Portrait of a Political Policeman
By Dr Ljubo Sirc, CBE
Director, CRCE, London
I. THE CAREER
His father wrote stories for children. He himself was a poet. This is what we learn when reading Mitja Ribicic’s life story in the pages of Mladina (Youth)- a weekly journal in Slovenia. The issue of 31 August 1993 carries a photograph of the subject of this essay, a man smiling as he pats a dog: the devoted animal lover.
Little Mitja was born in Trieste in 1919 of parents who, we are told, were teachers there before the fascists arrived. But in 1925 the Italians no longer wanted Slovene teachers in their newly acquired territory and expelled the Ribicic family, along with many other Slovenes, to Yugoslavia. No doubt this expulsion marked young Mitja for years to come.
In 1938, Mitja Ribicic began law studies at the University of Ljubljana. Soon he was invited to join the Slovene Club, a disguised communist recruiting organisation. As a consequence he was asked to help print communist literature at the Communist Party of Slovenia’s Central Technical Office. His duties included typing and retyping four times the History of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), European Communists’ ‘Bible’ at the time. In 1941 Mitja Ribicic was admitted to party membership.
1941 was a strange year. The Nazis exerted enormous pressure on Yugoslavia to join the Axis Powers. But the army resisted, which ultimately triggered the German attack. The communists were unsure what to do as Stalin, their supreme leader, was linked with Hitler through the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. So the communist students shouted, “Down with the Army” whenever newly mobilised units appeared near the university, and pleaded, “Long Live Peace”. Unfortunately, the Yugoslav Army was no match for the German war machine and collapsed almost at once. Communist students like Mitja had, nevertheless, volunteered to fight. They told their friends that they hoped the army would resist for a while, thus giving them time to subvert the Royal Yugoslav officers and take over the army leadership.
After the capitulation, the communists criticised the old rotten Yugoslavia and returned to attacking the French and British imperialists, pleading for peace such as seemed to exist between Stalin and Hitler. Ribicic continued printing communist propaganda and succeeded Viktor Avbelj (take note of this name), as editor of the communist mouthpiece, Slovenski Porocevalec, outwardly the organ of the Liberation Front, the communist front organisation fighting the Germans. By then Hitler had attacked the Soviet Union and the original Anti-Imperialist Front became the Anti-Liberation Front. If this sounds incredible, remember that the French communist leader, Maurice Thorez, deserted from the French Army and encouraged other soldiers to do the same. He asked for whose benefit and what purpose should the French have resisted Hitler, “Pour Qui et Pourquoi?”
Ribicic was sent to German-occupied Northern Slovenia after Partisan headquarters had permitted him to marry a cipher-clerk. Instead of a ring, the groom gave his bride, “Poems of Partisan Ciril” his partisan name. Another of his publications was “Through Blood to a New Life.”
Ciril was then appointed Party supervisor of several partisan units, elevated to status of Commissar and given the rank of colonel. His most important task was to prevent infiltration in the ranks of his subordinates by people who wanted to fight the Germans, but did not want to be communists.
When the communists switched from pacifism to ardently resisting the Germans, their main concern was to prevent non-communists fighting the occupiers. Djilas described how the communist leadership decided to proceed against officers of the Royal Army, who were attempting to regroup and start a guerrilla campaign. It is hardly surprising that the communists were after them, if one takes into account that the Soviets killed some 20,000 Polish Officers at Katyn. Not for collaborating with the Nazis but because they thought they would endanger their takeover of Poland.
When initiating their campaign against the Germans and Italians in the summer 1941, the communists’ “legislated” that anyone fighting outside the Liberation Front under their command would receive the death sentence. At the end of 1941, they believed the war would soon be over because of a small Soviet advance in front of Moscow. The Yugoslav communists declared that the stage of “class war had arrived and began killing putative “class enemies”. In this way they forced large numbers of people who had nothing to do with the Germans, to seek protection from them.
In a similar endeavour to secure communist dominance in the partisan movement, the leaders ordered the communists to observe closely those who were joining the fighters. Thus many young people were killed directly after trying to join the partisans.
The commissars under Ribicic’s command and in his presence, began interrogating and torturing the newly arrived volunteers. Apparently, according to Potrc, a highly place communist and writer, someone like him could not even imagine “the cruel clubbing of human beings to death”, as practised by Ribicic and his cohorts. Potrc was in the area at the time, and informed the Slovene Central Committee. (Zavadlav, Priprto Pismo, p.282). Foresters reported that the Pohoje mountain range was full of graves of partisans killed by commissars. (Zunec, Half a century since the Liquidations). Other witnesses reported similar murders in Upper Carniola.
The man accused of sending blue guard infiltrators to partisan units was Dusan Spindler, an enthusiastic Communist Party member. Although the Party authorities cleared him of any guilt, Ribicic would not let go. In 1950 he had Spindler convicted of collaboration with the Gestapo and sentenced to 20 years of prison with forced labour. His sentence was quashed in 1978.
Deputy Head of the Political Police
Despite his excessive zeal and murder of innocent partisans (or perhaps because of it), Ribicic was sent, at the beginning of 1945, to join the Slovene headquarters of the recently formed OZNA (Section for the Protection of the People). There its head, Ivan Macek-Matija, a personal friend of Tito, told him that he had been chosen with six other Slovenes to “ study” at the Dzherzhinsky NKVD Academy. He returned to Slovenia on ‘Liberation Day’, 9th May1945.
This was just in time to be appointed deputy to General Macek, when the political police were faced with the task of killing some 200, 000 people stranded in Slovenia. This flood of human misery included some 40,000 Ustashe (Croat fascists), who arrived in Yugoslavia with the Nazis, plus those mobilised by them to serve in the Croat Army. There were also remnants of the non-communists (with their wives and children), who had tried to fight the Germans, without accepting communist command. In addition, there were fleeing civilians who had heard of the mass murders by communists in Serbia and Dalmatia. (Otasevic, “The Fate of the Vanquished”, NIN, 25 October 2001). A Slovene Government Commission has recently reported that it has investigated 196 mass graves and some 187 remain to be visited. (Delo, 14 March 2003). Of the 196 investigated, 45 harbour civilian remains, 56 of soldiers and 68 with both civilians and soldiers. These figures presumably confirm that about 200, 000 were murdered by the communists. Slovenia’s population is just under two million, but perhaps 30,000 to 40,000 are from Slovenia and the rest from other parts of Yugoslavia.
Ribicic’s task in1945 was to organise ‘fighting groups’ to fight the remnants of the ‘white guard and other collaborators’. In view of the presence in Slovenia of two Yugoslav Armies (III and IV), there was hardly much scope for fighting anybody but certainly enough for ‘liquidating stragglers.'
It was not only soldiers that the communists were murdering en masse straight after the war, but also civilians who were either accompanying the troops, or were arrested locally and disposed of in various mines and ditches. To this day, hiding places with corpses are being discovered in the country, as the killing went on well into 1946. At the beginning of 2002 one such grave was found at Slovenska Bistrica. The authorities questioned Zdenko Zavadlav on the matter. He was rarity among political policemen, as he had the courage to resign. He told the investigating judge and the Maribor press “that out of court killings were perpetrated by OZNA, which also possessed data on those arrested and killed in different districts.”
The proposal for liquidation could originate from the head of the provincial OZNA, who would have known the people, but the leadership in Ljubljana would approve it. To the question, asked by MAG, who in the leadership had the authority to decide, Zavadlav answered that this was not sufficiently important for the head Ivan Macek, so his deputy Mitja Ribicic made the decision. (MAG, 13 August 2003).
Lists of ‘hostile elements’ were being prepared by OZNA as early as during the war, so that the arrests of ‘agents and hostile elements’ could begin immediately after the ‘liberation’. (Iz Arhivov, pp.88-90). Remember that this refers to civilians.
After having dealt with mass liquidations, Mitja Ribicic was appointed head of a specially created Second Department. This Department was to deal, in particular, with priests, armed bands and remnants of bourgeois parties. They all had to be supervised, reined in and possibly eliminated. The pretence of fighting Nazi collaborators was, to a considerable extent, dropped and replaced by claims that persecuted people were opposed to communism, or were friendly to Western allies. The task of the Second Section, later enhanced to Second Department, was ”to monitor the activities of various political groups within the national-liberation movement and the activities of secret diplomatic and military missions, and to guide the work of OZNA’s other sections, to supervise them and to instruct them.” (Iz Arhivov, p.50).
The Western Allies were under the illusion that they were actually friends and allies of the communists, while the communists considered, in accordance with Lenin’s teachings, that this was a temporary alliance, and when no longer required the allies – class enemies would be disposed of.
As early as autumn 1945, about twelve of the so-called ‘parachutists’ disappeared. They came under surveillance, together with “our (Yugoslav) citizens who, during the war, served in various British military units, particularly the RAF, or attended various courses so they could return home as parachutists or members of overseas brigades”. (Iz Arhivov, p.280) As mentioned earlier some of these were actually murdered. (Vidic and Jevnikar in the Trieste Mladika magasin). We do not know if Ribicic was personally involved, but as a high-ranking OZNA official he was part of this atmosphere of active hostility to the West. It reached its first climax with the open shooting down of two US aircraft on the Austrian-Slovenian border in August 1946.
In 1947 it was Ribicic’s turn to show what he had learnt in Moscow, though he denies doing so there, so all his skills would appear to be homegrown. His Second Department team was set to achieve two things: to blacken the Western nations and to demonstrate that the Opposition in Yugoslavia - the freedom of which Tito solemnly promised to Churchill- was no other than a bunch of spies.
They were so successful regarding the first endeavour that the British Consulate in Ljubljana reported on 22nd August 1947:
A brief reading of the newspaper reports, however, will suffice to make it clear that the trial was first and foremost a political propaganda stunt whose double aim was first to show Britain and America as the irreconcilable enemies of the new Yugoslavia, and second, finally to frighten off anyone who might still think that it is possible to associate with officials of the Western countries and get away with it.
The chosen method was a show trial, where sinister connections were implied between the British Consuls and a group of Slovene ‘scoundrels’, as they were designated. The British Consulate closed. The French Consulate followed suit and the Czechoslovak Consul, a Benes man, was recalled to Prague.
Stalin had clearly ordered that any democratic opposition in Eastern Europe be wiped out. Trials of non-communist opposition followed in Sofia (Petrov was executed), and Bucharest. Mikolajczyk escaped from Poland and Ferenc Nagy did not return to Hungary. The Prague coup and the defenestrating of Masaryk completed the strategy.
In Yugoslavia, according to Djilas (Vlast, p.36), Tito said resolutely and irrevocably to Rankovic, the supreme policeman: “Dragoljub must be arrested”, meaning Dragoljub Jovanovic, Chairman of the Yugoslav Federal Parliament and leader of a section of the Peasants Party. Rankovic commented: “It will be hard to find a reason”, Tito: “Then we must construe one if none exists…”
So Jovanovic was tried in Belgrade. There was another swoop in Zagreb, while in Ljubljana fifteen people, described as scum of the earth, found themselves defendants at a show trial. Among the fifteen were two former ministers of the London based Yugoslav Government in Exile. I, the writer of this Portrait was one of the defendants and a full description of the Trial can be read in my memoirs, Between Hitler and Tito (Andre Deutsch, London).
As head of the Second Department, Mitja Ribicic was, of course, in charge of the scenario although he later claimed that he exclusively supervised the legality of proceedings and possibly collected some intelligence. I was arrested just before midnight on 24th May 1947, and taken in front of Ribicic who interrogated me until early the next morning. I was asked was to describe an outing with the British Consul, his wife and children. We had driven to the mountains, and from this Ribicic concocted the tale that I had spied on all the factories on the only possible road, although I had not been near one of them. After this first interrogation, I was not allowed to sleep for a fortnight and for the fortnight after that was allowed only to sleep at weekends. The scenario also included one of Ribicic’s subordinates pretending to be a messenger from Slovene exiles in Austria. At the trial, a colleague of Ribicic, Viktor Arbelj-Rudi acted as prosecutor. He was an OZNA general who, copying Vishinsky, did his best to insult and ridicule the defendants.
Djilas wrote, “Sentences in the most important trials were proposed by Rankovic to the Politburo, that is to the leading ‘foursome’, Tito, Kardelj, Rankovic and myself…” (Vlast, p.37) These ‘legal’ procedures resulted in three death sentences and several twenty- year prison sentences. Dr. Nagode, Professor Furlan and I were sentenced to death. Twenty years in Prison was the sentence on Angela Vode, who had been a Communist Party member, but such a bad communist that she criticised the Stalin-Hitler pact.
Dr. Nagode was executed and it remains a secret to this day where the Second Department buried his remains. Professor Furlan’s and my sentences were commuted to twenty years forced labour. When Ribicic informed me of this reprieve, I dared to ask what would happen to my father, who had been sentenced to ten years. I said that surely Ribicic realised that my father had done nothing that could be punishable. “Oh well” was the reply, “if he has not done what we have accused him of, he has certainly done something else. It will do him no harm to be re-educated.” Ribicic succeeded so well in the re-education that my father died after four years in prison.
Minister of the InteriorIn 1948, the Slovene communist leadership seemed to turn on itself. In April, a Military Tribunal sentenced fifteen defendants, eight of them to death, for having been ‘Gestapo war criminals, spies of imperialist powers, saboteurs and subversives.’(Krivokapic, p.31). The amazing thing was that most were well-known communists, high in the administrative hierarchy. They included the pre-war secretary of the Provincial CP of Yugoslavia for Slovenia; also the Secretary General of the Foreign Ministry, who had fought in the Spanish Civil War; two Austrians and the girl friend of one. What they had in common was that they had all been arrested by the Germans and sent to Dachau. Other trials of former Dachau prisoners followed, two well-known Slovene writers and poets among them. At least seven were executed (as was the wife of one), and the former provincial secretary disappeared without trace. The remains of all those executed vanished and to this day the families do not know where they are buried - an old communist method of spreading terror.
Furthermore nobody knows the reason. Some believe that the Soviets demanded their persecution because they survived Dachau – this, allegedly, meant that they collaborated with the Gestapo. Others believe that they were suspected of being Soviet agents apprehended just before the rift with Stalin.
Ribicic later claimed that he had nothing to do with the Dachau trials. In reality, in 1974, he was a signatory to a statement by the communist authorities, which declared that legally those sentenced in the Dachau trials had not been guilty, but that they could not have escaped their moral-political responsibility for their behaviour in the German concentration camp.
But before this whitewashing, Mitja Ribicic had been a public prosecutor, the head of UDBA (OZNA’s new name, an abbreviation for the Administration of State Security) and the Slovene Minister of the Interior. As such, he was engaged in releasing prisoners, which happened throughout Eastern Europe when Stalin died. However, this operation was not as simple as it sounds. The Yugoslav communists may well have come to the conclusion that mass arrests were no longer necessary as people were sufficiently frightened. Arrests of individuals with two spells in prisons – each lasting several years - for the future leader of the Slovene democratic opposition remained a possibility.
On the other hand, it was imperative to harvest the presence in prison of many thousands of people thought by the communists to be dangerous. They had to be broken before they could return to normal life. From my own experience I know that Ribicic was in charge of this (Nesmisel, p.160) The UDBA commissar in the prison told me that Secretary Ribicic the term ‘minister’ had now been replaced with ‘secretary’), would not accept my written promise that I would advise the authorities on how to treat foreigners when freed.
This kind of pressure was applied systematically to those who had spent many years in prison. The much praised re-education consisted in admitting one’s guilt as invented by the police, accepting the wisdom of Marxism and finally promising to inform either in prison or at liberty – or both. Informing was an obsession with the communists because they wanted to cripple people into submission. The prisoners were the prime objects, but they tried it on everyone. They went as far as arresting people, holding them a few days, which was enough to extract promises to inform.
In view of this obsession, it seems wrong to define communism with Marx and Lenin as the time “when production would be so high that everyone will be able to take goods according to his needs”. It would truer to talk about a time “when everyone will inform on everyone else”. What a noble aim and, what is more, the communist police and people like Ribicic pursued it with such zeal that it almost materialised.
In Slovenia in the summer of 2003, this aspect of communism was the centre of attention. Dusan Lajovic, a Slovene exile living in Australia, somehow obtained of the UDBA Register for Slovenia and published it with his memoirs. Although there are apparently one million names in the UDBA files, 13,000, covering the ‘active’ agents are printed in the book. One has, however, to be very careful. On the one hand, the pressure was tremendous and a promise with the purpose to escape it does not mean that the person really did any harm to anyone. On the other, the actual members of UDBA (all listed in the Iz Arhivov), tried hard to submit as many names as possible to impress their superiors.
With respect to Ribicic, it is worth noting that, in 1950, he gave a talk at Maribor prison, which I overheard from another room. His audience consisted of criminals, murderers and thieves. He said he bore them no grudge because it was not their fault they were criminals. It was all the fault of the political prisoners, guilty of supporting a bourgeois society that bred criminality. Under communism, there would be none.
Yugoslav Prime Minister
The late 1950s were not very exciting for Mitja Ribicic. The Yugoslav regime was trying to be as normal as possible, not wanting to alarm the West which supported it – giving it carte blanche – against the Soviets, after Stalin had expelled Tito’s Yugoslavia from the communist camp.
Of course, Tito and his friends were frightened of Stalin as they knew full well that they would all lose their heads if he succeeded in laying his hands on them. While still praising Stalin, they began dealing with his ‘Cominformist’ followers in Yugoslavia in the only way they knew: by torture and murder. They started to look for an ideological basis to support their resistance to Stalin, and stumbled on self-management. They also found that the Western ‘imperialists’, whom they had been denigrating for years, were prepared to help them without demanding any concessions. So they began to accept aid and to some extent co-operated with their benefactors. Stalin left them no other choice in any case, so it was no credit to them. If anybody showed tolerance and forbearance, it was the Western Allies.
Ribicic does not seem to have been much involved with the atrocious persecution of those Yugoslav communists who sided with Stalin. He was obviously amongst those party members whose task it was to make it clear to the Yugoslav population that the quarrel with Stalin did not mean that the Yugoslav communists, faithful to Tito, were any less communist than before.
But the ideological changes into which the Yugoslav communists were forced by Stalin gathered momentum. Some of the more intelligent and sensitive leaders soon discovered, under stress, that the Marxist-Leninist ultimate truth was not to be taken seriously and began veering away from it. In 1952, the Communist Party gave up its leading role in every field because it no longer believed in its own omniscience. Tito reluctantly went along with this and Yugoslavia became a better and happier place. Looking back over the years, it seems that Tito had never been very content with the changes that Stalin’s attack forced on Yugoslavia. The country had been moving closer and closer towards arrangements where divergence of opinion and public debate had led to everything being questioned, so that the way to a freer and more civilised system had begun to open up. Tito had sensed this and considered it an assault on his own infallibility and dominance. (Open Letter etc, pp.6 -7)
The ‘Prague Spring’ in 1968 and the student demonstrations in Yugoslavia shocked Tito greatly. It became clear to him where reforms – political and economic – finally led. It so happened that, at this juncture, Tito was looking for a Slovene to be the new prime minister. Stane Kavcic, a Slovene semi-liberal demanded conditions that Tito found unacceptable. Mitja Ribicic had his chance.
Having been in charge of communist terror, Colonel Ribicic had never been much in the public eye. Yugoslavia’s Who’s Who of 1957 gave him a four-line entry as a member of the Central Committee of the Slovene League of Communists. The journalists were puzzled by the appointment. Belgrade’s Ekonomska Politika of 24 March 1969 described him as a ‘Politician without specialisation’, and said that ‘amongst his hitherto interests, economic problems had the smallest place’. The naïve Westerners, including the otherwise sober Neue Zurcher Zeitung, immediately proclaimed Ribicic a fervent reformer.
The ’new man’ soon showed his mettle. In a speech on 27 April 1969 he threatened with ‘methods of revolutionary pressure’ all those who would try and undermine ‘the revolutionary achievements of self-management’. These threats seemed in complete accord with Tito’s mood when he criticised the Czechs and Slovaks for attempting to abolish the Party’s leading role.
Tito and Ribicic set out to put Yugoslavia to ‘socialist patriotism’ rights. In 1969, 325 Slovene members of Parliament were expelled from the Party and forced to resign for refusing to accept the Party candidate for the State Presidium’s Slovene member. In December 1971 the whole Croat reformist team was removed for being chauvinist and in October 1972 the Serbian leadership was forced out for being liberal.
Old Stalinist methods re-emerged. According to Borba, 21 September 1972, Tito’s secretary general of the League of Communists, Stane Dolanc, (another hard line Slovene), exclaimed “We must purge and reorganise the administration of justice and also education, so that they will once again have their true class character and become an instrument of the working class”. Pity the poor working class whose interests are so well protected that its real wages were reduced by 10 per cent at the beginning of 1973! (Ekonomska Politika, 11 June 1973)
With Colonel Ribicic, the Yugoslav Secret Police had once again come to the fore and, when Security Service Day was celebrated on 13 May 1973, Tito’s letter of congratulation called upon the secret police to protect ‘our’ revolution. In other laudatory statements, the secret police was described as ‘the instrument of working class power’ which prevents ‘any action against the line and policy of the League of Communists’. Mitja Ribicic praised the secret policemen as ‘the bearers of the socialisation of the defence of human rights’ and as protectors of President Tito’s ‘socialist and class policy’. This was not merely talk – quite a few people were arrested and many dismissed from their jobs, especially journalists or university teachers.
Tito proclaimed that the whole development since 1952 had been a mistake, and that the Communist Party should never have given up its ‘leading role’, that is, its dictatorship. (Open Letter etc pp.7-8)
The second half of the 1970s Mitja Ribicic was in Slovenia leading the communist front organisation, the so-called Socialist Alliance of Working People. In 1969, on his sixtieth birthday, Tito made him a Hero of Socialist Work. It is clear what kind of work!
In 1970 the Yugoslav Prime Minister, Mitja Ribicic, addressed the United Nations Assembly (Have any other political policemen shared this honour?), His foreign policy line was that the non-alignment invented by Tito and Kardelj was the ‘world’s greatest emancipation and social movement’. (Krivokapic, p. 261). No matter that the ideas spread by this movement, utterly ruined the African and Arab States. Furthermore, Tito and Ribicic intended to help the Soviet Union, rather than reining it in as many in the West imagined.
Witness Tito’s dismissal of Marko Tepavac and Marko Nikezic, the incumbent and previous prime minister in 1972. Koca Popovic, their predecessor, resigned in sympathy. Ribicic helpfully explained in Komunist of 22 March 1973 that the three foreign ministers had abandoned ‘the class positions of our foreign policy.’ This statement gave the correct theoretical qualification to Tito’s attack (Vijesnik, 23 February 1973) on some of‘ “our people for equating the Soviet Union with the United States. Such a stand was ‘illogical’ and ‘wrong’ because the Soviet Union was a ‘socialist country’ and did not wage any wars”. No wonder that Gierek, the Polish communist was prepared to concur that the fight of the non-aligned against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism and exploitation helped socialism as a world process. (Borba, 9 May 1973)
In spite of these revelations of what non-alignment really aimed at, the Western representatives flocked to Belgrade to honour Tito when he died in 1980. In his turn, Ribicic was invited to join the Interaction Council of 26 statesmen, including Gerald Ford, Helmut Schmidt, Giscard d’Estaing, Andreotti etc. Did they really not know who Ribicic was or did they not care about his involvement with mass murders and show trials?
II) ATTEMPTS AT JUSTIFICATION
When Tito died, the Yugoslav communists proclaimed: “After Tito – Tito”. In admiration let us stick to old policies. Yet was this possible even if they could not think of anyone else? The stream of subsidies and loans from the West stopped, and Yugoslav wages fell back to the level of 1967, only a little above the wage level in 1940. Other communist countries fared even worse.
Gorbachev appeared in Russia, trying in vain to save socialism. In Yugoslavia the situation was further complicated by nationalism.
In 1982, Ribicic returned to Belgrade to become the President of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia. Milan Kucan, who had been closely associated with him during the previous eight years, accompanied him. Kucan, a faithful Titoist, became president of the Union of Socialist Youth of Slovenia – just in time to make himself useful in the suppression of the student movement after 1968. In 1974 he was Secretary (the Ribicic Presidency) of the Socialist Alliance of Working People, and in 1978 Ribicic put him forward for leader of the Slovene Parliament.
In 1986, Ribicic and Kucan returned to Slovenia – Ribicic to retire and Kucan to become Secretary General of the League of Communists of Slovenia. Later he would be President of the country’s Presidium. He handed over the leadership of communists to Ribicic’s son Ciril. Yet, Ribicic remained, together with Stane Dolanc, a highly valued adviser.
Together Kucan and Ribicic began to look for a way to save the party, the leading party members and their ‘hegemony’ in Slovenia. Old Leninist schemes of perverted democracy lent themselves at this juncture. A party plan for ‘transition’ emerged. (Formed by students in refuse bin at Ljubljana University).
The conclusion of what is called the Summary of Theses for the Conference of the League of Communists of Slovenia and headed Socialism tailored to the needs of the people, reads:
"The prospects of our society and the legitimacy of the system of socialist, self-management democracy, and also of the League of Communist in its framework, are fatally linked also with the strengthening of the political authority of the Socialist Alliance as the area in which the League of Communists tries to establish communications with all progressive social forces. The descent of the League of Communists from the position of power to a position amongst people, from the level of State to the level of Socialist Alliance, can be recognized and accepted as the most topical historical necessity.
Of course, this descent must not be understood as the flight of the League of Communists from the political scene but, on the contrary, as essentially different, yet equally committed and justified action by communists where the political stage is only about to be set - in the Socialist Alliance, in an all-people parliament which goes further than the simple anarchy of expression of different partial interests by means of participation in the formulation of and respect for the rules of democratic dialogue.
This is the position of the League of Communists. The League of Communists does not start this descent from zero. Its direction is indicated by the Sixth Congress and by the program of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, it has a relatively coherent theoretical basis in the form of the works of Tito, Kardelj and other committed thinkers, it possesses a draft project for renewal and it possesses, which is most important, people who are ready to fight the battle with arguments, without which nobody can expect success when struggling for progress and socialist self-management future. The task of our conference is to review whether this is true, whether there is a sufficient number of such people and whether they are in places where they are most needed."
The document is dated Ljubljana, March 31, 1988. The summary is said to have been prepared by the working group appointed at the 17th Session of the Central Committee of the Slovene League of Communists on 18th March 1988. (Ljubo Sirc, Communists – Still Dangerous?)
In practice, the prescribed tactics were to infiltrate the Democratic Opposition of Slovenia (Demos) and to divert attention from communism by channelling the public wrath in Slovenia against the rest of Yugoslavia, especially and justifiably so, against Milosevic and his army.
In an interview with Vecer (1 October 2001) the late President of Demos, Joze Pucnik accused his colleagues, Bavcar and Plut of preventing determined actions against the remnants of communism in Slovenia. The Communist Youth weekly, Mladina outwardly supported Demos, but manoeuvred in such a way as to support the disguised communists led by Kucan. Soon after, Demos was riven with splits.
Under the old communist constitution, elections took place in Slovenia in 1990 in which Demos took part. Its influence in the three Houses of the Slovene Parliament was sufficient to adopt a new constitution, which can be described as abiding by all the civilised standards of our age. All communist and anti-democratic tendencies were eliminated. Furthermore the Three House Parliament also passed an amendment to the Act on the Execution of Dual Sanctions, abolishing discrimination of political prisoners (sentenced before 1958), by legislating full restitution of their confiscated property. In addition, the same Parliament voted for an Act on Denationalisation, which provided for the return of property that the communist authorities had routinely taken.
In the presidential and parliamentary elections, Milan Kucan beat Pucnik – leader of Demos – to become President. For a while a Christian Democrat was Prime Minister, but somehow he was removed, as was the Defence Minister who had organised Slovenia’s defence when the Yugoslav Army attacked. The party that moved forward decisively was the Union of Socialist Youth of Slovenia – now the Liberal Party - led by Dr Drnovsek. The communists, who had been sent to support Demos when the communist leadership thought it appropriate, now rejoined the Socialist Youth –claiming to be Liberals. The Communist League was renamed the United List of Social Democrats.
For our purposes it is of interest that a Parliamentary Commission for the Investigation of Post-War Mass-Murders, Dubious Trials and other Irregularities, could still be selected and presided over by Joze Pucnik in 1992-1996.
In 1996 at the next parliamentary election, the three non-communist parties received just over 50% of the vote, and parties with communist links just under 50%. This resulted in the first group holding 45 mandates and the second 43. But this latter was joined by two representatives of the Italian and the Hungarian minorities elected by second votes and notoriously supporting the communists. The resulting stalemate was broken by a direct intervention of (the re-elected) President Kucan who persuaded a non-communist deputy to change sides and help elect the communist candidate for Prime Minister Drnovsek. Furthermore, a non-communist group defected and joined the government. (See Delo, p.2, 8 March 1999).
Defending Mass Murders
This was the end of Pucnik’s Commission and its report. In an interview in Vecer (13 October 2001), Pucnik described how an extensive interim report had been compiled concentrating on who ordered the killings, who organised them and who carried them out. Under normal circumstances a commission of this kind would have been reappointed by the new parliament, but this did not happen. The parties of communist origin saw to that. The original commission requested that the Slovene Parliament should consider its report, but to this day nothing has happened. Furthermore, the reports are not available to the public.
Pucnik tried to explain:
“Who is interested in maintaining silence about the post war crimes in Slovenia? We have to proceed from available facts. The post war crimes were ordered, organised and carried out by the communist authorities at that time; the communist government. The communists knew they were crimes. Therefore they tried to cover them up, prohibiting any discussion, let alone publication, or mention of those acts, and any infraction was severely punished. They concealed the mass graves, destroyed records and archives, and persecuted the victims’ relations – intimidating them if they enquired about the circumstances and perpetrators of these atrocities. Another fact is that all government institutions conformed to the pressure that was being brought. Criminologists, public prosecutors, courts, the school of law and its institutes, historians, media and political organisations…all up to 1990 assiduously avoided any mention, let alone investigation of these crimes. Moreover, well known jurists and historians were concocting ‘erudite’ interpretations, which said the acts had not been committed or if they had been were not crimes.
“There were rare exceptions, but those people who did not comply were marginalised and had no importance. Finally in the seemingly velvet transition from communism to democracy all the influential groups, which had carried out the brainwashing in the domains as listed earlier, remained firmly in power. These groups, in association with those in control of the economy and finance, represent the apparat of the unofficial but very real government in Slovenia. – the crypto-government, which through its informal authority controls the greater part of the official government. The personalities in these groups are motivated by the desire to justify decades of support they gave to dictatorship, their moral and political role models, and the purpose of their lives.
“My political assessment is that the responsibility for this state of affairs in Slovenia rests with Milan Kucan, who as the last chairman of the League of Communists had official ties with all these groups and who alone was in the position to influence their activities. Apart from the token gesture of his presence at the commemoration for the victims in Kocevski Rog, he has never shown any interest in the moral, legal and judicial investigation of communist crimes committed after World War II. The Prime Minister, Janez Drnovsek also shares this responsibility.” (Interview with Vanesa Cokl, Vecer, Maribor, 13 October 2001)
Understandably, Mitja Ribicic was an ardent promoter of the idea that mass murders in Slovenia were not criminal. In 1994 he published a pamphlet, Iskanja (In Search), A chapter was reproduced in the Kucan-sponsored daily, Republika, 22 May 1994.
The chapter heading indicates one line of defence: ‘The Massacre of the Quislings was in all probability ordered by Tito and the most senior officers ’. Whether Tito did or did not give the orders, most certainly does not exculpate Ribicic – the defence of superior command was judged irrelevant at Nuremberg. If Tito gave the orders and he must have done, he and his senior officers are criminals.
So circumstances become an excuse. Apparently Tito was forced to order the mass murders because of the imminent danger of a clash with the Western Allies over Trieste. Ribicic wrote, “German prisoners and part of the quisling units were moved in a great hurry towards Bosnia, while another part was ruthlessly annihilated”. Be this as it may, but the danger of war breaking out was between 1st and 18th June 1945 and the murders did not start then.
Ribicic himself admits that the communists were killing people in Belgrade, throughout Serbia and on the Srem front much earlier without the excuse of war with the West. There had also been, on and off, ‘a class war’, the killing of ‘unprincipled anti-communists’ and so on. Besides they were killing civilians, including women and children well into 1946.
Ribicic claimed that Western democracies behaved in a similar way, starving prisoners and leaving them without medical assistance. However, before writing Iskanja in the 1980s when communism had not yet collapsed, but a debate on the Dachau trials was taking place, Ribicic was far more frank.
In 1984 he clashed with Matevz Krivic who was concerned about his father’s role as public prosecutor in the Dachau show trial. Ribicic described Krivic’s father as ‘the Slovene Vishinsky,’ prompting Krivic’s son to ask if Ribicic was not in fact ‘the Slovene Beriya’.
Mitja Ribicic became annoyed: ‘Are you referring only to me or the entire revolutionary generation of our time, which was responsible for protecting the achievements of our revolution in the period of administrative socialism” (read, ‘Stalinism’) (Krivokapic, p.254) He wrote angrily that he had no intention of defending the revolution, as it needed no defence, “it did not need to justify itself either at home or in the world for its actions, not even for its mistakes”. So here it is, the Revolution with a capital R is justified in doing whatever is necessary, and Ribicic was a solder of the Revolution. (Ibid, p.279). Soldiers of the Revolution are entitled to murder and to lie. According to him this is the way to make society more humane. (Ibid, p.268).
The problem was that after communism had collapsed, even the self-management variety, the Slovene communists became extremely coy about the Revolution. No one is a victim of the Revolution; everyone killed was killed because he collaborated with the enemy. Even Ribicic, who wrote about the national-liberation struggle as the first stage of our revolution, whereas the change of social relations was the second (Ibid, p. 279) said in Iskanja (p.15 i.e. in 1994):
‘The claim that the National Liberation Struggle was a civil war – because of the clash between citizens of the same nation, a war between those for communism and those against communism – is unscientific, one-sided and primitive.’ So we know the truth, albeit Tito himself admitted, “…this was a civil war. We just did not talk about it during the war as it would have been detrimental to us.” (Vjesnik, 24 May 1972).
The Criminal Code
The difficulty for the communists is that, again and again, they want to appear what they are not. Although they had been killing ‘class enemies’ and ‘opponents of communism’ since 1941 at least, the Yugoslav communists obligingly signed The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948. With this signature they undertook to prevent and to punish genocide whether in time of peace or in wartime. The crime of genocide is defined as ‘any of the following acts with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such:
a) killing members of the group
b) causing bodily harm to members of the group
c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part…’ (Power, p.62).
Article 373 of the valid Slovene Penal Code adds to the groups mentioned above- in the convention – also ‘social and political’ groups as part of the definition of genocide.
It would seem that ‘revolution’ as part of the communist ideology, requiring violence to seize power by killing ‘class enemies’ or simply ‘opponents of communism’ is clearly genocide, as described. What is more, Art, 378 of the Slovene Criminal Code also incriminates the foundation of an association to commit genocide, or the joining of such an association, or inciting others to commit genocide. The definitions clearly apply to the Communist Party or League and to its dependent organisations. This conclusion is inevitable if the communists would, for once, stop misusing language.
The crime of genocide and the crimes connected with it are not subject to the statute of limitation. However, when trying to apply international and national legal provisions, one runs into the secrecy in everything observed by the communist organisations, especially the political police. As a consequence Mitja Ribicic could write to Vladimir Kavcic, a Slovene author, when he accused him of various misdeeds: “you are not able to prove anything that you are intimating. You cannot even prove what you claim is your personal experience.” (Vecer, p. 4, 7 January 1994).
Show Trials as a Crime
The Pucnik Parliamentary Commission prepared an interim report on the trials of doubtful legality that should have been discussed on 24th July 1996, but were not. Furthermore, the incoming parliament removed it from the agenda. The entire report was reproduced in a supplement of Nova Revija, January – March 2003, pp 16-55.
Since the purpose of show trials was to kill or imprison selected victims for long periods without a valid reason – valid in a civilised world – they should qualify as a condition for genocide. From the 1996 report does not formulate any such conclusions, it transpires that many of the actions punished by Slovene courts were not defined as crimes at all. Full statistics were no longer available when the Pucnik Commission sat, but it tentatively came up with 16,117 political convictions during the period 1945-1977, obviously primarily during the first post-war years, for an area of Slovenia with about 500,000 inhabitants. The figure for death sentences is 178.
Mitja Ribicic appeared as a witness before the Pucnik Commission. He admitted that he had been the head of the Second Department (i.e. the Political Department of the Political Police), which dealt with the so-called ‘internal enemy’. He said that the political police only collected material for the prosecution, but it was the Minister, a politburo member, who took the decision to prosecute. After the police had sent the material to the prosecutor that was the end of their involvement with the trial.
[Author’s note: the political police may not have been involved further, except that the policemen doubled as prosecutors. At the Nagode Trial, all three prosecutors, Avbelj, Zalik and Simcic were OZNA members. Ribicic was the country’s public prosecutor for a time.]
Ribicic also claimed before the Commission that he had never interrogated prisoners, but had only talked to them in order to obtain intelligence material. This would appear to be a distinction without a difference.
Ribicic further admitted that political parties were not prohibited until 1960, but in his view this did not apply to political parties ‘founded on orders from abroad’ or in ‘conjunction with political exiles’. When Pucnik asked him whether it was true that the messenger who allegedly established a link between the defendants in the Nagode Trial and a Centre in Austria was in fact an OZNA agent, Ribicic replied, ‘He could have been…’
Ribicic talked about ‘mistakes’ having been made, but later corrected. The Nagode Trial had been given much importance, but the sentences were excessive. Asked whether the trials (of the democratic opposition) were directed from Moscow and were taking place throughout Eastern Europe, Ribicic said: “Yes, I mean, these trials of collaborators took place in all states.” Ribicic spoke of ‘collaborators’ in true communist fashion, while the discussion was of the democratic opposition, which according to him, wanted to change the (totalitarian) system, which was prohibited by the Constitution.
Asked who was responsible for the miscarriages of justice, Ribicic declared, “The responsibility must be borne by the courts and all political and other sources.” Finally, “They were created by the then leading power, primarily the Communist Party."
Not bad, but the main idea is that he, Ribicic was and is responsible for nothing.
Confiscation of Property as the Road to Totalitarian Power
The Communist Party staged a Revolution, a ‘class war’; to seize power and simultaneously to frighten the subjects of this power so that they would not resist or try to seize it back. Allegedly the communists also wanted power in order to introduce a new social system, whose main feature would be the abolition of private ownership of the means of production.
Yet, during the war the communists and Tito himself denied any intention of introducing communism and proclaimed private property to be ‘inviolate’ (Mikola, pp 296-7). Not wanting to admit they had lied, but still desiring to lay their hands on property as quickly as possible, they resorted to confiscation in a big way through the trials. A special panel of judges at the Supreme Court in Ljubljana staged trials in 1946, when entrepreneurs were convicted and many received death sentences (Mikola, p.193). Frequently, those sentenced had helped the partisans in the war, but they were told that a new account was opened with the war’s end. Such questions did not worry the communists who also declared that a number of Jews were in fact Germans when the moment came to take their property (Mikola, p.53).
Legal niceties did not matter, Dr Heli Modic, the presiding judge ridiculed those judges who remained impressed by the German theory of the rule of law. He said this theory was not in line with our constitutional order, that in our country the law and individual rights were not above the State and people’s power, and moreover in some instances sticking to the law might be punishable (Mikola, p.204).
Public ownership was not only a question of ideology, but also a lever of political dominance. This aspect has again come to the fore in the 1990s when the need for restitution arose. The quashing of false sentences proceeded apace in 1990 and 1991, but when the provisions on property restitution were adopted at the same time and should have been implemented, the communists started stalling.
Not only did courts and administrative units charged with implementation, rule in ways that should have caused consternation. Parliament began legislation that dismantled ex-post the valid law. [Author’s note: This requires a separate study].
Let us only say that there are a number of appeals not only against the decisions by Slovene courts and administrative authorities, but also against legislation by the Slovene Parliament, at the European Court of Human Rights. The first rulings of this Court are due soon.
The Communist Youth, now calling itself the Liberal Democratic Party, leads the attempts to dismantle restitution laws. This party seems to feel that property in rightful hands would strengthen of the resistance to this Party’s use and abuse of power in Slovenia.
This paper indicates that mass-murder; show trials and mass confiscation of property have taken place in Slovenia since 1941. At least some of these actions constitute crimes under international law and the valid law of the Republic of Slovenia.
There is no doubt that these crimes were organised and promoted by the leaders of the Communist Party of Slovenia, later the League of Communists of Slovenia. Portrait of a Political Policeman demonstrates that Political Police-Colonel Mitja Ribicic-Ciril was a protagonist of these crimes, but its purpose is not to visit punishment on anyone. It is the condemnation of crimes rather than conviction of individuals, however evil. Or better, it is conviction followed by an amnesty.
Revolutionary killing is part of their ideology because communists believe that they possess the Marxist clue to the world’s future, and are ready to murder as a way of solving it. In many places there was no excuse of collaboration, but they still killed. Even disregarding Russia, they killed leftists in the Spanish Civil War and Polish Officers in their own country. Those Poles who fought Hitler in Italy and other parts of Western Europe were unable to return home, because the communists would have killed them. The same is true of the Czechoslovak pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain.
Of course there is no communist recipe for making the world a better place. Take Slovenia, perhaps the example most favourable to the communists due to Stalin forcing Yugoslavia to abandon his way of planning. In 1940 the wages in Slovenia were about 20% lower than in Austria. Now they are 2.5 times lower. Does such progress justify murder? Does it justify the negation of morality and the rule of law?
Despite all these considerations, the communists still defend their record and claim that the people of Slovenia should be grateful. This applies to the pre -1990 Communist League and its Youth branch, and also to the successor organisations – the Liberal Democratic Party (formerly Union of Socialist Youth of Slovenia) and the United List of Social Democrats.
If proof is needed one can quote the eulogies when old revolutionaries die. In 1994 Viktor Avbelj – Rudi, referred to earlier, died. He had been deputy head of OZNA in 1945 during the worst massacres, and then prosecutor in Dr Nagode’s trial. It seems that his guilty conscience plagued him since he committed suicide. Nonetheless, the then President, Milan Kucan, the Prime Minister, Janez Drnovsek and the President of the Parliament published a half page obituary in the newspapers, proclaiming “Glory to his memory!” Do the country’s leading politicians really believe that organisers of mass-murders deserve such praise? This is not the only recent example.
The Liberal Democratic Party, alias Communist Youth, has been doing its utmost to delay putting the mass graves in order. Similarly, it is complicating beyond belief property restitution. To some extent, this reluctance to show even the most minimal signs of contrition is understandable, since it could undermine the so-called Liberal Democrats political dominance. The communists eliminated all opponents and controlled all property for fifty years, so brainwashing of the population still holds.
The refusal to recognise the criminality of mass murders and show trials is very dangerous. Without the communist killing and the Nazi sponsored Ustashe murders in 1941 there would hardly have been the bloodshed in Yugoslavia during the 1990s.
The frequent international praise of Tito – the supreme author of the murders – and the lack of any clear condemnation of massacres, sponsored by him no doubt, made many fanatics ask in the 1990s: “If the communists and Ustashe could do it in the 1940s, why shouldn’t we?”
What is worse: it is not only that the communist successor parties refuse to recognise the enormity of mass murder, but also that the enlightened West remains silent as well. The Liberal International admitted the Slovene Liberal Democracy to Membership without investigating its history or asking any questions. Ditto the Socialist International where the United List of Social Democrats was concerned.
Europe and its organised form of European Union should be more vigilant when it comes to accepting former (?) communists as members or partners. We now know that that their tactics allow them to say the exact opposite of what they think, and then call those that believe them, ‘useful idiots’. The absolute minimum that should be demanded is that they condemn communist crimes and repair what can be repaired, but even then they may lie.
Western civilisation with its rule of law, tolerance and moderation is in danger of being subverted by crypto-communists.
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Additional writings by the Author
Nesmisel in Smisel (Nonsense and Sense), Pika Print, London, 1968.
Encounters with Tito’s New Prime Minister, Pika Print, London, June 1969.
Nobel Prize for President Tito? – An Open Letter, Pika Print, London 1973.
Odprto pismo Miji Ribicicu in Staneto Dolancu (An Open Letter to Mitja Ribicic and Stane Dolanc), Pika Print, London 198?.
Between Hitler and Tito, Andre Deutsch, London, 1989 (autobiography).
Criticism of Self-Management Still Relevant? CRCE, London, 1993.
Communists – Still Dangerous?, 1998, published by Borut Prah, Carantha Website for Slovene History.
Transition: Privatisation and Private Property, CRCE Briefing, London, July 2001.
Communist Ideas and Influence after 1989, CRCE Briefing, London, July 2002.
Communists Favour World Disorder, CRCE Briefing, London, May 2003.
(The CRCE Briefings are posted on: www.crce.org.uk)
Communism, Slovenia, Dossiers and Dusan Lajovic, Interview with Vanesa Cokl, Vecer, Maribor, 29th April 2003, and in English in the South Slav Journal, London, Spring-Summer, 2003.
Copyright: Ljubo Sirc CBE and CRCE – October 2003
The Constitution of the CRCE requires that its Trustees and Advisers dissociate themselves from the analysis contained in its publications, but it is hoped that readers will find this study of value and interest.
This paper was written for the conference: New Challenges to Democracy held in Budapest, 9-11 October 2003 held by the Institute for Transitional Democracy and International Security (ITDS) www.itdis.org
With the assistance of
The Centre for Research into Post-Communist Economies (CRCE).