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The Man Who Fought to Liberalize Communist Yugoslavia

January 6, 2018 in Economics

By Luka Nikolic


By: Luka Nikolic

Yugoslavia was a communist country from the end of World War II until its bloody breakup in 1991. In the years directly following the war, it was as brutal as any communist regime — it repossessed property and jailed or killed whoever uttered a word against Marxist ideology. However, in the decades after the 1940s — especially in the 70s — it was the most liberal communist country in the world. In sharp contrast to the Soviet Union, this Balkan state enjoyed a dose of economic freedom that the average Russian could only dream of. Yugoslavia managed to serve as a buffer zone between the bitter opponents of the Cold War and was one of the founders of the Non-Aligned Movement. The Yugoslav passport was the most prized possession in the world during the 1970s, costing around $10,000 on the black market. Even Milton Friedman commented on the situation in the country in the late 70s in Free to Choose:

Even two communist countries, Russia and Yugoslavia, offer a similar, though less extreme contrast. Russia is closely controlled from the center. [...] Yugoslavia started down the same road. However, after Yugoslavia under Tito broke with Stalin’s Russia, it changed it course drastically. It is still communist but deliberately promotes decentralization and the use of market forces. [….] The inhabitants of Yugoslavia are not free. They have a much lower standard of living than the inhabitants of […] Western countries. Yet Yugoslavia strikes the observant traveler who comes to it from Russia, as we did, as a paradise by comparison.

Many falsely attribute the divergence from communism to Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito, as he famously broke with Stalin in 1948. Yet it was not Tito whose idea was to back away from the Soviets entirely, nor was it his idea to liberalize Yugoslavia. This was the work of a man that has been largely forgotten today and his name was Konstanin “Koča” Popović. He was a writer, a general, a politician, and ultimately a communist turned liberal.

Konstanin Popović was born in Belgrade in 1908 to a rich industrialist family, but moved to Switzerland at the outbreak of the First World War. Growing up in Geneva he was exposed to Western values. However, upon arriving in Paris to study at the Sorbonne, he quickly became influenced by leftist movements and became a communist. He entered the Spanish Civil …read more


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