Howard Fast

Tito and His People

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.


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