The Ambassador to the Yugoslav Government in Exile (Biddle) to the Secretary of State

No. 40

Sir: Supplementing my despatches Yugoslav Series No. 37, December 28, 1942,15 and No. 38, January 2, 1943, and my cables No. 1 and 2, January 4, 7 p.m., I have the honor to report that in lengthy conversation with Yugoslav Prime Minister Jovanović today, he referred to his previous promise to show me a copy of his instructions to Ambassador Fotić. He said he had not had time to formulate them, and would therefore welcome my giving some suggestions as to what he should include in his directive. In response, I told him that I considered that the most important point to stress, both for the Government here and for the Embassy in the United States, was the establishment of unity. I felt confident that this was his Government’s aim, and I felt that it would therefore be appropriate that he emphasize to Fotić the necessity of doing everything possible to bring about unity of thought and action amongst the Yugoslav refugees in the United States, as well as among the American citizens of Yugoslav [Page 967]descent and origin. With this as a basic policy, it would be well to instruct Ambassador Fotić to emphasize to the aforementioned elements the sincerity which motivated King Peter’s declaration of December 1.16 At the same time, Fotić would do well to point out that the Government was earnestly bent upon working out a formula for the practical application of this policy. Furthermore, I felt that the Embassy in Washington should be told that its connection with Srbobran and other “trouble-making” organs of the Yugoslav-language-press was no longer desirable in the eyes of the Yugoslav Government. I emphasized that he should “put teeth” in his instructions, otherwise they might possibly not be heeded as strictly as the situation demanded.

The Prime Minister stated he was in accord with my proposals; that if he succeeded in bringing Fotić and others to sever their connections with the aforementioned press, he earnestly hoped that the Communist and other opposition* press in the United States could in turn be brought to refrain from further attacks against the Government and General Mihailović. In response, I pointed out that we had a free press; that I considered that the best way to overcome the opposition of the so-called Communist press would be sincere and vigorous efforts on his Government’s part to bring about unity amongst the Yugoslavs both at home and abroad. Even the first tangible signs of earnest endeavours in this direction would undoubtedly reflect themselves in favorable comment, and in a softening of the tone of the attack. At any rate, I would communicate to my Government his stated hopes in the matter.

Turning thereupon to Yugoslav resistance inside Yugoslavia, I said I had the impression that his Government would also be bending its efforts towards formulating a political directive to General Mihailović envisaging the coordination of action between the various Yugoslav forces of resistance. The Prime Minister said that he and his associates were in search of just such a formula, but that it was extremely difficult to find one which might be applied effectively in Yugoslavia. [Page 968]It was indeed a difficult problem. It was out of the question to suppose that Mihailović would “knuckle under” the orders of the Communist leaders of the Partisan groups, and it was likewise improbable that the latter would “knuckle under” the General’s orders. Besides, the Communist leaders, during the early part of their participation in resistance against the Axis powers, had, upon the seizure of certain villages, attempted to set up local Soviets. This for Mihailović and his followers was a “bitter pill”. How to find some common ground of understanding looking towards unity of action was far from easy. Did I have any ideas? In response, I suggested that it might be possible to send the General a directive whereby he would initiate conversations with the Communist leaders looking towards an arrangement whereby (a) the Mihailović forces and the Partisans would cease fighting each other; (b) they would coordinate their efforts in their respective theatres of operation against the common enemy. As far as their political differences were concerned, I added, it might be best, in the interests of the state as a whole, to leave these to be “ironed out” after the common enemy was driven out.

As regards the appointment of a successor to Foreign Minister Nincić, I am aware that when the question arose, and Minister Grol’s name was brought forward for consideration, Minister Trifunović17 promptly stated that if Grol were appointed he would resign. Minister Gavrilović18 (Serb Radical Party) thereupon let it be known that Trifunović’s withdrawal would make it necessary for him likewise to withdraw. At the same time he indicated to his colleagues that the Serb parties would bring collective pressure upon Prime Minister Jovanović himself to withdraw. This led to a series of conferences between the Prime Minister and Trifunović and Grol, wherein Jovanović tried to bring about some form of compromise between the latter two. At the last of these conferences, Minister Grol stated that, if the representatives of the Agrarian and Radical parties both withdrew, he would find himself, as representative of the only purely Serb party, in too weak a position vis-à-vis the other Yugoslav parties to conduct an effective policy. He would therefore have to withdraw if the Radical and Agrarian Party representatives withdrew. It was as a result of this statement that Jovanović decided to take the portfolio provisionally.

Respectfully yours,

A. J. Drexel Biddle, Jr.
  1. Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. iii, p. 836.
  2. See telegram No. 8, December 2, 1942, from the Ambassador to the Yugoslav Government in Exile, Foreign Relations, 1942, Vol. iii, p. 831.
  3. I am aware that the Prime Minister had in mind Slobodna Rec, Free Expression, which I understand is both Communist inspired and controlled; that it follows the Daily Worker line of policy in addition to playing up the “Liberal” point of view; in other words that it is a “Front” paper. I also understand that its Pan-Slav line in recent months was successful in focussing favorable light on “big brother Russia”; that while such a line is inconsistent with communist policy, the editors of the Daily Worker found it tactically useful to farm it out to Slobodna Rec as a means of capturing the eye and imagination of that organ’s readers. In other words, the Pan-Slavic idea was employed as a “shoe horn” for the presentation of the real communist line to the leaders. [Footnote in the original.]
  4. In this connection, the Prime Minister said he earnestly hoped that our Government might find it possible to “soft-pedal” the press now engaged in attacking the Government and the General. [Footnote in the original.]
  5. Miloš Trifunović, Yugoslav Minister of Education.
  6. Milan Gavrilović, Minister of Justice.
  7. He had in mind the Croats and Slovenes. While Grol believes in a Yugoslav State and accordingly plays ball with the Croats and Slovenes to a greater extent than his fellow Serbs, he does not want to find himself alone against them in event he finds himself opposed to them on any given issue. [Footnote in the original.]