POLITICS AND NATIONALISM WITHIN THE YUGOSLAV PEOPLE'S ARMY
DRAGO (CHARLES) ŠPORER
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Journal of Croatian Studies, XX, 1979, – Annual Review of the Croatian Academy of America, Inc. New York, N.Y., Electronic edition by Studia Croatica, by permission. All rights reserved by the Croatian Academy of America.
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The role of the military is of crucial importance for maintaining power of the dictatorial and totalitarian regimes of both right and left. Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and the Communist regimes of the Soviet Union and other "socialist" countries, Yugoslavia included, offer excellent examples for the case. It should be noted, that the approach and methods differ considerably. The German and Italian governments under Hitler and Mussolini gave more importance to military competence and less to politics in their armies; the Soviets and other Communist armies gave priority to "political awareness" of their military cadres. Consequently, in all Communist armies both the soldiers and officers are continuously subjected to "political education". This consists of indoctrination in Marxism-Leninism in a prescribed, selective manner, supplemented by the "teachings" of the Communist leaders ruling a particular country. In Yugoslavia, of course, these are Titoist teachings which have gone through several metamorphoses.
Soviet System of Commissars Served as a Model
By introducing political commissars in their units the Yugoslav partisans followed the example of the Soviet Army. This had been done when the Soviet Army was seriously tested in the World War II battles.
At the outbreak of the German-Soviet war in 1941, only seven percent of the Soviet officers had higher military training, while thirty-seven percent lacked basic training altogether.
It is generally believed that the reason for such a low percentage of qualified officers was al direct result of the Great Purge of 1937-38. This deficiency in the professional ranks of the Red Army greatly helped both the influx and influence of political commissars. Commissars — many of them poorly educated, but loyal to the Communist Party — were assigned to military units. Their duty was to supervise the activities of the military commander. Marshal Semyon K. Timoshenko was the only exception to this rule, as he held both posts of commissar and commander simultaneously. The Soviet commissars were nominally in charge of educational activities, but they also had close ties with the intelligence officers and their word had special weight in all matters they choose to intervene. They became the most hated men in the Army. Stalin realized that if he continued to send the "beloved" commissars to the front-line, he might lose them all, so he ordered their withdrawal in 1942.
Yugoslav Communists set up a commissars' system at the very beginning of the partisan struggle. There was very little difference between Yugoslav and Russian commissars, except that the former treated the partisan fighters in a more humane manner, having taken into account that they were all volunteers. However, with the war turning in their favor, the Yugoslav commissar became just as obnoxious and rude as his Russian counterpart.
The constant interference of the commissar with the commander's decisions led to continuous friction and anarchy. To solve the problem the system had been modified to the effect that the commissar's rank was always below that of the commanding officer's. This, however, did not diminish the commissar's ambitions and affected little of their actual power. Finally, their military rank was taken away from them, but their function was never abolished. Today their role is entrusted to a special officer under the title "Officer for Political and Legal Affairs," generally referred to as the PPP (from "officer for političko-pravne poslove"). In the Armijska oblast, which is comparable to the Army Area in the United States, this duty is assigned to a major-general.
The Yugoslav "People's Army" continues to emphasize political and ideological education of the military and for that purpose. The High Political School was opened in Belgrade in 1972. The school is in the same level as the Command and General Staff schools. It accepts officers in the rank of captain and major who must be graduates from accredited military academies. The class of 1974 was the first class of graduates of the new school. Each graduate is exempt from taking the exam for the next higher rank. It is obvious that these officers will be less skillful in military matters.
In general, students of Yugoslav military academies spend considerable time on "political education." An article in the Narodna armija of September 14, 1972 pointed out that someone was reprimanded because he referred to the "old times" when a student could dedicate much more time to military subjects and less in philosophizing theories which could never be applied in practice.
The members of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (LCY) constitute the principal nerve system of political control and education in the army. The LCY has a secretary in each army unit from the largest to the smallest. The secretary in an Army Area is usually a major-general or colonel with the title "Secretary of the Committee of the League of Communists Conference". His superior is the Assistant to the Federal Secretary for National Defense. Currently he is Colonel General Džemal Šarac, a Moslem. His deputy is Major-General Milan Krdžić, a Serb. In order to exert political control more efficiently, for a number of years, up to 1958, the membership in the Communist Party was kept secret. Only the members of the same cell in an army unit and their closest friends knew each other.
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