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YUGOSLAVIA: Cracking Down on Cominformists

5 minute read

The hardiest old man in the Balkans has been living it up of late with roistering high spirits. In one typical week last month, he took in a performance of Tosca at the Belgrade opera, repairing afterward to the Tri Sesira (Three Hats) Restaurant for drinking and feasting until 2 a.m. Then he drove to the mountain resort of Zlatibor, where he joined in the kolo, a lively folk dance, made some speeches and visited local officials. Next morning he was host at an annual hunt for foreign diplomats at the former royal lodge of Karadjordjevo. He spurned the pursuit of pheasant for bigger game and bagged three bighorn sheep. He returned from the hunt for dinner and entertainment at a cabaret that lasted until the early hours. Two days later he flew to Brioni Island, where he entertained Cambodian Prince Norodom Sihanouk at a sumptuous dinner.

Many of these strenuous activities were filmed for a TV spectacular that was designed to show the health and vigor of Josip Broz Tito, 83. The demonstration was convincing, up to a point. There are no more rumors in Belgrade these days that the Yugoslav President is suffering from some deadly disease. Gone also are the whispers that he is no longer fully in charge of the multinational Communist country he forged in 1945 and holds together by the force of his personal prestige. Still, awareness of Tito’s mortality was heightened in Belgrade by Francisco Franco’s death in November at 82. The similarity in the two leaders’ age and personal power and the delicate internal political situation in both Spain and Yugoslavia have aroused fresh speculation about the country’s future after Tito.

The President has recently taken measures—often draconian—to limit the possibility of disorder after his death or disablement. He has put down even the faintest signs of an outbreak of traditional hostility between Serbs, Croats and other Yugoslav nationalities. In a series of new laws that are expected to go into effect this month, he has sharply restricted religious activity, especially that of the Roman Catholic Church, on the ground that it is backing illicit “nationalism.” Thousands of government officials have been purged as suspected troublemakers. In an attempt to ensure an orderly succession, Tito has decreed that his powers will be passed on to a collective leadership consisting of an eight-member presidency which presumably will be headed by Party Theoretician Edvard Kardelj, 65.

Out of Orbit. The real danger to Yugoslavia’s future sovereignty, in Tito’s view, looms not from within but from without. Belgrade shares with Washing ton and other Western governments a fear that the Kremlin will move to regain influence over Yugoslavia, which spun dramatically out of the Soviet or bit in 1948 when Tito rebelled against Stalin’s dictates. This might well involve subversion of the post-Tito government by Russia’s agents and even a Soviet army invasion of Yugoslavia.

Cabled TIME European Correspondent William Rademaekers, after a recent visit to Belgrade: “As far as the Yugoslav army is concerned, there is only one real threat to this country, the Soviet Union, and all of their contingency planning and strategy is directed at meeting that threat. As for the Yugoslav Communists, their power depends on maintaining a great distance from the orthodoxy prescribed by the Soviet Party.” Western specialists believe that Soviet agents are already involved in what is euphemistically called “destabilization operations” in Yugoslavia. That may explain why 32 so-called Cominformists* were arrested in Yugoslavia in 1974 for having circulated anti-Tito leaflets, holding pro-Soviet Communist meetings and even an illicit Party congress. Thirty-six more were tried in 1975.

Less Dependent. These arrests were accompanied by a massive and tightly coordinated campaign of anti-Soviet publicity and official speeches aimed at the Kremlin. The unmistakable message: there are limits to Yugoslavia’s tolerance of Soviet interference. At a recent meeting of the Presidium, Party Chief Stane Dolanc denounced “Cominformists” as “traitors to our country.” Another Party leader spoke balefully of “black clouds of Stalinism hovering over the horizon.” The Yugoslav press has published a host of articles apparently designed to educate younger Party members about the nature of the 1948 dispute with Moscow. The past six issues of the leading weekly newsmagazine NIN, for example, have carried a blow-by-blow account of the Tito-Stalin break.

In another show of independence, the Yugoslav Communists have joined with the renegade parties of Rumania and Italy to try to stall or even prevent Soviet Party Chief Leonid Brezhnev’s grand scheme for a European Communist Party Conference (TIME, Dec. 8). The Yugoslavs are also quietly exploring the possibility of buying fighter planes and radar and anti-aircraft defense systems from the U.S., in order to make Yugoslavia less dependent on the U.S.S.R. for maintenance of its Soviet-manufactured arsenal.

* The Yugoslav term for Soviet agents or sympathizers, derived from the Cominform (Communist Information Bureau), which was founded by the Soviets in 1947, ostensibly to coordinate the activities of Communist states but actually to reinforce Stalinist control over Eastern Europe.

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