The Victims of Communism Foundation's Blog

IN EXILE: THE LIFE AND WORK OF MIHAJLO MIHAJLOV

IN EXILE: THE LIFE AND WORK OF MIHAJLO MIHAJLOV


Editor’s Note: This is the final installment of a five part series. Read Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Mihajlov ended up in a hospital where he was put on a life support system and began to receive solid food only at the beginning of March, 1976. Because of a list of demands from the authorities, Mihajlov donned civilian clothes but still insisted on seeking out the so-called political sections for prisoners within the prison facilities. The official report stated that the strike was used by the Western media and international organizations including Amnesty International, PEN, and the European Committee for Human Rights, among others. They published more than 4,000 letters sent to them by closure of 1975. These were used as anti-propaganda to claim that there was no democracy, freedom, creativity, and social human character in Yugoslavia, despite what the régime was supposedly attempting to build. Also, the régime was not able to overcome the limitations which the socialist system imposed. Among those who wrote in favor of Mihajlov was the US Democratic Party presidential candidate, Senator Henry Jackson. Thousands of letters petitioning Mihajlov’s release were sent to the Presidency of the SFRY from all over the world. Among them were the letters from the Slovenian dissident, Franc Miklavčić, the Serbian Djuro Djurović and the Croatian Marko Veselica. The German journalist Rhee Shlickum wrote in a letter:

“and what about human rights in your country? You still have the writer Mihajlov in jail just because you do not approve of his views – That’s crime, isn’t it! This is not the end of injustice towards the people. Your secret agents assassinated editor Dragiša Kašiković in the main Serbian quarter in Chicago … in a free country such is America. With him was killed a minor, a little girl of only nine. What you did is so brutal. Unspeakable, a decent man cannot explain in plain words” (AJ, Letter to the German journalist Rhee Shlickum from Hamburg, 1975).

Helmut Schmidt personally intervened for Mihajlov’s release in a meeting with Tito on May 28th, 1978. Tito replied that Mihajlov would definitely be released, “but at the moment when there was no outside pressure.” In protest to the delay, increased counter-propaganda was planned through diplomatic channels abroad and the local media, including a possible visit from a foreign journalist to Mihajlov in prison (AJ, Federal Information Secretariat for Justice and Public Administration Presidency of Yugoslavia, 1976). During the discussions at the Presidency regarding Mihajlov’s release, Stevan Doronjski, a Communist official from Vojvodina, said, “I spoke with comrade Kardelj and he said much the same – let him go and wait until he is off the front pages of the international newspapers and if he still behaves in a hostile way we can always arrest him.” To this, Serbian Communist leader Miloš Minić said with resignation: “I must say, we haven’t had a bigger scam to deal with in a long time. … He is a hardcore anti-communist,” and F. Herljević, Secretary of SSIP (Federal Secretariat of Foreign Affairs), agreed, adding, “We’ll put surveillance on him” (AJ, 1977 Meeting of the Presidency of the SFRY, transcripts). At a Party meeting, Tito said, “I reckon we made ​​a mistake arresting Mihajlo. We should have let him go and no one would have paid any attention to him and he could have been punished in another way” (Simić P., Despot Z., 2010:420).

Mihajlov served a total of 3 years and 2 months in the Sremska Mitrovica Correction Facility. He was among many other prisoners pardoned in 1977, around several important dates: the eve of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) held in Belgrade, the upcoming visit of President Tito to the U.S., and Yugoslavia’s Republic Day. President Jimmy Carter happily greeted news of Mihajlov’s release (AJ, Meeting minute of the Presidency of the SFRY, 1977). Even after his release, however, Mihajlov continued his interviews and criticism of the government knowing that this time it would be harder to arrest him. Therefore, in March 1978, he was summoned to the 29th November Street Police Headquarters in Belgrade and was handed his passport which bore a photograph taken without his knowledge. He was advised to leave the country and join his family, which he did. When he left the country a warrant for his arrest was immediately issued, his passport was cancelled, and his citizenship quickly revoked. The warrant for his arrest and criminal charges were laid against him by the District Court in Belgrade. His lawyer, Srdja Popović, received no explanation for the charges. Allegedly he and other dissidents, including Milovan Djilas, Dragoljub Ignjatović, and Momčilo Selić, had attempted to launch an opposition magazine called the Clock. Ignjatović was sentenced to six months, Selić’s sentence was suspended, and Djilas was fined (Dragovic, 2004: 88). Mihajlov was the only citizen of Yugoslavia who was stripped of his citizenship for his political activity. This was a Soviet principle commonly used against their writers, intellectuals and political dissidents.

Starting in the beginning of the ‘80s, while in exile, Mihajlov was co-chairman of the Committee to support democratic dissidents in Yugoslavia (CADDY), based in New York. This Committee included M. Djilas, F. Tudjman, and twenty Nobel Prize winners. Alongside Rusko Matulić, Mihajlov was editor of the CADDY bulletin on human rights in Yugoslavia. The bulletin was published by International Democracy for 10 years until the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia in the early ‘90s. Mihajlov became a prominent member of the U.S. National Committee of the American Social Democrats; he also was a less exposed political party member of the PEN Club in the USA and France. He spent nearly a decade on Radio Free Europe (1984-1994) as a political analyst, and nine years in Munich and Washington as a political analyst, commentator, and expert on the Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia (Stavrić, 2001). In 1994 Mihajlov joined the Elliott School for International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington, DC on the Program for Democratic Transition. In 1999 he became a fellow and professor at the Hudson Institute and visiting professor at Moscow State University.

Mihajlov died at his modest apartment in Belgrade on March 7th, 2010. He will be remembered by friends and contemporaries as a good, accessible, and tolerant man, a true authentic defender of democracy, and an uncompromising opponent of every form of totalitarianism and nationalism.