Understanding the Tito-Stalin Split
The split between Josip Broz Tito, leader of Yugoslavia, and Joseph Stalin, head of the Soviet Union, is arguably one of the most watershed moments in Soviet history. It was a sign of a rising and powerful Yugoslavia, the first break in the Eastern bloc, and inspired a shift in Soviet policy and political thought. Focusing on the timespan from 1941 to 1948, I claim that, though the break between the two leaders was caused by a variety of factors, the root cause was Stalin’s prioritizing of foreign relations with the West. Stalin’s attempts to appease the Western powers went against Tito’s interests in spreading Yugoslavia’s influence. This is particularly true regarding Tito’s involvement in the Greek civil war, and his relations with Albania. It was a shock to Tito, and to the rest of the world, that Stalin decided to placate the West rather than side with Yugoslavia on these matters.1 However, realistically speaking, the Soviet Union was in no position to provoke the Western world post-World War II. Therefore, it is my thinking that the main source of friction between Stalin and Tito stemmed from their disagreements in prioritizing good relations with the West.
Background Information Leading up to the Tito-Stalin Split: From 1941 to 1948 After Stalin’s non-aggression pact with Germany fell through in in 1941, the USSR was pushed into the camp of the Western allies. In the April of that year, the Axis powers invaded Yugoslavia. Thus, the Yugoslav Partisan resistance, led by Marshal Tito, was left to defend the nation. The Yugoslav Partisans were extremely successful at liberating their country, especially when compared to other resistance movements in Europe,2 as the Red Army only arrived after most of the fighting had already been done. “The arrival of the Soviet mission after two and a half years of delay turned out to be something of an anticlimax,” and Tito himself considered the belated deployment as “‘excess baggage.’”3 Nevertheless, Yugoslav and Soviet troops together forced the Nazis to retreat behind the Yugoslav borders in 1944. The following year, the old Yugoslav monarchy was abolished, and in 1946, with Tito as its dictator, the Yugoslavs “carried through their own Communist revolution,”4 and did so without any help from the Soviet Union. Because of this, “Tito’s prestige stood very high among Communists and left-wing sympathizers in Yugoslavia and throughout the world.” This prestige gained Tito much loyalty and legitimacy from his supporters and would be key in making his split with Stalin possible. However, Yugoslavia’s communist revolution upset the agreement Stalin had made with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1944. They had agreed that control over Yugoslavia would be split fifty-fifty between Britain and the USSR. Now, it was the start of the Cold War, and Yugoslavia was 100 percent on the side of the Soviet Union. For this reason, Tito “was seen in Britain and the United States as the most hostile and pro-Soviet of all the Communist dictators in Eastern Europe,” and consequently, just by establishing communism in Yugoslavia, “was already causing some problems for Stalin.”5 The Western perception of Stalin’s closeness to Tito was strengthened by the fact that Cominform headquarters were established in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in 1947. But the Yugoslav-Soviet alliance was not as strong as it seemed to the West. Tensions had arisen shortly after World War II, when “Yugoslav leaders complained about Red Army looting and raping in Yugoslavia during 1944 and 1945 and about unfair trade agreements.” 6 “The Yugoslavs also resisted establishment of joint companies,” which were more economically favorable to the USSR than to Yugoslavia.7 Furthermore, Tito insisted “on Italian territorial concessions in a dispute over Trieste.”8 The area had been occupied by the Yugoslav army during the war, and Tito had hopes of incorporating it into Yugoslavia, a...
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