Memorandum by Mr. Cavendish W. Cannon of the Division of European Affairs
The Mihajlović-Partisan Problem in Yugoslavia
The European Division has tried to examine all accounts from whatever source, of the Mihajlović-Partisan dispute in Yugoslavia. The situation now appears to be about as follows:
- Mihajlović certainly has been conserving his forces, limiting his activity to occasional acts of sabotage which, however, are usually [Page 1005]very effective, because planned and executed with, professional skill. He probably has only a few thousand men actually in the field, but could call in perhaps 300,000 when the time comes for a major operation. It is this strategy of delay, with a view to integrating his operations in general United Nations strategy, which is at the root of most of the criticism against him. He is particularly unpopular with elements everywhere who are urging the “second front.”
- There is no evidence whatever that Mihajlović has acted in collusion with the Germans. There may have been some minor traffic—which may, however, be a kind of fifth-column work—with the puppet regime (Neditch) in Belgrade. He has not refuted very satisfactorily the charges of his relations with the Italians. He certainly has received some supplies and equipment from them, probably in exchange for prisoners, and has not been fighting against them. That he has actually participated with them in actions against the Partisans appears doubtful.
- At times his men have certainly fought against the Partisans. His defense is that this was in those regions where the more lawless elements were ravaging the countryside and he acted to “free the peasantry from this scourge.” We understand that he has been admonished against this by his Government, and it seems to be a fact that lately there have been no important clashes between Mihajlović and the Partisans.
- There was undoubtedly great exaggeration of Mihajlović’s achievements, and this propaganda, built up by the Government in exile for purposes of its own prestige, is partly responsible for the attacks made by the opponents of that regime. At the same time, it is equally true that the advocates of the Partisans have also been guilty of gross exaggeration.
- The British have a liaison mission with Mihajlović. These officers have sometimes quarrelled with him, and we can suppose that their reports have not been entirely objective. Consequently, the British policy has wavered. A few weeks ago the British let us know that they intended to establish liaison also with the Partisans, but as of the end of last week the British Embassy here understood that this project had again been abandoned. British policy is understood to be still to support Mihajlović, but to distribute their encouragement to all “patriots”. They seem not to have had much if any success in effecting a reconciliation between the two factions.
- The Soviet authorities still deny any actual help to or leadership of the Partisans. They reaffirm that they do not concern themselves with the internal affairs of other states. Nevertheless we can now accept as probably true the report that they recently revived, by a communication to the Yugoslav Government in London, the charges they made last August against Mihajlović.
- Recent press reports indicate that there may be basis for the reports brought from London by Ambassador Fotitch to the effect that Partisan activity is declining. Mr. Fotitch says that the people are rallying to Mihajlović; it is more reasonable to assume that the campaigns of the Germans, the Croatian Ustachis and, to a lesser degree, the Italians, against the Partisans have been much more effective than last year.
- The Yugoslav Government under British pressure, was supposed to have taken steps to coordinate the two (or more) systems of resistance, thus giving some recognition to the Partisans. We judge from Mr. Fotitch’s remarks that this was not done.
- The Partisan “government” at Bihac seems to have collapsed, if indeed it ever amounted to more than a temporary committee for political planning. At the same time the character of Partisan activity in some regions seems to have shifted to comprise a rather broad national front. Perhaps it never was correct to label the Partisans as “communists” in general, though there is evidence that in the early days some Soviets were set up.
- Mihajlović has in his organization a committee for political planning. Not much is known about it. His critics may say that it is to serve as a link between the Government in exile and the people at home. It seems, however, to have been Mihajlović’s own idea, for advice in his military operations and as a counterweight to the political character of much of the Partisans’ activity. It has announced no “program”.
- Only small amounts of supplies from the British are getting through to Mihajlović. The British still control his communications. In periods of tension between the British Foreign Office and the Yugoslav Government the Yugoslavs complain that they are not permitted to communicate directly with Mihajlović, and suggest that some of their messages, and his in reply, do not get through, and others may be “mutilated” in transmission. This is one of the chief Yugoslav grievances at the present time.