The Yugoslav National Experience
The importance of the Second World War for Yugoslavia was that it subjected a young (founded in 1918), multi-national state to the trauma of invasion and occupation. Yet the country survived dismemberment, destruction and civil war to become reunited and more effective as a state after the war. Defeat unleashed both racial and ideological civil war in Yugoslavia. It also resulted in a political, social and economic revolution which brought to power in 1945 a communist government which still rules today.
Invasion of Yugoslavia by the Germans in 1941 brought about the dissolution of the state. This was decreed by Hitler but facilitated because of the bitter dissatisfaction of ethnic groups in the country with the government they had had imposed on them since the creation of the state. The break-up freed these dissatisfied people--the Croats in particular--from the rule of the dominant nationality, the Serbs, who were accused of having denied equality and cultural rights to other nationalities in the state. To Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians and other ethnic minorities the war brought liberation from Serbian centralist government but it did not bring freedom. When war ended in 1945, the separated regions and peoples reunited of their own accord, without outside pressure.
This restoration of Yugoslavia might seem all the more surprising because it took place in spite of the fact that Yugoslavs had fought each other in bitter civil war which had taken place alongside the fighting against Germans and other occupiers. The civil war was complex and diverse. It was partly a blood-letting, stemming from the intense hatred which had built up in the inter-war years between Serbs and Croats as well as between religious groups. It was also a struggle for post-war power between extremist groups, and the great struggle for power had an ideological character. The two main protagonists were the Serbian Chetniks under their leader General Staff Colonel Dragoljub (called Draza) Mihailovic, whose basic aim was the restoration of power to an enlarged greater Serbia, and the Partisans under their leader Josip Broz-Tito, whose aim was to create a post-war communist state of Yugoslavia. The civil war, like the global war, was fought to a no-surrender conclusion in which nationalists, both Serbs and Croat, were the losers. It was Tito and the communists with their international ideology and appeal for all-Yugoslav unity who triumphed at the end of the war. This Yugoslav experience, like that of any other nation was unique, but the history of fratricidal conflict and ultimate reunification has a special interest for comparative history dealing with states which include peoples of widely differing cultural and historical backgrounds.
2. Pre-war National Experience
Only twenty years old when the Second World War began, Yugoslavia was made up of territories inhabited by south Slav peoples--Serbs, Croats, Slovenes and Macedonians (as well as other minorities); the national loyalty of these peoples was first to their ethnic group. The period between the two World Wars was not long enough for them to develop a feeling of loyalty to the Yugoslav state, and few people thought of themselves as Yugoslavs. The Serbs were the only people who had had their own independent state before 1914, and they provided the new Yugoslavia in 1918 with its dynasty, army, capital (Belgrade) and the institutions of
their previous kingdom of Serbia. This ensured predominant power and privilege to Serbs; Croats, Slovenes and others demanded autonomy or at least equal rights with an agreed constitution. Failure to obtain these resulted in bitter and sometimes violent disputes which often led to paralysis of government. Centralist government, imposed by Serbs without the consent of other nationalities, made conflict between the nationalities inevitable. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that Serbs and Croats had different religious and cultural traditions. The Serbs belonged to the Orthodox Church, used the Cyrillic script in writing and had strong ties with Russia. The Croats were catholic by religion, shared western catholic cultural traditions and used the Latin script. They had been ruled from Hungary as part of the Habsburg empire and had had no independent state since the twelfth century. Their strong national and cultural identity had been nurtured in opposition to alien rule and they were expert in tactics of opposition which they exercised with skill in the Yugoslav state. Hostility between the different nationalities in Yugoslavia greatly facilitated Hitler's take-over of the Yugoslav lands. When the Germans invaded, most Croats and Slovenes were unwilling to fight in defence of a Serbian controlled Yugoslavia. Some Croats such as the Frankovci and Ustase had been advocating separatist policies and saw war as an opportunity for Croatia to obtain its independence. They welcomed Hitler's offer of a Free State of Croatia under Italian and German protection. Their defection left the Serbs as the sole people prepared to fight against the German invaders; it left a legacy of bitterness and accentuated differences between already hostile nationalities.
When the Germans invaded on April 5, 1941, Yugoslavia was unprepared and seriously disunited. They conquered and occupied the country in ten days. Hitler declared Yugoslavia had ceased to exist and divided it into nine different occupation zones. The Yugoslav government and King, mostly Serbs, with only a few Croat and Slovene politicians, went into exile. In conquered Yugoslavia, some Serbian officers refused to surrender and formed resistance groups who came to be known as Chetniks. communists also went into hiding and began to prepare resistance. Hitler created the Free State of Croatia (NDH) under the extreme Croat nationalist Ante Pavelic. There was no longer any focus for Yugoslav loyalty, and Yugoslav peoples were thrown back on the loyalties and identities of their ethnic group. Even the Yugoslav government in exile failed to provide Yugoslav leadership and was riven by feuding between the various national groups, especially between Serbs and Croats. It was to be some time before this vacuum of overall national Yugoslav leadership was filled. Surprisingly it was the communists led by Tito who came to use the idea of Yugoslav nationalism as a rallying call for a liberation movement to restore the Yugoslav state.
3. Wartime Nationalism in Croatia
In 1941 few Croats mourned the passing of the Yugoslav state. Most were pleased that a Free State of Croatia had been established even though it was with foreign support and had a government led by extreme nationalists. Ante Pavelic, Poglavnik, or leader of the new state, was fanatical in his Croatian extremism, determined to create a 'racially pure' Croatia. To achieve this, he believed it necessary to eliminate other nationalities living in the frontiers of his new state.2 Included in the Free State of Croatia were areas which for generations had been populated by Serbs who had been free to practice their Orthodox religion; other regions were populated by practising Moslems. Pavelic used his Ustase troops in a systematic pogrom of the non-catholic, non-Croat population of the NDH (including Bosnia-Hercegovina).3 In 1941 and 1942 many thousands of people, mostly Serbs but including also Moslems were slaughtered and their villages destroyed. These Ustase killings and atrocities were a profound wartime experience both for those people who suffered the pogroms and for the Croat people who
shared the guilt and the shameful war crime. Inevitably relations between Serbs and Croats worsened and another legacy of inter-racial feud was injected into history. Pavelic's state was weakened by the Ustase pogroms, and the Germans increased their hold over the puppet state; moderate Croat nationalists were repelled, and many eventually joined the persecuted Serbs and Moslems and fled to the Partisans whose numbers were greatly increased as a result of Pavelic's policy.4 Another result of the extremism of Pavelic was that there was no place in his state for moderate Croat opinion. Macek, the leader of the pre-war Croat Peasant Party (HSS) refused to cooperate with either Pavelicé or the Germans. He lived in retirement and was eventually imprisoned, but he gave no lead to his many pre-war followers, and the HSS, which up to 1939 had been a united movement, ceased to exist and was never able to reorganize itself after the war.
The experiment of the Free State of Croatia was not a success. Croatia was too small--in spite of its large accretion of territory in Bosnia-Hercegovina--to exist independently. Croats had the bitter experience of knowing an independence that proved illusory, but at the same time, it strengthened their national awareness. Even those Croats who joined the Partisan movement for the most part retained strong national feelings.5 At the end of the war most Croats were willing, or had no alternative but to accept the return of Croatia into a reunited Yugoslavia in which they had been promised equal federal status with other nationalities. The extremists and those guilty of war-crimes had in any case fled the country. But all Croats who remained shared one thing--and this included extremists, moderates, HSS and most communists--all cherished their Croatian identity and wished to have their independence institutionalized in the new state. Two lessons of wartime experience were paramount for Croatian nationalists: extremist national government imposed by a foreign power was not acceptable; and Croats divided among themselves were unlikely to achieve independent rule.
4. Serbian Chetnik Nationalism
Ethnic national feeling among Serbs was also strengthened by wartime experiences. Many Serbs had been disturbed by the way in which conflict with Croats had immobilized government for much of the pre-war period. They blamed Croat intransigence for all that had gone wrong and were incensed that Croats had not fought for Yugoslavia when the Germans invaded. Among the Serbs, as with the Croats, there were some extreme nationalists. The Chetniks, led by Mihailovic, held such views. The Chetniks started as a resistance movement in the summer of 1941, but by November they were already being used by Mihailovic mainly in actions against the communist-led resistance movement of Tito's Partisans. The Chetniks continued to develop as a Serbian nationalist movement. Their connections with Chetnik supporters in other parts of the country were few and certainly not enough to give the movement a Yugoslav character. The determining factor in all Mihailovic's policy was the question of Serbia's position and power in any post-war state. To achieve such power and ensure that Serbian people did not suffer crippling losses during the war, Mihailovic was willing to use any ally-Germans, Italians or British. Between September and November 1941 he was negotiating simultaneously with all these and with the Nedic quisling ruler of Serbia. He regarded the communists as the only possible competitors for future political power and considered it his prime task to exterminate them.
Mihailovic made radio contact with the British and the Yugoslav government in exile in August 1941. Both of these recognized the propaganda value, at that early stage of the war, of news of a resistance movement. Mihailovic received allied recognition and was made
(though remaining in Serbia) Minister of Army, Navy and Air Force in the Yugoslav government in exile. Although Britain was short of all supplies, he was sent token aid. The British sent a liaison officer, Major D.T. Hudson to investigate the strength of resistance movements in Serbia, including reports about community-led resistance. He met both Tito and Mihailovic and was the first of a number of officers sent to the latter's headquarters.6 Anxious to get weapons and other aid, Mihailovic received them but they certainly did not influence his war aims. He remained throughout somewhat hostile to the British because he thought the aid they sent inadequate. Mihailovic believed that the communists, led as he mistakenly thought by a Russian, were the prime enemy. He was fighting communism both as a hated international ideology and as a force which could, with foreign aid, challenge the restoration of Royalist government in Serbia at the end of the war.7 The strength of support for his Chetnik movement in Serbia was its appeal to the deep-rooted feeling of national Serbian identity and loyalty amongst ordinary Serbs, especially the peasantry.
The Chetnik plan put forward for post-war Serbia in 1941 and 1941 was based on a memorandum formulated by Dr. Stevan Moljevic in June 1941.8 The stated aim was for the creation of a "homogenous Serbia" which would include "the entire area populated by Serbs ... Transfers and exchanges of population, especially of Croats from the Serbian and Serbs from the Croatian areas is the only way to create better relations between them..." This greater "homogenous Serbia" would include "the entire area populated by Serbs" together with all of Bosnia-Hercegovina and Dalmatia as well as parts of Croatia. Within its enlarged frontiers, Serbia was to become a "racially pure" Serbian homeland, and this could only be achieved by the removal or exchange of non-Serb population. These plans were as unrealistic and in many ways similar in inspiration to those claims for a Greater Croatia put into practice by Croat extremists--and some of the same large areas of Yugoslavia were claimed by both Chetniks and Ustase Croats. These aims were also set out in a document drawn up by a Belgrade Chetnik committee and taken to London in September 1941 by Dr. Milos Sekulic.9
Unlike Pavelic in Croatia, Mihailovic never had the chance to make his programme a reality; but there is no doubt that his conviction that the very survival of Serbia and its hopes for the future were threatened by the war situation, provided the overriding motive for much of his direction of Chetnik activity during the war. It was the main reason why he persistently refused to use Chetnik forces in significant numbers against the Germans and their allies. It was a reason, additional to retaliation--for Ustase slaughter of Serbs, for the Chetniks' killing of Croats and Moslems. The only major actions in which Chetniks fought in large numbers during the war were undertaken against the Partisans, and this was because Mihailovic saw this communist-led movement as the sole Yugoslav challenge to the return of Royalist Serbia to power at the end of the war.10 Although Mihailovic made many mistaken prognoses about the way the war would develop, he was right about this. He committed his forces--even to the extent of fighting together with Germans and Italians--to an all-out attempt to annihilate the communists before the war's end. But by choosing the Germans as allies he collaborated with the losing side. And more importantly, although he wanted British aid, he refused to undertake operations in support of British war strategy. For this reason (much more than for reasons of collaboration) Mihailovic lost British recognition and support, which was transferred to Tito and the Partisans in late summer 1943.11
In spite of the Chetniks' loss of Allied support, Mihailovic continued to believe that the Royalist government would be restored at the end of the war and made his plans accordingly. Late in November 1943 the Partisans made public their political programme for a restored
Yugoslav state. The Chetniks offered their alternative programme early in 1944. From January 25-28 they held a congress at Ba near Mihailovic's headquarters at Ravna Gora in Serbia.12 It was attended by more than three hundred delegates, mostly Chetnik commanders but also including Dr. Stevan Moljevic, author of the earlier programme for greater Serbia, as well as two pre-war Serbian politicians, Adam Pribicevic of the Independent Democrat party and Zivko Topalovic who had been leader of the pre-war Socialist party. There were also present a small number of Croats, a Slovene and a Bosnian Moslem.13
The programme agreed at the congress contained some of the strong commitment to Serbian nationalism of the earlier Moljevic memorandum, including a declaration to mobilize all anti-communist Serbs for the fight to save 'Serbdom'; it also stated the intention to create in the post-war world a federal Yugoslav state under a constitutional parliamentary monarchy. The way was left open for the creation of a greater homogeneous Serbia:
The congress considers that the solidarity of future Yugoslavia is dependent on the creation, in a democratic way, of a Serbian unit in the state as a whole, which on a democratic basis would gather the whole Serbian People on its territory. The same principle ought to be valid for Croats and Slovenes.14
An important concept emerging from the Ba Congress was the suggestion of a Yugoslav Democratic Union. This had the support of Chetniks and of Pribiéevié and Topalovic.
The programme of the Ba Congress was meant to have a wider appeal than earlier Chetnik statements. It contained a muted form of the greater Serbia aims that had attracted Serbian nationalists. Its purpose as well was to enlist support from other Yugoslav peoples who opposed the Partisans and were prepared to accept a more democratic version of the pre-war Yugoslav state. It was also presented as a democratic political programme (an alternative to the communist programme of the Partisans), which might appeal to the western allies at a time when Mihailovic, in common with Tito and the Germans, was expecting a possible British landing in the Balkans via the Yugoslav Adriatic coast or Salonika. Such a landing, Mihailovic hoped, would turn the tide in his favour. It did not come and the Ba programme was never put to the test. During 1944 Soviet troops advanced towards Yugoslav frontiers and the Partisans gained in strength. By the end of 1944, Tito was in power in Belgrade, in theory with the support of the government in exile. It was only a matter of time before he had control of the whole country including Serbia. Chetnik forces that remained were incorporated into the German army formations and were retreating with them from Yugoslavia.
Although the Chetnik movement failed, and perhaps also because it failed, it must be counted as a profound wartime experience for the Serbian people. Its appeal was to ancient Serbian national feeling that had inspired the legendary struggle against the Turks. It also produced another legendary failed leader for Serbian folk history. But this was not a tradition for other Yugoslav people. For them the Chetnik movement was linked with the ideas of Serbian supremacy that had been such a controversial factor in the inter-war state; these ideas were to linger on even after 1945.
5. Other National Peoples
It is not possible in this short essay to deal with all national groups in Yugoslavia, although nationalist feeling was probably intensified in all of them. All faced the same
ideological, moral and practical choices that were posed by occupation and civil war. The Slovenes, a homogeneous group of people with strong national identity, refused (with few exceptions) to believe that their independence could fare better under German protection than under a Serbian dominated state as in the inter-war years. But when the Partisans--amongst whose leaders were Slovenes in leading positions -- proposed a federal republic with equal rights for all peoples for the post-war state, it was an acceptable idea to many Slovenes. Slovenia seemed to have no future linked with any other country of central Europe, and above all, Tito was a strong supporter of Slovene Territorial claims for lands occupied by Slovenes but assigned to Italy (Istria and Venezia Julia and Austria (parts of Carinthia and Carniola) at the end of the First World War.15
The national group that gained most for their aspirations as a result of the war were the Macedonians. In modern times, these south Slavs who regard themselves as distinct in racial grouping, history and language, have been divided into three groups living in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Greece. The area they inhabited at the outbreak of war was bounded by the Aegean sea in the south, the Shar mountains in Yugoslavia in the north, the Rhodope mountains in Bulgaria in the east, and in the west by Lakes Ohrid and Prespa. All three countries where Macedonians lived denied their separate identity as an ethnic group; and all three countries laid claims to more Macedonian territory than that which they possessed. These conflicting claims were sharpened by the geo-strategic importance of the Macedonian lands which lie astride the highroad between the Mediterranean Sea and central Europe. Their share out of this region had been determined by the great powers of Europe after the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. This division of Macedonia left Bulgaria dissatisfied and determined to rectify these frontiers in her own favour at the earliest opportunity. In both the First and the Second World Wars Bulgaria supported Germany in hopes of satisfying her claims to more Macedonian land. In both wars she was disappointed and Yugoslavia inherited and retained the part of Macedonia awarded to Serbia in 1913.
In the inter-war years the Yugoslav government's policy to Macedonia was to incorporate it into the region of Serbia, deny Macedonian identity and treat Macedonians as 'South Serbs'. The result was bitter resentment amongst the Macedonian people whose situation was also made more complex by Bulgarian claims that all Macedonians were Bulgarians. The German invasion in 1941 with the disintegration of Yugoslavia gave the Yugoslav Macedonians change of government but no freedom. The Bulgarian army occupied their homeland without opposition. Yet as the war progressed, it became clear that the confused war situation offered an opportunity for Macedonians to manoeuvre and fight for recognition of their national identity. It was Tito and the Partisans who saw that this desire for national recognition could be used to gain support for their movement in this important region of the Balkans. It was a situation with important international implications. It was made even more complicated by the fact that many Yugoslav Macedonians in pre-war times, and even as late as 1942, had preferred to give their support to the Bulgarian communist party rather than to that of the Yugoslavs. Tito made great efforts first to get control over Macedonian communists and then to build up a Macedonian resistance movement under the authority of the Partisans. This difficult task was assigned to one of his most able leaders, Vukmanovic-Tempo, whose efforts met with considerable success, especially when it became clear that the Germans and their Bulgarian allies were going to lose the war.
Tito's ambitious plan was to recognize Macedonians as a separate people, give them equal status in the federal Yugoslavia with other south Slavs and use this as a possible nucleus
for a greater Macedonia to include all Macedonian peoples. This idea was linked with a scheme for a possible Balkan federation which would include Macedonia and Bulgaria and in which Yugoslavia would be the leading member. Although the scheme was discussed between Tito and Dimitrov, it was eventually aborted on the orders of Stalin.16 But the Yugoslav Macedonians achieved their age-old ambition--recognition of independent nationality, including recognition of their own separate language and eventually of their own Orthodox Church.
6. The Partisan War Experience
For many Yugoslavs of all national groups the Partisan movement was undoubtedly the greatest experience of the war. Under communist leadership its aims were to liberate all Yugoslav lands from enemy occupation and simultaneously to fight civil war against Chetniks and any other contestants for post-war power. In these concurrent wars communist aims for political revolution were fused with the national aims of Yugoslav peoples to free their lands from enemy occupation. The Partisans were successful in both these aims. Whilst it is clear that they could not have achieved this success without the help of the major campaigns of the allies in the global war, at the same time, the Partisan claim that they won their success in Yugoslavia by their own efforts had some justification. During the most critical period of the war, up to the summer of 1943, the Partisans fought alone without help from Great Britain and with no help from their communist bigbrother, the Soviet Union. They experienced terrible losses and great suffering, but it was during this time that the movement began to achieve some kind of Yugoslav unity transcending local nationalisms that had been characteristic of pre-war Yugoslavia and that were present amongst communists and others, even in the Partisan movement. This unity was perhaps not very strong, however it was an element in the Partisan movement as it faced the problems of its own success at the end of the war.
The leader of the Partisan movement was the Secretary General of the illegal pre-war communist party, Josip Broz-Tito, a little known man of Croat and Slovene parentage, who had been trained as a communist in the Soviet Union by the Comintern, but who retained a remarkable independence of character. Although he dutifully maintained contact with the Russian leaders via the Comintern for most of the war, he was undisputed leader in Yugoslavia, making his own decisions, with his communist colleagues about the direction of the Partisan movement.17 The Partisans started organized resistance throughout Yugoslavia after the German invasion of Soviet Russia June 21, 1941. Their major operations at that time were in Serbia where Chetniks were also active--for a time in conjunction with Partisan groups. This alliance did not last long in spite of British and Soviet pressure on the leaders of the two movements to join forces under the leadership of Mihailovic.18 Two meetings between Mihailovic and Tito (September 19 and October 26-27, 1941) aggravated rather than solved their differences. Mihailovic was already convinced that the communists were more of a danger to his movement than the Germans, and Tito soon realized that the Chetniks, pro-Serb and supported by the Yugoslav government in exile and the British, were his only rivals in the struggle to gain support in Serbia and post-war power in Yugoslavia.19 Thus from the fall of 1941 the stage was set for civil war between Chetniks and Partisans. In November the Germans, who had rejected requests from Mihailovic for arms and support in his fight against Tito's communists, mounted a successful operation in Serbia against Chetniks and Partisans. The Partisans retreated into Bosnia-Hercegovina and were not to return in strength to Serbia until 1944.
The year 1942 was the most difficult for the Partisan forces, but it was during this year that Tito and his associates in the Partisan High Command organized the characteristic military and political structure of the movement. There was a conventionally organized army (estimated by the Germans at some 30-35,000 men) which remained with Tito and up to 100,000 other Partisans organized in local units in the different areas of occupied Yugoslavia. A parallel political structure was set up with political commissars assigned to army units. Where the Partisans were able to organize 'liberated' areas, National Liberation committees were set up and eventually many thousands of Yugoslavs who were not communists, and from different national groups besides Serbs, came to be members of the Partisan forces and movement. Fighting against the Germans and their allies, and still without allies himself, Tito used his own brilliant organizing ability to build up a movement which the Germans considered a threat to their position in the Balkans.
The climax in the Partisans' war against both Germans and Chetniks came in the first half of 1943 when the Germans, with the participation of Italians, Pavelic troops and some 12- 15,000 Chetniks, mounted operation Weiss I and II which was immediately followed by Operation Schwarz (the 4th and 5th offensives of Partisan history). Tito's army managed to escape German encirclement in the first operations and routed the Chetnik forces against which they had concentrated one of their major attacks. Tito's losses were also dangerously heavy. It was after this operation that he sent emissaries to try to negotiate a truce with the Germans to allow time to evacuate the wounded and recuperate his forces, as well as to arrange exchange of prisoners; such exchanges had been negotiated on earlier occasions. Partisan explanation of these negotiations is that they were in no sense collaboration for there was no offer to fight with the Germans and that they were necessary because the Partisans had no protection for wounded under international law as the Germans refused to recognize them as belligerents.20 The negotiations were abortive and the Germans continued their efforts to annihilate the Partisan armies. Before the end of Operation Schwarz, Tito had been contacted by the British and an exploratory British mission was sent to him in the last week of May. As a result of its reports about the size and strength of the Partisan movement and the value to the allied cause of its operations against the Germans, Tito received allied recognition and considerable quantities of aid. Recognition was eventually withdrawn from Mihailovic but there was a time when both Chetniks and Partisans were receiving Anglo-US aid.21
The majority of British aid was sent to the Partisans after the capitulation of Italy (September 1943). The Italian withdrawal from Yugoslavia enabled the Partisans to get hold of abandoned Italian supplies and to increase the liberated territory they controlled. In all these matters a distinction has to be drawn between the experience of the Partisan movement as seen by the leaders and as seen by the rank and file; but in the final issue, all decisions of the Partisans' leaders had an impact on the movement as a whole. The refusal of the Germans to recognize Partisans as belligerents meant that more Partisan wounded died; British aid, the capture of Italian medical supplies and weapons helped their fighting potential. It is probable that none of these things was crucial to the ultimate issue which could already be foreseen in the light of the inevitable allied victory and the situation of the Partisans in Yugoslavia by the end of 1943.
After the Italian capitulation, although the Partisans still had important military engagements (as at the German parachute attack on Tito's HQ at Drvar in May 1944), the major struggle for the communists' objective of post-war power moved into the political field. This introduced a new element into Partisan experience. The change was from heroic suffering and a
seemingly endless fight against fearful odds, to an atmosphere of almost certain victory and international recognition. It was typical of Tito's leadership that even in the darkest days he had made political preparations for future takeover of power. The first Partisan Congress (Antifascisticke Vece Narodnog Oslobodjenje, AVNOJ), held in November 1942 was assembled in the dark days of isolation; the second congress at Jajce (November 29--December 2, 1943) was held after the tide had turned and in an atmosphere of euphoric confidence.
This meeting took the major step of declaring itself the legal government of Yugoslavia. This was ultimately accepted by the allies, including, after some hesitation, the USSR, but with the proviso that members of the Royal Government in exile should be included in Tito's provisional government. AVNOJ and the regional and local anti-fascist committees established in all regions of Yugoslavia helped in the close stages of the war to involve people from all over the country, communist and non-communist, in the process of reconstruction. But first, the Partisan leaders had to put forward a solution to the nationalities problem. At the Jajce meeting it was stated that Yugoslavia would be organized 'according to the federal principle' and 'on the basis of the right of every nation to self-determination including the right of secession or uniting with other nations.22 This was further spelled out in the agreement Tito made with the Yugoslav government representative, Ivan Subasic, which said "the sovereignty of each nation's individuality will be honoured in the spirit of full equality and guarded as it was decided at the second session of AVNOJ. The predominance of any one nation over another will be excluded."
It is not the purpose of this essay to consider how these promises worked out in practice, but rather to show that they were instrumental in gaining support for the Partisans in the closing stages of the war. They helped to create an image of a new Yugoslavia to replace the unacceptable idea of the pre-war state. In this new state, local nationalisms would not be eradicated but nationalities would be equal and would not need to fight each other. This was the theory which communist leaders tried to get accepted, and they used the authority of an increasingly centralized government to put the message across and dissipate the many local and regional conflicts that still existed. In the conditions of continued fighting throughout 1944 and into 1945, central authoritarian government was accepted--even where there was disagreement, as with some Croats and Macedonians. This helped the transformation from National Liberation Movement to communist-led government.
From the beginning Tito had been aware of the importance of propaganda in building up numbers and unity in the Partisans and had organized a strong 'agitprop' section which had an impact on all Partisans. It was used to put across communist ideas but its overiding objective had been to get wide all-Yugoslav support for the Partisan movement. In this it was successful. One of the greatest assets in the creation of a Partisan spirit was the leadership of Tito. He was portrayed in Partisan literature, songs and every facet of propaganda as an almost legendary figure of epic proportions. This was fortified by his own remarkable wartime exploits. His charismatic qualities of leadership and his natural authority were invaluable as unifying elements, the more valuable because Tito had an all Yugoslav image without any special association with any regional group.
Many questions remain unanswered about the Partisan wartime experience. One is the elusive problem of why so many people who were not communists joined the movement. Many joined to fight the alien occupier; others were fleeing from massacres and destruction; some joined from fear; some had an ideological commitment or need to fight for a better future. An
outstanding fact is that Partisans had the new experience of participating in a successful movement which had the support of Yugoslav peoples from all national groups.
7. Allied Involvement in Wartime Yugoslavia
It is impossible to deal with wartime experience in Yugoslavia without some mention of allied military and political involvement. This, however, is a complex subject requiring a separate study; it can only be touched on briefly here. The defeat of Germany and her allies in global war by Great Britain, the United States, the USSR and their allies, including Canadian forces, was a decisive factor in the issue of the war in Yugoslavia. It enabled the Partisans to triumph over all enemies, external and internal, and gain power in Yugoslavia. This is not to say that the Allies put Tito in power at the end of the war. His claim that the Partisan movement created the conditions that brought it to power is difficult to deny. But an important question is--how far did the British decision to switch its recognition and aid from Mihailovic to Tito in 1943 affect the ultimate issue in the civil war between Partisans and Chetniks? Did allied support contribute substantially to Tito's assumption of power?
Both Mihailovic and Tito complained that aid and supplies received from the allies were inadequate. Yet as far as Mihailovic is concerned, there is little evidence that his movement was capable of better organization or more constructive all-Yugoslav aims even if it had received more supplies. The considerable aid (Anglo-US and Russian) which the Partisans received was almost all sent after the Italian capitulation which had enabled the Partisans to capture large quantities of war materials for themselves. It certainly helped Tito in the final stages of the war, and air support from the western allies was crucial at certain stages (e.g., the German attempt to capture Tito at Drvar). But Partisan numbers and organization were so strong by 1944 that they could probably have held out alone until the arrival of the Red Army on Yugoslav territory later that year. Moreover, the issue of the civil war between Partisans and Chetniks had been decided during the German operations Weiss and Schwarz. After that, though Mihailovic retained forces in Serbia and Montenegro as well as small numbers in some other areas, he was no longer in a position to challenge Partisan power. Allied aid to Tito did not begin to flow until some three months after these operations.
On the political front, allied recognition of Tito was more decisive, and the withdrawal of recognition from Mihailovic left him without international status in the crucial period when manoeuvring for post-war recognition made powerful allies imperative. Had Milailovic fought the Germans in strength and cooperated with the British, it is difficult to see how the British government could have withdrawn recognition from him. Moreover, the Soviet Union had not shown itself committed to Tito to the extent of opposing British policy. Until quite late in the war, Stalin was prepared to recognize and send a mission to Mihailovic. In general, Churchill's policy had been in favour of restoration of the Royalist government. As late as August 29, 1944 the British government was trying however unrealistically, to get Chetniks and Partisans to fight together against the Germans.23 Stalin did not oppose this. He stated to Churchill that "the Soviet and British Governments agreed in Moscow to pursue as far as possible a joint policy towards Yugoslavia. The USA, on the other hand, and especially President Roosevelt were less than enthusiastic about abandoning Mihailovic and supporting Tito. Even after recognizing Tito, Roosevelt allowed, or turned a blind eye to semi-official US missions to Mihailovic and only withdrew these after pressure from Churchill. Roosevelt believed that a solution more acceptable to the Royalist government might be a division of Yugoslavia into "three nations in place of one", with King Peter the head of "a reconstituted Serbia". He added in a message to
Churchill; "Personally I would rather have a Yugoslavia, but three separate states with separate governments in a Balkan federation might solve many problems."24
Whilst allied leaders were thinking of a compromise solution of shared power between the Royalist government and Partisans, Tito went ahead inside Yugoslavia disposing his forces for the take over of all political and military power. He refused to receive King Peter on Yugoslav soil but accepted Subasic, the former Ban of Croatia as representative of the government in exile. However Tito allowed Subasic no opportunity to establish a power base. He realized that British policy allowed him freedom of action. Churchill had stated to Stalin that "the Yugoslav people as a whole should have complete freedom to decide as soon as conditions permit both on the question of the Monarchy and on the new federal constitution." With an underestimation of Tito's power in Yugoslavia which was shared in common by both Roosevelt and Stalin, Churchill had added; "Provided there is goodwill and loyalty amonh Yugoslavs this freedom of decision seems to be safeguarded in the Tito-Subasic agreement."25 Tito, however, in undisputed power in Yugoslavia, interpreted the conditions for these decisions in his own way. He believed that the Partisans had won the right to govern and had sufficient support inside the country to do so providing dthere was no outside interference.
In conclusion the question must be asked--was there a Yugoslav experience during the war? Did the many experiences help to mould something that could be called a feeling of belonging to a Yugoslav state? Or did the war divide Yugoslav peoples more than they had been divided before? There is no scientific answer to these questions. Yet during the war Yugoslav interests and those of the Yugoslav Communist party coincided in some respects, and the feeling of fighting for Yugoslavia was inculcated into the Partisan movement. But at the end of the war Yugoslavism was not cultivated by that party; the concept smacked too much of prewar bourgeois ideas, and federal independence was cultivated instead. Some people believe that a golden opportunity for creating Yugoslav nationalism was missed at this time. this is merely conjecture. It has been clear in modern times that regional nationalism was still strong after the war. It is also possible to point to the fact that Yugoslavia has continued as a state for some thirty five years since the end of the war; that it has won international respect and become a leader among states of the third world. This is often attributed to Tito, and the importance of his long leadership should not be underrated. It must also be attributed to the fact that the different nationalities, in spite of disagreements, have worked together sufficiently well to build up the country to its present state of development. Up to the present, the elements of integration in post-war Yugoslavia have been stronger than those of disintegration. Since the present is ineluctably linked with the past, this must in some ways have grown out of the experiences of the Second World War.
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Transcribed and formatted by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation