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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter V. Socialism and the nationality question

National question in Yugoslavia in the light of the Liberation War

Josip Broz Tito
Traduction de Linda Krtajič, Krištof Bodrič et Vedran Dronjić

Texte intégral

1Title: Nacionalno pitanje u Jugoslaviji u svjetlosti Narodnooslobodilačke borbe (National question in Yugoslavia in the light of the Liberation War)

2Originally published: Proleter No. 16, September 1942

3Language: Serbo-Croatian
The excerpts used are from Josip Broz Tito, Borba za oslobođenje Jugoslavije I, 1941–1945 (Beograd: Kultura, 1947), pp. 130–148.

About the author

4Josip Broz Tito (originally named Josip Broz) [1892, Kumrovec (present-day Croatia) – 1980, Ljubljana]: politician, the leader of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from 1945 until his death. He was born into a poor peasant family, of a Slovene mother and a Croatian father, in the Croatian region of Zagorje. Between 1907 and 1910, he learned the locksmith’s trade in Sisak. He then worked in Zagreb as a metal-worker, where, he became part of the socialist movement. During the First World War, he served as a non-commissioned officer in the Austrian army and took part in combat on the Eastern front in Galicia, where he ended up as a prisoner of war in 1915. After the revolutionary clashes in 1917, he fled first to Petrograd and then to Siberia. In 1920, he went back to what had in the meanwhile become the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, where, as a Communist Party organizer, he continued to work under strong regime pressure. He was imprisoned between 1928 and 1934. In 1934, he became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (hereafter CPY) and adopted the code name Tito. He spent the next two years in Moscow working for the Balkan section of the Communist International (Comintern). After his return to the country in 1937 with a Comintern assignment to purge dissident elements from the CPY, he was appointed the Party’s secretary general. In this capacity he followed faithfully Comintern policies, thus contesting Serbian policies towards other Yugoslav nationalities and schemes to fragment the Yugoslav state. Following the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia and attack on the USSR in 1941, Tito organized and led the communist anti-fascist resistance against the Germans and their Croatian allies in what became known as the Liberation War of 1941–1945. In 1942, the partisan movement and the communist-dominated provisional government under his leadership came into conflict with the Chetniks, a Serbian resistance movement that favored the restoration of pre-war monarchy. After unsuccessful attempts to reconcile the rival groups, the Allies gave their support to Tito in 1944, and a year later recognized him as prime minister, thus clearing the way for the Communist Party’s monopoly over power in post-war Yugoslavia. Josip Broz Tito was the first post-war president of Yugoslavia, later to be proclaimed president of the state for life. During the 1950s and 1960s, he first insisted on the need to build a new type of community based on the idea of belonging to the same Yugoslav nation. Starting at the end of the 1960s, Tito changed his attitude towards acknowledging the importance of national differences, claiming that the co-existence of the different nationalities should be based on the concept of “brotherhood and unity.” Although the ideology of “brotherhood and unity” prevailed until the very end of Yugoslavia, yielding varied levels of dedication among the public, there are opinions that it was exactly the national identities, energies and sentiments it had attempted to suppress that engendered the wars and violence of the 1990s.

5Main works: Nacionalno pitanje u Jugoslaviji u svetlu Narodnooslobodilačke borbe [National question in Yugoslavia in the light of the Liberation War] (1942); Borba za oslobođenje Jugoslavije [Struggle for the liberation of Yugoslavia] (1945); Izgradnja nove Jugoslavije [Building of the new Yugoslavia] (1950).


6The text, written in 1942, represents the communist view on the national question in interwar Yugoslavia, and on the question of the borders of the future state. This view is inscribed in a long and influential leftist tradition in the political history of Serbia, starting with Svetozar Marković and including names such as Svetozar Miletić, Nikola Pašić, Pera Todorović, Mita Cenič and Dragoljub Jovanovič among its major proponents. The Communist Party started to organize itself in the early 1920s within harsh political circumstances and under repression by the regime. Still, it came to articulate a clear political alternative to the nationalist policies of the ruling elite in the years prior to the Second World War. Their counterpart as well as opponent on the left side of the political spectrum was the People’s Peasant Party, led by Dragoljub Jovanović. The latter’s program was organized around three interrelated key notions: democracy, socialism and peasantry. Jovanovič rejected revolutionary methods in favor of democratic procedures. Unlike the ideologues of the CPY, he argued that the onset of socialism would only be possible through the development of democracy, and not through the dictatorship of the proletariat as proposed by the communists. As for his views of the national question, Dragoljub Jovanović believed that the national question of the Serbs as well as the Croats could be best solved within Yugoslavia, within the confines of an all-South Slav state. Both the communists and the Peasant Party severely criticized the royal dictatorship and the political conditions in pre-war Yugoslavia. Nevertheless, the CPY’s methods of political organization proved to be more suitable for the forthcoming events. The developed organizational infrastructure of the communists, their readiness to take initiative and adjust to extra-parliamentary methods of political fighting helped them diffuse their revolutionary ideas. However, popular support for the CPY’s program cannot simply be explained as the result of an efficient method devised according to the given circumstances. It proposed a solution to a problem that seemed insoluble by means of the ‘traditional’ national programs. Moreover, this program offered the simultaneous pursuit of both liberation from foreign occupation, and radical social change.

7The communists’ underground activities during the Nazi German occupation, which began on 27 March 1941, led to the Liberation War of 1941–1945. In this programmatic text, Tito claimed that the Liberation War was an exceptional twofold achievement: the liberation of the country and the solution of its national question based on the national sovereignty of the Yugoslav nations. Thus, he opposed other existing views of national/political identification, such as the royalist one represented by Draža Mihajlović’s Chetnik movement connected to the King’s government, which was in exile in London.

8The text illustrates the notion of “brotherhood and unity” which was later developed further by the Yugoslav communists. It speaks about the advantages of the communists’ solution to the national question in Yugoslavia, and explains in detail the model of the equality of nationalities to be developed after the victory of the CPY. In postwar Yugoslavia, interwar politics and its actors were accused of having created a “Greater Serbian hegemony” and of having provoked conflicts and distrust among the nations, thus making a successful resolution of the national question impossible. Therefore, they were severely criticized on ideological and class-based grounds. Reflecting the dominant narrative of the Liberation War, Tito accuses the ideological and political opponents of the Partisans for having disrupted their just fight.


National question in Yugoslavia in the light of the Liberation War

10Today, the People’s liberation struggle and the national issue are indivisi-bly linked in Yugoslavia. Our people’s liberation struggle would not be so relentless and so successful if the nations of Yugoslavia did not see in it, besides victory over fascism, also victory over those in favor of the previous regime and victory over those who oppressed and sought to further oppress the people of Yugoslavia. The words People’s Liberation Struggle would be a mere phrase and even a deception if it did not, besides a general Yugoslav sense, also have a national sense for each nation individually, that is to say if it did not at the same time also mean, besides the liberation of Yugoslavia, the liberation of Croats, Slovenes, Serbs, Macedonians, Albanians, Muslims, etc., if it did not truly aspire to the freedom and brotherhood of all the nations of Yugoslavia. And that is where the essence of the people’s liberation struggle lies.

11Today’s people’s liberation struggle could not end in victory over the occupiers and their henchmen if there was no national unity: if Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Montenegrins, Macedonians and Muslims did not take part in the ranks of the People’s Liberation Army. The total liberation of each nation separately could not be achieved if the peoples of those nations did not now take up arms and go into battle for the common victory of all the nations of Yugoslavia over all the enemies of the people.

12The main obstacles in the way of such complete unity in our struggle are those who look back, those who aspire to re-establish the old system that existed before the collapse of Yugoslavia. Those are the leaderships of the different former civic parties; here we can also see the so-called London line: “Wait, the hour has not yet come.” Here we can see Draža Mihajlović and his Chet-niks, who, under the slogan “For King and Country”, are fighting on the side of the occupiers, against our People’s Liberation Army and Partisan detachments; here we can see, in short, all those who fear the people taking up arms, for they know that they will no longer be able to implement reactionary ideas concerning the organization of Yugoslavia against the will of the people.

13The exiles in London offer the nations of Yugoslavia dark prospects for the future and terrible danger for all those nations that have been oppressed since the creation of Yugoslavia. That government in exile in London would use gendarmes’ rifle butts and Chetniks’ knives to unite the nations of Yugoslavia if, by some misfortune, they were to come to power in Yugoslavia again.

14Macedonians, Albanians, Croats, Muslims, etc. fearfully wonder what would happen to them if the old system were to return. The government in exile in London is already threatening; Chetniks are already slaughtering wherever they can with the help of the occupiers and are sharpening their knives for even more terrible butchery – that is what all the nations fear. But we are calling on all not to fear; salvation from such atrocities is possible. But it is only possible if they take up arms now without hesitation, and go into the sacred battle being fought by our heroic People’s Liberation Army against the occupiers for the freedom and equality of all the nations of Yugoslavia. That is the sole path to salvation that should be taken by all the nations of Yugoslavia.

  • 1 Ante Pavelić (1889–1959), Croatian right wing politician in interwar Yugoslavia. In the period of (...)

15I must here underline the fact that from the very beginning to the present day, Serbs themselves have accounted for a large majority in the ranks of our People’s Liberation Army and Partizan detachments, instead of being the other way round. It has been Serbian, Montenegrin, Bosnian and Lika Partizans and brigades, made up almost exclusively of Serbs, that have been conducting a merciless battle not only against the occupiers but also against Draža Mihajlović’s Chetniks and other enemies of the oppressed people. What does this prove? It proves that all the nations of Yugoslavia, which have in the past been oppressed by the protagonists of greater Serbian hegemony, have their best and most reliable allies amongst the Serbian nation. The Serbian nation has given and is still giving the greatest contribution of blood in the battle against the occupiers and their treacherous henchmen, not only Pavelić, Nedić and Pećanać, but also Draža Mihajlović and his Chetniks, for the full freedom and independence of all the nations of Yugoslavia. The Serbian people do not wish a return to the old regime, just like Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians, Montenegrins and Muslims. The Serbian nation is well aware of why the national tragedy came about and who the main culprit is, and this is why Serbs are fighting so heroically and why they despise the domestic traitors. It is therefore the sacred duty of all the other nations of Yugoslavia to participate with the Serbian nation at least as much, if not more, in this great liberation war against the occupiers and all those that help them. The banner of the People’s Liberation Struggle against the occupiers which was hoisted by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia in 1941 is at the same time also the banner for national freedom and equality of each nation’s individuality. It is that same banner which, unblemished, has been borne by the Communist Party since the creation of Yugoslavia, struggling without compromise for national freedom and the equality of all our nations. Never has the Communist Party renounced its principles as laid down by our great teachers and leaders Lenin and Stalin that each nation has the right to self-determination up to secession. And never will the Communist Party renounce that principle. But, at the same time, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia will never allow that right to be abused by enemies of the people and for those enemies to create a medieval dark and colonial servitude, as is the case of Pavelić’s “independent” Croatia,1 instead of freedom and independence. It will fight to protect us from the abuse of that right.

16The Communist Party of Yugoslavia will continue to fight for the brotherly, free and equal community of all the nations of Yugoslavia. It will fight equally against the protagonists of greater Serbian hegemony, which aspires to renew the oppression of the other nations of Yugoslavia, just as it will fight against those who wish to sow dissension and hinder the brotherly unity of the nations of Yugoslavia for the interests of any imperialist power.

17The question of Macedonia, the question of Kosovo and Metohija, the question of Montenegro, the question of Croatia, the question of Slovenia and the question of Bosnia and Herzegovina will easily be resolved to the satisfaction of all only if those questions are resolved by the people themselves. And each nation gains that right when its people take up arms in our People’s Liberation Struggle.


1 Ante Pavelić (1889–1959), Croatian right wing politician in interwar Yugoslavia. In the period of the Dictatorship (šestojanuarska diktatura) in 1929, he emigrated first to Vienna and after that to other European countries, where he continued political work aiming at creation of an independent Croatian state. At the beginning of the Second World War he returned to Croatia only a few days after the German troops marched in, and Slavko Kvaternik proclaimed Croatia’s independence under the auspices of the Italian government. Pavelić proclaimed himself a commander (poglavnik) and formed a government in which he took the positions of Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs.


Linda Krtajič (Traducteur)
Krištof Bodrič (Traducteur)
Vedran Dronjić (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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