In the late fall of 1942, in the town of Bihach, in the northwestern corner of Bosnia, a democratic Yugoslav assembly met. It called itself by a long and unwieldy name, "The Anti-Fascist Assembly for the People's Liberation in Yugoslavia." It included Communists, democratic leaders, trade unionists, peasant leaders, and churchmen. It met openly and proudly in liberated territory.
It did not presume to say that it constituted the government of Yugoslavia; it was a temporary parliament for the freed areas of Yugoslavia.
Perhaps Winston Churchill showed more clearly than anyone else why Yugoslavia will emerge a democracy, when in paying tribute to the struggles and sufferings of these indomitable people, he said:
"Around and within these heroic forces a national and unifying movement has developed. Communist elements had the honor of being the beginners, but as the movement has increased in strength and numbers, a modifying and unifying process has taken place and national conceptions have supervened."
This is perhaps the best testimony and most reliable assertion that we have yet heard to the effect that the Partisan movement is not a Communist insurrection but rather a unified expression of the will of the people to resist fascism. This is also ample affirmation of the contribution Tito's forces have made not only as a fighting force, but as wise arbitrators of political issues within Yugoslavia.
Tito's main objectives are two-fold: First and foremost the liberation of his country, and, second, a democratic government formed by the people in the interests of all the people, subject to and ruling by the consent of the people.
Not only has the feud between Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes been buried, but it has been replaced by the closest comradeship in the struggle. Thousands of Macedonians, Bulgars and Albanians are also fighting with Marshal Tito.
The Nazis planned to divide Serbs from Croats. Had their attempts been successful, Yugoslavia might have disappeared from the face of the earth. The People's Liberation movement from the very beginning, set as one of its main objectives the unification of the country.
On November 27, 1942, Dr. Ivan Ribar, chairman of the committee of the People's Liberation movement, at the first meeting of this group, held in Bihach, released the following declaration:
"We, the representatives of all the peoples of Yugoslavia, have decided to organize ourselves in the Anti-Fascist Vece as the highest political expression of the unity of the Yugoslav peoples and as that institution which will still further elevate and develop the efforts of the people's liberation committees and of all other mass anti-fascist organizations in the struggle for the liberation of the still-occupied section of our country. "The Anti-Fascist Vece and the executive committee elected by it will constitute a representative political body, working with the commander in chief (Tito) of the People's Liberation movement and of our People's Army, and jointly with him directing the struggle for the national liberation of Yugoslavia.
"The principal tasks of the Vece are to develop and strengthen the unity already existing between the front and the rear; to organize and supply the People's Liberation army and the guerrilla detachments; to safeguard personal freedom and property; to raise the cultural level of the people; to organize social welfare and services for the protection of public health; to bring about a state of full freedom and equality in the fraternal family of liberated peoples.
"No one will succeed in destroying this family, for it has been forged in the fire of the common struggle."
And then the following statement, which contains the basis of all democratic movements, was issued in the midst of the most engaging battles from Bihach.
"The People's Liberation Movement of Yugoslavia is a people's movement embracing the participation of all honest patriots regardless of political party affiliation, religious affiliations, or nationality.
"Our aims are:
"1. To liberate the country from the forces of occupation and to win independence and truly democratic rights and liberties for all the peoples of Yugoslavia.
"2. To maintain the inviolability of private property and full opportunity for initiative in industry and other economic fields.
"3. To introduce no radical changes in the social structure and activities of the country except for replacing the reactionary district gendarmes and governing bodies with elected people's institutions of a genuinely democratic character. All important measures affecting the social structure and organizations of the state are to be decided after the war by representatives freely elected by the people.
"4. To oppose every form of violence and lawlessness as alien to a people's liberation movement which is fighting for the freedom of all and for social and democratic rights for every man.
"5. To guarantee rank and position to the officers joining the People's Army in accordance with their abilities.
"6. To grant full recognition of national rights to Croats, Slovenes and Serbs as well as to Macedonians and other groups. The liberation movement is common to Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia and is therefore a guarantee that national rights will be won for all peoples of Yugoslavia."
And so Yugoslavia was re-established. After this announcement the Nazis, stirred into a rage by the audacity of this "inferior" race, launched a most vicious attack on the small, heroic town of Bihach, the cradle of Yugoslav democracy, in an attempt to wipe it from the face of the earth. This attack was one of the most crucial in the history of the struggle of the liberation armies.
The infant democracy matured rapidly. Its body became stronger; its spirit tempered by the fire of struggle, became indomitable, and the fight went on.