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A British diplomat describes the post-war situation in Tito’s Yugoslavia – when it also became clear to the West that the Communists were a hoax

In his assessment of the situation in Yugoslavia, the British diplomat who worked in Yugoslavia wrote, among other things, that the Liberation Front (OF) had been led by Communists from the very beginning, and there was ample evidence that the Communists’ main goal was to create conditions in which they will be able to take power after the war and establish a dictatorship. He pointed out that opportunism may have played a greater role than idealism and patriotism in Communist politics – which was also reflected in a degree of collaboration with the occupier. Many Slovenes did not join the partisans precisely because of the inhuman demands of the Communists – which led them to patriotism, which was later described as collaboration, albeit in many cases unjustly. It can certainly be said, the author of the report concluded, that for the people who ruled Yugoslavia it was domestic to use certain methods to gain and maintain power. And it is possible that they will continue to use these methods, such as lying, killing, betrayal and cruelty, in the future, if this will contribute to achieving their goals, he correctly predicted.

In the eternal polemic over what is happening in Yugoslavia, there seem to be at least three different questions that, if put together, can cause some confusion, wrote in 1946 in his description of the situation in Yugoslavia Frank Waddams, who was in Yugoslavia as a British diplomat. According to him, the first question talks about what happened during the war; whether the partisans were leaders of the resistance and whether the chetniks and other rebel groups rebelled against the Germans, or whether they cooperated with the occupying authorities. The second question was about what would follow the war, whether Tito’s government’s promises to allies to establish a democratic state in Yugoslavia would be fulfilled, and whether Yugoslavs enjoyed the fundamental human rights embodied in the Atlantic Charter. And the third question was closely related to the attitude of Tito’s government towards Waddams’ state, that is, whether friendly relations between Yugoslavia and Great Britain were possible at all or not. “I separate these questions because they do not all necessarily have the same answer, even though they are interconnected; and I will try to tackle each one in turn, although I will say the most about the situation after the war, namely I have the most experience with that,” he wrote, touching upon the problems that affected Slovenia, where the OF was a partisan political organisation.

It is true that at the end of the war the OF was able to take the most credit for resisting the enemy than any other group; at the end of the war, it was the only resistance group left. This was for several reasons, not only due to the fact that it was the only Slovenian organisation that was equipped with British weapons and with the help of the allies. It is true that the OF was led by the Communists from the very beginning, and there is ample evidence that the main goal of the Communists was to create conditions in which they could take power after the war and establish a dictatorship.

The British diplomat also found that the Communists were opportunists and initially German allies

For the first time, on March 27th, 1941, after the signing of the protocol on Yugoslavia’s accession to the Triple Alliance, a coup d’état of King Peter took place, overthrowing Dragiša Cvetković and his government. Although they knew that this meant a war with Germany, the entire population of Slovenia welcomed this coup d’état, which rejected subordination to Germany. The coup was also supported by all political parties, except the Communists, who took the position that this was an imperialist war, for which Slovenian workers should shed their blood. Only after the Germans occupied Slovenia did the communists change their minds and decide that the Germans might still be enemies. This fact should be mentioned not because it is important in itself, but because it suggests that perhaps opportunism played a greater role than idealism and patriotism, in communist politics.

Waddams writes that in the first days of the occupation there were many resistance groups in Ljubljana and one of them was the Liberation Front (OF), in which there were several political groups, but mostly dominated by communists. A left wing group of Christian Socialists was also present. They decided to take drastic steps to maintain a monopoly on resistance propaganda. Another resistance group was more liberal, Young Yugoslavia, and it was to be expected that this group would also cooperate with the others. But because the OF was interested in maintaining a monopoly on propaganda, it sent a gang to that end, destroying the machines with which newspapers were printed. Interestingly, they did not put as much effort into destroying those who collaborated with the Germans, the report said. When Dušan Simović, who was the head of King Peter’s government, announced in London that Dragoljub (Draža) Mihailović was the leader of the uprising in Yugoslavia, and that all resistance groups must accept his orders, the OF’s response was extremely violent. They immediately attacked Mihailović’s organisation and all those who had promised loyalty to him. In 1941, they considered themselves strong enough to declare that Mihailović’s organisation did not have a monopoly on resistance to the enemy, but that they, OF, were the only legal resistance group, while all in other rebel groups were traitors who as such could be punished. At this point, they were also left by another left wing group called Pravda, which had previously collaborated with OF. Such disloyalty to the official government seemed inadmissible to them. It is clear that all this, among other things, laid the foundations of the civil war, which later decimated the Slovene nation, and from it the only one that gained anything was the Communist Party, and other political opponents were removed.

Even during the war, the Communists were willing to make pacts with the Nazis

Waddams also writes that for many Slovenes loyal to their constitutional government, it was completely unacceptable to join the partisans, because that would mean that they had renounced their oath of allegiance. The partisans tried to ensure that no other political group should join them, but only individuals of other political groups – otherwise they were convicted as traitors. To join them was to submit to all the heinous machines of the system of political commissars and to submit to the worst cruelties of Marxist doctrine, which was generally the only teaching, whether political or military, given to partisan soldiers. There is much evidence to suggest that the Communists were willing to cooperate with the occupiers, that is, with the Germans and the Italians, in achieving their goals. In 1934, for example, they joined forces with the Italians to get rid of 200 corpses of the Blue Guards. This was a group of Slovenes loyal to the king and the London authorities. For some time, there was apparently an agreement with the Germans, regarding the Ljubljana-Trieste railway, which was the main link between Austria and Italy – but it was not attacked by partisans – in exchange for the Germans not attacking partisan fortifications. Partisans under communist rule were therefore prepared to use all communist methods, from assassinations to accusations, as well as collaboration – if necessary to achieve their goals. “Which, of course, does not mean that this was true of most partisans – many of them were conscientious and decent Yugoslavs,” Waddams emphasised. The patriotic façade of the commanding communists provided both British and Yugoslav support – without which they would have been doomed. Many Yugoslavs resisted accepting the conditions required of them by the Communists to join the Partisans. Many preferred to flee their attacks and many were then accused of collaborating with the Germans after the war. Some who lived in Slovenia at the time testified that it was not a liberation struggle, but a struggle between communists and opponents of the communists. And just as the first group fell into the hands of extremists, so did the second. Wanting to get rid of its enemies, it also – if necessary, made pacts with the occupiers.

Freedoms, which are essential for democracy, have never really been established in Yugoslavia

For a long time after the war, the British press was almost unanimously enthusiastic about the state of Yugoslavia; The laws passed by the Provisional Legislature, AVNOJ in the autumn of 1945, were a good reason for this enthusiasm because they provided all the usual freedoms essential to democracy – for example, freedom of the press, freedom from unjustified arrest, freedom of speech, freedom of gathering and so on; in reality, however, these laws were never enforced. “And if we want to talk about post-war Yugoslavia, we have to mention the secret or political police called the OZNA,” said the British diplomat, explaining that the whole system was centralised around the OZNA, so it is really difficult to talk about a real federalist system – which was praised by many in Yugoslavia and abroad. In fact, no one could decide on anything without obtaining consent from Belgrade. Some were even of the opinion that the federalist regime brought only the payment of 178 ministers instead of 21. As far as the OZNA was concerned, every block, every military barracks, every room, every street had so-called scout or member of the OF – he could also be called an informant, whose task was to report on the behaviour or political reliability of people who fell under his “district”. Information, for example from an apartment block, was then transferred to a slightly higher, district authority, then to the city, from where the data roamed to Belgrade. There is evidence that they received orders from the East to Belgrade. There were many Russians in the OZNA as well as in the army and police. The OZNA had the power to decide between the lives and deaths of all people, and no one was allowed to question the justification of arrests or disappearances. A record was kept of each inhabitant’s characteristics, which were also adapted if necessary. For example, if anyone had any affiliation with any of the political parties before the war, this was a central theme of his profile. Those who were not members of the Communist Party were mostly deprived or prevented of important positions, which was also evident in the cases of two ministers, Franc Snoj and Lado Vavpetič – the latter was even arrested for this purpose. In the report, Waddams also wonders about the November elections – whether they were free or not, which was of course a big question. However, he certainly found it suspicious that the Communists had won with such a big advantage – in Austria, where the population structure was quite similar to that in Slovenia, the result was completely different.

The return of the Home Guard – one of the biggest mistakes of the British

Initially, these were Slovenes who joined a network intended to defend the village from invasions and plunder by partisans, which was a burning problem for the villagers. Eventually, however, the Home Guard came under the rule of the occupiers. Although in some ways they were justifiably accused of collaboration, they were mostly peasant people who, in the context of right or wrong, did not think much further than defending their own lives and their property. Most of them were on the side of the alliance, they often helped the allies, who landed on Slovenian soil with parachutes, hid them and made sure that they could return home safely or that they were not captured by the Germans. Many home guards went to Austria and surrendered to the British, but many also stayed at home and then reported to the partisans when they took control. At the end of May, the British from Austria sent thousands of Home Guards back to their home soil and their fate was disastrous. The vast majority were murdered in cruel ways in massacres, for which there is also much evidence – for which, of course, Yugoslavia showed no enthusiasm to come to light. They were murdered in several places, for example in Kočevski Rog, as well as in Hrastnik and near Maribor and Celje, Waddams listed, adding that there were also concentration camps, in Slovenia there were at least ten of them, and in them there were between 30,000 and 40,000 people imprisoned, which is a huge number given the fact that there were just over a million Slovenes. One woman, whose husband was allegedly linked to the Home Guard, said she was locked in a small room with 92 other women and 20 children – the youngest of whom was only eight months old. The oldest woman was 82 years old. There they remained imprisoned for two and a half months, day and night, each day given only a plate of bean soup. During all this time, they did not even ask her of her name – which indicated that they were not even interested in who they had imprisoned. Torture was used in these camps as well as in German or Russian labour camps.

Monopolies over all branches of government and the media

In any democratic country, the legislative system must be independent, in Yugoslavia the judiciary was anything but. Law, too, was only a tool of the Communists, like everything else. If anyone dared to criticise the decision of the courts, a cruel fate could befall all involved. In a particular case, a judge was convicted, and the convict received, instead of ten years in prison, a death sentence. This was a warning in advance that things are better left alone, even if they seem unfair. Even the trials were actually not trials at all, but everything was decided in advance, and the rest was a show for the public. At the trial, where 34 people were accused of collaboration, as many as 17 of them were sentenced to death. There were, of course, many cases where individuals were completely wrongfully sentenced to death due to collaboration. Among them, according to the diplomat, was, for example, someone who was imprisoned in Dachau for anti-German activities, but was nevertheless killed after the war. The report on the situation in Yugoslavia also describes the situation on the media scene at the time. The newspapers were not full of news, but were filled with political indoctrination, distorted truth, and anti-American and anti-British literature. Someone at the US Embassy in Belgrade spent six months analysing the newspapers and found that 10 percent of the news was about the Soviet Union – all of which was positive, of course, and 2 percent of the news was about Western Allies – most of it was criticism or misleading. The ratio was similar in Slovenian newspapers. For a short time, the Oznanilo was also published, which was more religiously coloured and completely non-political, but this soon stopped – saying that there was not enough paper. So much for press freedom. The position of the church at that time is well described in the letter of the Yugoslav bishop, but it should be briefly mentioned at least that all church schools were confiscated and handed over to the Liberation Front. All the Sisters of Mercy were removed from the hospitals; they were replaced by partisans. In the field of education, Tito introduced pioneers who were the Yugoslav version of Hitler’s youth. The pioneers paraded through the city streets and shouted political slogans – which would be quite comical if it were not really tragic. Indoctrination was also clearly evident in the textbooks that replaced the pre-war ones.

To those in power in Yugoslavia it was familiar to use certain methods to gain power – including lying and killing

The Yugoslav authorities liked to defend themselves, saying that the current situation was only temporary until a path will be found after the war that would be right and more favourable for the Yugoslav people. But all the steps seemed to be retrograde, that is, steps back instead of forward. And no step was taken for the good of the nation, but for the benefit of the Communist Party and the strengthening of its power. There was also no economic growth in return for sacrificing political freedom, as was often claimed. Rather than that, many things were destroyed, and people in the countryside returned back to about two decades ago and were much poorer than before the war. Only Ljubljana managed to survive. Waddams further explained that the anti-British attitude of the Communists dates back to the years before the end of the war. At that time, they were otherwise willing to accept their help, but not their friendship; even then, they minimised British efforts and attributed aid to a wide variety of motives. The entire state propaganda machine was used to impose hatred on Britain and everything it advocated. The people of Slovenia have always been very kind to the British by nature, but the attitude was decided by communist policy. The Trieste question was very good material for building further policy.

It can certainly be said, the author of the report found, that it is familiar for the people who rule Yugoslavia to use certain methods to gain and maintain power. And it is possible that they will continue to use these methods, such as lying, killing, betrayal and cruelty, in the future, if this will contribute to achieving their goals. He was obviously right, some of these moves can still be seen today, in the descendants or proud successors of the Communists.

Sara Bertoncelj

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