From behind the scenes in the Balkans: A grim story for the western world to ponder
Yugoslavia's Tragic Lesson to the World
Condensed from a forthcoming book by Bogdan Raditsa
Bogdan Raditsa, for many years a high ranking official of the Yugoslav Government, comes from an old Croatian family. He is married to Nina Ferrero, daughter of Gugliemo Ferrero, the eminent Italian historian, and is now engaged in journalism in New York.
All over the world the members of the Communist Party profess a passion for "democracy". In almost all countries outside the Soviet Union they try to join members of other parties in National Fronts, People's Fronts, Progressive Citizens' Committees, or the like for the alleged promotion of "democracy". From my own experience in my own country I know the true meaning of this cunning and cynical strategy.
In 1945 I become chief of the foreign press section of the Ministry of Information of the present Yugoslav Government of Marshal Tito. This Government calls itself a People's Front. It came into existence as a proposed cooperative union of all political parties that were seeking a more democratic way of life for all Yugoslav peoples: Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Bosnians, Herzegovinians, Montenegrians, Macedonians. Included in this union was the Communist Party.
From the beginning the Communist party aimed not at cooperation but at control. Little by little it absorbed all posts of power, open or hidden. The outcome was the very opposite from democracy. It was the extinction of the freedom of speech, press and thought. It was the supervision of the lives of all citizens by a new secret political police. It was arbitrary arrests, imprisonments, executions, massacres. It was a dictatorship of terror and death by a tiny clique.
In the Serbo-Croat language the communists have a phrase for true democrats who consent to collaborate with them for "democracy". It is Koristne Budale, or Useful Innocents.
I was one of those Innocents. The story of my gradual awakening may serve as a warning to Innocents in other countries.
In 1943 I was stationed in New York as head of the press service of the Royal Yugoslav Government. I had served that government since 1928 in Belgrade, in Athens, in Geneva, in Washington. I nevertheless felt that in prewar Yugoslavia there had been too little democracy. In that mood I read the news that Marshal Tito's "First National Liberation Assembly" had made an electrifying Declaration.
This declaration was for a free and equal "federation" of all Yugoslav peoples. It was for "democracy". It breathed the spirit of a new country, reborn to freedom.
I weighted my duty to the old Yugoslavia and to the new. I preferred the Democratic Federated Republic of Yugoslavia to King Peter's Monarchy. I preferred Tito to Mikailovich. I resigned from my position and put my pen at the service of Tito in the American liberal press.
An article of mine in The Nation said: "A new Yugoslavia has arisen: a federation based on political, religious and social equality. As one humble worker, I feel that my support belongs to Tito's Partisans, because on their banner rests the hopes of my country".
I then could no longer bear to be in exile. In November 1944 I sailed from New York. In great happiness my wife had brought our children to the pier to see me off. We dreamed that soon she would join me in a Yugoslavia of free men and free women.
When I arrived at Belgrade the signs of liberation were all about me - liberation by the Russians. Russian military heels clicked in all streets. Pictures of Stalin looked out from all the windows. I did not much mind that Russian soldiers stole my watch from my hotel room. "Hand over the watch!" was a familiar order by Russian soldiers to Belgrade civilians. Watches were irresistible novelties to these liberators. But they were liberators - and fellow-Slavs.
In a public square ragged young man were dancing the traditional Serbian "kolo", though the words were new:
Comrade Tito, when you go to Russia,
Nor did I much mind that there was deep sadness in the greeting of many of my old Belgrade acquaintances. They said: "Why did you return to this hell?".
But they have been the members of the Serbian ruling class which dominated Yugoslavia between the two World Wars. Now they were poorly dressed and their eyes were full of fear. I pitied them, but I remembered their role in the evil past and made myself think of the good free future.
My first alarm as to the freeness of the future came when I found that in order to be installed as chief of the foreign press section of the Ministry of Information I had to acquire a karakteristika. Today no Yugoslav can get away from that secret documentary record of his political and personal actions. It follows him from locality to locality; wherever he goes it determines the treatment he receives from the authorities. If it is unsatisfactory he is barred from all public employment, which today is the major part of all employment. My karakteristika had been prepared by Sveta Nedelkovich, the personnel officer of the Ministry of Information, a member of the Communist Party.
Nedelkovich startled me by saying that there was a black mark against me for having written a book, The Agony of Europe, published in Belgrade in 1940.
It was an anti-fascist book and it had been suppressed by the occupying Germans. Why should such a book be challenged by Nedelkovich, a communist?
I was soon to learn. The book was anti-fascist, but it was not pro-communist. It was pro-democratic. Nedelkovich warned me that my attitudes in the future would be watched.
I was thus put on notice that in this new People's Front government the non-communist participants were expected to be satisfactory to the communist participants. The others were to be the "Front" while the communists, even in the background were to be the bosses.
When I suggested various non-communist literary man for inclusion in my press section, they were rejected. I was told: "Those men will die. We need new men. The new men will take their place quickly enough".
"Those men will die". That sentence was to haunt me.
The new men begun to be thrust into my office. One, Vuksan, came directly from the secret political police. He was to deal with foreign journalists yet he did not know even one foreign language. He started a secret police file for every foreign correspondent in Belgrade.
I did not want to be merely a figurehead. I spoke to my chief, the Minister of Information, Sava Kosanovich, now Yugoslav Ambassador in Washington. He was not a communist; he was the Secretary General of the Independent Democratic Party. He, too, was encircled by the "new men" and quite unable to help me. The actual manager of the Ministry of Information was Velko Korach, a communist.
The situation was the same, I discovered, for every other non-communist member of Tito's false People's Front - even for Ivan Subasich, the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Subasich has been a leader of Yugoslavia's largest democratic movement, the Croatian Peasant Party. He had signed the Tito-Subasich Agreement for bringing all Yugoslav anti-fascist elements into a "democratic" coalition. He had been urged into that by Britain, and, to some degree, by the United States.
Now I saw that Subasich was not operating his Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was being operated by Edvard Kardelj, a communist.
But I (as an Innocent) was still to make my most surprising discovery - about Tito himself. Tito holds the titles of prime Minister, Defense Minister, Marshal. He is also a member of seven-men Politburo of the Yugoslav Communist Party. He is thought abroad to be the ruler of Yugoslavia; but Tito does not really rule; he is only a "front".
I was shocked to find Tito living in the White Palace, the former home of Prince Paul. The communists had promised that the royal palaces would be given to the children of the workers and peasants. Now Tito was occupying the most luxurious of them all. It was distressing to have him point out to me the lovely old pictures on the walls as if they were tributes to his own artistic taste. He strove to gloss over his plunder with his smile.
Tito can smile. He can act. He dresses like Göring, gesticulates like Mussolini, tries to talk like Stalin. And he has that smile. It is a confident, vigorous, an almost violent smile.
Communism, like fascism, requires a living symbol. Tito will smile for five hours on a reviewing stand while thousands of workers and schoolboys file past him, screaming "Tito is ours; we are Tito's. Ti-to! Ti-to! Ti-to!" It is a materialistic totalitarianism enshrining a human god.
Tito's utterances are thought to be inspired. And they are. Every word he speaks in his public orations is written by two other members of the Communist party Politburo: Zuyevich-Tserni, the Minister of Finance, and the Montenegrian Milovan Dyilas, a friend of Stalin's.
Communism is government by bureaucracy; and Edward Kardelj is the mastermind of Yugoslav bureaucracy, therefore of Yugoslavia itself. He is a Slovenian - a short, dumpy, dapper man, with scholarly eyeglasses. He used to teach school. He is an argumentative dialectician. He studied communist methodology in Moscow. Now he is Vice Prime Minister. He is also chief of all the personnel chiefs of all the government departments. Twenty-eight of them meet with him each week to discuss the personal and political attitude of government employees, from the standpoint of Communist Party theories and policies. Kardelj has represented Yugoslavia in the General Assembly of the United Nations and at the peace conference in Paris. Through his manipulation Moscow's vote in United Nations controls the vote by Belgrade.
The Yugoslav secret political police is known as the OZNA. OZNA means Department for the Defense of the People. It was organized by Russian specialists in espionage and liquidation. Its head, Lieutenant General Aleksander Rankovich, is empowered to arrest without warrant, and to execute without trial, any citizen deemed to be "an enemy of the people".
OZNA has one section for the control of the civilians; another for the control of the army; another for control of Yugoslavs in foreign countries; another for control of foreigners in Yugoslavia; and, finally a very special section for the control of the government itself - that is for the control of all government officials, including communists. The Communist Party actually conducts continuous espionage upon itself. It is like an onion. It is in layers. You have to peel off layer after layer before you come to the core. The core is a network of spies.
To control a country of 14,000,000 people OZNA employs 100,000 spies. It also commands the services of KOJ, the Elite Guard, which is like Hitlers special SS outfit, with 150,000 members in uniform - the best fed, best clothed, best armed military force in the country.
In Yugoslavia last year, there were no free elections, although at the Yalta conference Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt, on behalf of their respective countries, guaranteed "free elections" to all European countries liberated from the Germans.
Before the elections, new arbitrary "judicial" tribunals, called People's Courts, by summary verdicts disfranchised thousands of alleged "enemies of the people" whose only fault was non-communism. The leadership of Yugoslavia's truly democratic elements was steadily depleted by arrests followed by detentions - or by disappearances even more intimidating than detentions.
Questions and Answers
August Kosutich, vise president of the Croatian Peasant Party, was arrested and lost to public view. Minister of Foreign Affairs Subasich, chief representative of the Croatian Peasant Party in the People's Front, asked to be allowed to see Kosutich. His request was denied. Dr. Barisa Smolyan, an outstanding member of the Croatian Peasant Party, attended a meeting at which Subasich was reproached for not being able to free Kosutich. At the end of the meeting, Dr. Smolyan was himself put under arrest. So were the other delegates of the Croatian Peasant Party.
When leaders of important political groups could be thus eliminated, it was easy to eliminate more rank-and-file peasants. Communist officials would hold pre-election meetings in Croatia's little villages. A rash peasant would speak up.
"Mr. Commissar, may I ask a question?"
Machek, president of Croatia's most authentically democratic movement, had fled into a forced exile in Paris. And hundreds of peasants who inquired after him were soon missing from their villages.
To non-communists jailed or missing there must be added those killed outright. Monsignor Alois Stepinets, Archibishop of Zagreb, and Catholicism's chief dignitary in Yugoslavia, reported that 169 of his priests had been jailed, 89 were missing, 243 had been killed by Tito's Partisans.
In Zagreb, there was a famous physician, a psychiatrist, Dr. Gyuro Vranesich. He was a Croatian Nationalist but never collaborated with the Croatian armed Fascist "Ustashi". Among the men he saved was Miroslav Krleza, the greatest Croatian expunger of the philosophy of Karl Marx. Entering Zagreb, Tito's partisans arrested Dr. Vraneshich. They tried him three times. On the third trial they condemned him. Krleza, the Marxist writer, appealed to Tito, the Marxist disciple, on behalf of Dr. Vraneshich.
But Tito could not control his own "Partisans". Dr. Vraneshich was no fascist but he was no communist. He was executed.
In Zagreb and its neighborhood, Tito's Partisans arrested 70,000 citizens. Great number of these had actively helped Tito's Partisans. Tito's forces conscripted the whole youth of Serbia's most historic province, Shumadija. They threw these boys, virtually unarmed, across the Danube into the face of the still undispersed German army. Sixty thousand of them fell before the German tanks. "Those men will die...". I began to understand.
In some parts of Yugoslavia's western provinces some of Mikailovich's aides made deals with the Italians in order to obtain military equipment which they used against the Partisans. But in Serbia proper, Mikailovich appeared to personify the national conscience of the Serbian people. This explains why Tito felt it necessary to discredit him by the trial at Belgrade.
On a 300-mile trip through the countryside I saw not living human being but only shadows, men and women wrestling with the soil with a kind of automatic fortitude. An old lady in Split, my home town, asked: "Why did you come to this land, where only the dead are happy?"
There was misery through the villages and the countryside. One peasant told me: "The communists came and liberated us. They took 60 of our boys. We have never seen them since. We used to dance, now nobody dances. We work and we sit in our homes. That is our liberation."
Since the "liberation", the communists themselves admit that - by detention, disappearance or death - they have got rid of 500,000 Yugoslavs. I think it clear that their purpose is to "liquidate" the entire agricultural, commercial and industrial Yugoslav non-communist middle class. "The new men will take their place quickly enough."
In the midst of this terror the elections of last November were held. There was only one slate of candidates, all of them of the People's Front - all picked or approved by the Communist Party. To vote against any candidate it was necessary to cast a "no" ballots against the whole ticket. The "yes" ballots, after months of purging and intimidations, were victorious - overwhelmingly.
Some "Useful Innocents" in the onlooking democratic world were impressed by those elections. They can learn their true nature from General Rankovich of OZNA. Addressing the elected national Assembly of Yugoslavia on March 24 of this year, he said:
"Those who oppose the policy of the present regime cannot possibly put themselves into power through free elections. They cannot participate in the government. And they cannot even exist as a tolerated opposition."
Behind this terror is the power of Russia. Tito's decisions come from the Yugoslav Communist party's Politburo; the decisions of the Politburo come from the Russian Embassy in Belgrade; the decisions of the Embassy come from Moscow. Yugoslavia is treated by Russia not as a liberated country, but as a subjugated country.
Russian communist doctrine steadily tries to push Yugoslavia into hostility to the United States. The Hotel Moscow in Belgrade is a favorite meeting place for Russians and the young Yugoslav communist elite. There they drink together and discuss such matters as Trieste and British imperialism and American fascism.
"It is sad that the Anglo-Americans have made us leave
I heard such talk also from Kardelj, who is Yugoslavia's most powerful politician. At the start of my service in the Ministry of Information, Kardelj said to me: "Between us and America there is an unbridgeable chasm. We are two worlds. They cannot be united. We have with us the strength of the masses. When we are victorious over the American world, the world will be one."
I subsequently saw the confidential instructions given last year by Kardelj to the Yugoslav Communist Party's leaders. In them he said:
"We have made certian concessions to the capitalist world in order to gain time. But when the hour strikes we must be ready to pass to the offensive. The Proletarian Revolution is on the march. It is linked to the Soviet Union through agreements of mutual political and economic assistance. It is creating, as Stalin said, a union of all of the many parts of the Revolution - in Poland, in Romania, in Bulgaria, perhaps in Italy - into one System. That Revolutionary System will go into frontal attack against the Imperialistic System."
Such sentiments are today expressed openly in public speeches. On February 17, this year, Lieuenant Colonel Branko Popovich, communist political commissar of the Fourth Division of the Elite Guard, the KOJ, addressed his troops as follows:
"Anglo-Americans are the head of the international hypocritical reaction and they are menacing world peace. We can rely only on the Soviet Union. It alone has democratic ideals. Up to now we have been obliged to say: 'Together with England and America for the preservation of peace.' Now we are able to say: 'War against England and United States and all of the world's imperialist forces!'"
To plunge Yugoslavia first into a domestic, the into an international class war of extermination: such is the communist aim in Yugoslavia. It could not be accepted by the leaders of the sincerely democratic parties in the Yugoslav People's Front government. One by one those leaders began to retire.
Milan Grol, vice Prime Minister, leader of the Serbian Democratic Party, declared last year that the liberations was not to establish communism but to promote an enlarging conception of democracy. He was attacked as an agent of reaction. He replied that it was the communists who by their policies of coercion were driving the democrats and the reactionaries together. He pleaded with the communists to replace coercion with political liberty. He pleaded to no avail. In August of last year he resigned and went into seclusion in his house in Belgrade. A Partisan of Tito's, with a tommy gun, took up his post at the door.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Subasich saw how badly things were going for Yugoslav democracy. He decided that he must consult with Dr. Vlatko Machek, the leader of his Party, the Croatian Peasant Party, who was in exile in Paris. Subashich went to see Tito, who said that he was willing to let Subasich go but that he must first speak to the personnel chief, Kardelj. The next day Kardelj told Subasich that he was authorized to ask the British Embassy for a plane to Paris. The next three days were the days of bad weather.
Meanwhile Subasich had caught a cold, and there came a phone call from the Soviet Embassy. The Embassy was greatly disturbed over Subasich's health and was sending over a top-rank Russian physician, Professor V. Ognjev.
The professor arrived, with two Yugoslav physicians. They examined Subasich and pronounced their verdict: Subasich was suffering from a cerebral hemorrhage. He must stay in bed, take a complete rest, have no visitors. At almost the same moment, 40 armed KOJ guards of Tito's surrounded the house. Subasich thought that Tito was coming to see him. Tito did not come. The armed guards did not go away.
The British Ambassador heard of the siege. He came to call upon Subasich. The guards barred him from the house. Subasich was the prisoner of the government in which he was the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He could not even see the Ambassador of the British government which has pressured him into making the Tito-Subasich agreement and into becoming Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Yugoslav "People's Front" government felt itself able now to defy Britain and to discard Subasich. Both had been dupes.
Subasich then resigned. His political friend, Dr. J. Shuty, followed him. Subasich is permitted to live in Zagreb as a private non-political citizen - under strict observation by OZNA.
"You Do Not Believe in an Ideal"
I began to be concerned about my own status. I had long perceived the use that the communists were making of me. I had a certain following among the Yugoslav readers. Now, if I publish an article in a Yugoslav periodical, it would be given to read to young intellectuals who had been arrested by the communists; and the communist commissar in their prison camp would say to them:
"See! Raditsa, who is not a communist, is in the Government, accepting Tito's democracy. Why should you not accept it, too?"
Two young communists had been thrust into my office. With the support of the chief of personnel of the Ministry of Information, Nedelkovich, they undertook to deal with the foreign correspondents in Belgrade. I was to be chief of the foreign press section; but I was to have no contacts with the foreign press.
It seemed to me that all Yugoslavia was being driven into madness by the communist frenzy. In Dalmatia young communists were chosen to become perfected communists by being obliged to shoot such fascists prisoners as happened to be their childhood friends. In Montenegro, when certain of Mikailovich's Chetniks were seized, their sons who were Partisans were schooled to communist reliability by being made to shoot their fathers.
I realized that whatever I could do for my country I could not do within its borders. I had been unable to disguise my unhappiness, my horror. Thereupon I was accused of being an American agent, and I learned from friends that I was being followed by agents of OZNA.
I decided to resign, to go abroad. But I was told by an official: "Kardelj forbids you to leave the country".
Then I proposed to resign but remain within the country, in my home province of Dalmatia. I talked to Velko Korach, the Ministry of Information's real chief. He said:
"If you do not like what you are doing now, you may enlist in a labor battalion to rebuild the destroyed village, or you may be mobilized into the army. But you cannot just resign. Nobody is free in this country to resign without permission."
I said to myself: I must escape. I must find someone who will quietly get me a passport.
I knew it could not be Korach. Korach wanted to keep me in Yugoslavia, and urged me to join the Communist Party. I said:
"I cannot. The Party requires a man to renounce his ties to humanity - and indeed to family and to God."
Korach became pale - and very formal. He no longer addressed me as Drug (Comrade) Raditsa, but only as Gospodin (Mr.) Raditsa.
"Gospodin Raditsa," he said, "you are a man who does not believe in an ideal".
Korach looked at me with an ultimate coldness and said:
"That, Gospodin Raditsa, is a bourgeois view, a capitalistic conception."
I hastened my hunt for a passport. I was able to say, truly, that it was necessary for me to go to Italy to settle some urgent family matters. I approached a communist official who was a man of education and of sensibility. It would be wrong to say that such communists do not exist. They do. This man obtained a passport for me, entitling me to go on a British plane to the Italian port of Bari.
Looking back over my experience, certain facts seem clear:
1. The Russian long-range design regarding Yugoslavia is to unite its six peoples to Bulgaria and Albania in a Balkan Federation and then to bring that federation into the Soviet Union as a "Republic". Then the Soviet Union would stretch from the Black Sea to the Adriatic Sea and, through Albania, to the Mediterranean. Never, even in the Czarist days, has Russia been in a position to contemplate so large a sweep into the West.
2. An obstacle to this design is the sudden unpopularity of the Russians in Yugoslavia. For hundreds of years, ever since the days of Turkish rule, the Yugoslavs have looked to Russia as a deliverer. Two months of Russian occupation sufficed to destroy the dream. These communist Russians were not the superior people. They had less education, less culture, a lower standard of living, than the Yugoslavs. They added nothing to Yugoslavia but the brute force, the organized ruthlessness, in which communism has trained them.
3. The Yugoslav communists, who, by means of Russian soldiers, have made themselves into the governing element, are relatively few. They would not pool ten percent of the votes in the really free elections. Many Yugoslavs see clearly, now, the affinity between communism and German fascism. Belgrade wisecrackers, behind their hands, call Tito "Titler", and his regime "Ti-totalitarianism".
4. The chief source of resistance to the Tito regime in Yugoslavia is religion. Hence the war conducted by that regime against the church.
One night in Belgrade I was talking with Dr. Lyubo Leontich. He had been one of the first outright fascists in Yugoslavia. But to communists it is not a crime to have been a fascists, provided you afterward go over to an alliance with the communists. Dr. Leontich had gone over. He is now the Yugoslav Ambassador to London. He and I were talking about the Monsignor Ante Bonifachich, Archibishop of Split. Bonifachich, during the war, in his personal letters, had condemned both the fascists Ustashi and the communist Partisans for their massacres in Dalmatia. He had saved many young Partisans from fascist bands, both Dalmatian and Italian, and had finally been arrested by OZNA.
"It will be necessary to execute him." Dr. Leontich
But the clergy and their congregations are not intimidated. In Zagreb I saw a procession of people coming into the city from a shrine of the Virgin May. With them was Archbisop Stepinets, who had just been released from a three-week arrest by Partisans. He came along in the procession in the midst of 20,000 who tumultuously shouted:
"Long live Stepinets! Long live Christ the King!"
Virtually all Yugoslavs belong either to the Roman Catholic Church or to the Eastern Orthodox Church. And in the Serbian East, as in the Croatian and Slovenian West, it is religion that stands staunchest against communist domination.
5. Americans are extremely popular in Yugoslavia. They need not fear that their contributions to Yugoslav welfare are unrecognized. The People's Front government insisted that the UNRRA's chief executive in Yugoslavia should be a Russian, but the mass of Yugoslavs are fully aware that it as chiefly from America that UNRRA help came that saved perhaps 5,000,000 Yugoslav lives.
Yugoslavs know of America from their fellow-countrymen, thousands of whom have settled in the United States and by letters or visits home have spread the news of that land of the free beyond the ocean. America, not Russia, is the dream of peasants and workers alike.
Americans are not to be advised by me or by any other Yugoslav as to what their international policies should be. I nevertheless think that I would not go beyond the bounds of hospitality if I ventured to point out the basic lesson that Americans can learn, for their own benefit, from what has been happening in Yugoslavia.
That lesson is the deadliness of the deliberately deceptive language used by communists everywhere, including America, when they strive to trap their fellow-citizens into economic and political cooperation with them.
The whole tragedy of Yugoslavia can be traced to that deception.
The communists promised Yugoslavia a "federation" of six equal peoples organized into six separate self-governing "republics". They have given Yugoslavia an omnipotent government concentrated at Belgrade. When the communists said "federation" they meant centralized dictation.
The communists promised Yugoslavia political liberty for all anti-fascist parties. They have produced political liberty in Yugoslavia only for the Communist Party. And political liberty for them means complete dominance by them.
The communists promised Yugoslavia that there would be no ruling class. Today the best food, the best clothes, the best houses go to the new communist officials. There is even a derisive phrase for the people as a whole. They are called the Siva Masa, the "Gray Masses". They are said to be the necessary water in which the communists can swim.
The communists promised Yugoslavia peace. They have given Yugoslavia an army of 500,000 men, and have indoctrinated that army with ceaseless propaganda for new and bloodier international conflicts.
The favorite words of communists in enticing people into their web for temporary cooperation and ultimate betrayal are "peace" and "democracy". Yugoslavia proves utterly that when communists say "democracy" they mean a new domination, and when they say "peace" they mean more slaughter, both within nations and between them.
I have dear friends in America. They see hope of the world in the development and perfecting of democracy in America. They are indeed right. But I should like to say to them:
Be careful with whom you share that great task. Be on guard against people who wrench words from their moorings and send them against their meanings. Be careful about people whose vocabulary is yours but whose record wherever they hold power is your destruction. Do not be Koristne Budale. Do not be "Useful Innocents".