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Socialist Yugoslavia - Nonalignment

Fearing that Soviet control of Eastern Europe was slipping, Stalin ceased advocating "national roads to socialism" in 1947 and ordered creation of a Soviet-dominated socialist bloc. In September the Soviet, East European, Italian, and French communist parties founded the Cominform (Communist Information Bureau), a successor to the prewar Comintern (Communist International) that Stalin had hoped to manipulate for the benefit of the Soviet Union.

Establishment of Cominform headquarters in Belgrade strengthened the image that Yugoslavia was the staunchest Soviet ally in Eastern Europe. Stalin, however, saw Yugoslavia's independent Communists as a threat to his hold on Eastern Europe, and hidden resentment strained relations between the Yugoslav and Soviet leaders. Resentment had grown on the Yugoslav side during the war because of Stalin's objections to the Partisans' political initiatives, his refusal to provide the Partisans military aid early in the struggle, and his wartime agreements with Churchill and Roosevelt. After the war, Yugoslav leaders complained about Red Army looting and raping in Yugoslavia during 1944 and 1945, and about unfair trade arrangements. The Yugoslavs also resisted establishment of joint companies that would have allowed Moscow to dominate their economy.

In early 1948, the Soviets stalled negotiations on a Yugoslav-Soviet trade treaty, and they began claiming that the Red Army had liberated Yugoslavia and facilitated the Partisan victory. In March, Moscow withdrew Soviet military and civilian advisers from Yugoslavia, charging the Yugoslavs with perversion of Stalinist dogma. The Yugoslavs rejected the charges, criticized the Soviets for recruiting spies within the Yugoslav party, military, police, and enterprises, and defiantly asserted that a communist could love his native land no less than the USSR. This insubordination infuriated Stalin, and Yugoslav-Soviet exchanges grew more heated. Finally, at a special session in Bucharest that the Yugoslavs refused to attend, the Cominform shocked the world by expelling Yugoslavia and calling upon Yugoslav communists to overthrow Tito.

At first the Yugoslav party responded to the Cominform measures with conciliatory overtures. Portraits of Stalin, Marx, Engels, and Tito hung side by side at the Fifth Party Congress in July 1948, and the delegates chanted pledges of support for Stalin and the Soviet Union. In a lengthy address, Tito refuted Soviet charges against Yugoslavia, but he refrained from attacking Stalin. The vast majority of Yugoslavs supported Tito. The press publicized Soviet attacks widely; Moscow appealed for loyalty, but its appeals were nullified by renewed claims that the Red Army had liberated Yugoslavia from fascism. A few prominent Yugoslav communists did defect, and for five years after 1948 the regime imprisoned thousands of suspected pro-Soviet communists.

The Yugoslav regime strove to prove its allegiance to Stalin after 1948. It answered Moscow's criticisms by supporting Soviet foreign policy and implementing additional Stalinist economic measures. In 1949 the Yugoslav government began collectivizing agriculture; over the next two years, it used a carrot-and-stick approach to induce 2 million peasants to join about 6,900 collective farms. The campaign, however, caused a decrease in agricultural output, and the use of coercion eroded peasant support for the government. Peasant resistance and a 1950 drought that threatened the cities with starvation soon stalled the collectivization drive. The government announced the program's cancellation in 1951.

In 1949 Yugoslavia stood isolated. Relations with the West worsened because of the bitter dispute with Italy over Trieste, the regime's refusal to compensate foreigners for nationalized property, continued Yugoslav support for the communists in Greece, and other issues. The Soviet-bloc governments launched an economic blockade against Yugoslavia, excluding it from the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance ( CEMA). The Soviets propagandized harshly against "Judas" Tito in Serbo-Croatian broadcasts, attempted to subvert Yugoslav party organizations, and sought to incite unrest among the Hungarian, Albanian, and Russian minorities in Yugoslavia.

Troop movements and border incidents convinced Yugoslav leaders that a Soviet-bloc invasion was imminent, requiring fundamental changes in foreign policy. In July 1949, Tito closed the Yugoslav-Greek border and ceased supplying the pro-Cominform Greek communists, and in August Yugoslav votes in the United Nations began to stray from the Soviet line. Welcoming the Yugoslav-Soviet rift, the West commenced a flow of economic aid in 1949, saved the country from hunger in 1950, and covered much of Yugoslavia's trade deficit for the next decade. The United States began shipping weapons to Yugoslavia in 1951. A military security arrangement was concluded in 1953, but the Western powers were unable to bring Yugoslavia into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Italy won control of Trieste in 1954.

Yugoslav-Soviet relations showed signs of new life soon after Stalin died in March 1953. In an unprecedented gesture, Nikita Khrushchev, first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, visited Tito in Belgrade in 1955. Khrushchev expressed the regrets of the Soviet party for the rift, although he did not blame it on Stalin directly. Tito rejected this explanation, and after formal discussions the Yugoslav and Soviet leaders decided to resume only state relations. In the final communique of the meeting, known as the Belgrade Declaration, the Soviet Union acknowledged the right of individual socialist countries to follow their own path toward socialism.

The Yugoslav and Soviet parties restored relations in 1956, and at the Soviet Communist Party's Twentieth Congress, Khrushchev blasted Stalin for his "shameful role" in the Yugoslav-Soviet estrangement. After a visit to the Soviet Union in June that deepened the rapprochement, Tito entertained hopes that all of Eastern Europe would adopt some version of Yugoslavia's model for socialist development. Movement toward liberalization in the Soviet bloc, however, ground to a halt with the 1956 Hungarian revolution and the Soviet invasion that crushed it. Yugoslav-Hungarian relations cooled after the execution of Imre Nagy, the Hungarian revolutionary leader who had taken asylum in the Yugoslav embassy in Budapest. Yugoslav-Soviet relations were unstable in the years following the Hungarian invasion, but by 1961 they had entered a period of detente.

Nonalignment became the keystone of Yugoslavia's foreign policy in the 1950s. While isolated from the Great Powers, Yugoslavia strove to forge strong ties with Third World countries similarly interested in avoiding an alliance with East or West and the hard choice between communism and capitalism. Tito found common ground with Egypt's president Gamal Abdel Nasser and India's prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and they worked together to organize a movement of Third World nations whose collective statements on international issues would carry greater weight than their individual voices. In 1961 Belgrade hosted the first major conference of the world's nonaligned nations. Tito used the prestige gained from the meeting and from his denunciations of neocolonialism to enhance the leverage gained by positioning Yugoslavia between East and West.

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Page last modified: 21-09-2013 15:09:03 ZULU