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Definition: Djilas from Collins English Dictionary


1 Milovan. 1911–95, Yugoslav politician and writer; vice president (1953–54): imprisoned (1956–61, 1962–66) for his criticism of the communist system

Summary Article: Djilas, Milovan
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Yugoslav dissident and political writer. A close wartime colleague of Marshal Tito, he was dismissed from high office in 1954 and twice imprisoned 1956–61 and 1962–66 because of his advocacy of greater political pluralism and condemnation of the communist bureaucracy. He was formally rehabilitated in 1989.

Djilas was born in Montenegro and was a partisan during World War II. He joined the illegal Yugoslav Communist Party (CPY) after studying philosophy and law in Belgrade and was imprisoned 1933–36 for protesting against the Yugoslav monarchy. He entered the CPY's controlling Politburo in 1940, during World War II, when he became a ruthless military leader of Tito's anti-Nazi partisan guerrillas.

In post-war Yugoslavia, Djilas held key positions, but as a romantic communist of principle he became disillusioned and critical of Soviet-style communism, where ends justified means and where a party elite had emerged as a privileged social stratum. This was the subject of his first book, The New Class, which was smuggled to the West and published in 1957. These criticisms led to his censure in 1954 and resignation from the CPY, and his imprisonment in 1956.

Released from prison in 1961, he was jailed within a year after castigating the former Soviet leader Josef Stalin as ‘the greatest criminal in history’ in Conversations with Stalin (1962), which recounted Djilas's own meetings with Stalin 1944–45. Released in 1966, though still subject to surveillance, he wrote further works on communism and Yugoslav recent history, most notably Memoir of a Revolutionary (1973), which chronicles his own career.

Officially rehabilitated in 1989, Djilas predicted that Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost (political openness) and perestroika (economic restructuring) reforms would lead to the collapse of Soviet communism and a dangerous resurgence of nationalism. He became reviled in his final years in what had become an increasingly nationalistic Yugoslavia for his humanistic criticisms of Serb aggression in Croatia and Bosnia.

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