121. Despatch From the Embassy in Yugoslavia to the Department of State 0

No. 436


  • Tito’s Internal Problems and the Progressive Limitation of his Freedom of Action Externally: Attack on NATO

Two recent major developments seem to point convincingly to a certain sterility in Yugoslavia’s internal affairs as well as in its foreign policy: the vigor of the chastisement given all levels of the “Party”, from the lowest cell to the “center” by the recent “letter” from the Executive Committee of the Central Committee (i.e., the Politburo);1 and the urgent although somewhat empty efforts Tito is making to reinstitute himself into the councils of the great, via the Summit Conference or otherwise. The first attests the fact, more than once commented on to the Department, that all is far from well with the political regime of present-day Yugoslavia. The second reflects the restricted area for maneuver into which Tito has led himself by his foreign policy actions of the past year, as well as the very real need which he feels to assert himself in the foreign field, not only in the service of his ego, but more significantly in consequence of the difficulties of his regime at home.

The inner implications, insofar as we can see them, of the Party Letter have already been the subject of some comment from the Embassy, and will be the subject of further analysis and reportage (Embassy despatch no. 428, March 6).2 For the purposes of the present discussion it is sufficient to point out that while Tito and company may have had an eye on the desirability of convincing the Kremlin and their other colleagues to the East of the orthodoxy of the Yugoslav communist creed by raising the usual party war cries against the “petit-bourgeoisie”, the abuses of which the letter complains are real enough in Yugoslavia to warrant the Party’s serious concern. Abuses—“shortcomings” and “negative tendencies”, the Party would call them—exist not only within the party but within the entire governmental and administrative framework, [Page 321] and their results are seen not alone in weakened discipline within the party but also in popular dissatisfaction. There was some wonder, at the time, that Tito devoted so much of his New Year’s message (Embassy despatch no. 328, January 15)3 to the “justified” complaints of the masses: this was perhaps dispelled to some degree by knowledge of the events of Trbovlje (Embassy telegram no. 1137, January 28).4 The rather ludicrous lengths to which the party’s authorities have since gone (Embassy despatch no. 366, February 4)5 in their efforts to placate the aggrieved workers of that mining area have only confirmed Western observers in the conviction that the regime’s concern is at least as real as it is apparent. If one could read the minds of the top leadership, the Embassy suspects that one might even find that the regime’s disquiet goes as far back as the Polish “October” and the Hungarian revolution,6 when communists the world over discovered that hungry tummies and repressed spirits make an explosive mixture. While Yugoslav tummies were and are perhaps less abused than those in Hungary and Poland, the same essential ingredients of unrest are present—and there is considerable merit in the contention advanced by some that there is more intellectual freedom today in Poland than in Yugoslavia. Be that as it may, there is little question in the Embassy’s view that there is ample justification, on the internal scene, for the party to come out with the stinging rebuke and imminent threat which the “letter” in fact represents. Unlike the Djilas trial (Embassy telegram no. 593, October 4, 1957)7 (and perhaps also the Chetnik trial (Embassy telegram no. 1207, February 17)8 although this is more doubtful), no convincing case can be made that the regime was seeking, in releasing the letter, primarily to serve purposes basically external to the Yugoslav scene.

As regards Tito’s need for some successful foreign gambit, it remains a truism that such support as Tito has enjoyed from the non-communist Yugoslav masses originally flowed from his defiance of the Soviet Union. Since “rapprochement” commenced in 1953, however, [Page 322] this type of support has had little to feed on other than pride in Tito’s accomplishments in “putting Yugoslavia on the map”, maintaining its independence, and winning a voice in the world’s councils. There can be no doubt, in the Embassy’s observation, that this has been a real consideration to the Yugoslavs, both pro and anti-regime. Tito’s self-reversal on Hungary,9 however (and a case could be made that the date should be projected back to the Belgrade and Moscow “declaration”),10 seems to have marked a turning point: while there are those Yugoslavs who will maintain that Tito is being “led” by a small group of intriguers, there is more and more concern among both regime and non-regime Yugoslavs as to Tito’s ability to maintain Yugoslavia’s independence from the “socialist camp”, whether he wishes to do so or not. Every successive position Tito has taken has on the one hand limited his freedom of action in the international field, and on the other increased suspicion and distrust on the part of those Yugoslavs competent to observe and to draw conclusions as to their own future. His assault on the Baghdad Pact, his support of Nasser, his attack on the Eisenhower Doctrine, his step by step but inexorable support of the Soviet position on disarmament, his miscalculation on recognition of East Germany, his endorsement of the Red Chinese, the North Koreans and the Djkarata-Indonesians have all represented an erosion of his freedom to adopt an independent stand on international problems. The regime’s contention that these positions have been arrived at “on their merits” has hardly proven convincing so far as the West is concerned, and even less so in the view of all but the most dedicated of his own people. To this the ever increasing flow of refugees across the Yugoslav borders with the West—be they “economic” refugees or otherwise in the bureaucratic jargon of the West—is more than eloquent testimony. Tito’s only weapon to combat this development insofar as its internal ramifications are concerned, is to be able to point to positive Yugoslav actions in an even larger sphere. Today, the realm of disarmament and the reduction of East-West tensions seems to be the only one left open to him.

In previous analyses of Yugoslavia’s position the Embassy, while reaffirming its conviction of the will and intent of the Yugoslav regime [Page 323] to maintain its independence, has expressed some concern that by entrapment or otherwise Tito and company might be maneuvered into a position from which their exercise of the essential attributes of independence might be severely curtailed. The Embassy does not wish at this juncture to suggest that this has become the case, but merely to suggest that the question is far from academic. It will be recalled that before “rapprochement” and “normalization between the USSR and Yugoslavia”, the Yugoslavs publicly proclaimed that NATO was “justified” (many will still privately admit that originally it was justified). Progressively, as the process has developed, however, the regime reached the point that it saw NATO and the Warsaw Pact as “twin evils”. In this connection, the Sulzberger interview with Tito of February 28 (Embassy despatch no. 429, March 6)11 seems important in two respects: its endorsement of the aims and even the methods (except “interference in internal affairs”—but vide the Yugoslav position on Algeria) of “international communism”, but even more importantly in the present context its direct attack against a NATO member for alleged activities taken pursuant to NATO decisions.

Tito’s remark to Sulzberger about rocket bases in Italy seems to have been tossed out rather glibly: it is interesting to speculate whether Mates and perhaps Vejvoda were under instructions to make similar remarks in their démarches in London and Washington (London telegram no. 5188 to Department, March 4 and Department telegram no. 749, March 6).12 The present Yugoslav regime is adept at tossing out “sleepers” to which at some later date it can point with the hackneyed comment, “We told you so”. It is certainly clear from recent Yugoslav actions that the regime wishes desperately to be invited to the “Summit Conference”, which it confidently believes is in the offing. It is not too far fetched to conjecture that the regime may believe that, by interjecting its “rights” as a “neutral” into the East-West dispute over rockets and bases, and by directly involving a NATO member in the sideshow, it might win a ticket to the Big Top. Purely circumstantial evidence that the Yugoslavs may intend to endeavor to parlay the issue of neutral rights as regards air space into a major issue, and that the scapegoat may [Page 324] prove to be Italy, might be found in the fact that in a number of public utterances recently the Yugoslavs have gone out of their way to applaud the excellence of Italo-Yugoslav relations subsequent to the “London Memorandum” (Embassy despatch no. 417, February 26).13 Admittedly, most of these have been in “election” speeches in Slovenia and Croatia, but even so, they have reflected a warmth not usual in authoritative Yugoslav statements. While the Italian Embassy ascribes little importance to these developments, it should be noted that Yugoslav “election” speeches in Macedonia fail to reflect a similar warmth toward Greece, as regards which the Yugoslav Macedonians have an interest fully as intimate as do the Slovenes and Croats vis-à-vis Italy.

To point to the internal motivation of Tito’s efforts to recreate an international role for himself is not necessarily to deprecate the possible sincerity of his views as regards the East-West problem. Tito is described by Soldatic (to an Italian diplomat) as being profoundly depressed by the possibility that a Summit Conference will not be held, or that if held it might fail. He is quoted as saying, “God (sic) knows what form the cold war might then take”, a quotation which, though perhaps inaccurate per se, the Embassy is inclined to accept as a faithful reflection of his probable views. He is no doubt as sincerely concerned to maintain the peace and the balance of power without which he would inevitably fall as he obviously is to provide his people with circuses. Nonetheless, the “initiatives” to which Tito feels compelled by internal considerations, if also by conviction, again serve to erode the little freedom of action in the field of foreign affairs which now remains open to him. Now that he is publicly committed to the contention that NATO threatens “neutral rights”, he will be hard pressed to equate that organization with the Warsaw Pact, so many members of which are so anxious to disavow the use, stationing and employment of rocket and nuclear weapons. While, again, nothing has occurred to shake the Embassy’s belief that Tito and his colleagues wish and intend to maintain their independence, it would seem that he has been led by the compulsions operating upon him to a further step curtailing his ability to exercise the prerogatives and essential attributes of that independence.

For the Ambassador:

Oliver M. Marcy
First Secretary of Embassy
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 768.00/3–1058. Confidential. Drafted by Marcy. Repeated to London, Paris, Bonn, Munich, Frankfurt, Vienna, Moscow, Prague, Warsaw, Budapest, Bucharest, Zagreb, Sarajevo, Rome for McSweeney, and Berlin for EAD.
  2. This February 12 circular letter attacked local party leaders and industrial managers for corruption. The text was published in the Central Committee weekly newspaper Kommunist on February 28.
  3. Despatch 428 transmitted the text of the February 12 circular letter cited in footnote 1 above. (Department of State, Central Files, 768.00/3–658)
  4. Despatch 328 reported on Tito’s New Year’s Eve statement and noted his stress on economic discontent in Yugoslavia. (Ibid., 768.21/1–1558)
  5. Telegram 1137 reported on and analyzed Tito’s reaction to the strike at Trbovlje by 4,000 workers protesting wage reductions. (Ibid., 868.062/1–2858)
  6. Despatch 366 reported increased Yugoslav Government concern with labor unrest. (Ibid., 868.06/2–458)
  7. Reference is to the strikes that led to the installation of the Gomulka regime in Poland in October 1956 and to the Hungarian revolution of October–November 1956.
  8. Telegram 593 reported on the exclusion of some Western reporters from the courtroom on the first day of the Djilas trial. (Ibid., 768.00/10–457)
  9. Telegram 1207 reported on Yugoslav press rebuttals of Western socialist criticism of the trial of the “Chetnik traitors,” a group of older socialist leaders who were critical of the Tito regime. (Ibid., 768.00/2–1758)
  10. Reference is to Tito’s initial support of the Nagy government during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. After condemning the October 24 Soviet intervention, Tito subsequently condemned the revolution and defended the second Soviet intervention of November 2. In spite of the subsequent Soviet seizure of Imre Nagy, who had taken refuge in the Yugoslav Embassy in Budapest, Tito reached a rapprochement with the Kadar regime in Hungary.
  11. Reference is to the joint declaration that concluded the May 26–June 2, 1955, visit of Khrushchev and Bulganin to Belgrade. The declaration outlined the principles of common agreement between the two Communist states and the attitudes of the two governments toward international problems and listed measures to normalize relations between them.
  12. Not printed. (Department of State, Central Files, 768.11/3–658) Sulzberger published the notes of his conversation with Tito in three articles that appeared in the March 3, 5, and 8 issues of The New York Times. The notes are printed in Sulzberger, The Last of the Giants (New York, 1970), pp. 451–454.
  13. Telegram 5188 from London reported on Yugoslav efforts to promote the relaxation of East-West tensions in discussions with officials of the British Foreign Office. (Department of State, Central Files, 611.61/3–458) Telegram 749 to Belgrade reported on March 5 discussions between Dulles and Ambassador Mates in which the Yugoslav Government encouraged the United States to respond favorably to Soviet overtures for a summit conference. (Ibid., 396.1/3–658)
  14. Despatch 417 commented on the steady improvement in relations between Italy and Yugoslavia since the 1954 London agreement on Trieste signed by Yugoslavia, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States. (Ibid., 665.68/2–2658)