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Milovan Đilas
Born (1911-06-04)June 4, 1911
Podbišće (Mojkovac), Kingdom of Montenegro
Died April 20, 1995(1995-04-20) (aged 83)
Belgrade, FR Yugoslavia

Milovan Đilas (pronounced [mîlɔʋan dʑîlaːs], Serbian/Montenegrin Cyrillic: Милован Ђилас; June 4, 1911 – April 20, 1995) was a Yugoslav politician, theorist and author. He was a key figure in the Partisan movement during World War II, as in the post-war government. A self-identified Democratic Socialist,[1] Đilas became one of the best-known and prominent dissidents in Yugoslavia and the whole of the Eastern Bloc.[2][3]


Born in Podbišće village near Mojkovac in the Kingdom of Montenegro, he joined the Communist Party of Yugoslavia as a University of Belgrade student in 1932. He was a political prisoner from 1933 to 1936. In 1938 he was elected to the Central Committee of the Communist Party and became a member of its Politburo in 1940.

In April 1941, as Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and their allies defeated the Royal Yugoslav army and dismembered the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Đilas helped Josip Broz Tito establish the Partisan resistance, and was a guerrilla commander during the war. Following Germany's attack on the Soviet Union on June 22 (Operation Barbarossa), the Communist Party of Yugoslavia's (KPJ) Central Committee decided that conditions had been created for armed struggle and on July 4 passed the resolution to begin the uprising. Đilas was sent to Montenegro to organize and raise the struggle against the Italian occupying force, which on July 12, 1941 proclaimed the fascist puppet entity Kingdom of Montenegro run by Sekula Drljević, and closely controlled by the Italian authority of Mussolini's confidant Alessandro Biroli. The July 13 uprising which Đilas had an important role in was a national one, spanning ideological lines, and large parts of Montenegro were quickly liberated. Đilas remained in Montenegro until November, when he left for the liberated town of Užice in Serbia, where he took up work on the paper Borba, the Party's main propaganda organ. Following the withdrawal of the Supreme Commander Tito and other Party leaders to Bosnia, Đilas stayed in Nova Varoš in the Sandžak (on the border between Serbia and Montenegro); from there he retreated with the units under his command in the middle of winter and in difficult conditions to join the Supreme Staff. There were no serious divisions or conflicts between communists and non-communists among the insurgents.

It was only in March of next year that he went back again to Montenegro, where in the meantime a civil war between Partisans and Chetniks had broken out. Momčilo Cemović, who has dealt mostly with this period of Đilas' war activities, believed that the CPY Central Committee and the Supreme Staff had sent Đilas to ascertain the actual state of affairs and to dismiss the communist leaders responsible. This, in fact, he did.

In March 1944, he went as part of the military- and party-mission to the Soviet Union.[4] During this time he met among others with Georgi Dimitrov, Vyacheslav Molotov and Joseph Stalin.[5] He fought among the Partisans to liberate Belgrade from the Wehrmacht. With the establishment of the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia, Đilas became Vice-president in Tito's government. In the years 1945-1946 he was sent to Istria to organise the preliminary operations to induce the Italians to leave and triggering the Istrian Exodus.[6]

Đilas was sent to Moscow to meet Stalin again in 1948 to try and bridge the gap between Moscow and Belgrade. He became one of the leading critics of attempts by Stalin to bring Yugoslavia under greater control from Moscow. Later that year, Yugoslavia broke with the Soviet Union and left the Cominform, ushering in the Informbiro period. Initially the Yugoslav communists, despite the break with Stalin, remained as hard line as before but soon began to pursue a policy of independent socialism that experimented with self-management of workers in state-run enterprises. Đilas was very much part of that, but he began to take things further. Having responsibility for propaganda, he had a platform for new ideas and he launched a new journal, Nova Misao ("New Thought"), in which he published a series of articles that were increasingly freethinking.


Đilas was widely regarded as Tito's possible successor and in 1953 he was about to be chosen President of Yugoslavia. He became President of the Federal Assembly of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, but he only held office from December 25, 1953, to January 16, 1954. Between October 1953 and January 1954, he wrote 19 articles (only 18 were published) for Borba, the official newspaper of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, where he stated that a new ruling class was formed in Yugoslavia, after many high military and state officials received benefits and expensive houses in the best parts of Belgrade. Tito and the other leading Yugoslav communists saw his arguments as a threat to their leadership, and in January 1954 Đilas was expelled from the Central Committee of the party, of which he had been a member since 1937, and dismissed from all political functions for his criticism. He resigned from the League of Communists soon afterwards, in March 1954. On December 25, 1954, he gave an interview to The New York Times in which he characterized the situation in Yugoslavia as "totalitarian", adding that his country was ruled by "undemocratic forces" and "reactionary elements". He also appealed for the formation of "a new democratic Socialist party", and thus for a two-party system. For this "hostile propaganda" he was brought to trial and conditionally sentenced to 1.5 years in prison.

On November 19, 1956, Đilas was arrested following his statement to Agence France Presse opposing the Yugoslav abstention in the United Nations vote condemning Soviet intervention in Hungary and his article to The New Leader magazine supporting the Hungarian Revolution. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment. In 1957, Đilas published abroad The New Class: An Analysis of the Communist System, which he had already sent to the American publisher Praeger before he was jailed. In the book he argued that communism in Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was not egalitarian, and that it was establishing a new class of privileged party bureaucracy, who enjoyed material benefits from their positions. The book had a great success and was translated into more than 40 languages. For The New Class Đilas was sentenced in 1957 to another seven years imprisonment, or ten in all, taking into account his previous term. In prison Đilas completed a massive and scholarly biography of the great Montenegrin prince-poet-priest Njegoš and he also wrote novels (Montenegro) and short stories. In 1958, he published abroad the first volume of his memoirs, about his youth in Montenegro, entitled Land Without Justice, which he had finished in 1954, but was rejected by Yugoslav publishers.

Đilas was conditionally released on January 20, 1961, after completing four years and two months in prison. During 1961, Đilas was repeatedly threatened by the Serbian government of being sent back to jail for his contacts with foreign journalists and scholars. He would be imprisoned again in April 1962 for publishing abroad Conversations with Stalin, which became another international success and Đilas personally considered his greatest work (see Rise and Fall). Conversations with Stalin was written in 1961 after his release, though it had long been on his mind before (Rise and Fall, p. 396). The manuscript was not smuggled out of prison, as it has been stated, including by David Pryce-Jones in "Remembering Milovan Djilas" (see below the external links). For Conversations with Stalin Đilas was sentenced in August 1962 to another five years – or fifteen, added to the earlier punishments – allegedly for having "revealed state secrets", which he denied. The book's references to Albania and its possible fusion with (or its annexation by) Yugoslavia were considered most embarrassing by the communist leaders. During his internment Đilas wrote several novels and translated John Milton's Paradise Lost into Serbo-Croatian. On December 31, 1966, Đilas was amnestied and freed unconditionally, after nine years in jail, never to be imprisoned again. He continued to be a dissident and a hero in the eyes of the Western powers, living in Belgrade as a controversial figure until his death on April 20, 1995.

Views on the collapse of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union

Đilas opposed the breakup of Yugoslavia and the descent into nationalist conflict in the 1980s and 1990s, but predicted in the 1980s that a breakup would happen. In 1981, he predicted that Yugoslavia would collapse on ethnic and bureaucratic nationalist lines due to the loss of Tito:

"Our system was built only for Tito to manage. Now that Tito is gone and our economic situation becomes critical, there will be a natural tendency for greater centralization of power. But this centralization will not succeed because it will run up against the ethnic-political power bases in the republics. This is not classical nationalism but a more dangerous, bureaucratic nationalism built on economic self-interest. This is how the Yugoslav system will begin to collapse."[7]

He was critical of Milošević in the late 1980s and predicted that Serbian President Slobodan Milošević's actions would arouse separation of other republics, ethnic war, and the demise of Yugoslavia:

"Milošević still has possibilities.... The liberalization you see has a bad cause. It is the consequence of national competition between Serbia and the other republics. Eventually Yugoslavia might be like the British Commonwealth, a loose confederation of trading nations. But first, I am afraid, there will be national wars and rebellions. There is such strong hate here."[7]

"Milošević's authoritarianism in Serbia is provoking real separation. Remember what Hegel said, that history repeats itself as tragedy and farce. What I mean to say is that when Yugoslavia disintegrates this time around, the outside world will not intervene as it did in 1914.... Yugoslavia is the laboratory of all Communism. Its disintegration will foretell the disintegration in the Soviet Union. We are further along than the Soviets."[7]

In 1987, Đilas was interviewed by the neoconservative magazine Encounter on the subject of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's economic and political reforms in the Soviet Union. Đilas described Gorbachev's actions as a "strict necessity. They have come to realize what other Communists in Yugoslavia, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and China realised much earlier—namely that Communism doesn't work. It works neither at the economic level nor at the level of satisfying essential human needs and liberties... Communism is a 19th-century relic and a prescription for disaster."[8]

Views on the relation between Serbian and Montenegrin nations/ethnicity

Đilas was dubbed by the Serbian nationalists the "creator of the separate Montenegrin ethnicity" (as opposed to Serbian). In the interview to the Borba Daily on May 1, 1945, Đilas stated that "Montenegrins have Serbian origins", but had over time evolved into a separate ethnic group and ethnicity. Đilas made great contributions to Montenegrin literature and historiography through his works. Later in life, as of mid 1980's Đilas referred to himself as "Serbian" (as does his Belgrade-born son Aleksa, the Harvard-graduate sociologist). However, Đilas never denied that Montenegrin ethnicity and national identity do exist.


  • The New Class: An Analysis of the Communist System, 1957.
  • Land without Justice, 1958.
  • Conversations with Stalin; Rupert Hart-Davis. London 1962.
  • Montenegro, 1963.
  • The Leper and Other Stories, 1964.
  • Njegoš: Poet-Prince-Bishop, 1966.
  • The Unperfect Society: Beyond the New Class, 1969.
  • Lost Battles, 1970.
  • Under the Colors, 1971.
  • The Stone and the Violets, 1972.
  • Memoir of a Revolutionary, 1973.
  • Parts of a Lifetime, 1975.
  • Wartime, 1977.
  • Tito: The Story from Inside, 1980.
  • Rise and Fall, 1985.
  • Of Prisons and Ideas, 1986.

Selected Essays

  • "Disintegration of Leninist Totalitarianism", in 1984 Revisited: Tolitarianism in Our Century, New York, Harper and Row, 1983, ed. Irving Howe
  • "The Crisis of Communism". TELOS 80 (Summer 1989). New York: Telos Press


  • Milton, John, Paradise Lost (from the original English to Serbo-Croatian), 1969

Further reading

  • Reinhartz, Dennis, Milovan Djilas: A Revolutionary as a Writer, New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.
  • Lalić, Boris, Milovan Đilas, Belgrade: Novosti, 2011.

See also

  • Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
  • Partisans

In fiction

Đilas is mentioned in Saul Bellow's Humboldt's Gift, where he writes about Joseph Stalin's "twelve-course all-night banquets" and the theme of boredom.[9]

Key partisans

Literary subjects


  1. The New Class, Greek Edition (Horizon), Athens, 1957,Prologue(page ιστ)
  2. Milovan Djilas, Yugoslav Critic of Communism, Dies at 83
  3. Remembering Milovan Djilas
  4. Djilas Milovan: Conversations with Stalin. Translated by Michael B. Petrovich. Rupert Hart-Davis, Soho Square London 1962, pp. 16-17.
  5. Djilas Milovan: Conversations with Stalin. Translated by Michael B. Petrovich. Rupert Hart-Davis, Soho Square London 1962, pp. 33-58.
  6. Literary and Social Diasporas, Gaetano Rando and Jerry Turcotte, Belgium, 2007 - ISBN 978-90-5201-383-1. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 "Kaplan, Robert. ''Balkan Ghosts''". Retrieved 2011-05-12. 
  8. "Djilas on Gorbachov," Encounter No. 23, Vol. 71. 1987. p. 4.
  9. Bellow, S. Humboldt's Gift, Secker and Warburg, London, 1975, p. 201

External links

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