Memorandum by Mr. Carl F. Norden58 of the Division of Southern European Affairs
Immediately prior to my departure from Belgrade, I arranged with the cooperation of a personal friend, Mr. Sepic, private secretary to Mr. Subasic, and with Ambassador Patterson’s permission to pay a farewell call on Dr. Kardelj. I saw him for about forty-five minutes the morning of April 2nd. I had had one previous conversation with Dr. Kardelj about a month earlier, also at Sepic’s suggestion.
I told Dr. Kardelj that I was proceeding to Washington and would probably be asked a number of questions, particularly with regard to the implementation of the Yalta Declaration, and that I would prefer to have the answers directly from him, as he is the minister charged with preparations for the Constituent Assembly. He was most responsive and stated that he appreciated my coming to see him.
In reply to a number of specific questions he informed me that the committee for investigating the qualifications of the proposed additions to Avnoj membership, concerning which he had informed me a month earlier, had just been appointed and that it was proposed to add about fifty former deputies and probably some other persons as well. This could not, however, be done until the whole country had been liberated, and meanwhile it was proposed to enlarge the Praesidium of Avnoj by the inclusion of a number of the London ministers and possibly of some other London people. He went on to explain, as he had done previously, that the problem of enlarging Avnoj by the inclusion of members of the last parliament was most difficult since this parliament had not been freely elected and was not representative of the [Page 1221] country. I interjected that I believed the C. P. P.59 people at least would be representative since they had been in opposition to the dictatorship. Mr. Kardelj replied that while this might be the case, the bulk of the Croat deputies had irreparably compromised themselves by collaborating with the Pavelitch60 regime and that it would be difficult to find many clean people.
I asked Dr. Kardelj whether Dr. Ribar’s61 recent speech at the University of Belgrade, stating that the Jajce decisions62 were inviolable, should be considered an official pronouncement of the Government. He seemed rather taken aback by the question, and, after a moment’s consideration, stated that Dr. Ribar spoke in his own name and not in the name of the Government and that all these things would have to be decided by the Government as a whole. I told him that, while I could not of course speak for my Government, my feeling had been that the Ribar speech, coming shortly after the Djilas editorial, could give the impression of an intent to depreciate the substance of the Yalta Declaration. Dr. Kardelj protested that this was not the case, but that we should understand the difficulties the Government is sure to encounter in seeking to start on a new basis. He went on to say that there were many unfriendly elements who only desired a return to the old order in which they had had disproportionate political and economic power. These were the same elements who had either compromised with the Germans or failed to take a clean-cut stand, and were not representative of the nation. It was proposed, he said, in due course to permit an opposition and the presentation of opposition lists at elections, but these lists would not be permitted to include representatives of “reaction” and persons hostile to the objectives of the National Liberation Movement. The American type of democracy was not suitable for Yugoslavia, with its long record of dictatorship, conspiracy and falsified elections, the Yugoslavs would have to go about democracy in their own way.
Dr. Kardelj again expressed his regret that Ave in America did not appear to have sufficient understanding of what the movement stood for. I asked him if I could be helpful in this respect, and he responded most enthusiastically, going on to say that we must understand that [Page 1222] Belgrade is not Yugoslavia but a city of disgruntled former functionaries and financial interests bent upon resuming their old position and exploiting “the masses”. Under the old system many appointments were made through family ties without regard to the real capabilities of the persons involved, and naturally these people were unhappy to find themselves now no better than others.
I told Dr. Kardelj that I had been very favorably impressed with the vital and forward-looking spirit which I had seen among the Yugoslav people and that I believed Belgrade, in particular, had very great possibilities of future development if leeway were permitted for the expression of these energies. I asked him whether the apprehensions of small businessmen over the recent decree raising the taxes on small business ten-fold were justified. In his usual enthusiastic way he replied that these apprehensions were definitely unfounded and that not only small but also big business must live and was necessary, but that the state must become the principal factor in the country’s economy (in the course of the earlier conversation I had asked whether his socialization program might not lead toward autarchy, which had been a factor in bringing about this war, and he had replied that as a small country Yugoslavia could not be autarchic but on the contrary desired cooperation of foreign capital with its state enterprises, and a lively interchange of goods with other countries. Dr. Kardelj said, however, that “the exploitation of the proletariat” must cease.)
I used the opportunity to tell Dr. Kardelj that while I could speak only in a personal capacity, it was my feeling that a very great forward step in the stabilization of internal conditions would have taken place when a real amnesty could be proclaimed and all Yugoslavs, other than war criminals convicted as such by duly constituted courts, could return to their homes and contribute their share to the progress of the country. He agreed somewhat reluctantly but was careful to state that the list of traitors and war criminals was large and that a very big job of epuration would have to be done in the still occupied portions of the country and Serb “reaction” eliminated. Meanwhile, good progress in setting up an administrative organization had been made, concerning which he showed great satisfaction.
The interview was most cordial throughout. Kardelj impresses me as a sincere intellectual and patriot, honest and shrewd, but one who sees through glasses heavily tinted by his Comintern training and possibly Comintern directions. He is full of enthusiasm as are most of the new ministers, and like them finds it somewhat difficult to understand that everyone does not see things their way. He is considered the brains of the Government, although not a leader who would have much appeal to the public at large. I have suggested to Ambassador [Page 1223] Patterson and Mr. Shantz63 that they pay him particular attention. In my dealings with him I have avoided ideology and sought to make clear that our policies concerning liberated countries are the same for all regardless of whether their governments happen to be Right or Left, looking to a free expression of the popular will.
- Mr. Norden had been recalled to Washington, and left Belgrade on April 3, 1945.↩
- Croatian Peasant Party.↩
- Ante Pavelich, Poglavnik (leader) of the German-dominated Independent State of Croatia.↩
- Ivan Ribar, President of the Presidium of the Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia.↩
- Meeting at Jajce on November 29, 1944, the Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia passed a resolution transferring the authority of the Government-in-Exile to itself as the supreme legislative and executive body of the Yugoslav state. In subsequent resolutions the King was forbidden to return to Yugoslavia, and it was decided that the question of King and monarchy would be settled by the people by its own will after the liberation of the country. A provisional government, the National Committee of Liberation, was then elected.↩
- Harold Shantz, Counselor of Embassy in Yugoslavia.↩