Preface: War on Tito's Yugoslavia?The Hungarian Army in Early Cold War Soviet Strategies,
László Ritter’s penetrating and meticulously documented study is another of the PHP publications that overturn conventional wisdom about some of the key issues of the Cold War. It provides the latest, and most authoritative, word about Stalin’s intentions in his confrontation with Tito’s Yugoslavia and the danger of a military conflict in the Balkans in the early nineteen-fifties.
In tackling this intriguing subject, Ritter demonstrates how much can be learned about Soviet military plans, which are still kept out of sight in the Russian defense ministry archives, by using the more readily accessible, if incomplete, records of Moscow’s erstwhile allies, in this instance particularly Hungary. Moreover, in preparing his study, the author has been able to obtain constructive cooperation by the person whose widely accepted thesis he demolishes—the former prominent Hungarian general and later respected American academic, Béla Király.
The demolished thesis is that which maintains that Stalin had been planning to attack Yugoslavia and was only prevented from doing so by the forceful U.S. reaction to the communist aggression in Korea. The documentation found by Ritter and published here presents convincing evidence that contingency plans the Hungarian army prepared under Soviet auspices in the event of a military confrontation with Yugoslavia were defensive rather than offensive. This conclusion adds support to the evidence found by PHP researchers in other countries of the former Soviet bloc that shows Stalin’s strategy in the early years of the Cold War as being defensive rather than offensive. The evidence is analyzed and interpreted in the forthcoming publication of papers from the PHP’s Longyearbyen conference, Threat Perceptions, War Plans, Alliances: Lessons from the Cold War.
Ritter’s judicious and lucid introductory study offers plausible reading of Stalin’s statements at his famous January 1951 meeting with Eastern European party and military officials that had long been cited as the crowning piece of evidence purportedly proving that the despot was bent on invading Western Europe. The picture that emerges is much more complicated, showing Stalin as certainly no man of peace but not another Hitler either. The peril he posed was not so much in his aggressive proclivities as in his insecurity, made worse by a propensity for self-deception and miscalculation.
The documentation published below shows the extent of Stalin’s mistrust of the Eastern European armies that he had been trying to build to Soviet image but never really wanted to rely upon. It also shows the importance of the perceived collusion between Yugoslavia and the West at the height of the Stalin-Tito rift. The fears of a Yugoslav attack, in conjunction with NATO, that Moscow instilled in its not too self-assured Hungarian, as well as Romanian and Bulgarian, dependents were wildly exaggerated yet, regardless of the presumed ability of the Soviet intelligence services to know better, nevertheless genuinely held.
The present publication offers a challenge to Bulgarian and Romanian archivists and historians to supplement the evidence presented here with pertinent documentation from their own still unavailable files.