. Yugoslavia signed a Balkan Pact for mutual self-defense (1954). Both Greece and Turkey signed the pact. Both were NATO members. None of the Soviet satellites signed.
The Soviet split with Yugoslavia had been in many ways a personal split between Tito and Stalin. The death of Stalin and Khruchev's de-Stalinization campaign made it possible for a resumption of relations with the Soviets. This was done, however, on the clear basis of Yugoslav independence (1956). Ironically this was also the year the Soviets suppressed the independence movement in neighboring Hungary. Gradually Tito and Yugoslavia adopted a non-aligned foreign policy and a mixed economy.
Tito accepted Western aid, but did not join any western alliances. He maintained relations with both the West and after de-Stalinization, Khrushchev's Soviet Union. Tito launched a "Policy of Nonalignment" and he looked for support outside the Soviet and Western alliances.
He promoted his concept in countries newly independent former colonial countries like Egypt, India, and Indonesia. Tito called this approach a "third force" consisting of neutral states that were concerned the Cold War would lead to actual war and Super-Power domination. The idea appealed to leaders like Nasser in Egypt and Nehru in India. There were 23 countries that attended the First Conference of Nonaligned Nations held in Belgrade (1961). The object was to promote trade and political cooperation. The problem for Tito's vision was that most of the member states pursued socialist economics and central planning and had moribund, if not failed economies. And Cuba was allowed to join, hardly a non-aligned state.
As the fighting in World War II showed, Yugoslavia was composed of several nationalities that objected to domination by the Serbs and harbored ethnic an religious animosities stretching back centuries. Tito's police state tactics prevented any public expression of sectional sentiment. He did nothing, however, to address the still simmering problem. When he died (1980), the nationality problem began rising to the surface.
Yugoslavia was formed after World War out of several countries, principalities and remnants of the Austro-Hungarain Empire. Almost from the beginning the union of South Slavs proved almost ungovernable. The Croats in particular objected to what they saw as efforts by the Serbs to dominate the country. The Croats even joined with the NAZIs after the World War II German invasion. After the War, Tito held the country together with brute force. After Tito died Milošević used Serb nationalism to gain power. When he was unable to hold Slovenia and Croatia in Yugoslavia (1991), Milošević set our to create a Greater Serbia. He supported Serb para-military groups to seize control of large areas of Bosnia and suppress the Kosovars in Kosovo. None of the contending ethnic groups are without blame. Croat forces also carried out atrocities against Serbs and Muslims in Bosnia. European countries were unable to deter him. Only the reluctant and tardy threat of American force stopped Milošević in Bosnia. The actual use of force was needed in Kosovo. In both cases the United Nations was unable to act. Even in Srebrenica where the U.N. guaranteed the safety of Bosnians, in the end Dutch U.N. peace keepers were ordered to abandon the Muslims to the Serbs. Finally when the U.N. failed to act, the United States acted through NATO. About 0.2 million people are believed to have been killed.
Armstrong, Hamilton. Tito and Goliath (New York: Macmillan Co., 1955).
Bass and Marbury. The Soviet-Yugoslav Controversy, 1948-58: A Documentary Record (New York: Prospect Books, 1959).
Djilas, Milovan. The New Class.
Gallagher, T. Outcast Europe: The Balkans, 1789-1989: From the Ottomans to Milošević (Routledge: 2001).
Meier, Viktor. Yugoslavia: A History of Its Demise (Routledge: 2013).
Poulton, Hugh. Who are the Macedonians? (C. Hurst & Co: 2000).
Sygkelos, Yannis. Nationalism from the Left: The Bulgarian Communist Party During the Second World War and the Early Post-War Years (Brill: 2011).
Wilkinson. H.R. Maps and Politics. A Review of the Ethnographic Cartography of Macedonia (Liverpool: 1951).
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