Executive Secretariat Files

Briefing Book Paper

Principal Yugoslav Problems


The Partisan organization appears in fact to be in effective control of the liberated parts of Yugoslavia. Its present armed strength, the presence of Soviet armies under a formal agreement with Marshal Tito, and the political support of the British and Soviet Governments, over a period of many months, have created a situation in which the Partisan leaders have taken advantage of their achievements in guerrilla warfare for the creation of a powerful political organization. Its active opponents, such as the Nationalist movement under such leaders as General Mihailovic, and the less coherent opposition groups such as the Croatian Peasant Party and the Slovenian clericals, for the time being are reduced to sullen impotence. All indications point to the intention of the Partisans to establish a thoroughly totalitarian regime, in order to maintain themselves in power.

The Tito-Subasic agreement, now awaiting the King’s approval in London, would transfer the effective powers of government to the Tito organization, with just enough participation of the Government in exile to facilitate recognition by other governments. The Soviet and British Governments have firmly advocated an acceptance of this agreement. This Government has refused to exert influence on the King, and has pointed out that while the language of the agreement is in line with our ideas, the real test will be the good will of the new administration in its execution.

We have also placed on record our uncertainty as to what extent the proposed agreement, in the formulation of which both Mr. Churchill and Marshal Stalin seem to have had a part, may be related to the arrangements between the British and Soviet Governments defining their respective interests in Southeastern Europe.

If an effort is made to associate this Government with this Yugoslav arrangement, it is recommended: (1) that we should emphasize our complete independence of action in dealing with the Yugoslav situation, despite any commitments which may be or may have been made [Page 263] by the British and Soviet Governments; and (2) that we should make any endorsement of a new administration in Yugoslavia contingent on freedom of movement and access to public opinion in Yugoslavia for our observers to survey the situation.

We could say frankly that Marshal Tito and his subordinates have not shown a disposition toward cooperation or even common civility in recent weeks. His refusal to cooperate in military plans is beyond the scope of this paper, but the attitude on questions of relief negotiations, censorship restrictions, refusal to grant travel facilities for Allied observers, the Partisan territorial demands, and propaganda policies, all show that the Partisan leadership is not disposed to work in loyal cooperation toward the general aims of the United Nations.

Note: The above summary and attached statement were based on the situation existing before King Peter had given any public indication of his attitude with respect to the Tito-Subasic agreement. It has just been announced that the Kong has refused to accept the agreement in its present form because of (1) the suggested form of the regency and (2) the provision that the Partisan Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation would wield unrestricted legislative powers until the proposed constitutent assembly had finished its work. The King feels that these provisions would transfer the power in Yugoslavia to a single political group, Marshal Tito’s National Liberation Front.

At this writing we do not know whether negotiations on the agreement will continue (the King has indicated his approval of the agreement’s basic proposals) or whether Marshal Tito will refuse to continue the conversations and request recognition of his organization as the de jure government of Yugoslavia.

Principal Yugoslav Problems

Tito - Subasic Negotiations. Conversations are now in progress in London between the British and Royal Yugoslav Governments concerning ratification of agreements concluded during recent months between Yugoslav Prime Minister Dr. Subasic and Marshal Tito, the leader of the National Liberation Front (Partisan movement) in Yugoslavia, looking toward the establishment of a united, federal government in Yugoslavia.1 Mr. Churchill is now pressing King Peter for ratification of the agreements, which would set up (1) a Royal Regency designed to exercise royal prerogatives pending a decision as to the future of the Monarchy, (2) a legislative body consisting of delegates to the Partisan Anti-Fascist Council, which would also enact a law providing for later elections to a constituent assembly, and (3) an executive group or cabinet composed almost [Page 264] exclusively of Partisan representatives, which would also be charged with establishing a new judicial system.

We have been asked by the British Government to state our position with reference to the agreements mentioned, in connection with the London conversations. We have instructed Mr. Patterson not to enter into a discussion of the proposed agreements, because of the vagueness of the terminology and the technicalities of Yugoslav law involved, and have indicated that (1) if the King accepts the agreements, the question of our “recognition” of the fusion Government would not arise, and (2) should the King reject the agreements and Marshal Tito request recognition of his own organization as the de jure government, we would wish to re-examine the situation within Yugoslavia.

Our instructions to Mr. Patterson have been communicated to King Peter and Prime Minister Subasic, as well as the British Government, which has also been furnished a re-statement of our Yugoslav policy, namely: (1) our desire that the Yugoslav people work out their own forms of government, without foreign influence or imposition of the rule of any one national or political group, (2) our willingness to extend military aid to all resistance forces, without political distinction, (3) our conviction that desire for reform is general in Yugoslavia and not the monopoly of any one group, (4) our hope that genuine representatives of the people will be assembled to speak for them, and (5) our uncertainty as to the part played in the Yugoslav problem by British-Soviet understandings with respect to their respective interests in Southeastern Europe.

American Representation. We recently instructed Mr. Kirk in his capacity as Political Adviser to the Mediterranean Commander, to send two members of his staff to Belgrade to look after American interests informally. Thus far Partisan authorities have refused to allow these representatives to enter Yugoslavia, but Mr. Kirk is pressing the matter very firmly.

Relief Negotiations. Negotiations for the conclusion of a relief agreement to operate in Yugoslavia during the military period preceding the assumption by UNRRA of relief responsibilities were interrupted last November by the departure of the principal Partisan delegate to seek instructions, particularly with reference to the question of Allied observers to oversee the distribution of supplies.

We have insisted on observers with a view to insuring the impartial distribution of supplies and to avoid allowing such supplies to be used as a weapon of political coercion.

The Partisan delegate did not return to Bari, and while the negotiations have been resumed at Belgrade a Partisan propaganda campaign has been emphasizing that Allied relief was being withheld from starving Yugoslavs by the Anglo-American insistence on sending [Page 265] observers into Yugoslavia in derogation of Yugoslav sovereignty, and that the Soviet Union, on the other hand, was making generous shipments of wheat available for Yugoslav consumption, to which the only obstacle was the Allied failure to furnish necessary shipping for its transportation from Black Sea ports. Supplementing this propaganda campaign was one initiated by certain organizations in the United States calling for the release of Yugoslav ships from the Allied shipping pool for the transportation of relief goods to Yugoslavia.

The CCAC has agreed to transport American relief goods to Yugoslavia, but has declined to assign specific ships for this purpose.2 The negotiations for a relief agreement have recently been resumed, with good prospects for success.

Mihailovich. General Mihailovich, the leader of the Nationalist movement which opposes the Partisans, was forced to retreat from Serbia into Bosnia following the entry of Soviet forces into Serbia late in September 1944. He has made repeated appeals for supplies to enable him to continue the fight against the Germans under Allied direction, all of which have been ignored by the Supreme Allied Commander, Mediterranean Theatre. Supporters of Mihailovich report that his army and the refugees who accompanied him are suffering great privations in the Bosnian mountains, and are under constant attack by Germans and Partisans.

It should be noted that reports of American observers tend to refute the charges against Mihailovich of collaboration with the Germans, and indicate that the Partisans, with the help of Allied military supplies, are fighting the nationalists and otherwise establishing a repressive political hegemony in Yugoslavia. The Allied observers attached to the Partisans do not have the freedom of movement which would enable them to evaluate the real situation.

Partisan Excesses. Official and unofficial reports received from Yugoslavia point to the probability that large-scale executions and confiscations of property of persons opposed to the Partisan movement are taking place. We have already received two inquiries from Congressmen regarding this question. Moreover, the present complaints originate from Serb elements in the United States, who form a decided minority of the Yugoslav-American population; if such terrorism is practiced in Croatia and Slovenia, when those areas are liberated from the enemy, we may expect vigorous protests not only from the large Croatian and Slovenian population in the United States but perhaps from Roman Catholic elements in general.

  1. See ante, pp. 251254.
  2. The assignment of ships was a function of the Combined (American and British) Shipping Adjustment Board and the shipping authorities of the two Governments, not of the Combined Civil Affairs Committee.