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Vojislav Pavlovic
Institute for Balkan Studies
Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts

The ambiguity of a traditional alliance: continuity or ideological conflict

The image of Russia versus Soviet Union as seen in the writings of:

Milovan Djilas, Dragoljub Jovanovic and Milan Grol

The image of Russia in Serbia as a traditional ally and orthodox protector, undergone a radical change after the October Revolution. The arrival of refugees, which were welcomed by the king Alexander, his refusal to establish diplomatic relations with Soviet Union, clearly marked a new era in bilateral relations. The cornerstone of the Versailles geopolitical system, Yugoslavia was a staunch member of the “cordon sanitaire”, and its elites considered the Soviets as a principal threat for their way of life.

The situation changed in the late thirties. After the assassination of King Alexander, and the ever increasing presence of Germany and Italy in the Balkans, the circumstances started once again to resemble the ones before the Great War. The end French predominance, the arrival of a new generation of left-wing intellectuals, such as Dragoljub Jovanovic, even of communists, such as Milovan Djilas, and of young bourgeois politicians such as Milan Grol, led to a reappraisal of the role of Soviet Union.

It was a long process which started in the late thirties and lasted until the death of Stalin. The German occupation, the guerrilla warfare, the arrival of Soviet armies, the imposition of soviet style communism in Yugoslavia, Tito-Stalin split, the economic and military support of the West, were the principal events that created the atmosphere for the evolution of the image of Russia/Soviet Union in the writing of these three intellectuals, that represented three major currents of thought in Serbia.

Their perspective was obviously different, but the gap in their appraisal of the Soviet policy tended to narrow as the time passed and all three of them, in different circumstances and different positions, got really acquainted with the essence of Stalinism. The initial reverence and admiration Djilas had for Stalin ended in an attack of the “red bourgeoisie” , Soviet and Yugoslav alike. Jovanovic’s Slavophil orientation did not save him from serving a long prison sentence after 1945, while Grol’s initial involvement in politics as a member of first government after the war, ended with his resignation and subsequently  by his political and civil isolation by the Tito’s regime as “ inner foe of people’s democracy”.

Hopes that have been vested in the role of Soviets for strategic reasons, died as soon as the Iron curtain fell on Yugoslavia. Nevertheless, the gradual but categorical rejection of Soviet model of society made room for the regain of interest in traditional Russian literare. The process was slow and restricted to the intellectual elite such as, Jovanovic, Djilas, and Grol, yet it demonstrates the solidity and the importance of the image of Russia in Serbia. The capacity to separate the image of Russia from that of Soviets, across the political spectre, even in the period of Stalinist predominance in Yugoslavia, proves the privileged position of Russian cultural influence in Serbia.