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Tito and his People (2)

THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE

Tito's country, Yugoslavia, is a name never to be forgotten, for once, not so very long ago, she was the only island of freedom in Hitler's Europe. Today she is a laboratory in which the forces of Europe's tomorrow are clashing with the forces of yesterday.

For centuries Yugoslavia has been ravaged by foreign empires. The Romans, Charlemagne, the Byzantine Emperors, the Turks, and then the Hapsburgs, came, conquered and were driven out.

In the fields of Kossova in 1389, when the Turks invaded the country and slaughtered the Serbs, an epic was born. A song chanted down through the ages. A song of death to the invader. A thousand years of defeat taught these people the glory of freedom. Such is the source from which sprang Tito and Uncle Peter. The unconquerable, freedom loving, deathless people of Yugoslavia.

Oppressors vary in their treatment of conquered people and the Yugoslavs have lived under quite a variety of them.

From the years 1100 to 1800 the Serbs had to suffer under the cruel Ottoman hordes as slaves. The Croats lived under the Hungarian Hapsburg method of divide and rule. When liberated, the Croats looked to the West, the Serbs to the East. Even though they speak the same language, they found nothing in common but enmity.

This wedge driven deep into the hearts of the people by conquerors went deep as religion seeps into a man's heart.

The Catholic Croat peasant and the Orthodox Serb peasant are as far apart as the poles. And yet nature and geography decreed that they occupy the same territory. In spite of the fact they were divided by the conquerors, both suffered the same enslavement.

Modern Yugoslavia is not a very large country. It covers an area of only 96,100 square miles. Before the war it had a population of 13,931,000 souls and was the second largest country in the Balkans. Eighty-two percent of her population was engaged in farming.

The country also had mines, being the largest producer of coal in the Balkans, a kind of coal that was unprofitable for export because of its low calorific value. Iron ore was also wrested from the bowels of the earth by Yugoslavian miners.

The development of the country was retarded by a number of factors. Yugoslavia was full of misery. Her people were illiterate. The lack of industrial raw materials and length of the first World War, which lasted for over eight years in the Balkan states, ending in 1922, kept development back.

Yugoslavia, like Rumania, was enlarged by the addition of huge tracts of territory taken from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Thirty-one percent of Yugoslavia is covered by forests and mountains, two natural barriers that formed the first line of defense against the Nazi hordes when they invaded the country.

One correspondent, writing recently about the heroic struggle of the Partisans, says: "The Partisans made an alliance with the thickly wooded, cave-pocketed, rock-strewn summits and precipices, where every foot of ground is a fortress, every tree a Partisan, and the fantastic savagery of the broken landscape reflects the ire of the Lord and the people."

The Yugoslav constitution of 1921 decreed the abolition of the feudal rights enjoyed for so long by a handful of people. But in spite of this decree, the land was never really divided among the people.

The holding of an average farmer was small indeed. His methods of cultivation were backward and primitive. Mechanization was almost unknown.

Development was retarded by a despotic monarchy. In spite of this, progress was made in the thirties by the growth of the co-operative movement because of the natural desire of the people to get together and improve their sad economic plight. After 1929 there were no less than 6,338 co-operatives. Many of these catered to the needs of the small farmers. The total co-op membership reached 600,000.

Since the first World War the country's short history shows that it has always been harried by religious differences. The Orthodox Serbs, Montenegrins and Macedonians, the Catholic Croats, Slovenes and Dalmatians were always at odds, with Moslem Bosnians playing a middle role.

Since modern Yugoslavia was created, a quarter of a century ago at Versailles, it suffered from short-sighted, foolish, frivolous leadership that made one blunder after another. Some of these leaders meant well, perhaps, but acted unwisely.

King Alexander I, assuming power in 1929, inaugurated a reign of terror. Twenty-four hundred political prisoners languished in state prisons. Punishment ranged as follows: For possessing Communist propaganda literature, one to two years; for distributing it, five years; for being in contact with the Communist organizations outside of Yugoslavia or bringing in radical literature, five to ten years; for having visited Soviet Russia, ten to fifteen years.

The disunity among the many national groups, poverty, the ineffectiveness of the constituent assembly and the authoritarian character of the monarchy, kept the people divided and unhappy. It took an international catastrophe to unite the country and give it a hope for the future, a unity of purpose.

YUGOSLAVIA'S BITTER SURRENDER

April 6, 1941. The day was Palm Sunday and that morning Yugoslavia was still at peace. In Belgrade, the country's capital, the church bells tolled, calling the people to prayer.

It was a warm and lovely spring day. Yet if' you had looked closely at the faces of the people you would have seen behind the smiles and the calm a shadow of impending catastrophe. They went about their duties, they acted as if all was normal because they were a proud people.

But all was not normal. Only a few days before, young officers of the Yugoslav army had engineered a coup which threw out of the government the pro-Hitler crowd. A nation which had been prepared to collaborate with the hated Nazis, suddenly set its face against them, proclaimed its independence, its freedom and its sympathy with the then beleaguered England.

But it was a nation unprepared for war. Though the people were proud and happy at the stand their nation had taken, they knew well enough what faced them. Yugoslavia was a small country, with less than 14,000,000 population. Although the army held some of the best fighting men in Europe, its weapons were out of date. It had only a handful of anti-tank guns, almost no tanks, little artillery, almost no motor vehicles and a small, obsolete air force.

In addition, the leadership of the army – the older and high-ranking officers – were twenty years behind in their military thinking. Axis propaganda had divided the country; the Quislings and fifth columnists were already preparing to betray their nation.

So on that Sunday morning the people of Belgrade knew that they faced disaster. For all of that, they were filled with a curious sense of power and pride. In the churches, their voices rang louder and more manfully than in many years before.

And then a few hours later, what they had been expecting happened, and it came as it had come to Madrid, to Rotterdam, to London and to Leningrad. It came in the form of wave after wave of Stukas, savagely and murderously smashing Yugoslavia's most beautiful and largest city to pieces. It came against an unprotected people, against women and children, who died in the streets that Palm Sunday.

The people fought practically with their bare hands as the Panzers raced through their green valleys, they fought them with rifle and pistol and pitchfork.

Nothing stopped the German advance. No mine fields had been laid. The few anti-tank guns would not work. Artillery ammunition was defective. The fifth column had done its work thoroughly and effectively and the German armies cut through the country like a knife through cheese.

In ten days it was over. In ten days over 100 generals of the Yugoslav army had surrendered. In ten days, the chief of staff and the minister of war signed an order of capitulation. The members of the government left for London in planes, but the people wept and cursed and fought on.

Organized resistance was over for the time being. Peasants came back to their farms, dug holes, wrapped their rifles in oil-soaked rags and hid them. Divisions that had been cut to pieces formed into small bands and retreated into the woods. For the moment Yugoslavia was conquered. And to the world yet another country stunned, broken and bleeding, had surrendered to Hitler.

Then, where the fire had been so thoroughly extinguished, a small flame flickered up. Two weeks after the country had surrendered, in the capital at Belgrade, a poster appeared, plastered on the wall in the central square, and it read:

GERMANS!
WE GIVE YOU SOLEMN WARNING.
LEAVE YUGOSLAVIA. DEATH TO
ALL FASCISTS! LIBERTY TO THE
PEOPLE!

That was the poster – proud, defiant, almost pathetic. Yet within an hour, every Yugoslav in the city knew about it. They whispered the slogan to one another in the streets, in the stores, in the shops, in the factories. They shouted it in their homes. It gave them courage just to hear it, just to repeat it.

And so in the summer of the year that Yugoslavia was raped, the guerrilla war had started. That was fateful summer Hitler invaded Russia.

Peasants who had fled into the forests, soldiers from the old Yugoslav army who had refused to recognize the meaning of the word defeat, Communists fired with a new cause, students who had given up their studies, and intellectuals who abandoned their professions – these began gathering in small groups, here, there, and everywhere, ready for unity and action.

For the first time in their long, bloody history, men who had regarded each other as enemies, at last had one enemy who was more ferocious, brutal, detestable than anything they had ever imagined possible, an enemy who united Yugoslavia for the first time in its history.

The same day that the historic poster appeared in Belgrade, a messenger went into the mountains, contacted the first of the little bands of soldiers who had escaped after the surrender, and said:

"I bring you greetings from the People's Liberation Front and from our commander, Tito."

Tito! The name had a romantic and mysterious ring to it. It was the sort of name Yugoslavs liked. It was unafraid. It almost gave a man strength just to say the name –Tito!

WHO IS TITO?

Three modern Slavs have thrown terror into the German hearts. One is Stalin of Russia, the other Demitroff, who defied the Germans at the famous Reichstag fire trials, and the third is Tito.

Who is this genius who organized armed resistance in Yugoslavia? Where does he come from? Who is this man who forced the Nazis to send a whole army against him? Where did he receive his military training?

Tito's real name is Josip Broz. He was born about 65 years ago in the village of Kranak in the hills of Croatia. His father was a poor peasant who, in addition to his farming, had to work as a metal worker in the mines to make enough for his family and himself to live on.

He grew up on his father's small farm, learned to read and write from the village priest, left the farm in his teens and went to one of the Croatian: towns where he found work as a metal smith alongside his father. He became in turn a mechanic and a locksmith. Later on he went to work in the railway shops of Zagreb.

Croatia was under Austrian rule when the first World War broke out and Josip Broz was drafted into the Austrian army in 1916, at the age of 24. Broz was a Yugoslav, and as a Yugoslav he hated the Hapsburg Empire and admired the Russians against whom he was forced to flight. He was speared by a Cossack and was taken prisoner by the Russians. He contracted typhus fever, but recovered.

At that time, in Russia, a Yugoslav battalion was formed to fight the Germans. In 1917 Broz joined it and when the Russian revolution came he and most of his battalion cast their lot with the revolutionists, for to him the revolution meant freedom. Freedom was almost the first word he had learned to read from his parish priest.

When the Red Army was organized, Broz joined it and took an active part in the battles against General Wrangell and Petlura's pogrom army. Broz stayed in Russia throughout the revolution. He fought in the Communist ranks, learned their methods of partisan warfare and then in 1927 he returned to the land of his birth. He again went to work in the Zagreb railway shops and began organizing the metal workers there. He became one of the leaders of the metal workers union. By this time Broz was a Communist.

During Alexander's reign of terror Broz was imprisoned for his union and political activity.

Josip Broz, however, was no ordinary political prisoner. He knew that in his prison he could not help the masses outside and so he planned his escape, and escape he did. Thus began his underground existence.

Because of circumstances he was forced to change his abode and his name very frequently. After assuming many aliases, he became known as Tito.

Hitler's coming to power in Germany strengthened the fascist, dictatorial tendencies of the Yugoslav royal house. The fascist Ustachi movement started up at that time. It was the agents of this gang of hoodlums that tried unsuccessfully to kill Alexander time and time again. He was finally assassinated by a Macedonian terrorist named Georgieff, who had been working with the Ustachi, whose leader was a Croat named Pavelich.

The terror against the workers and the national minorities grew and followed the same pattern, as it did wherever fascism strengthened Itself.

TITO IN SPAIN

In 1937 the Spanish civil war began and from the outset it was supported by Hitler and Mussolini. Some liberals in every country realized that this was no ordinary struggle, but was another fascist attempt to force a democratically elected government out of office.

Tito realized the urgency of the situation and threw himself into the struggle against fascism in Spain. Through his underground movement in Yugoslavia he recruited volunteers to help the Spanish Loyalists.

How he helped to smuggle men into Spain is a story in itself. Strange as it may seem, there was a law in Yugoslavia that forbade its citizens to leave the country, excepting by special permit.

The Paris Exposition in 1937 created an unusual interest among the people of Yugoslavia to see the wonders of the world in Paris. Due to pressure on account of the Exposition, the government was forced to modify travel restrictions. Tito utilized this occasion for his own underground recruiting.

Eleven thousand of Tito's followers received passports on the pretext of seeing the wonders of the Exposition. However, not one of them ever got to Paris.

Tito organized not only their exit from Yugoslavia but also their entry into Spain. He also helped thousands of Americans, Poles, Czechs, Norwegians and other anti-fascists who wanted to join the international brigade, get into Spain.

Tito wasn't satisfied merely making it possible for other men to fight, he took a gun in hand and fought alongside them, When the Franco dictatorship, with the aid of Hitler and Mussolini, finally defeated the Spanish Republican army, Tito was one of those who escaped across the border and was interned in France.

Somehow he escaped the concentration camps and got to Paris. Speaking to people who knew him there, they described him as a man more worn than the one in Madrid – leaner,, more tired, but as purposeful and hopeful as ever. By now he knew that his role in life would be that of a fighting anti-fascist.

He felt that the fight against fascism would come to Yugoslavia sooner or later.

The victory of fascism in Spain was a great lesson for Tito – a lesson that taught him that all progressive anti-fascist forces the world over must unite to lock themselves in mortal combat with the fascist scourge.

Tito Returns To His Native Land

An agent of the Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee contacted Tito in Paris and provided him with funds and means to return to Yugoslavia.

The Communist Party of his native land was underground and the corrupt pro-Axis Yugoslav government joined the Nazi inspired witch-hunt for radicals. When that government was overthrown by the officers' coup and Yugoslavia threw in her lot with Britain, Tito knew that his underground organization would play a vital role in the coming struggle.

At that time Tito was in Slovenia, the northernmost section of Yugoslavia. There during the next few years he consolidated his forces, drew tighter the strings of the local Communist party, and, most of all, sought to make common purpose with every democratic and progressive organization.


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