Yugoslav Cominformists in Prague
Praha, Prague, Czech Republic
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Name of collection
- Yugoslav Cominformists in Prague Collection
Provenance and cultural activities
Yugoslav Cominformists in Prague presents a selection of original materials which attest to the undertakings of a Yugoslav radical leftist emigrant group covering the period 1971–76. The collection was founded by Ivan Sinanovič, one of the leading individuals of the Yugoslav Cominform movement in Prague. In 2011, Sinanovič unconditionally bestowed the collection to the Czech historian Ondřej Vojtěchovský, who specialises in the topic of Yugoslav Cominform emigration in Prague.
In June 1948, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY) was officially expelled from Cominform (Informbiro in Serbo-Croatian; the Soviet-dominated international Communist forum), being accused, among other things, of nationalism and an ‘anti-Soviet attitude’. Essentially, the most decisive factors that led to the expulsion of Yugoslavia were its territorial ambitions toward Trieste and Albania, and its firm support of the communists in the Greek Civil War, contrary to Stalin’s arrangements with the West.
After the Cominform Resolution was passed, Tito’s government began repressing potential Stalinist threats, many of whom had escaped to nearby Eastern Bloc countries. Many emigrants infiltrated back into Yugoslavia, whereby they attempted to stir up rebellion. During this period of internal instability and paranoia, thousands of alleged Stalinists were persecuted within Yugoslavia, many of whom were sent to prison camps.
Following the death of Stalin in 1953, rapprochement with the Soviet Union began under Khrushchev. The Soviet Union was keen to court Yugoslavia’s loyalty away from the West, and in doing so, accepted its alternative, more market-friendly form of Communism, all the while adopting more moderate reforms itself.
Prior to the Tito–Stalin split, there were approximately 4000 Yugoslavs living more or less permanently in Czechoslovakia. Some came before the war as students, some came during the war as farmworkers and industry workers and some were laborers in Nazi camps. Most of the Yugoslav diaspora was neutral toward the Cominform Resolution, given that their long-term plans were to remain in Czechoslovakia.
However, this was not the case for a substantial minority of Yugoslavs, mostly diplomats and representatives of Yugoslavian firms and institutions, alongside a few hundred post-war university students. These groups were sent to Czechoslovakia in the post-war period (1945–47), and thus in order to live abroad they were required to adhere to various criteria established by the Yugoslav government. These people were often party members, meaning their views were more staunchly aligned with the Yugoslav government. Additionally, their time in Czechoslovakia was necessarily of a more temporary nature than other Yugoslav emigrants. These factors together made these groups far more affected by the split between Yugoslavia and the rest of the Eastern Bloc.
The part of the Yugoslav emigrant community in Czechoslovakia that supported the Cominform Resolution organised itself in close contact with the central apparatus of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (CPC). They called themselves Yugoslav communists or Yugoslav revolutionaries, but unofficially they accepted the designation ‘Cominform followers’ (informbiroovci in Serbo-Croatian). For security reasons that indicated possible infiltration of Yugoslav secret agents, this group comprised only a small number of politically active persons. Therefore, many were refused membership in the Yugoslav Cominform emigrant group in Prague. There were around 150 active members of this group, but significant political activities including radio broadcasts and distribution of propagandistic material were run only by a smaller group of around 30 people.
The activities of the Yugoslav Cominformists in Prague can be divided into three periods:
1) The years of Soviet-Yugoslav tension (1948–54) was the period during which their activism in Czechoslovakia was the most pronounced and significant. The emigrant organisation operated closely with the central apparatus of the CPC, while anti-Tito activists became subjects of so-called ‘high politics’. The main activity of the Cominformists in Prague was the publication of the Nova Borba newspaper, which was issued from 1948 until 1954. It was officially printed in the CPC printing house. It was possible to buy it in Czechoslovakia, and it was also distributed officially to Western countries. Nova Borba was also sent to Yugoslavia, although illegally.
2) The normalisation of relations between Yugoslavia and the countries of the Eastern Bloc (the 1960s) was a period during which the political activity of emigrants virtually came to a halt. A minority of emigrants even returned to Yugoslavia. Those who stayed were required to normalise their status in Czechoslovakia. They were offered Czechoslovakian citizenship and membership in the CPC. For the most radical activists, this was unacceptable. They were disturbed by the tendency of Czechoslovak reformers to admire the so-called ‘Yugoslav model’. They saw attempts to reform the socialist system as counterrevolutionary efforts which would lead to the restoration of a capitalist system. Therefore, they wholeheartedly greeted the intervention of Soviet authorities in Czechoslovakia in 1968. The radical activists hoped that this intervention could be duplicated against the Yugoslav regime and so they started to revive their political activities. However, the euphoria among emigrants was short-lived when they realised that the USSR was not interested in intervening in Yugoslavia.
3) The decade of the 1970s is the period during which the activities of the Yugoslav Cominformists in Prague moved to a higher organisational level. In cooperation with other Yugoslav emigrant cells across Europe, they held an illegal congress in March 1974 in Bar, Montenegro, at which they proclaimed the re-establishment of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (in further text: the new CPY) and elected a central committee. Thus as of 1974, the main actors of this radical wing started to refer to themselves as the movement of the new CPY.
Within the new CPY, the so-called Prague cell, including the Dragila couple (Pero and Dušanka) and Ivan Sinanovič, the founder of the collection, had relatively important positions. During the preparation for the Congress, Prague became the site of secret meetings and was a centre for the production and distribution of illegal leaflets to be sent to Yugoslavia. These were posted to hundreds of addresses in Yugoslavia, mostly aimed at reaching known former Cominform adherents or people in official positions within military veteran organisations or even within the party and state apparatus, but who were seen by the authors of the leaflets as possible sympathizers. The leaflets were sent out monthly. After Czechoslovakian state security discovered these illegal activities, their distribution was less frequent. The Czechoslovak state came across these mailings not by examining the post (only post between Czechoslovakia and Western countries was controlled), but because this issue was mentioned at high-level meetings between Yugoslav and Czechoslovak representatives. The Yugoslavs demanded that Czechoslovak authorities stop such anti-Yugoslav activity. Yugoslavia suspected Czechoslovakia of not only allowing but also supporting these activities. However, this was in fact a completely underground activity, performed solely by the Prague cell.
Although an objectively small and marginal group, these Yugoslav Cominformist emigrants were seen by the Yugoslav regime as a political threat. After the Bar Congress in 1974, the Tito regime began utilizing forms of repression not seen since the late 1950s. A series of legal proceedings took place, during which stiff penalties were imposed.
The topic of Yugoslav Cominform emigrants has not been described much in historiography. However, public debate has characterised the split in the CPY and the persecution of Soviet supporters (at the Goli Otok camp in particular) since the 1980s in a polarising way. One side believed that the Tito regime was totalitarian, ruthless and essentially grounded in Stalinism. The other side presented the Cominform as an attempt to violate the sovereignty and internal integrity of Yugoslavia and to destabilise its state system.
Thus, the Yugoslav Cominformists in Prague collection is significant in that it presents Cominformists not merely as victims of repression of the ruthless Titoist regime or as dogmatised supporters of Stalinist/Soviet authority, but as a self-conscious, intellectual, organised movement of idealists and ardent devotees to the values of communist internationalism.
The collection was founded by Ivan Sinanovič, one of theleading members of Yugoslav Cominform emigrants in Prague and member of the central committee of the new CPY. He kept the leaflets produced by the Prague cell of the new CPY in order to document its activity. At the time, the material was assumed to be the most secure with Sinanovič, as he was considered to be the least suspicious among the ranks of Yugoslav Cominformists in Prague, being a member of the CPC and the Czechoslovak citizen. In 2011, Sinanovič bestowed the collection to the Czech historian Ondřej Vojtěchovský.
Description of content
The collection comprises around 70 leaflets (around 130 pages of densely typed text). This covers about 90 per cent of the total number of leaflets produced by the Yugoslav Cominform emigrant group in Prague from 1971 until 1976. The collection of leaflets has no official name. Each leaflet is titled depending on its content. The leaflets are numbered by year and month of publication. From 1971 to 1974, the leaflets were signed by the group that operated under the name ‘Yugoslav revolutionaries in Prague’ or ‘Yugoslav communists in Prague’. From 1974, the leaflets were signed by the ‘New Communist Party of Yugoslavia’, which was founded through a collaboration of various Yugoslav emigrant cells throughout Europe, including the Yugoslav Cominform emigrant group in Prague.
The leaflets were printed in Serbo-Croatian, in Latin script. They are predominantly written in the ijekavica dialect with mixed Serbian and Croatian vocabulary, but with some distinctive Croatian words being more frequent. This is due to the fact that most of their authors were Yugoslavs of Croatian and Slovenian origin.
The leaflets were of a propagandistic nature, produced for distribution in Yugoslavia, to disseminate arguments against the Tito regime and the Yugoslav government and to propagate the values of internationalism and communism according to the Soviet model.
The leaflets include analysis and criticism of Tito’s regime from the point of view of these Yugoslav radical leftist emigrant groups in Prague. The leaflets cover several topics including Yugoslav economic policy, international relations toward Non-Alignment Movement and Western countries, as well as some problematic topics in the internal politics of Yugoslavia at that time such as the constitutional changes in the 1960s and 1970s, the national question and the centralisation of Yugoslavia. Special attention was paid to the topic of the Yugoslav working emigration to the West, which was criticised and viewed as one of the biggest failures of the Yugoslav/Tito regime. Furthermore, the situation in the cultural sphere was criticised as being influenced, according to the authors of the leaflets, by either the bourgeoise or Western propaganda, as well as by the so-called “kitsch culture” of the Western world.
In the second period of activities, when the new Communist party of Yugoslavia was organised (1974 – 1976), most of the leaflets were dedicated to criticism of repressive measures of the Yugoslav authorities against Cominformists. The authors of the leaflets also specifically addressed the legal proceedings against their comrades arrested as a consequence of their participation in the founding congress of the new CPY in Bar, Montenegro, which they discussed as a threat to human rights.
- grey literature (regular archival documents such as brochures, bulletins, leaflets, reports, intelligence files, records, working papers, meeting minutes): 100-499
Geographical scope of recent operation
Place of founding
Praha, Prague, Czech Republic
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Important events in the history of the collection
- visits by appointments
Author(s) of this page
- Krstić Draško, Marija
Vojtěchovský, Ondřej. 2016. Iz Praga protiv Tita!: Jugoslovenska informbiroovska emigracija u Čehoslovačkoj. Zagreb: srednja europa.
Vojtěchovský, Ondřej, interview by Nießer, Jacqueline, December 14, 2016. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection