Proudly Third

Proudly Third

We are not going to pay the balance on others’ accounts, we are not going to serve as pocket money in anyone’s currency exchange, we are not going to allow ourselves to become entangled in political spheres of interest.  Why should it be held against our peoples that they want to be completely independent?  And why should autonomy be restricted or the subject of dispute?  We will not be dependent on anyone again!” —Josip Broz Tito, in response to Soviet attempts to punish Yugoslavia for being “too independent”

Tito, the consummate communist, had ties to the Soviet Union.  During World War I he, fighting for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had been wounded and captured and recuperated in a Russian hospital where he learned to speak Russian.  Even before that, he had been living in Vienna, frequenting the same Cafe Central as Josef Stalin.  

Tito was in Russia during the communist revolution, and was actually helped to escape by several Bolsheviks – cementing his belief in the communist system.  

Nor did it end there.  After serving a prison term for his revolutionary activities in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Tito lived the peripatetic life of a sometime exile – shuttling between Paris, Yugoslavia, and Moscow.  More time in Moscow was needed when he became the leader of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (KPJ).  

Tito with Mosa Pijade, fellow communist and prison roommate

But it all came to a crashing end in 1948, when Yugoslavia’s unwillingness to submit to becoming a mere Soviet satellite rather than an independent allied nation culminated to being expelled from the Cominform and leaving the Warsaw Pact.

Yugoslavia was on its own, without any strong allies.  A new path had to be found.

Yugoslavia was not the only country struggling, post World War II, to come to grips with the bipolar orientation of the Great Powers.  Nations like India and Egypt, former colonies, were understandably hesitant to involve themselves in the neo-colonialism of an unequal alliance with their former colonial masters.  They were also unwilling to commit to the junior partner relationship with anyone else.  As the 1960s dawned, a wave of newly independent African nations wanted to retain their independence as well.  

The first movement toward a “third way” (Third World) came in 1955 at the Bandung Conference in Indonesia.  This meeting of 29 countries from Africa and Asia represented 54% of the world’s population.  These countries were, they felt, being pressured by the unfolding Cold War into proxy battlefields without being allowed any input of consultation.

Sukarno, President and then Prime Minister of Indonesia and main organizer of the Bandung Conference.

The ten-point declaration that resulted from the Bandung Conference, the Dasasila Bandung, became the foundation beliefs of the loosely organized alliances that would eventually coalesce into the Nonaligned Movement.  

But the movement was not yet ready.

The next year, 1956, the three men who would become the primary organizers of the nonaligned movement: Tito from Yugoslavia, Gamal Abdel Nasser from the United Arab Republic (now Egypt), and Jawarhalal Nehru from India, met on the Croatian island of Brijuni. This, called the “Third World Yalta” at the time,  has almost become a shadow meeting, as very little of the documentation from it survives, although the three leaders made the joint statement, “Peace cannot be achieved via division, but via striving for collective security on the global scale.  Achieved by expansion of the area of freedom, as well as through the ending of domination of one country over another.”  

The Brijuni meeting also affirmed the Dasasila Bandung, but was quickly overshadowed by Cold War dominoes that began to fall during the meeting itself.  

Nasser, Nehru, and Tito meet on Brijuni (Brioni) in 1956. This is the foundation meeting for the future NAM movement, but it was overshadowed by events in Egypt.

It was on Brioni that Nasser received word that his funding from the US and the West to construct the Aswan Dam had been cancelled – the message that set the Suez Crisis in motion.  Other matters quickly began to dominate the news.

As the 1960s approached and waves of former colonies in Africa began receiving independence, several things became clear.  First, that the United Nations was undeniably skewed toward the Great Powers.  Many newly independent nations did not wish to enter into a neocolonial relationship with their former rulers, nor did they wish to become a satellite orbiting firmly in the gravity of the Soviet Union.  

1961 Belgrade Conference attendees. A lot of stylish walking sticks seemed to be in attendance.

There was no more reason for delay – a third way was now a necessity.  Tito, Nehru, and Nasser organized the 1961 Belgrade Conference.  On 1 September 1961 the first meeting of nonaligned nations, with 25 nation-participants and an additional three observers, met in Yugoslavia for the first time.  Although, given the preponderance of participants who were fresh out of colonial situations, it would have been natural for the conference to focus on post-colonial issues, Nehru, steering the event, had a different vision: he wanted to start an organization that would be devoted to reducing world tensions.  Thus the focus of the Belgrade Conference was discussing war and peace in the shadow of the bipolar Cold War.

Membership in the Nonaligned Movement (a descriptive first used by Indian politician V.K. Krishna Menon in front of the UN in 1953) was based on nations achieving or working toward key criteria: 

  1. An independent policy based on coexistence of states with different political and social systems and on nonalignment.
  2. A consistent support for movements of national independence
  3. No memberships in multilateral military alliances associated with a Great Power conflict
  4. If foreign military bases are located within a nation, they must not be associated with a Great Power conflict.

This first NAM conference was successful on two levels: it brought world attention to the structural disadvantages Third World nations faced in the United Nations, and led to the expansion of the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council.  It also greatly raised the prestige of the nonaligned movement itself.  Individually these post-colonial nations had little power, but together they could swing entire world votes.

Tito speaking at the 1961 Belgrade Conference.

The nations attending the first conference also adapted the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence from Sino-Indian treaties:

  1. Nations would show respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty
  2. Nations would exhibit mutual nonaggression
  3. Nations would offer mutual non-interference in domestic affairs
  4. Nations would support equality and mutual benefit
  5. Nations would support peaceful coexistence 

There was also a collective pledge made to remain neutral in the Cold War and a pledge against nuclear armament, which the USSR reacted to by resuming their nuclear testing on the first day of the conference.

Not all nations in the nonaligned movement met the membership criteria, and it was determined that countries should be determined to be “working toward” the end result.  As well, the nonaggression pledge didn’t stop India and Pakistan or Iraq and Iran from engaging in high-casualty and long wars.  Certainly a blind eye was turned by the organization to several uncomfortable long-term truths. 

The first three nonaligned conferences, in Belgrade, Cairo, and Lusaka, were mainly concerned with consolidating the social movement, which would allow them more power in the international community by consolidating the Third World into a bloc vote.  The focus of the movement changed in the 1970s, however, becoming more political and calling for a “New Economic Order” and a restructuring of the system so that it did not revolve between the two Great Powers.   

In the 1970s Cuba began to attempt to take the leadership role of the movement, and in 1976 the movement praised Cuba’s contributions in Angola.  The 1979 conference was to be held in Havana, Cuba and the chairmanship of the organization was to pass to Fidel Castro; but long before the conference, Yugoslavia (with Tito the sole remaining founding member of the NAM) was already agitating to change the direction being pursued by Cuba.

We have never equated the blocs, either in terms of the time when they were founded or on the basis of any other characteristics.  We have from the very outset been consistently opposed to block policies and foreign domination, to all forms of political and economic hegemony, and in favor of the right of each and every country to freedom, independence, and autonomous development.  We have never consented to be anyone’s rubber stamp or reserve, as this is incompatible with the essence of the policy of non-alignment.  —Tito, 1979 in Havana

Several other NAM members, called “The Group of Like-Minded Countries”,  were uncomfortable with Cuba’s leadership as well, seeing the Cuban alliance with the USSR as directly contradictory to NAM principles.  Egypt and Somalia together challenged Cuba’s credentials, but the challenge was denied.

By January 1980, Cuba’s leadership in the NAM was completely discredited.  The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, a member nation of the NAM, in December 1979.  In a United Nations vote, the NAM bloc voted 56-9 in favor of condemning the USSR’s actions, with Cuba showing strong support.  The chair of the NAM voting in favor of one of the Great Powers invading a fellow NAM member was too much.  The organization was losing its momentum, and although the NAM continued to exist even after the fall of the Soviet Union, but it struggled to find relevance and the prestige it enjoyed “u Titov0 vrijeme” (in Tito’s time).  


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