“Magis quam prima, quam secunda in me Romae villa.”
(“Poor as this village is, I would rather be first here than second in Rome.”)
Continuing my review of this historical piece by Evgeny Krutikov. Where we left off, we had taken a quick detour to learn some backstory about one of the players in this three-way feud, Enver Hoxha of Albania. But now we return to Krutikov’s narrative:
1948 Was A Difficult Year
We are back in January of 1948. Bulgarian Communist leader Georgi Dimitrov (who sometimes went clean-shaven and sometimes wore a big black moustache), had given an interview, in which he supported the idea of creating a “Balkan Federation”. Into this confederation would go all the newly-Communist Eastern European countries conquered by the Soviet Union at the end of WWII, namely: Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Albania, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and even Poland. Dimitrov generously allocated leadership of this proposed confederation not to his own country, but to Yugoslavia. A natural choice, since the latter possessed the most powerful army.
Krutikov points out that Dimitrov was no dumb punk: He was a former head of the Comintern and now the second-ranking Communist leader in the whole world, right after Stalin. Therefore, his interview aroused fear and loathing in Western capitals. Leaders in Washington and London regarded the creation of such a bloc as a violation of the Yalta and Potsdam Agreements.
A couple of weeks later, on 19 January 1948, Tito strolled down to his local telegraph office and dispatched the previously-mentioned telegram to Enver Hoxha, requesting to send a Yugoslav division into southern Albania. Putatively, in order to repel the suspected Anglo-American invasion from Greece northwards. But, according to Krutikov, there were no doubts in anybody’s head that this was actually a sneaky attempt to annex Albania, on false pretenses.
It is against this background — and here Krutikov seems to be putting more blame on the Communist side than on the Westie side — that, in March of 1948 leaders of Great Britain, France, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg [with the except of Britain all countries allied with Nazi Germany during the war, one might add] met in Brussels to sign an agreement creating the Western bloc. Krutikov: “This was a direct response to the declarations of Dimitrov and Tito — and the beginning of the creation of NATO. Stalin flew into a rage: These military blocks are popping up without even asking Moscow’s opinion — and the USSR still does not have the atom bomb!”
So, Stalin’s beef against Tito was that the latter had attempted to annex Albania without consulting with him first (=Stalin). And his beef against Dimitrov was that the latter had published his ambitious plans for a Balkan Confederation, again without consulting the Big Boss.
These Balkan Communist leaders were getting too big for their britches, acting like they were international leaders with autonomy! It would be like Pete Clemenza and Sal Tessio started making deals and waging crime wars without getting the okay from Don Corleone! This shall not pass.
But Stalin did not treat both sets of “sins” as equal. See, the big galoot always had a soft spot for Dimitrov; hence, he showed more mercy to the latter, just considering the Bulgarian’s over-reach as a forgivable “mistake” or “untimely gesture”.
Tito, on the other hand… It is safe to say that his Croatian ass was grass. Especially after he received that scary telegram from Stalin’s henchman…
Both South Slavic leaders received the ominous summons to report to the Kremlin. To report to the Big Boss, to shut the door and take a seat. Dimitrov took his chances, and went. Tito declined, citing poor health. In his heart, Tito knew that if he went to Moscow, he might never return. Stalin had that kind of (well-deserved) reputation.
But Krutikov firmly takes Stalin’s side in this fuster-cluck: “Stalin was right about practically everything, and even demonstrated remarkable patience…” Stalin was worried that the introduction of Yugoslav troops into Albania would spark another war. With his guests (Dimitrov and two Yugoslav envoys), Stalin shared some secret intel he had regarding the deployment of American troops in Greece. It was already clear to him that the Greek Communists had lost the civil war, now all that remained was to evacuate the comrades before they were all hung on trees by the victorious fascists.
In summary, this was not a good time to provoke the English and Americans to intervene in the Balkans. As a compromise solution, Stalin proposed a smaller confederation between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. The Bulgarian and Yugoslav envoys nodded their agreement and returned home.
Next began the Ideological War between Stalin and Tito, both sides quoting Marxist scripture and accusing the other of “deviation from the Leninist course”. The two men exchanged several poison pen letters. (It’s a good thing they didn’t have email in those days, otherwise the flame war would have been unendurable.) No compromise seemed possible!
In the end, Stalin delegated Comrade Molotov to deliver the final Coup de grâce to Tito. Molotov wrote a very nasty Epistle to the Philistine, in which he expertly trolled Tito, summarized all of the latter’s sins and crimes, and then proceeded to pull all the Soviet military advisors and civilian specialists out of Yugoslavia. The Yugoslavs were shocked by this unfriendly action coming from their older brother the Russians. Like, they had never expected the feud to go that far. The South Slavic “Little Brothers” made some overtures back to Moscow, as in, hey dudes, can’t we be friends again? Moscow: No way! I will only accept total capitulation coupled with sincere penance. Unfortunately, the Yugoslavs were too proud to agree to that. And hence the rift became permanent, and the Soviet Union lost a major ally in Eastern Europe. All because two grown men were acting like spoiled babies.
[to be continued]