Mihajlov’s Quest for Democracy & Human Rights

JIS XXIV 2012: 1-56


Oskar Gruenwald
Institute for Interdisciplinary Research

This essay explores the intellectual and spiritual ferment in Tito’s Yugoslavia focusing on its two major protagonists, Milovan Djilas and Mihajlo Mihajlov. Their quest for an open society and the first freedoms–thought, speech, press, assembly, and association–inspired a phenomenal rebirth of civic culture and civil society that toppled communist rule in the 1989 peaceful revolution which swept across Eastern Europe and shook the Kremlin. This Third Revolution is set in the larger framework recalling the unique features of Yugoslavia’s “independent road to socialism,” following the Tito-Stalin split in 1948, which made “Djilasism” possible. Titoism as a case study of modernization highlights the promises and pitfalls of Marxist-Leninist ideology whose utopia of a classless society remained a straitjacket limiting efforts at liberalization and democratization. Thus, post-Tito Yugoslavia became a cauldron of nationalist contestations for Tito’s mantle of leadership. Mihajlov warned of the consequences of ethnic or identity politics in a multi-ethnic state, resulting in the division of post-Tito Yugoslavia along national/ethnic lines, which triggered the 1990s civil war and “ethnic cleansing” on all sides. The essay concludes that both Djilas and Mihajlov championed freedom. Yet Mihajlov’s is the more enduring and universally redeeming vision whose transcendent grounding in a Christian metaphysics resonates across time and space, ennobling cultures.

JIS XXIV 2012: 57-82


Peter Reddaway
George Washington University

In the wake of Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953, Soviet policies on dissent took shape with the abandonment of mass terror as a method of rule, followed by a comprehensive liberalization of Soviet legal codes. As dissent gradually became organized and public from the late 1950s, a pattern of keeping arrests of dissidents to a minimum emerged. To do this, an escalating array of lesser measures was devised, from cautionary conversations with KGB officers to job dismissal. As dissent diversified in the late 1960s and 1970s to include religious, nationalist, social, and human rights movements, it gained increasing support from the West. The Kremlin often had difficulty taking this into account. In the mid-1970s, its desire for détente with the West led to concessions on human rights, including a reduction in arrests. These were exploited by dissidents, but soon retracted with détente’s collapse in 1979-80, and the U.S.S.R.’s isolation. Nonetheless, Soviet policies on dissent varied within relatively narrow limits, and only changed dramatically from 1986 under Mikhail Gorbachev.

JIS XXIV 2012: 83-105


Srdjan Cvetković
University of Belgrade

Mihajlo Mihajlov was not a dissident from the communist movement, an outcast from the Communist Party, or a man from government structures destroyed in the purges as were the majority of victims during the Tito régime. Mihajlov’s bold intellectual resistance to communist totalitarianism was that of a real dissident in Eastern Europe, while many in Yugoslavia served as a façade of “liberal communism.” An uncompromising critic, Mihajlov remained in the shadow of the much better known Milovan Djilas, a former senior Communist Party official who drew international attention. Mihajlov’s resistance and spiritual breadth, seeking freedom of expression for people of different ideologies, from Serbian right-wing proponents to Croatian nationalists, Djilas and social-reformists, to ultra-left Informbureau sympathizers, testify to his consistent liberal-democratic attitude and Kantian paradigm that every person has the right to political thought and action if it does not violate the same rights of other humans. A high degree of tolerance for ideological opponents as well as consistency of commitment to human rights and freedoms make him one of the few rebels with common sense so rare in this part of the world. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn spoke of Mihajlov as a man who is a kind of spiritual beacon of anti-totalitarianism.

JIS XXIV 2012: 107-111


Mirko Vidović
Exile in France

This essay sums up the quest for freedom of thought, speech, press, and association in Tito’s Yugoslavia via an attempt to launch an independent magazine, Free Voice, and simultaneously found a Movement of Independent Intellectuals at the Faculty of Philosophy at the Zadar branch of Zagreb University in the 1960s. This was the Movement that Mihajlo Mihajlov joined. And while Mihajlov became famous for his intellectual travelogue, Moscow Summer 1964, published in the West, but banned in Yugoslavia, the would-be founders of the new magazine and Movement were all intimidated and persecuted. Mihajlov himself was imprisoned in August 1966 on the eve of the press conference to announce the project, while Mirko Vidović was in exile in France. Vidović would also face imprisonment in the 1970s, joining Mihajlov in the same prison where they organized hunger strikes demanding better treatment and regime recognition of the status of political prisoners.

JIS XXIV 2012: 113-118


Rusko Matulić
Editor, CADDY Bulletin

This essay offers a brief overview of Mihajlo Mihajlov’s efforts in the USA to publicize human rights violations in Titoist Yugoslavia. Mihajlov co-founded the Committee to Aid Democratic Dissidents in Yugoslavia (CADDY) within The Democracy International in 1979. Its CADDY Bulletin became a reliable source of information regarding persecutions and prosecutions of individuals and groups championing basic human rights and freedoms, the rule of law, pluralism, tolerance, and an open society in Yugoslavia. CADDY thus became a platform urging the democratization of the country as the only way to avoid inter-ethnic conflagration. CADDY inspired Freedom House conferences and publications by both Freedom House and the Helsinki Committee USA as well as the most comprehensive multi-author volume on Human Rights in Yugoslavia. CADDY challenged not only one-party rule in Titoist Yugoslavia, but also the U.S. State Department’s favorable view of this maverick communist state as the first to break away from the Soviet monolith.

JIS XXIV 2012: 119-122


Aleksa Djilas
Belgrade, Serbia

This essay sketches an intimate portrait of Mihajlo Mihajlov by a friend and fellow dissident with a special connection to Milovan Djilas whom Mihajlov thought of as the number one dissident in Tito’s Yugoslavia and the father of the dissident movement in Eastern Europe. In Aleksa Djilas’ remembrance, Mihajlov emerges not as some kind of superhero, but as a man with strongly held convictions, and an impish sense of humor, willing to risk all in defense of basic human rights and freedoms, democracy, pluralism, tolerance, and an open society.

JIS XXIV 2012: 123-142


Bedrudin Brljavac
University of Sarajevo

Bosnia and Herzegovina has been going through an extensive European Union-related reform process for more than a decade, yet the country still faces a serious democratic deficit. In particular, the post-Dayton public sphere has been dominated by ethno-nationalist political elites which exclude non-nationalists and members of minority groups from the decision-making process. This is a clear paradox, since one of the main objectives of the integration of European countries into the European Community was to reduce disintegrative influences of nationalists, and establish a peaceful, prosperous, and secure community. This essay explores the process of the post-Dayton ethno-nationalization in BiH resulting in widespread discrimination against so-called Others as defined in the Constitution. In the postwar era, BiH democratic participation has turned into a competition between the three ethnic communities, Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats, rather than a contest of equal individuals with an equal right to vote. As a result, Bosnian people still live under a political system which is closer to ethno-democracy or ethnocracy rather than a democratic regime. Under such a discriminatory regime, BiH cannot enter the European Union, which is a model of an open, democratic society.

JIS XXIV 2012: 145-151


Mihajlo Mihajlov
Zadar, Yugoslavia

Mihajlo Mihajlov’s Open Letter to Josip Broz Tito of 15 July 1966 is a remarkable document. Apart from Milovan Djilas, only Mihajlov dared to address Tito in this manner. Yet Mihajlov’s Open Letter voiced a hope which would reverberate in his country and throughout the communist world: the abolition of one-party communist rule in favor of a multi-party system guaranteeing basic human rights and freedoms, pluralism, tolerance, and an open society. In fact, Mihajlov’s Open Letter spelled out the basic parameters of an open society as well as the limits of liberalization in Titoist Yugoslavia. The regime’s response was swift and clear: Mihajlov’s arrest on 8 August 1966, and subsequent imprisonment for a crime of thought.

JIS XXIV 2012: 152-156


Mihajlov Group
Zadar, Yugoslavia

The Zadar Declaration of 9 August 1966 is a curious document. Its original intent was the founding of the Movement of Independent Intellectuals at the Faculty of Philosophy at the Zadar branch of Zagreb University, which would sponsor a new independent socialist magazine, Free Voice or Free Word, in Tito’s Yugoslavia. It was a test case whether Tito‘s “liberal” national communism would allow genuine freedom of thought, speech, press, association, pluralism, and tolerance characterizing an open society, democracy, and popular self-government. The regime response was the arrest of Mihajlo Mihajlov on the eve of the meeting on 8 August 1966. Yet the Mihajlov Group pressed on with the project. Due to regime pressure on the organizers, the founding meeting and Declaration became an occasion both for a critique of the ruling Party’s ideological-political monopoly and an endorsement of Titoism. Nonetheless, it is a testimony to the courage of non-Marxist intellectuals who sought to speak the truth. The organizers were intimidated before the meeting, while all the signers of the Declaration were persecuted.

JIS XXIV 2012: 157-158


Milovan Djilas
Belgrade, Yugoslavia

Milovan Djilas’ Open Letter to Tito in defense of Mihajlo Mihajlov (20 March 1967) is another testimony to the indomitability of the human spirit, written shortly after Djilas’ own release from prison (31 December 1966). In his inimitable, direct style, Djilas reminds Tito, a former comrade-in-arms, that the detention and prosecution of a young, talented writer like Mihajlov only damages the country’s reputation and the prospects for democratization. Djilas suggests amnesty for Mihajlov, which in fact became reality, but only a decade later, on the eve of the 1977 Helsinki follow-up conference scheduled for Belgrade. In the meantime, Tito asked Djilas not to contact him in this manner again.

JIS XXIV 2012: 159-176

Review Essay


Jesse J. Thomas
San Diego State University

Leibniz’s Mill: A Challenge to Materialism. By Charles Landesman. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2011. 182 p. Paper. $30.
New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy. By Robert J. Spitzer. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010. 319 p. Paper. $28.
Divine Transcendence and the Culture of Change. By David Hopper. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011. 262 p. Paper. $35.