“I must really say that he is a veteran Communist, this Herr Josip Broz, a consistent man. Unfortunately he is our enemy. He really has earned his title of Marshal. When we catch him we shall do him in at once; you can be sure of that; he is our enemy. But I wish we had a dozen Titos in Germany… “ (Heinrich Himmler)
“We have said, and we will always say again, that we are opposed to the intervention of foreign military forces. But which was the lesser evil? Chaos, civil war, counter-revolution, and a new world war, or an intervention by Soviet troops? … I say clearly that the first alternative was the worst thing that could have occurred, and the second, the intervention of Soviet troops, was a necessary evil.” (Tito on the Hungarian Revolution of 1956)
[Both quotes from Jasper Ridley, Tito: A Biography (Constable and Company Ltd., 1994]
Today finishing my review of this historical piece by Evgeny Krutikov. Where we left off, the Stalin-Tito feud was in full bloom. Stalin was dispatching assassins to try to put a cap in Tito. Tito vigorously defended himself and threatened to send counter-assassins, like, maybe give Stalin a taste of his own medicine. Of the two men, Tito had more experience on the battlefield: as a partisan commander his feats had been so legendary, that even his Nazi opponents gave him reluctant praise. His physical courage was never in any doubt.
To those who claim that Tito was an anti-Communist, this is clearly not true, as even a glancing knowledge of his biography shows. In fact, later, in 1956, after Stalin was dead and the feud had cooled down, Tito defended Soviet tanks moving into Hungary in 1956 to restore order. Clearly not the act of an anti-Communist. One could boldly state, that Tito never had a problem with Communism, or even with the Soviet Union. His problem was just with one guy: Stalin. Once Stalin died, the problem went away. “No people, no problem” as Stalin himself was once alleged to have said. [A fake quote, I hasten to add.]
Not A Team Player
Where we left off yesterday, Stalin’s “favorite”, as the French say, was a Slovenian Communist named Pero Popivoda. Stalin felt no pangs of conscience misusing Pero’s considerable military talents by attempting to turn him into an assassin. One wonders why Stalin did not employ his best assassin for this dirty task, namely, Nahum Eitingon, the mastermind of the Trotsky assassination. Well, maybe the latter was already gearing himself up for the infamous “Jewish Doctors Plot” soon to be on the horizon.
But Stalin possessed other resources, such as all the printing presses of the satellite nations. In Czechoslovakia a new “émigré” Yugoslav paper came into being, called “Nova Borba” (“New Struggle”), as a jab at the official Yugoslav Communist newspaper “Borba” (“Struggle”). The New Struggle went out all-medieval on the “Tito-Ranković” clique, practically spitting its venom all over the place like green ink. As Krutikov remarks, these attacks against Tito were all-pervasive in the Soviet press. You couldn’t even swing a dead cat in the Eastern bloc without hitting such a headline.
The Ranković in question, as we touched on yesterday, being this guy, Aleksandar Ranković, Tito’s second-in-command and better half, a tough hard-line Communist and Serbian patriot. According to his wiki page, Ranković is considered a national hero by modern-day Serbs, perhaps a precursor to the martyred Slobodan Milošević. Ranković tended to balance out Tito (who would bend over backwards to accommodate the other nationalities) by defending traditional Serbian interests, such as Kosovo. All in all, the two men made a good team. Unlike Stalin who, as we have seen, was not a team player at all. With Stalin, it was “My way or the highway”.
As to the allegations of “Nova Borba” and the other Stalinist mouth-pieces, as to the supposed counter-revolutionary inclinations of the Yugoslav leaders, one need only remind oneself, that this is the same guy who accused practically all the Old Bolsheviks of being Nazi spies. Of Lenin’s entire team leaving just Stalin and a handful of his cronies as the only pure ones left who didn’t sell out to the fascists.
Amazing that there are some “Furries” out there in the world who still believe this crap. And these same people will also believe that Tito was a British spy. But I digress…
Krutikov writes that Stalin considered the option of direct military intervention to remove Tito. As in, moving Soviet tanks into Yugoslavia to restore order. However, these plans were rejected, due to the fact that the Soviets would have to rely on allies Bulgaria and Romania — whose military capabilities were dubious, at best. Here the Soviet generals got the final word, and, Slava Bogu, were actually listened to.
The Yugoslavs, in turn, were preparing for an incursion and had a plan in place. Their plan was to withdraw into the mountainous reasons of Montenegro, Bosnia and Kosovo, and there unfold full-out partisan war against the Soviet invaders. Thank the gods it never came to that! But the interesting fact, as Krutikov points out, is that the preparations themselves led to a change in the structure of the Yugoslav army, which persisted all the way to 1991, and even affecting the later Balkan wars of 1991-1995. This consisted of the following: In preparation for Soviet invasion, the Yugoslav army was divided into two parts: the regular cadre army; and the local defense militias. The latter were territory-based and possessed varying weaponry. Due to their territorial nature, these militias later became prone to go over to the side of the nationalist forces, whereas the federal standing army remained pro-Serbian.
Krutikov draws the following conclusions from this interesting history:
- Stalin was right to restrain Tito-Dimitrov from creating a Balkan “super-state”, this would have for sure provoked an Anglo-American intervention. Or maybe not. And maybe this super-state would have come crashing down even bigger than Yugoslavia eventually did. Or maybe not. Since real history does not concern itself with “What-If” scenarios.
- For many Serbs, this era of history is associated with the geographical toponym of “Goli Otok”, which is Serbian for “Naked Island”. This is a tiny island off the Croatian shore which was used as a prison even back in Austro-Hungarian times. During the Yugoslav Partisan times, Croatian Ustashi and Serbian Chetniki were put in there. A few years later, in 1948, “Stalinists” and “anti-Titoites” joined the latter in their cells. Before one rushes to condemn this repression, one needs to recall that Pero Popivoda was not the only “deserter” nor the only wannabe assassin that Tito had to deal with. Stalin had more than one arrow in his quiver.
- Serbian film-maker Emir Kusturica made a movie about this island prison in 1985, called Otac na službenom putu (“Father went away on business”). Which is how most Serbs know anything about this time in their history.
- “Goli Otok” is now a museum, no more prisoners there.