Tito–Stalin split

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The Tito–Stalin Split, or Yugoslav–Soviet Split, was a conflict between the leaders of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, which resulted in Yugoslavia's expulsion from the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform) in 1948. This was the beginning of the Informbiro period, marked by poor relations with the USSR, that came to an end in 1955.


The split was said by the Soviets to be caused by Yugoslavia's disloyalty to the USSR, while in Yugoslavia and the West it was presented as Josip Broz Tito's national pride and refusal to submit to Joseph Stalin's will in making Yugoslavia a Soviet satellite state. The scholar Perović considered the cause to be Stalin's rejection of Tito's plans to absorb the People's Republic of Albania and the Kingdom of Greece in cooperation with the People's Republic of Bulgaria, thereby setting up a powerful Eastern European bloc outside Moscow's control which would be known as the Balkan Federation.[1]


During the Second World War, Yugoslavia was occupied by the Axis. The occupying powers were opposed by several resistance groups; the communist resistance, led by Marshal Josip Broz Tito, was the largest and took control of the country by 1945, with minimal Soviet intervention. At this point, Tito was loyal to Moscow.

Tito's leading role in liberating Yugoslavia not only greatly strengthened his position in his party and among the Yugoslav people, but also caused him to be more insistent that Yugoslavia would get more room to follow its own interests than other Eastern Bloc leaders who came under more pressure to recognize Soviet efforts in helping them liberate their own countries from Axis control. This had already led to some friction between the two countries before World War II was even over. Although Tito was formally an ally of Stalin after World War II, the Soviets had set up a spy ring in the Yugoslav party as early as 1945, resulting in an uneasy alliance.[2]

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, several armed incidents between Yugoslavia and the Western Bloc occurred. Following the war, Yugoslavia successfully captured the territory of Istria, as well as the cities of Zadar and Rijeka that had formed part of Italy from the 1920s. This move was of direct benefit to the Slavic populations of the regions (i.e. mainly Croats and Slovenes). Yugoslav leadership was looking to incorporate Trieste into the country as well, which was opposed by the Western Allies and by Stalin. This led to several armed incidents, notably Yugoslav fighter planes shooting down American transport aircraft, causing angry criticism from the West and from Stalin. From 1945 to 1948, at least four US aircraft were shot down.[3] Stalin was opposed to these provocations, as he felt that the USSR was unready to face the West in open war so soon after the losses of World War II.

In addition, Tito was openly supportive of the communist side in the Greek Civil War, while Stalin kept his distance, having agreed with Churchill not to support communism there with the Percentages agreement. Tito planned to absorb Albania and Greece in cooperation with Bulgaria, thereby setting up a powerful Eastern Europe bloc outside Moscow's control. Stalin could not tolerate that threat.[1]

First Cominform[edit]

However, the world still saw the two countries as the closest of allies. This was evident at the first meeting of the Cominform in 1947, where the Yugoslav representatives were the most strident critics of the national communist parties viewed to be insufficiently devoted to the cause, specifically the Italian and French parties for engaging in coalition politics. They were thereby essentially arguing Soviet positions. The headquarters for Cominform were even set up in Belgrade. However, all was not well between the two countries, due to a number of disputes.

Trip to Moscow[edit]

The friction that led to the ultimate split had many causes, many of which can ultimately be linked to Tito's regional focus and his refusal to accept Moscow as the supreme communist authority. The Yugoslavs were of the opinion that the joint-stock companies favored in the Soviet Union were not effective in Yugoslavia. In addition, Tito's deployment of troops in Albania to prevent the civil conflict in Greece from spreading into neighbouring countries (including Yugoslavia), carried out without consulting the Soviets, had greatly angered Stalin.

Stalin was also enraged by Tito's aspirations to merge Yugoslavia with Bulgaria (and therefore create a true Land of the South Slavs, or Greater Yugoslavia), an idea with which he agreed in theory, but which had also taken place without prior Soviet consultation.[4] He summoned two of Tito's officials, Milovan Đilas and Edvard Kardelj, to Moscow to discuss these matters. As a result of these talks, Đilas and Kardelj became convinced that Yugoslav-Soviet relations had already reached an impasse.

Letter exchange[edit]

Between the trip to Moscow and the second meeting of the Cominform, the Soviet Communist Party and the Yugoslav Communist Party (CPY) exchanged a series of letters detailing their grievances. The first CPSU letter, on 27 March, 1948, accused the Yugoslavs of denigrating Soviet socialism via statements such as "socialism in the Soviet Union has ceased to be revolutionary".[5] It also claimed that the CPY was not democratic enough, and that it was not acting as a vanguard that would lead the country to socialism. Stalin retorted, "we cannot consider this kind of organization of the Communist Party as truly Marxist-Leninist or Bolshevik. One does not feel any policy of class struggle in the Yugoslav Party."[6]

The CPY response on 13 April was a strong denial of the Soviet accusations, both defending the revolutionary nature of the party, and re-asserting its high opinion of the Soviet Union. However, the CPY noted also that "no matter how much each of us loves the land of socialism, the USSR, he can in no case love his own country less."[7] The Soviet answer on May 4 admonished the CPY for failing to admit and correct its mistakes, and went on to accuse the CPY of being too proud of their successes against the Germans, maintaining that the Red Army had "saved them from destruction".[8] The CPY's response on 17 May reacted sharply to Soviet attempts to devalue the success of the Yugoslav resistance movement, and suggested that the matter be settled at the meeting of the Cominform to be held that June.

Second Cominform[edit]

Tito did not even attend the second meeting of the Cominform, fearing that Yugoslavia was to be openly attacked. On 28 June, the other member countries expelled Yugoslavia, citing "nationalist elements" that had "managed in the course of the past five or six months to reach a dominant position in the leadership" of the CPY.[9] The resolution warned Yugoslavia that it was on the path back to bourgeois capitalism due to its nationalist, independence-minded positions.


The expulsion effectively banished Yugoslavia from the international association of socialist states. After the expulsion, Tito suppressed those who supported the resolution, calling them "Cominformists".[10] Many were sent to a gulag-like prison camp at Goli otok ("Barren Island").[11] Between 1948 and 1952, the Soviet Union encouraged its allies to rebuild their military forces—especially Hungary, which was to be the leading force in a possible war against Yugoslavia.

Titoism was denounced by Moscow as a heresy that said communist countries should take a nationalist road to socialism different from that of the Soviet Union. Across Eastern Europe, communist leaders suspected of Tito-like tendencies were purged by pro-Moscow elements.[12]

After Stalin's death and the repudiation of his policies by Nikita Khrushchev, peace was made with Tito and Yugoslavia re-admitted into the international brotherhood of socialist states. However, relations between the two countries were never completely rebuilt; Yugoslavia would continue to take an independent course in world politics, shunning the influence of both west and east. The Yugoslav Army maintained two official defense plans, one against a NATO invasion and one against a Warsaw Pact invasion.

Tito used the estrangement from the USSR to obtain US aid, as well as to found the Non-Aligned Movement, in which Yugoslavia was a leading force.[13]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Jeronim Perovic, "The Tito–Stalin Split: A Reassessment in Light of New Evidence." Journal of Cold War Studies (Spring 2007) 9#2 pp: 32-63
  2. ^ Richard West, Tito (1994)
  3. ^ Air victories of Yugoslav Air Force
  4. ^ Perovic, "The Tito–Stalin Split: A Reassessment in Light of New Evidence."
  5. ^ Stephen Clissold, ed. Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, 1939-1973: A Documentary Survey (1975) p 172
  6. ^ Edvard Kardelj, Reminiscences--the Struggle for Recognition and Independence: The New Yugoslavia, 1944-1957 (1982) p 217
  7. ^ Dennison Rusinow (1978). The Yugoslav Experiment 1948-1974. U. of California Press. p. 28.
  8. ^ Jennings, Christian (2017). Flashpoint Trieste: The First Battle of the Cold War. Oxford: Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 248. ISBN 978-1-4728-2171-3.
  9. ^ Selden, Mark; Lippit, Victor, eds. (2016). The Transition to Socialism in China. Oxon: Routledge Revivals. p. 166. ISBN 978-1-317-23946-8.
  10. ^ Paul Garde, Vie et mort de la Yougoslavie, Fayard, Paris, 2000, p. 91
  11. ^ Serge Métais, Histoire des Albanais, Fayard, Paris 2006, p. 322
  12. ^ Alec Nove (2005). Stalinism and After: The Road to Gorbachev. Routledge. p. 97.
  13. ^ John R. Lampe , Russell O. Prickett, Ljubisa S. Adamovic (1990). Yugoslav-American economic relations since World War II. Duke University Press Books. p. 47. ISBN 0-8223-1061-9.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)

Further reading[edit]

  • Banac, Ivo. With Stalin against Tito: Cominformist Splits in Yugoslav Communism (Cornell University Press, 1988)
  • Dimić, Ljubodrag (2011). "Yugoslav-Soviet Relations: The View of the Western Diplomats (1944-1946)". The Balkans in the Cold War: Balkan Federations, Cominform, Yugoslav-Soviet Conflict. Beograd: Institute for Balkan Studies. pp. 109–140.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Iatrides, John O.; Linda Wrigley (2004). Greece at the Crossroads: The Civil War and Its Legacy. Penn State University Press. pp. 267–75.
  • Karchmar, Lucien. "The Tito-Stalin Split in Soviet and Yugoslav Historiography," in Wayne S. Vucinich, ed., At the Brink of War and Peace: The Tito-Stalin Split in a Historic Perspective (New York: Social Science Monographs, 1982), pp. 253–271.
  • Lees, Lorraine M. Keeping Tito Afloat: The United States, Yugoslavia, and the Cold War, 1945-1960 (Penn State Press, 2010)
  • Mehta, Coleman. "The CIA Confronts the Tito-Stalin Split, 1948–1951." Journal of Cold War Studies (2011) 13#1 pp: 101-145.
  • Nyrop, Richard F., ed. Yugoslavia: A Country Study. Department of the Army, Washington, D.C. 1981.
  • Perovic, Jeronim. "The Tito–Stalin Split: A Reassessment in Light of New Evidence." Journal of Cold War Studies (Spring 2007) 9#2 pp: 32-63, online; online at Project MUSE
  • Ridley, Jasper. Tito. (Constable, London. 1994); popular history
  • Stokes, Gale, ed. From Stalinism to Pluralism: A Documentary History of Eastern Europe Since 1945. Oxford University Press, New York. 1996.
  • West, Richard. Tito: And the Rise and Fall of Yugoslavia. Sinclair-Stevenson, London. 1994.
  • Perovic, Jeronim. "The Tito–Stalin Split: A Reassessment in Light of New Evidence." Journal of Cold War Studies (Spring 2007) 9#2 pp: 32-63, online; online at Project MUSE

External links[edit]