Josip Broz, who eventually became known as "Tito," reigned as president of Yugoslavia from 1945 until his death in 1980. A veteran of World War I and a committed revolutionary in his early years, Tito earned his rank as a distinguished member of the Yugoslav party's Politburo and by 1937 became its secretary general. The young leader's insistence on operating politically within the boundaries of Yugoslavia brought him success in organizing the Communist Party on a national basis and increasing its membership to 12,000 by the outbreak of World War II. When Nazi forces occupied Yugoslavian soil in 1941, Tito raised and led guerrilla bands, or partisans, which effectively fought against the Germans, Italians and the royal government-in-exile, commanded by General Draza Mihajlovic. As the partisan ranks grew in number and their successes gained notoriety, Tito became engaged in high-level international politics with the British, American, and Soviet Powers. It was here that the Yugoslavian revolutionary seems to have begun his feud with Josef Stalin.
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Although Tito established military assistance arrangements from the British and Americans, he was not able to do so with the Russians, who continued to downplay the strategic importance of his partisans, even after Great Britain had officially recognized them as the premier anti-Axis military force in Yugoslavia (Neal; 339). His vociferous criticism of this Kremlin policy compounded by his incessant demands for Soviet aid agitated the paranoid and egomaniacal Josef Stalin, and set the stage for Yugoslavia's later difficulties with Moscow. Following the Russian liberation of Belgrade in 1944, the military might of the Yugoslavian Army was such that Tito felt sufficiently confident to secure the immediate departure of the Red Army from Yugoslavia. On 7 March, 1945, Tito became premier and minister of defense and in 1953 was elected president.
Tito's loyalty to Moscow was real but was not based on subservience. Thus, as the war came to an end he prodded the patience of Stalin further when staking Yugoslavia's claims to Trieste without delay in opposition to Soviet policies (Neal; 339). This put Tito and Stalin on a collision course that would not find remedy. Stalin wanted to bring the Yugoslav regime into line with the other much more subservient governments and parties in Eastern Europe. He believed Tito himself and his immediate subordinates must be replaced by more pliable characters. This was the essence of the matter.
Despite his independent and confrontational demeanor towards the Soviets, however, the West branded Tito a Soviet puppet for his authorization of the 1946 execution of Mihajlovic as a Nazi collaborator, imprisonment of the Roman Catholic Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac, his support of the Communists in the Greek Civil War, and the shooting-down of two US planes over Slovenia. Tito's continued defiance to Soviet economic and political demands on Yugoslavia coupled with his rather unorthodox methods of operating politically within his country soon resulted in his condemnation from Stalin. On 28 June, 1948, he was officially denounced and his party, the CPY, was ejected as a member of the Cominform. In order to bring the mutinous state and its leader into compliance with the Soviet directive, Stalin concocted an economic blockade, sedition, border incidents, and threats of military invasion all to no avail, as these threats served only to further unite the Yugoslav people behind Tito (Auty; 804). The extrication of Yugoslavia from the Communist international impacted the Yugoslav Communist leaders profoundly. Their emergence from this event did not result in an embrace of Western ideology, but a redirected and entirely innovative form of theoretical Communism that harbored sweeping decentralization, an increase in individual liberties, and an eventual independence and opposition to both NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
Auty, Phyllis. "Tito," The Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 28, (Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., Chicago: 1992).
Neal, Fred Warner. "Tito (Josip Broz)," The Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 26, (Grollier Incorporated, Danbury: 1988).
Wilson, Duncan. Tito's Yugoslavia, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979).