Glossy Communism: Polite Propaganda from the Eastern Bloc

Not a New Bloc but Unity of Action in the Interest of Peace: Yugoslavia in the Third World

          On a summer evening in Pula, on the coast of Croatia, on July 19, 1956, Marshal Josip Broz Tito, leader of Yugoslavia, was “conversing amiably in English” at the foot of an airplane gangway with President Gamal Nasser of the United Arab Republic and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India.[1] The three leaders would reaffirm the Bandung Principles, established the previous year in 1955 in Indonesia, and in doing so Tito formally threw the lot of Yugoslavia with that of the third world and the Non-Alignment Movement.
         Issues of Yugoslav Life, housed at the Perry-Castaneda Library at the University of Texas, provide a glimpse into the Yugoslav perspective on the Non-Aligned Movement and everyday cooperation between Yugoslavia and the third world as an integral part of the Yugoslav project. Yugoslav Life was a periodical published in Belgrade for English-language readers. The publisher of Yugoslav Life was the official publisher of Yugoslavia, Tanjug (Telegrafska agencija nove Jugoslavije, or the Telegraphic Agency of the New Yugoslavia). Tanjug would go on to be the leading news agency of the Non-Aligned Movement, leading the Non-Aligned News Agencies Pool (NANAP) and providing training for journalists in Africa and Asia. As such, Yugoslav Life presents a sunny depiction of Yugoslavia and its particular “Third Way:” workers’ self-management of the socialist economy, new advances in industrial efficiency and social equity, and a commitment to not engaging in the binary opposition of the Americans and the Soviets.
        As a newly-created socialist state after World War II, Yugoslavia was formally an ally of the Soviet Union. However, in 1948 the Soviet Union expelled Yugoslavia from Cominform (the Communist Information Bureau) over ideological splinters between Stalin and Tito; due to this, Yugoslavia was not a member of the Eastern Bloc nor was it under the direction of the Soviet Union, unlike many other socialist states in Eastern Europe. As a result, Yugoslavia did not fit neatly into the division of the first and second worlds—it was not capitalist but socialist, and yet was not aligned with the Soviet Union. Conversely, the Cold War was a war of two systems: the capitalist American sphere of influence in “the first world” and the communist sphere of influence of the Soviet Union in “the second world.” In Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in September 1961, socialist Yugoslavia gathered with leaders of “the third world” to denounce Cold War policymaking and American and Soviet meddling in the decolonized global south. The Belgrade Conference was the first official summit of the Non-Aligned Movement.

            Yugoslav Life illustrates the cooperation which would come between newly-decolonized states and Yugoslavia, the lone non-aligned state in Europe which stood at the intersection of the communist Eastern bloc, the Western first world, and Africa and the Middle East. An article from May 1963 lists the details of trading deals with African countries: "Finished products are dominant on the list of Yugoslav exports. Machines and vehicles, for example, account for 54 percent of all exports…From Africa Yugoslavia imports raw materials and some industrial products: cotton, phosphates, minerals, coffee cocoa, bananas, and more recently products of the textile and chemical industries."[2] Such trading partnerships were the legwork of Yugoslavia’s commitment to “creating conditions for equality between the advanced states and the underdeveloped countries.”[3] The strengthened ties between Yugoslavia and other non-aligned countries would take on a human dimension, as well. Yugoslavia sent workers to countries in Africa and Asia to build up industry in those countries through programs of technical assistance. Yugoslav Life claims that more than 1,600 Yugoslav workers were engaged in such programs in Africa and Asia in 1962 alone. Furthermore, it claims that in 1962 nearly 1,000 students from developing countries were studying in Yugoslavia under various cultural conventions and technical assistance programs.[4]

            Close to every issue of Yugoslav Life published between 1961-1967 celebrates a visit of non-aligned countries to Yugoslavia or, conversely, a visit carried out by Marshal Tito or other high-ranking state representatives across the globe. Such visible placement of the seemingly tireless diplomatic schedule for foreign readers emphasizes the crucial role the Yugoslav state placed on its cooperation with other Non-Aligned member states. In an issue from June 1961, mere months before the Belgrade Conference would officially inaugurate the Non-Aligned Movement, Yugoslav Life claims that “The grouping of the uncommitted countries, which some people persist in calling the third bloc, is an important international factor.”[5]
            Per their party platform, Yugoslavia was committed to the liberation and equality of decolonized states as they struggled to “catch up” with their former colonizers, but the Non-Aligned Movement also provided Yugoslavia with a platform upon which to criticize and differentiate themselves from the Soviet and American spheres of influence, from which it was excluded. Quotes from Marshal Tito and high-ranking politicians like Edvard Kardelj in the periodical often condemn Cold War actions from an outsider perspective: “a dangerous game of extremism and adventurism which threatens…new world conflicts.”[6] Furthermore, Yugoslavia supported its allies in the Middle East in the rising tensions before the Six Day War in June 1967, as Tito “did not for a moment hesitate to call a spade a spade,” putting the support of Yugoslavia and its government with Arab countries against Israeli aggression.

            Since the collapse of Yugoslavia, the only current European member of the Non-Aligned Movement is Belarus. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia maintain observer status instead of membership, whereas Slovenia and Macedonia have no formal role in the organization. However, there is still an urgent need for global commitment to the still extant disparity between more developed countries and countries in the global south. The legacy of Yugoslavia as not just a member but an active participant of the Non-Aligned Movement provides a template for global solidarity in an age of ever-increasing economic inequality.


[2] “TRADE WITH THIRTY AFRICAN COUNTRIES,” Yugoslav Life, vol. 8 iss. 10, Belgrade.
[3] “COOPERATION WITH AFRICAN COUNTRIES,” Yugoslav Life, vol. 12 iss. 4, Belgrade, April 1967.
[4] “YUGOSLAVS WORKING IN ASIA AND AFRICA,” Yugoslav Life, vol. 8 iss. 6, Belgrade, June 1963, pg. 5.
[5] “NOT A NEW BLOC-BUT UNITY OF ACTION IN THE INTEREST OF PEACE,” Yugoslav Life, vol. 6 iss. 5, Belgrade, June 1961, pg. 2
[6] “COLD WAR METHODS AND PRESSURE THREATEN TO CAUSE NEW WORLD CONFLICTS,” Yugoslav Life, vol. 9 iss. 9, Belgrade, September 1964, pg. 2.

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