London Letter

BELGRADE LAUGHS AT THE KREMLIN

Beverley Baxter September 1 1952
London Letter

BELGRADE LAUGHS AT THE KREMLIN

Beverley Baxter September 1 1952

BELGRADE LAUGHS AT THE KREMLIN

London Letter

Beverley Baxter

I WILL tell you a good joke," said the Yugoslavian Minister, "a Yugoslavian joke." There were half a dozen of us dining at Lord Beaverbrook's London flat and we received the minister's pronouncement with what might be described as modified rapture. A good joke needs no bush.

‘‘Stalin,” said our friend in his picturesque English, ‘‘had a yard of cloth and sent for a Bulgarian tailor to make him a suit out of it. But the Bulgarian said he could not do it with so little cloth. Therefore he was liquidated. So then there comes a Rumanian tailor but he is also unable and he is liquidated. It happened the same with the Hungarian tailor. Now comes the joke and it is good. Stalin sends for a Yugoslav tailor who says ‘Yes! I will make you a suit out of the cloth and an overcoat as well.’ Stalin was very surprised and says to him: 'How can you do this'?’

Then the Yugoslav answers him: 'You see. in Yugoslavia you are such « little man.’ ”

We all laughed and agreed that it was indeed an excellent story. Listening to him I began to realize as never before the tremendous blow which Marshal Tito administered to the Kremlin when he broke off relations with the Soviet. More and more it becomes evident that the secession of Yugoslavia from the Comintern was the heaviest defeat Stalin has suffered since he began the cold war.

Yet the situation is full of paradox. Tito is a Communist. Yugoslavia is Communist. The country is ruled by the secret police, and freedom as we know it does not exist. Therefore when Marshal Tito startled the world byr denouncing Moscow the wise men said this was just a cunning device arranged by him and Stalin to fool the West.

"Tito needs industrial equipment,” these wise ones said. "He is dollar-hungry and is not too proud to hold out his hat. If we make the mistake of building up Yugoslavia we will find that at a given moment she will be used as the spearhead of Russia’s attack against the West.” No one can deny a measure of logic in those words. It was right to proceed cautiously. Undoubtedly Stalin had denounced Tito for his "grandee-ism" and Tito had replied that he would not take orders from the upstarts in the Kremlin, but it was still hard to believe that the break, if it actually existed, would not be bridged.

The implications of Tito’s decision had to be faced. There in the cockpit of Europe was his country surrounded by hostile Soviet satellites and facing the overwhelming military strength of Russia. To maintain even a measure of security meant the creation of an immense army. And since a man cannot carry A rifle and a spade it meant the labor force would have to be cruelly reduced. In addition the army could be a challenge itself to the rule of Tito if some of the generals were seized with grandee-ism on their own account, or if they were seduced by Stalin.

But Tito took these risks. He faced the threat of assassination, of a military coup d'état, of an attack by the satellites inspired by the Russians. An American insurance man said at the time if Tito wanted a life policy of a million dollars for a year the company would ask a premium of 999,999 dollars.

Now sufficient time has elapsed for us to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Tito’s defiance of the Kremlin was not a mere rush of blood to the head. It was a decision taken in cold blood or. at any rate, as cold as Y ugoslav blood can be. He saw that Russia was going to drain the satellites of their produce and minerals and make them slaves to Russian expansion. They would be modeled and organized for one purpose only to sustain and enrich the Soviet. Bulgaria, Hungary, Rumania and Czechoslovakia had taken the yoke without protest, so why should Yugoslavia not do the same?

The answer of course was the Serbian people: and Tito knew his Serbs better than Stalin did. It was in the town of Sarajevo in 1914 that a young man named Princip fired the assassin's shot that plunged the whole world into war. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, ruled over by Franz-Josef, was a work of genius Continued on page 33

Continued on page 33

London Letter

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in its construction but the Serbs put freedom first.

After the 1914-1918 war had ended Woodrow Wilson brought all the academic wisdom and lack of practical experience which he could command to redesign Europe and free the minorities of the chains that held them down. With the connivance of Lloyd George and Clemenceau Austria was reduced to a truncated territory of a great capital with nothing but scenery and history to sustain it. But Serbia emerged as the Yugoslavia we know today. The assassin of Sarajevo had done well for his people. The throne was firmly established and the country which had so resented inclusion in the Austrian Empire now had its own minorities.

Then on an October day in 1934 the assassin’s revolver was heard again. It was in Marseilles but the victim was King Alexander of Serbia, who was on an official visit to France. Croatian exiles, who had organized a body of terrorists, waited for him. Another minority had spoken with a bullet instead of words.

Last Saturday at Claridges the exiled King Peter of Yugoslavia told me how

he heard the news of his father’s assassination. Peter was eleven years of age at the time of the assassination and he mounted the troubled throne as a mere child mourning the father whom he deeply loved. Naturally he could only be a king in name, and his father’s cousin, Prince Paul, a brother-in-law of the Duchess of Kent, was made Regent.

The Serbs and their conglomerate minorities rallied to the young king when he mounted the throne. They are an emotional people with a peasant poetry of their own and they were moved by the youth of the boy whose father had been so cruelly murdered. It seemed that at last Serbia would have a real period of internal and external peace.

But there was a mad Austrian painter of bad sunsets, a ranting agitator with a fruity baritone, a cruel creature with a devilish knowledge of the weaknesses and cupidity of human nature. Step by step Hitler built his kingdom on brutality and fear. And so there came Der Tag once more. This time it was Poland that met the German

Yugoslavia was not at war! Almost for the first time in European history they were not involved in the battle. Wisely, if ingloriously, Prince Paul's Government conceded everything that Germany demanded in the way of eco-

nomic benefits. Their hatred of Germany was intense but they recognized the weaknesses of their isolation. Neither Britain nor France could send them a single grenadier if they engaged in war. Also the great bear was Germany’s ally or, at any rate, Germany’s stooge. The infamous nonaggression pact had joined Germany and Russia in unholy matrimony.

But in 1941 German arrogance was out of hand. German forces were in Rumania, Hungary and Bulgaria, and Hitler summoned Prince Paul and his principal ministers to Berlin. “I demand passage across your territory,” said Hitler. Prince Paul no doubt did his best but he was no match for the ranting all-conquering Caesar of Ber-

Paul returned home and declared that he had given in to Hitler to save Serbia from being crushed. In a matter of hours there was a palace revolution.

A group of Serbian officers and politicians, with the young King at their head, overthrew the government and sent Prince Paul into ignominious exile.

The Germans did not hesitate. Without even a declaration of war they sent a savage bombing raid on Belgrade and then attacked with such fury that the end was only a matter of days. While the Serbs were still fighting with unimaginable bravery the heroic Italians thought they had better come in on a sure thing, so they attacked Serbia from the west. In ten days it was all over. Or so Hitler thought. How was he to know then that large forces of Serbs, later to be called Partisans, had escaped to the mountains where they were to harass the Germans by day and by night until Hitler and the Third Reich had gone down in flames.

In the meantime the King and his advisers had flown to London where they joined the ever enlarging group of émigré governments. London in those days was in fact the very seat of world government—or at any rate that portion of the world that was at war with Hitler.

About a year later the mother of King Peter asked me to come and see her. She was worried about her son and wanted me to advise her. For what my advice was worth I gave it to her. The young King should be flown to the Serbian mountains and join the Partisans. If he did not do so he would find that the men who had conducted the resistance movement would seize power when the war wras over.

The conflict was obvious, the conflict between the Queen and the mother. Her husband had been assassinated. Was she to lose her son in the desperate fighting of the Partisans? Peter did not go. When the war was over Tito declared himself dictator and the monarchy was at an end. No doubt it will live again, but not while Tito rules.

I have told this story of the Serbian people because today they have the largest army in Europe, and constitute the most important military ally that the West possesses. While France and Britain, with the aid of America and some participation by Western Germany, try to build up a European Army. Yugoslavia has more divisions in Europe than all the rest of them put together. With tremendous courage Tito faces not only Russia, but the satellites that support her.

Yet even that does not conclude the j story. As a Communist he has enunj ciated the theory that Communism need not be subservient to Russia. He j has shown the way to others.

The story of the Yugoslav tailor has significance. Ridicule is a weapon that every despot fears. The \ ugoslavs laugh ai the Kremlin, and in Stalin's ears that laughter may sound more menacing than gunfire, -g 1