New Book on Churchill and WWII Yugoslavia

A book published late last year reconsiders Winston Churchill’s decision to back the Communist Partisans in favor of the Royalist Chetniks in WWII Yugoslavia. This is by Christopher Catherwood and is entitled Churchill and Tito: SOE, Bletchley Park and Supporting the Yugoslav Communists in World War II. Although not much reviewed (not yet, at any rate), something of the book’s contents and its potential interest to Waugh enthusiasts can be gleaned from material on the internet. In his Preface to the book, Catherwood, who has written previously about Churchill, counters the widely held view that switching support from the Chetniks to the Partisans was another of his mistakes. Rather, based on research in previously overlooked or unavailable archival material, Catherwood is able to demonstrate that the decision had its intended result of saving thousands of Allied lives (particularly in Italy) by holding down Nazi forces in Yugoslavia. It also had the consequence, conceded by Catherwood, of putting a Communist government in control of Yugoslavia after the war.

In a report on his 2010 research trip to the USA (sponsored by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust: WCMT), which is posted on the WCMT’s internet site, Catherwood also argues  that Churchill’s decision coincided with the position of Evelyn Waugh on Britain’s Yugoslav policy in certain significant respects. This is based on research of Waugh’s papers at the University of Texas and the archives of the OSS (predecessor of the CIA) in College Park, MD. According to Catherwood, Waugh:

…realized the ethnic complexity of Yugoslavia and that the Croats could play a major role in any post-war reconstruction of the country.

The OSS files showed that they, like Waugh, were looking beyond the immediate benefits of supporting the Partisans and had a non-Communist candidate for postwar leadership in the person of one Ivan Subasic who was:

… a leading light in the Croat Peasant Party, in exile in the USA. The OSS, like the British, understood that whoever led Yugoslavia post-war had to be Yugoslav, rather than, for example, the Chetnik Royalists, who were overwhelmingly Serb. A Croat who had genuine national credentials was therefore ideal. As it happened, the British were adopting that view, since Tito, the leader of the Partisan resistance movement, was also of Croat ancestry and unquestionably Yugoslav in his loyalties – the big (and thus controversial) difference being that Tito was also a Communist, and therefore suspicious to many people…To the OSS the advantage of Subasic is that he was a Croat whom the Serbs trusted, and that he was also a Croat who might persuade many in the quisling regime in Zagreb to come over to the Allies. … (And so unknown to Waugh, who also realized the vital importance of the Croats, the SOE, the OSS and Waugh himself were all backing one Croat or another to lead the country after the war…)

In the 2010 WCMT report, Catherwood describes this discovery in the OSS files as a “scoop” that is perhaps worthy of a separate book. How much of this has made it into the book he has now written cannot be determined from information on the internet. But Catherwood’s apparent conclusion that somehow Churchill’s decision to back what Waugh foresaw as a plan that would put a Communist leader in control of the postwar government, even though he may have been a Croat, is hardly to say that his views coincided with those of Churchill on support for Tito. Waugh’s concern was that the short-term benefit from backing the Communists might not outweigh the long-term harm that the party might do to the Roman Catholics in Croatia. While Subasic was included in the postwar government set up by the Allies, he was soon forced out by Tito who proceeded to persecute the Roman Catholic Church as Waugh had feared. The WCMT report may oversimplify Catherwood’s conclusions on this point, and perhaps some one who has read the book can elucidate.

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