The Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia (Serbo-Croatian Latin: Antifašističko vijeće/veće narodnog oslobođenja Jugoslavije, Serbo-Croatian Cyrillic: Антифашистичко веће народног ослобођења Југославије, Slovene: Antifašistični svet narodne osvoboditve Jugoslavije, Macedonian: Антифашистичко собрание за народно ослободување на Југославија) commonly abbreviated as the AVNOJ, was a deliberative and legislative body that was established in Bihać, Yugoslavia, in November 1942. It was established on the instigation of Josip Broz Tito, the leader of the Yugoslav Partisans – an armed resistance movement led by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia to resist the Axis occupation of the country during World War II.
Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ)
|Founded||26 November 1942|
|Disbanded||29 November 1945|
|Succeeded by||National Assembly|
The AVNOJ reconvened in Jajce in 1943 and in Belgrade in 1945, shortly after the war in Europe ended. Between the sessions, it operated through its presidency or its self-elected executive council, and through the National Committee for the Liberation of Yugoslavia. The committee was granted authority normally wielded by national governments. While Tito presided over the committee, the AVNOJ sessions and its presidency were chaired by Ivan Ribar. The second session of the AVNOJ determined it would be Yugoslavia's new legislative body and that the country would become a federation after the war.
By 1944, the Western Allies and the Yugoslav government-in-exile recognised the AVNOJ as the lawful, all-Yugoslav legislative body. The third session of the AVNOJ was convened in preparation of the Constitutional Assembly when the Yugoslav Parliament was convened again in 1945. Decisions of the AVNOJ determined there would be six units in the federation and defined their borders. It also took over the position of the legitimate ruling body of Yugoslavia from the government-in-exile in dealings with the Allies.
Invasion and uprisingEdit
The Kingdom of Yugoslavia acceded to the Tripartite Pact on 25 March 1941 under pressure from the Nazi Germany. The latter sought to protect its southern flank before the planned invasion of the Soviet Union, while ensuring the availability of transport routes and economic resources in the Balkans where the Greco-Italian War was in progress. In response to the pact, Royal Yugoslav Armed Forces generals staged a coup d'état deposing the government and Prince Regent Paul. Royal Yugoslav Air Force General Dušan Simović became the Prime Minister and the regency was abolished by declaring Peter II of Yugoslavia of age and thus the king even though he was only seventeen.
On 6 April 1941, the Axis powers invaded and quickly occupied Yugoslavia. Parts of the country were annexed by its neighbours, and the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna država Hrvatska, NDH) was carved out as a Ustaše-ruled Axis puppet state. With the country's defeat imminent, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (Komunistička partija Jugoslavije, KPJ) instructed its 8,000 members to stockpile weapons in anticipation of armed resistance. By the end of 1941, the armed resistance spread to all areas of the country except Macedonia. Building experience in clandestine operation across the country, the KPJ proceeded to organise the Yugoslav Partisans as resistance fighters led by Josip Broz Tito. The KPJ assessed the German invasion of the Soviet Union had created favourable conditions for an uprising and in response to this, the KPJ politburo founded the Supreme Headquarters of the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia with Tito as commander-in-chief on 27 June 1941. According to Yugoslav sources, the Partisan forces grew to 800,000 by 1945 through the recruitment of volunteers and defecting Axis-collaborator troops who were promised amnesty, and the conscription of men aged between 17 and 50.
King Peter II and the government fled Yugoslavia as it became apparent the royal army would not be able to defend the country. The decision to abandon organised armed resistance to the Axis powers as early as April 1941 brought the Yugoslav government-in-exile into a weak position further weakened by quarreling ministers who appeared united only in opposition to communism. The government's legality was based on the 1931 Yugoslav Constitution which made it responsible to the king. The government was an extension of the post-coup government led by Simović. It lost three Croatian Peasant Party (Hrvatska seljačka stranka, HSS) ministers including the party's leader and the deputy prime minister Vladko Maček who resigned and stayed in the country. The HSS thus split and lost influence. Džafer Kulenović also resigned as the only minister drawn from the Yugoslav Muslim Organization.
The government-in-exile was split along an ethnic line separating the HSS from a bloc of Serb ministers drawn from several disunited parties. The divisions deepened as the HSS ministers displayed reluctance to publicly discuss and condemn Ustaše atrocities against Serbs in autumn of 1941. In January 1942, Simović was replaced by Slobodan Jovanović and his decision to support the Chetniks widened the rift with the HSS ministers. Jovanović saw Chetniks as a guerrilla force promising restoration of the monarchy after the war. In combination with fear of communism, this led him to ignore information about Chetnik collaboration with the Axis powers, and appoint their leader Draža Mihailović the Minister of the Army, Navy and Air Forces. At the same time, the government promoted Mihailović to the rank of Army General and formally renamed the Chetniks the "Yugoslav Army in the Homeland". In June 1943, Jovanović resigned unable to reunite the ministers, and his replacement Miloš Trifunović also resigned after less than two months of failing to resolve the same problem. In August, Božidar Purić was appointed the prime minister of a largely administrative government mostly composed of civil servants, although Mihailović retained his ministerial position.
In November 1942, the Partisans captured the town Bihać and secured control over a large part of western Bosnia, Dalmatia and Lika. They named the liberated area the Bihać Republic. On 26 and 27 November, the pan-Yugoslav Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia (Antifašističko vijeće narodnog oslobođenja Jugoslavije, AVNOJ) was established in the town at the initiative of Tito and the KPJ. At its founding session, the AVNOJ adopted the principle of a multi-ethnic federal state as the basis for the country's future government but did not officially determine what system of government would be implemented after the war. There was a degree of ambiguity regarding the number of future federal units and whether they would all have equal status within the federation.
The AVNOJ also did not make any reference to recognition of the London-based Yugoslav government-in-exile, which the Western Allies deemed legitimate and the Soviet Union's leader Joseph Stalin did not wish to antagonise the Allies by supporting Communist guerrillas. Shortly before the Bihać session, Tito added the expression "Anti-Fascist" to the original name of the AVNOJ to emphasise its temporary and anti-Axis nature. These steps were made in response to Soviet positions expressed in correspondence in July–November 1942 between the KPJ and Moscow. Namely, Tito was urged through the Comintern to establish a political body for the purpose of liberation of the country only. He was instructed by the Comintern not to take stand against monarchy. Furthermore, the KPJ received a telegram from the Soviet authorities instructing it not to advertise any communist agenda by the AVNOJ for fear of atagonisign the Western Allies and cautioning against appointing Tito as the president of the AVNOJ.
The members of the AVNOJ, commonly referred to as delegates, were selected to represent specific parts of Yugoslavia. There were seventeen delegates selected to represent Bosnia and Herzegovina, fifteen representing Croatia, fourteen each on behalf of Serbia and Montenegro, eight representing Slovenia, six representing Sandžak, and three representing Vojvodina. The distribution reflected the number of Partisans from each part of the country taking part in the armed struggle at the time. Some of the selected delegates, including those representing Slovenia and Vojvodina, and twelve others, did not arrive. The Slovene delegation sent a telegram informing the AVNOJ of its support. Macedonia was not represented at all. The AVNOJ elected its presidency, which consisted of Ivan Ribar as the president, and Pavle Savić and Nurija Pozderac as vice-presidents. Ribar was viewed as a symbol of continuation of the pre-war government because he was the first President of the Constitutional Assembly of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which was later renamed Yugoslavia.
The AVNOJ also appointed an Executive Council. It was presided by Ribar, and had three vice-presidents and six other members who were assigned specific portfolios. Thus, it had specific members tasked with the internal affairs, healthcare affairs, social affairs, economic affairs, religious affairs and propaganda. The Executive Council was not formally considered a government, and Tito spoke at the Bihać session of the AVNOJ explaining that the international relations prevented formation of a government at that point. Instead, he described it as a political instrument designed to mobilise people.
|Mladen Iveković||social affairs|
|Simo Milošević||healthcare affairs|
|Ivan Milutinović||economic affairs|
|Mile Peruničić||internal affairs|
|Vlada Zečević||religious affairs|
After the Bihać meeting, land councils were established as political bodies representative of what was expected to be individual parts of the future federation. In January 1943, the executive council of the AVNOJ started a scheme to raise money for the Partisan struggle; it called for a "People's Liberation Loan" seeking to raise half a billion kuna. The NDH's Ustaše regime launched a propaganda campaign in November 1942 to discredit the AVNOJ and portray the Partisans' struggle as a pro-Serb and anti-Croat cause. The campaign was most intensive until March 1943 and it involved publication of brochures and newspaper articles as well as several rallies. It minimised roles of Croats and Bosnian Muslims played in the AVNOJ and the Partisan movement. This was attempted by emphasising Serb participation in the uprising while either omitting mention of some Croat or Bosnian Muslim AVNOJ participants while labelling others traitors or changing their names. For instance, Ribar's name was misrepresented as Slovene-sounding "Janez Ribar".
|Main National Liberation Committee for Serbia||November 1941*|
|State Anti-fascist Council for the National Liberation of Croatia (ZAVNOH)||June 1943|
|Slovene National Liberation Committee (SNOS)||October 1943|
|State Anti-fascist Council for the National Liberation of Montenegro and Boka (ZAVNOCGB)||November 1943|
|State Anti-fascist Council for the National Liberation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ZAVNOBiH)||November 1943|
|Main National Liberation Committee for Vojvodina||November 1943|
|Country Antifascist Council for the People’s Liberation of the Sanjak (ZASNOS)||November 1943|
|Anti-fascist Assembly for the National Liberation of Macedonia (ASNOM)||August 1944|
|*Established during the existence of the Užice Republic|
Tito’s decision to convene another session of the AVNOJ was made in response to the surrender of Fascist Italy and the approach of troops of the Western Allies. In the interval between sessions, the Western Allies had started to support the Partisans, and Tito considered a British landing in Yugoslavia likely. In October 1943, just before the second session, the KPJ central committee established the National Committee for the Liberation of Yugoslavia (Nacionalni komitet oslobođenja Jugoslavije, NKOJ), an all-Yugoslav executive body, appointed to perform the role of an interim government.
The AVNOJ reconvened in Jajce on 29 and 30 November 1943; Ribar chaired the meeting as the president of executive council. The KPJ originally decided the second session of the AVNOJ should be attended by 250 delegates who were elected by regional land councils. The number was subsequently increased by 53 to accommodate delegates from Macedonia and Sandžak, regions that were not originally included in the delegate count. The number was divided between the land councils; 78 delegates were to be elected in Croatia, 53 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 53 in Serbia, 42 in Slovenia, 42 in Macedonia, 16 in Montenegro, 11 in Sandžak, and 8 in Vojvodina.
Of the planned 303, only 142 delegates arrived by the start of the session; 46 from Bosnia and Herzegovina, 37 from Croatia, 24 from Serbia, 17 from Slovenia, 16 from Montenegro and 2 from Vojvodina. There were also 163 deputy delegates at the session – 67 from Croatia, 43 from Bosnia and Herzegovina, 42 from Slovenia and 11 from Montenegro. The Serbian delegates were not elected by the Main National Liberation Committee for Serbia, which was unable to carry out elections due to repressive actions taken by the Nazi German occupation forces in Serbia. Instead, the Serbian delegates were appointed by individual Partisan units that were originally drawn from Serbia. This meant the eastern parts of Yugoslavia were underrepresented in the second session of the AVNOJ.
|Region||Delegate quota||Attending delegates||Attending deputies|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||53||46||43|
|*Appointed by Serbian Partisan units|
Building blocks for a new stateEdit
The AVNOJ made several decisions of the highest political and constitutional significance, declaring itself the supreme legislative body in the country and the representation of Yugoslav sovereignty. The AVNOJ affirmed a commitment to forming a democratic federation. It recognised the equal standing of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia in the future federation. Only Sandžak was listed with other lower-ranked regional entities, even though its land council was still included among the "seven basic bodies of people’s government". Though the position of individual nations and regions were not further elaborated, the second session of the AVNOJ determined the type of federal system to be introduced in Yugoslavia, modelling it on the Soviet Union.
Thus Tito's views prevailed over the model adopted by the State Anti-fascist Council for the National Liberation of Croatia and the Communist Party of Croatia (Komunistička partija Hrvatske, KPH), a nominally independent part of the KPJ established in Croatia. The KPH leader Andrija Hebrang advocated establishment of a loose Yugoslav federation where communist parties and bodies established in federal units would be in full control of the federal units. In contrast, at least until 1945 Tito viewed the federal units as merely administrative divisions. Hebrang was replaced in late 1944 by Vladimir Bakarić. Under Bakarić, the KPH reversed its policy and aligned its views to the KPJ and the federal model favoured by Tito.
The AVNOJ also denied legitimacy of the Yugoslav government-in-exile and forbade the return of King Peter II to the country until its people could decide on the future of the monarchy freely after the war. It also declared all agreements previously concluded by the government-in-exile to be subject to review and approval, renegotiation or cancellation while declaring any further agreements concluded by the government-in-exile void. Furthermore, the AVNOJ declared that Yugoslavia never accepted the 1941 partition. Finally, Tito was awarded the rank of Marshal of Yugoslavia.
The AVNOJ elected a new presidency consisting of sixty-three members and was chaired by Ribar. Five vice-presidents were appointed: Antun Augustinčić, Moša Pijade, Josip Rus, Dimitar Vlahov, and Marko Vujačić. Radonja Golubović and Rodoljub Čolaković were appointed secretaries of the presidency. Some of the AVNOJ delegates were non-Communists so the presidency included some non-Communist members of the pre-war HSS and the Independent Democratic Party. The NKOJ was confirmed in the role of the government. Tito was appointed the president of the NKOJ and had three vice-presidents. Two were KPJ members Edvard Kardelj and Vladislav S. Ribnikar, and the remaining one was Božidar Magovac of the HSS. Finally, the AVNOJ formally praised and thanked Tito's Supreme Headquarters, and the Partisan forces for their armed struggle.
|Josip Broz Tito||president, defence|
|Vladislav S. Ribnikar||vice-president, information|
|Sulejman Filipović||forests and ores|
|Anton Kržišnik||social policy|
|Josip Smodlaka||foreign affairs|
|Todor Vujasinović||economic reconstruction|
|Vlada Zečević||internal affairs|
Allied recognition and developments in 1944Edit
On 15 January 1944, the AVNOJ introduced multilingualism into its official government work. In its decision, the AVNOJ determined its official work would be published in Serbian, Croatian, Slovene and Macedonian languages. In response to Tito's request submitted on 17 February 1944, the AVNOJ and the NKOJ formally adopted a new emblem of the future federation that consisted of five lit torches burning as one flame representing five united nations; this was framed by sheaves, topped by a red five-pointed star, and crossed by a blue stripe bearing the name of the country, Democratic Federal Yugoslavia.
Stalin was enraged by establishment of the NKOJ as an interim government and explicit repudiation of the government-in-exile in direct contradiction to explicit Soviet advice to avoid antagonising the exiled government and Peter II. Stalin was specifically worried about Tito's assumption of the presidency of the NKOJ and found his elevation to the rank of Marshal particularly provocative. He thought that this would signal to the Western Allies that the KPJ was actually fighting for a revolution. Stalin was further angered by the fact that he received no prior notice of the decisions.
To Stalin's surprise, the Western Allies did not particularly oppose the AVNOJ's decisions. The flow of British equipment and arms to the Partisans which had started in the second half of 1943 on the basis of the Churchill's Mediterranean strategy remained unbroken. Only days after conclusion of the second session of the AVNOJ, the Allies recognised the Partisans as an Allied force at the Tehran Conference, and cut off further aid to the Chetniks. On British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's urging, the government-in-exile led by Ivan Šubašić and the Tito-led NKOJ signed the Treaty of Vis on 16 June 1944. Through the agreement, the government-in-exile recognised the AVNOJ and pledged to support it. In return, the NKOJ agreed to postpone the decision on the constitution of Yugoslavia until after the war. Tito and Šubašić concluded another agreement, this time in Belgrade on 1 November, in which Šubašić confirmed AVNOJ as Yugoslavia's legislative body and agreed to form a new 18-person government. Six of the members would come from the government-in-exile and twelve would be NKOJ members. The second session of the AVNOJ also drew a response from the Chetnik leadership. At the Ba Congress held in January 1944, they proposed an alternative solution for the post-war government. The congress also condemned the AVNOJ in line with the contemporary Chetnik propaganda as a product of collaboration of Communists and Ustaše against Serbs.
Persecution of German minorityEdit
On 21 November 1944, the presidency of the AVNOJ declared the German minority hostile to Yugoslavia and determined they were collectively guilty for the war. Germans living in the part of the country controlled by the Partisan forces were interned. Prior to 1944, there was about half a million Germans living in Yugoslavia, about 240,000 of whom were evacuated before the arrival of the Red Army as the Belgrade Offensive progressed. Another 150,000 were later deported to the USSR to work as forced labour, 50,000 died in Yugoslav-run concentration camps and 15,000 were killed by the Partisans. Most of the others were expelled from Yugoslavia and German property was seized. By the time of 1948 census, fewer than 56,000 ethnic Germans remained in Yugoslavia.
In February 1945, the AVNOJ was expanded to include members drawn from Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo-Metohija, areas that were not represented at its second session. The move came after a suggestion from the Allies. The AVNOJ was once more expanded in late March to include 54 members of the pre-war Yugoslav Parliament as required by the Tito–Šubašić Agreement. At the Yalta Conference, Churchill and Stalin discussed the decisions made by the AVNOJ; they agreed to demand ratification of all previous decisions taken by the AVNOJ by the future Yugoslav Constitutional Assembly.
In February 1945, the presidency of the AVNOJ concluded Sandžak should not be one of federal units of Yugoslavia. In turn, the Anti-Fascist Council for the People’s Liberation of Sandžak divided the region along the pre-1912 Serbia–Montenegro border and dissolved itself. The Anti-Fascist Parliament for the People’s Liberation of Serbia (ASNOS) held its first regular session between 7 and 9 April, and voted in favour of annexation of Vojvodina, Kosovo and a part of Sandžak. The People’s Liberation Council for the Kosovo-Metohija Oblasts held its first regular session between 8 and 10 July, and a corresponding body of Vojvodina met on 30 and 31 July; both bodies decided the region they represented would join Serbia. All of these decisions were confirmed at the third session of the AVNOJ in August 1945. By the end of the month, the AVNOJ discussed and decided on changes to the borders of all Yugoslav federal units based on corresponding pre-1941 and pre-1918 borders.
The third session of the AVNOJ was held in Belgrade between 7 and 26 August 1945 as a part of preparation of the Constitutional Assembly. It was again presided over by Ribar, and held in the Yugoslav Parliament building. A parliamentary election was held on 11 November and the Constitutional Assembly convened on 29 November 1945. The Assembly went on to ratify the decisions previously made by the AVNOJ.
The AVNOJ resulted in a defeat of Serbian nationalism. In the pre-war Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Serbia was in a dominant position. In comparison to the pre-war situation as well as the territory held by the Kingdom of Serbia before the World War I, Serbia lost Macedonia and Montenegro. The AVNOJ established Bosnia and Herzegovina as an equal member of the Yugoslav federation, establishing and confirming borders separating Serbs living in those regions and in Croatia from Serbia. Those borders are sometimes referred to as the "AVNOJ borders".
In 1945, this situation caused concerns among Serbs who feared being divided among multiple Yugoslav constituent republics. In response, Tito and the Yugoslav regime employed rhetoric designed to diminish the apparent significance of the intra-Yugoslav borders. Although the AVNOJ borders were originally drawn as administrative boundaries, they gained importance with subsequent decentralisation and the breakup of Yugoslavia. The question of the AVNOJ borders became a contributing factor to the 1990 Serb revolt in Croatia and the 1992–1995 Bosnian War.
The second session of the AVNOJ was celebrated in post-war Yugoslavia as the birth of the country and the event was commemorated annually on 29 and 30 November as a two-day national holiday. Museums have been established in the buildings which hosted the first and the second sessions of the AVNOJ in Bihać and Jajce respectively.
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