M. Previšić (Hrsg.): Breaking Down Bipolarity

Breaking Down Bipolarity. Yugoslavia's Foreign Relations during the Cold War

Martin Previšić
Rethinking the Cold War
Berlin 2021:
286 S.
€ 84,95
Reviewed for Connections. A Journal for Historians and Area Specialists by
Nedžad Kuč, Wien

When writing about Yugoslavia’s foreign policy during the “bipolar” Cold War, historians ultimately have to deal with the country’s relations to the Soviet Union and the United States. This edited volume by Croatian historian Martin Previšić does that by providing insights, for example, through an investigation of Soviet views on Yugoslavia’s domestic and foreign political course after World War II until Joseph Stalin’s death – a period marked by the Tito-Stalin split in 1948 and the US-Yugoslav relations in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as American military aid and political support.

The book also takes an in-depth look into the relations of socialist and non-aligned Yugoslavia with its Western-orientated neighbours: Greece, Austria, and Italy. Border disagreements, different ideologies, and internal tensions were not obstacles for good bilateral relations between actors sharing the same goals of stability along their borders and in the region at large. With a closer partnership and more engagement, Yugoslavia hoped for more economic development, among other things, while its neighbours were also trying to prevent the country from falling back into the arms of the Soviet bloc. In times of crisis, such as the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, bilateral relations became more intense. Furthermore, the volume shows that the suppression of the Prague Spring not only led Albania to reconsider its hard stance vis-à-vis Yugoslavia but also had an impact on the relations between Yugoslavia and the new Czechoslovakian regime.
Looking at the different chapter titles, one might think that the Non-Aligned Movement fades into the background; however, throughout the book the authors emphasize how Yugoslavia’s leadership in the movement, its close relations with the nations of the Global South, and non-aligned foreign policy were very much considered when dealing with the country – especially in the West, for example the European Economic Community. The United States regarded Yugoslavia as an element of peace and stability in Europe and the world and respected the role and influence that President Josip Tito and the country had in parts of the Third World, especially in the Middle East. The Holy See and Yugoslavia resumed relations not only because of the Catholic community in the country – with the Vatican’s aim of improving their lives, on the one hand, and with Yugoslavia’s plan of silencing and keeping under control Catholic priests and émigrés critical of the regime, on the other hand – but also because the two countries had similar interests regarding the Third World and global peace and security. Yugoslavia’s non-aligned foreign policy and activities in the Global South were a thorn in the side of the People’s Republic of China, as the country wanted to lead and unite the Third World under the Afro-Asian movement. In the end, factors relating to Yugoslavia’s and President Tito’s personal efforts to win over more countries and organize the first two conferences of the Non-Aligned Movement succeeded over Chinese endeavours and anti-Yugoslav propaganda.

The book does present these “fresh views, interpretations and reinterpretations of some already researched issues relating to Yugoslav foreign policy” (back cover) by relying on archives in various countries and in former Yugoslavia – especially the Arhiv Jugoslavije in Belgrade. A very important element is that the edited volume provides “outside” – from the East and the West – views and perspectives of the Yugoslav crises in the 1970s and 1980s and presents more details on Yugoslav–European Community relations during the last years of the country’s existence. While the internal situation was deteriorating, many people inside and outside the country thought the federal government would still exist in the future.

With highly interesting insights into new and old topics of Yugoslavia’s foreign policy, the book provides an important contribution to the research on the non-aligned and socialist country while historians wait for more archival documents from its final days to be accessible and analysed to further complete the “puzzle” that was Yugoslavia.

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