768.00/12–2754: Despatch

No. 719
The Ambassador in Yugoslavia (Riddleberger) to the Department of State1

No. 320


  • Embtels 483 and 496


  • Revival of the Djilas controversy.

In the week before Christmas in Belgrade the ghosts of things past and possibly also of things to come appeared as the case of Milovan Djilas, who was read out of the party councils on January 16 and 17 of 1954, was revived.2 Until noon of December 27 no word of this renewed controversy had appeared in the Belgrade press or on the Yugoslav radio, and the regular Foreign Office press briefing scheduled for December 24 was cancelled, presumably because the spokesman was not prepared to answer the inevitable questions from foreign correspondents about the significance of these recent events. On the other hand, the foreign correspondents have been extremely active and a great number of stories and interpretations of events have been cabled out of Belgrade, some of which have been reported back to Yugoslavia by foreign broadcasts. The account which follows is based largely on reports made to various Embassy officers by correspondents who have interviewed the principals in this affair.

Sequence of Events

It will be recalled that at the plenum of last January Djilas and his views were defended most vigorously by Vladimir Dedijer, and in a less explicit fashion by his ex-wife, Mitra Mitrovic. Also involved was Peko Dapcevic, though less directly due largely to the [Page 1430] fact that the particular article of Djilas which brought down the wrath of the Central Committee was devoted to a defense of Dapcevic’s wife from the alleged snobbery and cliquish exclusiveness of the ruling group. At the time observers speculated whether Djilas’ exclusion from party councils would be followed by disciplinary action against the above three, but as the months went by no direct action materialized. But Vladimir Dedijer particularly was subject to various types of discrimination, such as failure to mention him as the author of Tito’s biography, avoiding personal association on public occasions, and generally placing him in coventry. Recently, however, Dedijer seemed on the road to rehabilitation when Mosha Pijade criticized the press for failure to mention his name in connection with the Tito biography and he was given a lectureship at the University of Belgrade.

Always a chronic invalid due to wartime injuries to his skull, Dedijer was recently convalescing in a sanitarium in Ljubljana when he was summoned to appear before the control commission of the Central Committee on December 17. According to Dedijer’s own account, Mitra Mitrovic was also summoned at the same time and they were both asked to explain whether they still held to the views which they had expressed at the January plenum when they had appeared to be defending Djilas. Again according to Dedijer’s accounts, he challenged the competence of this particular body to sit in judgment upon him, claiming that only the Central Committee as a whole constituted an appropriate forum for his case. Again according to Dedijer’s account, he left the meeting after some heated exchanges and has no knowledge of what further proceedings were undertaken against Mitra Mitrovic or what her reaction thereto was. From other accounts, however, it is assumed that Mitra Mitrovic acknowledged the competence of the control commission, retracted the views she had expressed at the time of the January plenum, and, supposedly, has completely submitted to party discipline.

Presumably, Dedijer mulled over the significance of these events for three days and then approached the Associated Press correspondent in Belgrade through an intermediary with a request that the main facts of his case be made known to world public opinion without directly quoting him. This information constituted the basis of the Associated Press despatch filed on December 20. The only additional information which the Embassy obtained and which did not appear in the despatch was that Dedijer had cabled an appeal to Tito in India. This cablegram was returned to Dedijer a few days later, unsent.

After the original despatch Dedijer saw a number of other correspondents who had received the inevitable call-backs and elaborated [Page 1431] somewhat on the original information. According to various sources, Dedijer interpreted this move against him as a part of the process of normalization of relations with the USSR. He ascribed particular significance to the fact that the control commission was presided over by Krsto Popivoda, a brother of the Major General Popivoda who had escaped to the Soviet Union at the time of the break with the Cominform and had been paraded by the Soviets as a sort of head of the Yugoslav party in exile. Dedijer’s interpretation, as relayed to us by correspondents, assumed that after normalization between the governments this was a natural sequence in an attempt to normalize relations between the communist parties of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia respectively. Since none of the three hauled up for disciplining by the party played major roles in the Cominform break, this interpretation seemed a bit strained.

In an attempt to obtain clarification of the significance of these events, several correspondents obtained interviews with Milovan Djilas himself, who is living in semi-seclusion and complete isolation here in Belgrade. Djilas promptly and emphatically scotched the theory that these events had any connection with the process of normalization of relations with Russia. To Djilas this represented a normal procedure for a communist party attempting to re-establish its monolithic character. The question of Dedijer’s attitude after the Djilas case had remained equivocal. The fact that he, while still a member of the Central Committee in name, no longer enjoyed the confidence of his associates (as is indicated by the fact that he was not even invited to attend the meeting of the plenum immediately preceding Tito’s departure) required clarification. Although the absence of Tito and Rankovic, who were known to be friendly toward Dedijer, may have made the time more propitious for taking this action, Djilas was convinced that it had been taken with the full knowledge and consent of both Tito and Rankovic. Djilas was of the opinion that, if Dedijer had submitted and had fully endorsed the party plenum’s position regarding his (Djilas’) views, the case would have been closed and Dedijer would have been on the road to rehabilitation. The fact that Dedijer chose, however, to challenge the competence of the control commission and to make his predicament public to the world press has served to revive the entire controversy. Djilas describes Dedijer as a man of considerable personal courage of an emotional type, but he is convinced that Dedijer will probably be given the same “deep freeze” treatment which he himself has received.

Djilas also believes it quite possible that Peko Dapcevic will be called before the Committee to clarity his stand. If this is not considered satisfactory, Djilas considers it quite possible that certain [Page 1432] punitive action will be undertaken against Dapcevic. Rumors are already widespread in Belgrade that Dapcevic is to be relieved as Chief of Staff after serving 23 months in that capacity and is to be given command of a field army.

Progress in Djilas’ Views

Incidental to the light which he could cast upon the Dedijer case, the interviews with Djilas reveal a progression in his views from the position he took last January which are probably more significant for the light they cast on the internal party situation than the facts about the Dedijer case. The complete answers given by Djilas to the questions put to him by the correspondent of the New York Times as taken down by him through an interpreter are enclosed.3 The New York Times correspondent was offered a choice by Djilas of either submitting his questions in writing and receiving in return written answers from Djilas or submitting his copy for review by Djilas before it was transmitted. Because of the time element, the New York Times correspondent chose the latter course, and the rough copy of this despatch as corrected by Djilas throws some interesting sidelights on the current situation.

The most significant changes of view by Mr. Djilas are:

He has come to the conclusion that freedom of discussion within the communist party of Yugoslavia is no longer possible.
The Yugoslav communist party has become Stalinist in form but not in method.
A new socialist party is necessary in Yugoslavia and will inevitably come, due to the basic Western orientation of the Yugoslav people.
Yugoslav economy is at present in a terrible mess and will not be improved until a degree of political freedom is introduced.
While acknowledging Tito’s skill as a politician and his complete domination of the party and the country, Djilas has begun to lose some of his devotion to his former idol.


It is too early to form any firm conclusions as to what course events may take. There does not seem to be evidence of a revival of the Djilas views to the point where such views could have a marked effect upon the policy of the party and, as Djilas himself recognized, there are no organized groups outside of the party which could be the standard bearers of a new political movement. It would appear that Dedijer’s precipitous action in challenging the competence of the control commission and his subsequent revelation of this incident to the press has, either by accident or design, given renewed opportunity for Djilas to spread his views before the [Page 1433] world outside of Yugoslavia. Certainly Djilas, in his present state of isolation, is no longer a political influence either within the party or in the country. There is no evidence that the party intends to give him an opportunity to again become one. The question remains whether the party will feel itself compelled by the publicity given to these views abroad and the eventual repercussions at home in taking measures to effectively silence him. In the eyes of the party, he is undoubtedly a discredited politician who has lost his right to be heard in the party councils and who, in a totalitarian country, will not be given the opportunity at this time to create a movement outside of the party.

There is already considerable reaction among Foreign Office press officials, whom the foreign correspondents have queried about this matter, that the Western press is engaged in a plot to artificially create a case of political persecution. It remains to be seen whether the regime, in the absence of the strong hand and sage counsel of Tito, will be able to handle this situation in such a way as to avoid a retrogression to the more drastic methods normally employed by their Soviet communist counterparts.

For the Ambassador:
Edwin M. J. Kretzmann
First Secretary of Embassy
  1. Copies were sent to Ankara, Athens, Bucharest, Budapest, London, Moscow, Paris, Prague, Rome, Warsaw, and Zagreb.
  2. See Document 685.
  3. Not printed.