Yugoslavia 1970: The Writing on the Wall

By David Langbart

From time to time while working in the records, NARA staff find documents that provide new perspectives on events through which they lived.  I recently had that experience.

I remember well the terrible humanitarian disaster that befell local populations as Yugoslavia ripped itself apart during the 1990s.  I remember, too, how many commentators expressed surprise over the breakup of that country.

As I began working with the records of the Department of State and other foreign affairs agencies, I learned that to some of the experts in the U.S. government, what happened to Yugoslavia came as no surprise.  The files contain many documents explaining the centrifugal forces in that country likely to take over after the death of Marshal Tito, who ruled in Yugoslavia from World War II to his death in 1980.

I recently located the following document that presaged the calamity to come.  While it is not an analytical piece, it serves as good example of the developing understanding of the situation in Yugoslavia.

This memorandum was prepared by Walter R. Roberts, then the Deputy Associate Director (Research and Assessment) in the United States Information Agency (USIA), and sent to the Director of the agency, Frank Shakespeare.  Among other jobs, Mr. Roberts served in the Office of War Information (OWI) during World War II, in the Department of State after the war, in USIA during the 1950s, and as a public affairs officer and as Counselor for Public Affairs in the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia from 1960 to 1966.  He ended his government career as Associate Director of USIA, the senior career position in that agency.

The Brzezinski mentioned in the last paragraph is Zbigniew Brzezinski.  At the time he was a professor at Columbia University, but he earlier served on the Policy Planning Council in the Department of State and later became National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter.

Source: Record Group 306: Records of the United States Information Agency, Entry P-266, Office of Research and Assessment, Program Files, 1969-1971, File: IAS – Soviet Union/East Europe.

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