A Distance Of Centuries

A Distance Of Centuries

A new type of political leader has developed in the last few decades. He is a figure both fascinating and ominous, at times attractive for his raw vigor and at other times frightening in his distance from modern assumptions. We can gain some insight into this new type by glancing at the life and work of Milovan Djilas, as it has been sketched out in his autobiography, Land Without Justice.

His native land, Montenegro, probably the most backward part of Yugoslavia, was at the time of his birth in 1911 an independent mountain princedom. He grew up in a society which was basically tribal in its organization, with the king little more than the chieftain of the most powerful tribe; with bloody vendettas between clans continuing from generation to generation; with Robin Hood outlaws roaming the mountain fastnesses. Thanks to the constant wars and political upheavals between 1910 and 1930, these feuds, brigands and partisans sometimes adopted a political coloring, but this seemed little more than an accidental veneer over the underlying tribal bond or enmity. A proud, independent people living in a remote barren mountain country with few roads and no mineral resources, poor peasants producing at most for a regional market, a thin class of small merchants in the larger towns, a bureaucracy (including army and police) too large for the poor country to maintain, but—and this is important— with the beginnings of an educational system that created an articulate educated or half-educated youth.

The fabric of this society was brute force in its most naked form: clan feuds; lynching expeditions against villages ox tribes; police torture; the outlaw-partisan hunted or hunting in the hills. Its equally primitive solidarity was that of the family, the clan, the tribe, the national minority; not the more sophisticated one of the trade union or the rural cooperative. It is a society and an economy close to nature, and subject to its whims: soil, weather, animals are things you live with closely, and which have deep and direct influence on your life.


Lima