My Grandfather was Imprisoned for Talking about the Marshall Plan
When I learned that I was accepted as a YTILI Fellow with The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), I was very excited but could not explain why. It only later occurred to me that my maternal grandfather went to prison in Yugoslavia because he spoke positively about the Marshall Plan right after World War II. That keyword remained in my memory since I was a toddler. In 1950, he was sentenced by the District Court in Prishtina (Kosovo, Yugoslavia) to four years prison and hard work. My grandmother, who was a housekeeper with no income, was left alone with five kids who almost starved to death during his imprisonment.
Before and during World War II, Kosovo was left with few people with university degrees. My grandfather Stojan Popović was a judge, schooled at University of Belgrade and one of the prominent individuals in Kosovo at the time. Then, why did he go to prison? Right after the war, Yugoslavia started to become a communist country, liberated by the communist partisans, who brought communist ideologies (which also included anti-fascism). In that time, Yugoslavia was leaning more and more toward USSR. Later, Yugoslav president Tito would stop that policy and in 1961 he would form the Non-Aligned Movement, which was a group of countries who did not want to be the part aligned to the Eastern or the Western Bloc. Back in 1946, Yugoslavia was all about Russia, since they helped the liberation of Yugoslavia from the Germans, and naturally Germans were the enemies. Local secret police and National Army were setting a new state naming it Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia, switching from a monarchist, capitalist state to communist — and later socialist society and constitution — state. For the sake of the establishment of this new state with new values, the government arrested anyone who was against it. Many people who were connected to the King or Monarchists left Yugoslavia forever. Propaganda was strong. In that same year, my grandfather was sharing his dissatisfaction with the new situation with his best friend Milutin Stožinić, who would later inform the secret police (these are public records) of my grandfather’s opinions.
One of the things he passed to the secret police was that: “In our country the darkest, bloodiest communist dictatorship is starting, and people are against it, they are unsatisfied and hungry, because there is no bread and in the West people have everything, and that American capital will win … That one should be afraid of the communist secret police (OZNA) because they arrest for every word ... Also, that Marshall Pan is a great policy and that capitalism will win, that Germany is being renewed and it will be powerful again …”
He was accused of “spreading propaganda against the country and the people” in 1949 and, after a short trial, imprisoned in 1950 in a county jail in Niš (Serbia). After prison, Stojan Popović could never be a judge anymore, so he worked as a legal counselor and lawyer until 1981 when he retired. He died in 1983. I never met him because I was born four years too late. For being so right, in the wrong place and in the wrong time, he paid the price. We learned all of this in 2013, when he was legally rehabilitated by the Higher Court in Kruševac (Serbia) due to the initiative my uncle, and his son Obrad Popović. All five children survived and even managed to get their college degrees and graduate from University of Belgrade. My mom Jelena Popović, his fourth child, never dreamed that one day her daughter would represent Serbia in Washington, DC as a fellow with the Young Transatlantic Innovation Leaders Initiative (YTILI), organized by GMF — an organization that works to strengthen transatlantic cooperation in the spirit of the Marshall Plan.
As a political scientist, I know how hard it is to predict the political future, especially after turbulent times such as World War II. Yet, 70 years ago my grandfather, a local judge in rural Yugoslavia, knew that the Marshall Plan would change Europe for the better and that communist dictatorship could never bring progress. As his granddaughter, being a part of GMF and the YTILI program had a deeper, emotional value, because I feel that this is something I owe to him; it is as if one life circuit has just ended. I was and I will stay proud to represent him, our family legacy and our country in the GMF network and to keep the idea of mutual support, prosperity, freedom, and human rights going forward and going stronger.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.