OSA / Guide / RIP / 1956 / RFE/RL Background Reports : Subjects | Browse | Search

The text below might contain errors as it was reproduced by OCR software from the digitized originals,
also available as Scanned original in PDF.

TITLE:             Aleksandar Rankovic -- Political Profile of A Yugoslav "Stalinist"
BY:                Slobodan Stankovic
DATE:              1983-9-1
COUNTRY:           Yugoslavia
ORIGINAL SUBJECT:  RAD Background Report/205

--- Begin ---



RAD Background Report/205
1 September 1983

by Slobodan Stankovic

Summary: Aleksandar Rankovic, the third man in
Yugoslavia's once famous quadrumvirate of Tito, Kardelj,
Rankovic, and Djilas, died of a heart attack in his
private villa in Dubrovnik in the night between August 18
and 19. Having been purged on 1 July 1966 at the fourth
CC plenum and deprived of all his state and party offices,
Rankovic lived in retirement in Belgrade and Dubrovnik.
Before his purge Rankovic had occupied two of the most
important posts in Yugoslavia: he was the head of all
public and secret police forces (popularly known as the
UDBA) and was the Organizational Secretary of the League
of Communists of Yugoslavia, i.e., the chief of the party
cadres. As such he was considered Tito's heir apparent.
After the break between Belgrade and Moscow, Rankovic sent
thousands of pro-Moscow Communists to concentration camps,
especially to the worst one, called Goli Otok [Barren

* * *

Aleksandar Rankovic, who died of a heart attack in the Adriatic
town of Dubrovnik during the night of August 18-19, [1] was, after
Tito (who died in May 1980) and Edvard Kardelj (who died in
February 1979), Yugoslavia's third most important leader until
1 July 1966, when he was purged after having been accused of doing
things that "recalled Stalin's time." These words of Tito at the
fourth CC plenum, [2] held on his resort island of Brioni, indicated
that the Yugoslav leader considered Rankovic, one of his closest
collaborators and his presumed heir apparent, a kind of Yugoslav


(1) Rankovic was buried on August 22 in the Avenue of People's Heroes
at Belgrade's New Cemetery, with thousands of people according
him last honors.

(2) Borba (Belgrade), 2 July 1966.

This material was prepared for the use of the staff of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

[page 2]

RAD BR/205

Rankovic's Stalinist behavior was best illustrated in his
dealings with the Albanians in Kosovo, whom he treated in the cruel
manner that Stalin did some of the national minorities in the Soviet
Union; and his thinking and methods were certainly Stalinist. This,
however, was true not only of Rankovic but to an extent of all the
Yugoslav leaders, including Tito himself. Since June 1948, when
Stalin proclaimed the "Tito-Rankovic clique" traitors of the
international communist movement, and later (in November 1949) even
"fascist murderers," Rankovic supported Tito wholeheartedly and sent
many thousands of pro-Soviet Communists to concentration camps.

Rankovic was, by profession, a tailor of peasants' garments,
but was, in fact, a professional revolutionary apparatchik highly
esteemed not only by Tito, but also by all other Yugoslav leaders
because of his workers' background. In fact, the quadrumvirate
was divided into two groups; Tito and Rankovic were practitioners
par excellence and cared little for theories; Kardelj (who died
in February 1979) and Djilas were intellectuals inventing one
theory after another. Their theories, however, were put into
action only after Tito and Rankovic had approved them.

It was no secret that, until the middle of 1966, Tito
admired Rankovic--a Serb by origin--and his practical approach
and wanted to make him his heir. He was Tito's deputy both in the
state and in the party. Since he was, however, much younger than
Tito, Rankovic began to show signs of impatience with the latter's
extreme longevity. As a consequence, Rankovic eavesdropped not
only upon his colleagues, but also upon Tito himself. This is
how he got his knowledge of their weak points and tried to use
them in his struggle for the final assumption of power.

"Stalinist de-Stalinization." Professor Svetozar Stojanovic of
Belgrade has described the way in which Rankovic fought Stalinism in
Yugoslavia as "Stalinist de-Stalinization." [3] In other words,
Rankovic and the state security service, popularly known as the UBD??
employed the same inhuman methods against their opponents as Stalin
did in the Soviet Union against his. True, even today some Yugoslav
theorists, not necessarily supporters of Rankovic, try to make a
distinction between Stalin's gulags and Tito's concentration camps,
one of the arguments being that in Yugoslavia "nobody was sentenced
to death" for his or her pro-Soviet feelings. The Montenegrin
professor and party theorist Radovan Radonjic recently commented on the
concentration camps in Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union as follows:

Probably the treatment of some prisoners was inhuman,
but it is quite another question whether these were
Stalinist methods.... Very few people returned
from the [Soviet] gulags, while people came home en
masse from the Goli Otok [Barren Island]
concentration camp. Under the Stalinist system, once
proclaimed guilty, people were buried for all time,
while the Goli Otok prisoners were in most cases
brought back into normal life, to their regular
posts, functions, even to party and state functions.


(3)Praxis (Zagreb), no. 3-4, May-August 1972, pp. 375-398.

[page 3]

RAD BR/205

If we bear all this in mind, it is a big question
whether Goli Otok was managed by Stalinist methods
or was something quite different, sometimes
accompanied by merciless behavior toward individuals.
Here, a difference must be made. [4]

Professor Radonjic also claimed that Stalinism was not the
product of the person who lent it his name, Stalin, but rather "the
product of the contradictions inherent in the very struggle for
socialism." This was why Stalinism was an enduring concept that did
not die together with Stalin.

What Was Rankovic's Real Sin? One can say that Rankovic, too,
was the product of the contradictions of socialism. According to
Professor Stojanovic, no socialist revolution has thus far been
strong enough "to treat its leaders as human beings, i.e., as beings
with many weaknesses." This is why Communists in all
communist-ruled countries have failed to the extent that they permitted their
leaders "to become too independent and too powerful." [5]

Almost the same wording was used by Tito at the July 1966
plenum, when he admitted that "we have left our State Security Service
[which meant Rankovic], so to speak, to itself." Discussion of the
state security service, both in Yugoslavia and all other
communist-ruled countries, is taboo. Everyone knew of its activities, but
nobody discussed them publicly. It is not Marxism, nor Leninism,
nor any other ideology that in practice controls a communist-ruled
country; it is the state security services that, supported by the
army, bear the greatest responsibility for such a country's integrity.

After Rankovic's purge a special commission was created to
investigate the errors made by the UDBA forces, especially Rankovic's
followers. A member of this six-man commission, Croatia's party
leader Mika Tripalo--also purged in 1971--quoted an unnamed
Rankovic aide as saying during his interrogation in July 1966:

The history of intelligence services throughout
the centuries shows that people with faults
and defects are very susceptible to being
recruited as foreign agents. This is why it is
the duty of the appropriate state security
services to prevent this by eavesdropping and
by employing other methods. [6]

As long as Rankovic and his collaborators eavesdropped upon
people suspected of having been "foreign agents," none of the
Yugoslav leaders considered them "too powerful." After they
discovered that Rankovic had eavesdropped not only upon all leading
party and state leaders but also on Tito himself, they came
to the conclusion that Rankovic had really gone too far. Tripalo,
who six years later was also proclaimed "too powerful" in Croatia,
said that, although there were many people who clearly saw through


(4) Danas (Zagreb), 16 August 1983.

(5) Praxis, no. 3-4, May-August 1972, pp. 375-398.

(6) Vjesnik u Srijedu (Zagreb), 7 September 1966.

[page 4]

RAD BR/205

Rankovic's activities, the CC members were shocked by "a monstrous
system" that had little to do with confidence, or the lack of it,
in individuals. What shocked all of them was "a system based on
the concept that people should be controlled and held in permanent

Tripalo revealed that the investigative commission had
discovered that Rankovic had secretly taped the entire March 1962
Politburo meeting, at which party leaders had talked openly.
Rankovic ordered the UDBA to tape the proceedings on long-lasting
tapes, four copies of which were found in the UDBA headquarters in
Belgrade, This had been a "real plot," Tripalo said, one element
being "the exacerbation of the problem of [Tito's] succession."
In some parts of Yugoslavia the UDBA apparatus was used not only
for the collection of information but also to spread information
supporting Rankovic, which was then repeated to the leadership.

"Little" Rankovics Still Exist. In addition to installing
microphones in Tito's private apartment, Rankovic also had them
placed in the apartment house in Belgrade, near Tito's palace,
where republican and provincial party secretaries lived while in

What led to Rankovic's downfall? The fact that Rankovic, a
Serb, had complete control over the secret police forces in Serbia,
Montenegro, and Macedonia, but not in Slovenia, Croatia, and
Bosnia-Herzegovina, caused his fall. Croatia's and Slovenia's UDBA
departments were closer to the Croatian leaders in Zagreb and the
Slovenian leaders in Ljubljana than to Rankovic. So his orders to
his collaborators in Zagreb and Ljubljana were not kept secret but were
immediately revealed to the Croatian and Slovenian party and state
leaders. After they had collected sufficient evidence about Rankovic,
they informed Tito; and he acted promptly.

Rankovic himself cut a poor figure at the July 1966 plenum,
when he admitted that he considered himself "incapable of occupying
such a senior post and incapable of formulating any policy." At
that time Rankovic's confession was considered a trick, because, as
Tripalo commented, Rankovic and his group "were not political
illiterates." Tripalo himself, however, who warned against "many
little Rankovics" throughout the country, also became the victim
of a Rankovic - type purge five and a half years later. According to
Professor Radonjic, today, too, "even young officials" have done
things "that smell a little of certain Stalinist methods."

Professor Stojanovic explained this dilemma, which exists not only
in Yugoslavia but also in all communist-ruled countries, as follows:

The armed socialist revolution is ethically based
on the admission that, in a world full of violence,
sometimes nothing can help but violence. As long
as it counters violence with violence it is
ethically in order. A consistent revolutionary must

[page 5]

RAD BR/205

repeatedly ask himself: first, is he trying to
employ violence only in the measure it is really
inescapable? Secondly, is he aware of the fact that
violence, regardless of how carefully it is
employed ... carries in itself the ethical traps
into which the revolution might fall?; and, thirdly,
against whom is violence used? Without this
self control, revolutionary violence might turn into
self satisfying and sadistic cruelty. [7]

Rankovic had fallen into this "ethical trap" of the revolution,
because, like many of his colleagues, he was not able to determine
for how long and to what extent "revolutionary violence" should be
used. He did, however, demonstrate a feeling for reality when,
having been purged and sent into retirement with a very high pension
enabling him to buy a villa in Dubrovnik, he refused to write any
books and reveal anything about his former comrades. Unlike Milovan
Djilas, who did quite the opposite and consequently spent almost
10 years in prison, Rankovic concentrated on enjoying life. He had
no real followers, although there are many "little Rankovics" in
Yugoslavia today who long for authoritarian government and insist
that the party should again take everything into its own hands.

The chief cource of Rankovic's almost unlimited power, as expressed at the
fourth CC plenum by the Politburo member Svetozar
Vukmanovic-Tempo, was that Rankovic "had the function of the party's
Organizational Secretary." This is how Rankovic held the whole
party in the palm of his hand. This means that he not only had
the opportunity to plant microphones in the offices and dwellings
of his colleagues (including Tito) but, even more important, he
could assign his own people, usually from the UDBA, to all
important positions. He was in Yugoslavia what Andropov was
in the Soviet Union before Brezhnev died with the difference
that Andropov succeeded Brezhnev, while Rankovic was purged
by Tito.

Both in Tito's lifetime and also after his death in May 1980,
several party functionaries from Slovenia and Croatia have not
missed any opportunity to attack certain tendencies toward
centralism as "Rankovicism," since Rankovic was a symbol of a
regime ruled by an "iron hand." The Albanians in Kosovo mostly
suffered from Rankovic's "iron hand" and will hardly be shaken
by the news of his sudden death.

The present strength of Yugoslavia's state security service
under the command of the Slovene Stane Dolanc, is in no way weaker
than it was under Rankovic. In some ways its activities have
become more extensive, both inside the country and abroad; and with
Tito's death the UDBA became perhaps more important than ever before.



(7) Praxis, no. 1, January-February 1966, pp. 75-76.

  OSA / Guide / RIP / 1956 / RFE/RL Background Reports : Subjects | Browse | Search

© 1995-2006 Open Society Archives at Central European University