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Mediterranean Quarterly 12.3 (2001) 47-56

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From Unity to Disarray:
The West's Yugoslav Policy

Alex N. Dragnich

[Editor's Note]

Echoes of "long live Tito" reverberated in the foreign offices of the United States and its allies in June 1948. They were the sound of celebration at the news of Tito's excommunication from the newly created Communist Information Bureau, announced from the bureau's headquarters in Bucharest, Romania. The jubilation was in part subdued for fear that the break between Moscow and Belgrade might not be for real or that it was communist subterfuge for devious reasons. Yet the release of barbed letters from Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin to his counterpart in Belgrade seemed genuine enough. It was almost too good to be true, because these same foreign chanceries had been lambasting Yugoslavia as the most loyal of Moscow's satellites.

The very thought of praising the Yugoslav dictator was revolting to the denizens of the U.S. State Department, but the first break in the solidarity of the Soviet-dominated bloc was so unexpected that celebration seemed warranted. Moreover, it gave the West hope that other cracks would develop, making it easier to deal with the Soviet threat. As the chargé d'affaires of the American embassy in Belgrade, Robert Reams, said at the time: "We are not opposed to communism so long it is confined to the Soviet Union; what we see as a threat is Soviet expansionism, the determination to impose its system on other countries."

Those of us in the embassy in Belgrade who had signaled a couple of weeks earlier that there was trouble between Moscow and Belgrade were convinced that if Joseph Broz Tito were ousted the only possible winner would be pro-Soviet communists. The army and police, as well as the [End Page 47] bureaucracy, were in the hands of communists. Under those circumstances, the chances for a noncommunist victory were slim indeed. Hence, in the West's foreign policy aims, the only realistic alternative was to help Tito survive any Soviet move to get rid of him. To that end, the West for many years thereafter provided significant economic and military aid to the Tito government.

There was never any question about supporting the integrity of the Yugoslav state. The first Yugoslavia (1918-41) had solid support in the West. Croatian separatist activities in the 1920s and 1930s were generally frowned upon. In World War II, the Axis powers destroyed the country, and in Croatia a pro-Axis movement created the so-called Independent State of Croatia, which declared war even against the United States and other allied powers. At one time during the war, President Franklin Roosevelt suggested that Serbia should be restored but that Croatia be put under trusteeship. The latter idea apparently gained little support in other Allied capitals, and the second Yugoslavia came into being at the end of the war, but this time under communist rule. The Tito-led Partisans were victorious in the civil war, in part because the West had abandoned the original guerrilla leader, Draza Mihailovic, and thrown its support to the Partisans. David Martin, in his book The Web of Disinformation: Churchill's Yugoslav Blunder, details how the West was duped into believing that its interests would be better served by supporting the Partisans. In 1945, Churchill admitted that his Yugoslav decision was one of the biggest mistakes in the war, while the Serbs felt betrayed.

Nevertheless, U.S. support for Yugoslavia was never in doubt, and U.S.-Serbian relations continued strong. At the 1981 celebration in Belgrade commemorating one hundred years of diplomatic relations, Assistant Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger (and until earlier that year ambassador to Yugoslavia) declared on behalf of the secretary of state that the "United States respects the independence of Yugoslavia and supports the unity, independence and territorial integrity of the Socialist Federated Republic of Yugoslavia." 1

The United Sates knew that there were serious internal tensions in the [End Page 48] Tito regime. There were Serbs among the Tito communists, some in...


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