(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 18)

The expulsion of Milovan Djilas from the Yugoslav Communist Party in 1954 abruptly terminated his long association and friendship with Marshal Tito, President of Yugoslavia. During the Nazi occupation, Djilas became one of Tito’s three highest aides, and after the war he served as Vice-President of Yugoslavia until his fall from grace. Djilas was ousted from the party after having appealed for the transformation of Communism into democratic socialism. He was sentenced to a ten-year prison term in 1956 for expressing ideas contained in The New Class: An Analysis of the Communist System, which was published in 1957. Since his early release from prison in 1961, Djilas has written numerous other works, including additional critical studies of Communism, two novels, and three autobiographical works, of which Wartime is the latest.

In Wartime, Djilas recounts his experience as a member of the Partisan resistance movement which was led by Josip Broz, better known as Marshal Tito. Djilas describes in vivid detail how the historic, religious, and political animosities which for centuries had divided the Yugoslav people were exacerbated during the German and Italian occupation that commenced in April, 1941. Employing the “divide and rule” principle, the Nazis partitioned large areas of Yugoslavia among themselves and their Italian, Hungarian, and Bulgarian allies. Worse still, the Nazis purposely cultivated the traditional feud between the Serbs and Croatians to the point where both peoples perpetrated massacres and atrocities against the other. These tactics on the part of the Nazis served to complicate the nature of the resistance movement which intensified against them after they began the invasion of Soviet Russia on June 22, 1941.

From this point, a complicated struggle developed in Yugoslavia involving four major groups, with especially bloody fighting in those areas populated by Serbs. First of all, the Axis powers, as seen, dismembered the country, with Germany annexing the northern two-thirds of Slovenia while the remainder of the region went to Italy. The Germans then proceeded to set up Ante Paveli as the puppet leader of the so-called Independent State of Croatia. Paveli was also the head of a Croatian Fascist terrorist organization known as the Ustashi, which lost little time in undertaking wholesale massacres of Serbs, not only the minority in Croatia but those in the province of Bosnia as well. These murderous attacks by the Ustashi inspired the Serbs in Bosnia and elsewhere to form a resistance movement known as the Chetniks, The most disciplined Chetnik groups were those under the direct supervision of Colonel Draa Mihailovi in Serbia proper. The Chetniks generally tended to be strongly Serbian nationalistic, or, in other words, anti-Croatian and anti-Communist. This position eventually led to open conflict with Tito’s Communist-led Partisans, who, throughout the war, maintained close contact with Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator, as Djilas relates in considerable detail.

Tito’s efforts in the fall of 1941 to forge a common front with the Chetniks in the struggle against the Axis proved unsuccessful, and by November of that year, the two resistance movements were openly at war with each other. They continued to fight each other until the end of World War II, caught up in what Djilas describes in his book as “the civil war within a war.” Three basic reasons explain the incompatibilty of the two movements. First of all, on the question of the strategy to be employed against the enemy, Mihailovi adopted a cautious policy of avoiding large-scale armed resistance because of the overwhelming strength of the Germans, whose penchant for merciless reprisals against the civilian population was well known. Tito’s Partisans, by contrast, believed in and practiced unremitting warfare against the enemy, no matter how great the cost as measured in their own lives or those of civilians who fell victims to Axis reprisals.

Politically, the Chetnik-Partisan feud was a continuation of the struggle during the interwar period (1919-1941) between the monarchist government and its opponents. Mihailovi, a royalist officer, considered the Communists to be nothing more than lawless, atheistic criminals. The Communists, for their part, regarded Milhailovi as the representative of the prewar regime they had fought for years, and feared that unless they could defeat him, the monarchy would be restored once the war ended. The restoration of the monarchy, which had ruled Serbia before it became part of Yugoslavia at the end of World War I, would of course mean the triumph of the Serbian national cause.

Herein lay a third source of friction between the Chetniks and the Partisans, for Mihailovi was an ardent Serbian nationalist who called for the postwar enlargement of Serbia which, as a consequence, would completely dominate the Yugoslav state. Tito, on the other hand, advanced an all-Yugoslav program based on national self-determination of all peoples, and sweeping social reform. This program, together with the Partisan slogan “Death to Fascism, Freedom to the...

(The entire section is 2101 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 18)

Kirkus Reviews. XLV, April 15, 1977, p. 460.

Library Journal. CII, May 15, 1977, p. 1175.

New York Times Book Review. June 26, 1977, p. 7.

Publisher’s Weekly. CXI, April 18, 1977, p. 56.