“Our sacrifices are terrible. I can safely say that there is no other part of the world which has been devastated on a vaster scale than Yugoslavia. Every tenth Yugoslav has perished in this struggle in which we were forced to wrest armaments from our enemies, to freeze without clothing, and to die without medication. .”
(Josip Broz Tito)
To Joseph Stalin: Stop sending people to kill me! We’ve already captured five of them, one of them with a bomb and another with a rifle… If you don’t stop sending killers, I’ll send a very fast working one to Moscow and I certainly won’t have to send another.
(Josip Broz Tito)
Continuing my review of this historical piece by Evgeny Krutikov. Where we left off, it was 1948 and a lot of stuff was happening all over the world. Including a big blow-out of a quarrel between two great men, Stalin and Tito. Far be it from me to take sides in that ancient dogfight, nor to assign blame, nor to accuse one or the other party of starting it.
The Pot Simmers
We mentioned that Stalin was upset with Yugoslavia’s blatant attempt to annex Albania, or at least parts of Albania. As always in this part of the world, the Black Hole, the locus of all the problems, lay in Kosovo. In this vast geopolitical Game of Thrones, Stalin, as was his wont, managed to play off Yugoslavia and Albania, turning Enver Hoxha against Tito. (Not that it probably took that much effort.)
The other major issue, as we had mentioned, was the Greek Civil War. Tito wanted to do more to help the Greek Communist side, but Stalin didn’t want to get involved. Here, once again, Stalin was true to his old form, employing a whole bag of tricks that had worked a decade earlier, to squelch the Spanish Revolution. Namely, tossing brave Communist fighters under the bus, then glibly passing his betrayal off as a state necessity of Soviet Realpolitik. Stalin managed to force even Georgi Dimitrov (a true-blooded Communist if ever there was one) to abandon his Greek comrades. Stalin twirling his moustache and emitting the highly cynical remark, that they might be able to evacuate and save some of the comrades from the noose. And all Dimitrov could do was mumble “Yes sir,” and return to Sofia, a broken man.
And here I cannot do much better than to simply quote the applicable paragraph from the wiki page about the Greek Civil War:
The civil war resulted from a highly polarized struggle between left and right ideologies that started in 1943. From 1944 each side targeted the power vacuum resulting from the end of German-Italian occupation (1941–1945) during World War II. The struggle became one of the first conflicts of the Cold War (c. 1947 to 1991) and represents the first example of Cold War power postwar involvement in the internal politics of a foreign country. Greece in the end was funded by the US (through the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan) and joined NATO (1952), while the insurgents were demoralized by the bitter split between the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin, who wanted the war ended, and Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito, who wanted it to continue. Tito was committed to helping the Greek Communists in their efforts, a stance that caused political complications with Stalin, as he had recently agreed with Winston Churchill not to support the Communists in Greece, as documented in their Percentages Agreement of October 1944.
So, who was the better Communist here? Joseph Stalin? Or the “bourgeois traitor” Josip Tito? As the Anglo-Saxons like to say, A leopard does not change his spots.
I mentioned that Krutikov himself takes Stalin’s side, citing the fact that the Soviet Union did not yet possess even a small atom bomb, let alone a Doomsday Weapon, this left it somewhat at the mercy of the trigger-happy United States, which had recently nuked two Japanese cities full of innocent civilians. This is a valid point. But still, with Stalin as always, one was never allowed to have a differing opinion on any matter; and if one did, then one was a fascist and an enemy of the state. In fact, I believe it was precisely Stalin, in this era of history, who invented the current dictionary definition of “fascist” as “somebody who disagrees with me”.
Your Mission Should You Choose To Accept It
Also very true to form, Stalin as leader of the USSR and of the Un-Free World in general (as well as, willy nilly, leader of the International Proletariat) continued to abuse and misuse his state’s military and security forces. Turning these mighty agencies created by Lenin, into personal goon squads to conduct his feuds against the other alpha males. Just like some mountain gorilla with an army.
Krutikov writes that, during the years 1948-1953 the Ministry of State Security (MGB) of the USSR opened 20 anti-Yugoslav spy centers throughout Eastern Europe. Imagine the good that could have been accomplished if all those agents had been used for their proper purpose, namely to spy against Great Britain and the United States!
In Hungary an anti-Tito center was set up in the city of Szeged, a European center of education and learning. From here former citizens of Yugoslavia were recruited for “diversionary” operations against Tito. Leading Tito to eventually exclaim in exasperation: “Stalin, stop sending people to kill me!” To no avail: Stalin was like an old woman with a bug in his ear and a set of old feuds that he simply could not let go.
At the time of the rift, 500 Yugoslav officers happened to be studying in Soviet military academies. From them, as well, on Stalin’s orders, a special unit was created, with the very long name of “The Union of Yugoslav Patriots for the Liberation from the yoke of the fascist Clique Tito-Ranković and from Imperialist Enslavement”. The Ranković in question, being this guy, Tito’s second-in-command, and well known as a strong Serbian patriot in addition to a hard-core Communist. The Union (of blah blah blah) was headed by a Major-General Pero Popivoda. Krutikov writes that Stalin was quite fond of Pero, even though the latter was only capable of coming up with the most hare-brained assassination schemes imaginable, none of which ever worked. This Slovenian guy was no Nahum Eitingon. Or, as my late father used to say, “If you want a good assassin, then you must hire a Jew.” [that last bit a joke, I hasten to add]
Later, in his memoirs Molotov was to write that Stalin would greet Popivoda with the words: “Such a young man, and already a general!” This episode alone shows the decay of the Stalin system of inter-personal terror.
My Secretary Will Disavow All Knowledge Of Your Actions
I found this Serbian wiki about Popivoda. My Serbian is not as good as it used to be, but I can make out the following, and I apologize in advance for any translation errors:
Pero was born in 1916, in a village near Cetinje. Prior to WWII he served in the Yugoslav army with an officer’s rank.
When WWII broke out, Popivoda joined the National Liberation Army, rising to a position in the General Staff.
In November 1942 he served in Slovenia, and the wiki lists out the various Slovenian divisions he headed.
In 1944 was promoted to Colonel (Serbian pukovnik, which is the same as the Russian word polkovnik) and transferred into Serbia, where he was put in charge of the 22nd Serbian Division.
After the war ended, Popivoda was dispatched to the Soviet Union, where he spent 2 years studying at the military academy. While there, he married a Russian girl named Kira Gligorevna, the daughter of a Soviet general. With her he had a son.
On his return to Yugoslavia, Popivoda was appointed Commander of the Air Force (vazuhoplovstvo) and promoted to the rank of Major-General.
In 1948 with the rift in relations between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, Popivoda took the Soviet side and emigrated to the Soviet Union. Here is how he escaped: On August 16 he stole a training plane Polikarpov Po-2 and flew off to Romania. From there he took another plane (?) and flew to Moscow. Making sure to return the first plane to the Yugoslav army (?)
Arriving in Moscow, he was greeted like a hero, inducted into the Soviet army, and given the rank of Major-General of Aviation.
The Yugoslavs were not happy with Popivoda’s aerial feats, they regarded him as a deserter and deprived him of his previously earned medals. The Soviets consoled him by awarding him a new set of medals,
Popivoda died in 1979, in the Soviet Union.
[to be continued]