Articles

THE COMMIES AREN’T SO HOT, AT THAT

Yugoslavia is the one place where a non-Communist can watch a Communist state at work. In spite of the myth of ruthless, regimented Red efficiency, Tito’s dictatorship is a bureaucratic mess. But its thirty-two divisions will fight Russia if they have to

BLAIR FRASER July 15 1951
Articles

THE COMMIES AREN’T SO HOT, AT THAT

Yugoslavia is the one place where a non-Communist can watch a Communist state at work. In spite of the myth of ruthless, regimented Red efficiency, Tito’s dictatorship is a bureaucratic mess. But its thirty-two divisions will fight Russia if they have to

BLAIR FRASER July 15 1951

THE COMMIES AREN’T SO HOT, AT THAT

Yugoslavia is the one place where a non-Communist can watch a Communist state at work. In spite of the myth of ruthless, regimented Red efficiency, Tito’s dictatorship is a bureaucratic mess. But its thirty-two divisions will fight Russia if they have to

BLAIR FRASER

MACLEAN’S OTTAWA EDITOR

BELGRADE

YUGOSLAVIA is not a cheerful country, but it does suggest one cheering reflection. If other Communist countries are in anything like the mess that Communism has made of Yugoslavia, we needn’t be quite so alarmed by the Russians.

It wouldn’t do to carry that complacency too far, of course. Most Western observers in Belgrade rate Yugoslavia our strongest military ally in Europe, for the moment at least—thirty-two divisions under arms, and a war record that proves the Yugoslav will to fight. Russia was our strongest military ally against Hitler, too. It was wise to help Communist Russia with Lend-Lease and Mutual Aid; it may be wise now to help Communist Yugoslavia, for the same strictly military reasons.

We needn’t let that mar our satisfaction as we contemplate Communism At Work. Yugoslavia is the only Communist country yet to emerge from behind the Iron Curtain, the only Communist country Westerners are able to examine. It takes

very little examination to show that Communism does not, in fact, work very well.

Communism in Yugoslavia has created the most appalling inefficiency. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can be treated as a matter of routine. Everything, from getting a job to buying a loaf of bread, is a complicated bureaucratic operation.

The day before I left Belgrade a friend of mine spent three solid hours at the bank and yet all he had to do was cash two cheques. It took two senior men—the hotel manager and his assistant —half an hour to calculate the amount of my hotel bill. Yugoslavia’s managed currency is of various kinds for various uses and it takes an Einstein to figure out which is which.

Yugoslavia is trying to attract tourists and encouraging them to bring their cars. In one well-known and ancient tourist resort, Split on the Dalmation coast, the only gasoline pump in town recently stood empty for more than a week.

“I notified the authorities eight days ago I had

no gas,” the attendant explained, “but thus far I have had no reply.”

A British engineering firm has taken on the job of setting up a modern long-distance telephone system in Yugoslavia. One of the firm’s top men went to Belgrade last January to see what the job required. He asked if buildings were available for the relay stations.

“Yes, they are all ready,” was the reply.

When his engineers arrived a month later they were told, “Well, one building is ready. The others will be completed in ten or fifteen days.”

I met one of the engineers in Belgrade the day he returned from an inspection trip. He fourd the buildings still lacking floors, windows and in some cases parts of the roof, but he thought there was a chance they might be ready by July.

Of course that is not entirely Communism—some of it is just plain Balkan. The Serbian word sutra (“tomorrow”) has always had the same connotation as manana in Spanish. But there is plenty of

evidence that Communism has grossly aggravated this national tendency, and would create impediments whether they existed or not.

“You can’t get things done in this country because you can’t get a decision from anybody,” my engineer friend explained. “Even the most trivial decisions have to go all the way to the top, to the man we’d call the deputy minister.

“Often I have suggested a certain course of action; the man I deal with would be afraid to say yes or no. The question would be referred up and up and up until it got to the deputy. Then he’d relay it back down through all the same stages, back to me again—for my advice! So in my official capacity as technical adviser I would advise in favor of it. Up the recommendation goes again, through all the same steps and channels. Then the deputy makes his decision. He says ‘No.’ So we start all over again.”

Just across the river from Belgrade (you pass it on the way to the airport) is a perfect example of Communist refusal to accept technical advice from the decadent capitalists. It’s the great project of New Belgrade, the model city of government offices and luxury apartments that was to be a monument of the Tito regime. It is, in a way.

“Next Year, All Will Be Better”

Every foreign engineer who looked at the site warned them not to build there—it’s wet sand, almost a quicksand. Communist planners knew better. They had the skeleton of the main building completed before the foundations began to settle, causing floors to crack and walls to buckle. For two years now the skeleton has been standing there empty and forlorn, a mute reminder that Marxism is not enough. Even now, Communists will not admit that the project is abandoned; indeed, if you are a stranger they still point it out with apparent pride as a building “under construction.”

Without revealing I knew the history of the scheme I said to a Communist official, “I don’t see any workmen on the job.”

“Maybe they are working inside the building,” he said.

That was a fairly typical example of Communist propaganda. He evidently didn’t know I knew no work had been done on the building since 1949.

We were on our way to inspect a collective farm, where the same propaganda method was employed. This one is a big impressive project at the village of Dobranovci, only fifteen miles from Belgrade. Villagers of Dobranovci may well thank God for visiting firemen, for theirs is the “press farm,” the one to which all itinerant reporters are taken. It has more than five thousand acres, seven tractors, several combines and reapers, four hundred and eighty-two horses, sixty-five milch cows, a modern hatchery which this year will produce eight thousand chickens, and a good irrigation system for its vegetable patch. It also has a membership of ninety-five percent of the village.

The Yugoslav information officer guides you around this plushy establishment with elaborate deprecation. It is, he explains, very primitive: see, the wheelwright is chopping out spokes by hand, with a hatchet. Plowshares are still made by hand at the forge. Next year all this will be much better, but alas, we cannot have everything. Yugoslavia suffered such damage in the war.

The visitor is expected to believe all this and to accept Dobranovci as a typical collective farm. Next day I talked to a foreign observer who has traveled thousands of miles by jeep through the farms and villages of Yugoslavia, who knows the language and the country as few foreigners do. I asked him what a typical collective farm would be like.

“To begin with, it wouldn’t have anything finished,” he said. “About all there is to the average collective farm is the administration building and community centre. They started four thousand of these throughout the country. I would guess that they’ve finished about sixty, maybe a hundred.

“This typical farm would have somewhere between forty and sixty percent of the village enrolled as members. The rest would still be trying to

carry on as private farmers. Unfortunately the membership in any collective farm is usually the bottom half of the village, not the top half.

“They’re all started by ‘promotion teams’ sert out from Belgrade to drum up the idea. Naturally the first people to join are the down-and-outs whose farms are no good. They’ve nothing to lose; why shouldn’t they join

“When the promotion team gets twenty or thirty percent of the village families signed up the collective farm is organized. Then the pressure goes on to bring in the rest of the farmers—and it’s very tough pressure.”

A member of the Politburo had informed me it

was all "strictly voluntary." What kind of pressure

was used?

“In this country every farmer has to deliver a certain quota of grain to the state. That gives the state a terrible weapon. Say a man’s farm can produce seven hundred kilograms of wheat. The state puts him down for a quota of nine hundred kilos. Come harvest time he has to go out and buy the other two hundred kilos on the black market, at a price ten times what the government will pay him. Otherwise he goes to jail for failure to fulfill his quota. Or—he joins the collective, and all is forgiven.

“Under that kind

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of coercion n good many of the better farmers do join, though they’re not such good farmers on a collective farm as on their own. But you’d be surprised, in almost every village you find a hard core of stubborn Serbs who will not sign up. They’ll go to jail first. Some of them are in jail, in fact.”

Was this just pure Serbian obstinacy?

‘‘Not altogether. There’s reason behind it. One old farmer explained the whole thing to me: ‘If I sign that

paper and join the collective it clouds my title to my own farm,’ he said. ‘That farm is mine, it was my father’s before me. They can’t take it away from me no matter what they do - unless 1 give it away. So I don’t sign. Better to go to jail for one year, two years, even five years. When I come out this regime may be gone, but my farm will still be here.’ ”

What about the effect of collective farming on food production?

“1 can’t give you exact figures, but 1 can give you a pertinent fact. At this time of year a private farmer is out on his fields by 3.30 a.m.—it’s daylight at 4. On a collective farm they usually have an orientation meeting at 8 o’clock that lasts an hour or more. Maybe they get to work by 9.30.”

So far, collective farms include only about twenty percent of either farmers or farm area in Yugoslavia (the information officer will tell you forty to forty-five percent, but his own government’s figures give him the lie).

As Green as England

In spite of his grievances the farmer, private and collective alike, is probably better off than any other Yugoslav worker. At worst he has plenty to eat (except on some of the worst collectives, which don’t even feed their own workers and have to import food). Lately he has also had plenty of money; it doesn’t buy much, but it’s nice to have. The Government is frantically trying to restore farm production by letting the farmer sell more and more of his crops on the free market. While I was in Belgrade another long list of foods was exempted from the compulsory buy-up.

It looks like a bumper crop this year too, after the calamitous drought of 1950. “We may be able to wipe out rationing after this harvest,” said a collective farmer at Dobranovci. Maybe that’s overly optimistic, but the fields of Yugoslavia look as green as England; it would take very bad management indeed to make the 1951 crop a complete failure. All in all, the food problem in Yugoslavia seems well on the way to solution for the time being, even under Communism.

No such respite is granted to Yugoslav industry. Nature cannot help in the production of boots, or tractors, or machine tools. Yugoslav handicrafts like hand weaving and embroidery are as beautiful as ever, and you find them on sale in . the “export shops” where they earn tourist dollars. But Yugoslav factory goods are as low in quality as they are high in price. The “free market” price of a pair of shoes is equal to the average pay for one month. With coupons a worker can get shoes for twenty percent of that price, but nobody earns very many coupons and half the population get none at all.

I met a disgruntled engineering student from Belgrade University. “Engineering in this country is enough to drive you crazy,” he said. “You spend all day at conferences—talk, talk, talk.

Nobody ever has time to get any work done.”

You see the effect of this in the goods produced. Except for the old handicrafts, nothing appears to be well made. Nothing works very well, from telephones to toilets.

Nothing except one thing—the secret police. They work very efficiently indeed. Not quite as efficiently as in Russia, where a citizen would probably be afraid to talk even to his wife as some Yugoslavs talk to relative strangers. But efficiently enough to give these Yugoslavs a depressing story to tell.

Nobody outside of the Politburo knows how many men are employed by UDBA, the secret police. Nobody knows how many political prisoners lie in Yugoslav jails, with or without trial. About twelve thousand were released in a New Year’s amnesty last January; that was probably a small fraction of the total. The amnesty may have been an act of mercy, or it may only have reflected a housing problem.

“They kept me in jail two years after the war,” said a former Chetnik (General Mikhailovic’s anti-Communist resistance force). “If it hadn’t been for Tito’s break with Stalin I’d be there yet. They had to put all the Cominform agents and sympathizers in jail then, and the jails were full. So they let us go to make room for the others.”

UDBA agents are everywhere. Two years ago a group of junior secretaries from the Canadian Legation got into trouble with the police (they were jailed several hours for taking snapshots of one another in a public park) and they found they had no common language with the constables who arrested them. One of the policemen beckoned to a man in the crowd, a nondescript ill - dressed fellow who looked like everyone else. He came over and spoke to them in perfect English. Obviously a UDBA man, but one of how many in that Sunday afternoon crowd?

Every harlot in Yugoslavia is a UDBA informer; that’s the price she pays for being allowed to practice her profession. Waiters, taxi drivers, all the obvious listening posts are covered; in addition to the regular staff, three or four men in the blue serge suits and the heavy black shoes that are the UDBA “uniform” may be seen at any mealtime, watching the bar of the Majestic Hotel from a corner table on the mezzanine floor.

These are trivia. The worst of it, the really horrible fact, is that anybody at all may turn out to be an informer, even a trusted friend. Two Yugoslav boys told me this story:

A while ago they were walking in the park with a third lad, chatting idly, and one said, “How’d you like to be a member of the Communist Party?” The other answered “God forbid.”

Within a fortnight one of the boys was interrogated by the secret police. They quoted that conversation to him verbatim and let him off with a stern warning against “subversive talk.” The boys are certain the only witness within earshot was their companion.

“I thought he was our best friend, the rat,” said one of the boys bitterly.

The other was more charitable: “He just had a yellow streak, that’s all. They probably got something on him and used that to scare him into squealing on us. That’s how they get you, see. If you won’t talk, then they get some information from somebody else and you’re in trouble because you didn't talk. It’s a crime to withhold information.”

Officially, of course, UDBA gets its information from “volunteers” whose only motive is indignant patriotism. Every once in a while the foreign

resident gets a quick insight into the Yugoslav “volunteer” system. One such flash of light came a year or two ago when by some oversight a routine letter from Yugoslav authorities was sent to a Western ambassador. It addressed him by name, not rank, and it said: “You are advised that you

may now enroll for voluntary labor service at Police Station X.”

Correctly assuming his name had got on the list by mistake the ambassador didn’t answer the letter. Ten days later he got another: “You are re-

quired to report to Police Station X and explain why you have not volunteered for voluntary labor service.”

The ambassador has a lively sense of humor. He took the letters over to the Yugoslav Foreign Office. The Foreign Office, which has no sense of humor, was furious. Foreigners are not supposed to know how Communist volunteers are recruited.

But, indeed, even the foreigner feels control on every side in Communist Yugoslavia, and it is stifling. You can’t drive out into the country without running into “check points”— armed sentries to check your identification, find out where you’re going and why. Belgrade’s one bridge across the Danube has four guard posts, one at each end and two in the middle.

One evening I went down to see a Yugoslav acquaintance off on the train. As we parted he said, “Have you got your passport?”

“I think I have; why?”

“You may not need it,” he said, “but they may ask you for it as you leave the station.”

Sure enough. One little blue-coated policeman to ask who I was and where I was going; one soldier, a rifle slung over his shoulder, to help the policeman. Aside from everything else the mere economic burden of this horde of officers and spies must be staggering.

It may indeed be necessary to keep the regime going. One Westerner of sober judgment said, “I’m not sure you could operate Yugoslavia as a free country. It’s riven by hatreds five hundred years old, Serb against Croat, Orthodox against Catholic, and now Partisan against Collaborator and Communist against everything the old order stood for. Every faction has a terrible record of violence and cruelty; each can prove that the other has behaved atrociously. Give them all free rein and I don’t know what would happen.”

Help Wanted: Right Now

But though Yugoslavia may always have lacked order and stability the Communist regime is hated as King Alexander’s never was.

“I am no royalist,” the son of a once-wealthy Yugoslav said. “In the old days I used to be a bit of a radical; I thought the old regime was corrupt, and it was. But 1 can remember King Alexander walking the streets of Belgrade alone, unguarded. Tito never stirs without a battalion of armed guards.”

But they murdered King Alexander in the end, didn’t they?

“Yes -in Marseilles. Not at home.” A boy whose parents live on a collective farm said: “In our village the

Communists don’t go out alone after dark. They go in groups of three or four. They’re afraid some of us might catch them alone in a dim corner.” This is the regime which is now asking the Western allies for economic and military aid. Tito wants a lot of help and he wants it right away.

A joint service committee in Washington is still pondering the list of military requirements Tito sent them in January. No dollar total appears

in that list: it’s a request for specific numbers of planes, tanks, guns, etcetera. Meanwhile Tito has put in a separate bid for financial assistance running over three hundred million dollars all told.

Last year he got about two hundred million dollars from the United Stetes and Britain, but that was slightly different—last year Yugoslavia had a drought and nearly starved. The aid was emergency relief to stave off famine and anarchy.

This year Tito has no such food problem, yet he wants even rr re money. He has asked for more buan two hundred millions from the International Bank, to be invested in the development of industry. To get it he must meet the bank’s stipulation: find somebody to underwrite Yugoslavia’s trade deficit, now estimated at one hundred and fifty million dollars a year. Tito has asked the United States and Britain to put up this

amount (in grants, not loans) and they have been studying the request for the past two or three months.

If they take the advice of their envoys on the spot they’ll give Tito what he asks. Western diplomats in Belgrade are by no means blind to the faults of the Communist regime. They know perfectly well they are dealing with an unpopular and inefficient tyranny. Their reason for backing it is simple: There’s no alternative. Everybody seems agreed on that.

Perhaps Tito would be voted out of office in a free Yugoslav election, but there is nobody for the Yugoslavs to vote into office. Remove Tito and Yugoslavia would fall apart. Allow his regime to collapse from internal weakness and the result is the same: you

create a power vacuum which only Russia and her satellites can fill.

PI ven with help, Tito’s Yugoslavia remains terribly vulnerable. Stalin may well consider this the most important of all fronts, for Tito is a lethal threat to Russian pretensions, a living denial of the Russian Gospel. Stalin must surely have decided that, sooner or later, Tito must go.

In the three years since Tito’s break with Stalin, threats along the borders have been continuous. Tito, in a speech last December 28, announced a total of one thousand three hundred and ninety-seven “frontier incidents” with satellites Rumania, Bulgaria and Hungary. These incidents are still going on small shooting affrays between border guards, many causing fatal casualties. Any one could be turned into a pretext for invasion.

If Tito’s Yugoslavia is overrun by Russia the West falls into grave danger. True, it’s no more than the danger we were in anyway, before June 1948, but

that was danger enough. Russian capture of the Dalmatian coast might well close the whole Mediterranean. Italy would become virtually indefensible, Turkey and Greece would be hopelessly outflanked.

And one thing you have to say for Tito’s Yugoslavia: Any help that’s

given will at least be used.

“These are serious people,” an American reporter said. “They are really trying to make a go of their system and put their country back on the rails. Efficiently or not, they are working.”

They are not thieves and they are not grafters. Money given to help the nation will not find its way into the pockets of individuals nor gift goods show up on the black market.

CARE (the Co-operative for American Remittances to Europe) has a large experienced staff checking the arrival of food and its delivery to the intended spots. American Government teams roam the country with the same mission. Neither agency has uncovered a single case of diversion in all the millions of tons of food which have poured into Yugoslavia in the past ten months.

But the more important, in fact the decisive argument for aid to Yugoslavia, can be put into three words: Yugoslavia will fight. That is more than we can say with the same assurance of some far more respectable allies. As one American resident put it:

“These Yugoslavs have never at any time said, ‘If you give us a lot of dollars, and if you send us some American soldiers as well as tanks and planes, then maybe we will consider attempting to defend ourselves.’

“These Yugoslavs say ‘We intend to defend ourselves no matter what you do or say or want If you give us some help we may be able to do it better.”

Incidentally this is one point on which the whole of Yugoslavia seems unanimous. No one, Yugoslav or foreigner, friend or foe of the regime, ever suggests that Soviet Russia should not or would not be resisted to the last man and the last bullet.

“I remember how the Russians behaved when they were supposed to be our friends,” said an anti-Communist Yugoslav. “I can imagine what they’d do here as enemies.”

In Western countries you hear suggestions from time to time that any help to Yugoslavia ought to be conditional, that we should make it a weapon to force changes in Yugoslav policy. Roman Catholics, in particular, would like to stipulate the release and restoration of Mgr. Stepinac, Archbishop of Zagreb. He is now in jail as a war criminal.

Diplomats in Belgrade, Catholic as well as Protestant, argue against this line. Nothing would so damage the regime, they say, nothing so strengthen the Russian propaganda line in other Middle European countries, as for Tito to give the appearance of submitting to pressure from the capitalist democracies. And nothing would so smack of pressure as the sudden unexplained release of Stepinac.

One trouble is that the Stepinac case involves more than Communism. It’s part of the ancient feud between Serb and Croat. The war crime of which Stepinac was accused, and convicted at a public trial, was connivance in the “forced conversions” from Orthodox to Catholic faith which unquestionably were perpetrated during the war. They were carried out by the Ustashi, a Fascist Croat force distinguished even in Yugoslavia for its ferocious cruelty. The hatred the Ustashi created is still very much alive.

Mgr. Stepinac may be wholly innocentof any association with these crimes though he was in ecclesiastical office when they were committed. That is not the point. The point is that almost all Serbs, Communist and nonCommunist alike, believe he was guilty. A Yugoslav court found him guilty. A Yugoslav government, even a dictatorship like Tito’s, would suffer grave loss of face and dignity if it simply overruled its own court in return for a cash hand-out.

NEXT ISSUE: BLACK’S HARBOR, N.B. Ian Sclanders writes about a thriving town built on sardines. It is owned by two men, you can rent a house for $14 a month, and you can get your Sunday dinner for nothing at the wharf when the fleet comes in. IN MACLEAN S AUGUST 1 ON SALE JULY 27

Tito himself would like to settle the Stepinac controversy. “If they will rJsly let me alone,” he told a distinguished visitor recently, “if they will only keep quiet even for two or three months I can settle this question. But I cannot and I will not yield to pressure.”

Foreign observers are inclined to agree with the Yugoslav argument that independence, for Tito, has advantages for us as well as for him. Yugoslavia has political influence with the satellite countries and with the Communist Parties in countries like Italy and France, just because she is nobody’s stooge.

It seems to me all this argument is beside the point, anyway. Yugoslavia may be a military ally, for reasons of mutual advantage. Yugoslavia is not and will not become a friend.

“The Communists tell us Yugoslavs that they’re just playing the Western

powers for suckers,” a Belgrade man told me.

Quite probably they believe that themselves. Western nations would be dupes indeed if they gave Tito help for any other reason than their own safety.

You hear a good deal nowadays about the “improvements” in Tito’s regime—the abolition of special privileges for Communist Party men; the reduction of the bureaucracy, touted as the “withering away of the State” that Marx and Lenin prophesied; some faint return of liberty. It’s true that these improvements have taken place, but they are meaningless from our point of view. Tito has had to make some concessions to placate his own people and to muster popular support for a regime standing alone in a hostile world. He will make no more than he must.

No amount of “improvement” will make Yugoslavia a free country, or Tito anything but a Communist dictator.

If we are going to support him, as it seems we are, let’s not be sentimental about it. Tito can be a useful ally against Stalin, as Stalin was a useful ally against Hitler. Surely we caa recognize that without being impelled to form Canada-Yugoslav friendship councils. if