Home » News » Bogdan Teodor, Jordan Baev, Matthew Crosston, Mihaela Teodor (eds.), Old and New Insights on the History of Intelligence and Diplomacy in the Balkans (New York: Peter Lang, 2023) by Gordan Akrap

Bogdan Teodor, Jordan Baev, Matthew Crosston, Mihaela Teodor (eds.), Old and New Insights on the History of Intelligence and Diplomacy in the Balkans (New York: Peter Lang, 2023) by Gordan Akrap

Old and New Insights on the History of Intelligence and Diplomacy in the Balkans, edited by Bogdan Teodor, Jordan Baev, Matthew Crosston, and Mihaela Teodor and published by Peter Lang in the series South-East European History (Vol. 1, editor Mihai Dragnea) is organized into two parts. The first, which consists of six chapters, brings examples from the history of diplomacy and intelligence regarding cultural and human factors. The second part brings us papers about the influence of intelligence agencies and diplomacy on national and international relations. The articles are arranged chronologically, according to the time in which the analyzed activities took place.

The papers cover a wide time frame, from the Venice and Ottoman Empires in the 17th century until the end of the Cold War at the end of the last century. The papers clearly show how the history of the Balkan states and nations is interconnected and burdened by numerous conflicting interests. The Balkan area, a meeting point where different civilizations collide from time to time, has a significant impact on all social, political, security, economic, trade, and educational processes until today. So, the term “Balkanization” (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Balkanization) has its political justification as an example of activities that tends to repeat in other areas.

In terms of content of the published articles, we can read personal testimonies, reflections and experiences of early intelligence officers sent to foreign territories to fulfill various demanding tasks. We witness the challenges they face, the dilemmas that force them to make difficult decisions, and the hidden motives they try to achieve while fulfilling the tasks that others have set for them. The activities of individuals, groups, organizations, and state institutions, as well as the states themselves, which are trying to obtain intelligence to effectively protect their own interests, are presented in these papers. The effectiveness of the mentioned intelligence operations is always difficult to fully verify without a complete review of the archives of the opposing states and organizations at the time. It is also necessary to analyze the archives of those countries from whose territory they operated, as well as the countries towards which the enemy’s activities were directed. Espionage is a hostile activity in relation to the goal of the action. Namely, it is quite certain that certain persons, organizations, and institutions of third countries (from which intelligence operations were conducted) had some opinion and information about these activities on their territory.

These papers shows that diplomatic and intelligence activities are closely related and interdependent. When they are tied into a meaningful part of integrated activities, they can significantly help decision makers. However, when they are not coordinated and when there is a difference in the wishes and desires of various interested parties, internal conflicts occur. In such cases those differences quite often become publicly visible. Then they significantly burden both society and the state. Diplomacy (as an indispensable part of peace processes) negotiates to establish peace with the aim of strengthening one’s own political, economic, and security ties with the support of information obtained through intelligence. This points us to an interdisciplinary approach in the study of the history of international relations, that is, to the model known as new diplomatic history. This is the only way to get to the real cause-and-consequences relationships of individual processes and events from international history, which must be known to avoid their negative consequences in the future.

Starting from the first to the last paper, the historical development of intelligence activities can be traced, from translators (called dragomans in that time) all the way to modern intelligence communities that represent part of the state structure. It is especially important to study early diplomacy because the first forms of intelligence activities can be recognized in these activities.

The first article provides an understanding of the importance of having one’s own translators with the aim of a proper, clear and complete understanding of the other party, while simultaneously collecting information/intelligence about the other party while protecting our own information from possibly more aggressive approaches from those who want to obtain data and information necessary to strengthen their own positions, both in diplomacy and in trade, as well as in all other forms of activity. Translators also held important diplomatic roles, although they were not called diplomats but “dragomans” – practically modern diplomats in conveying important messages between ruling regimes: “this dragomans were used as a messengers of important communications, mediators in peace agreements or negotiations, even as advisers.  (…) They received access to “confidential discussion and to sensitive documents.”

The articles that follow show us how the first diplomats were at the same time intelligence officers and how, over time and through the development of diplomatic relations, intelligence activity also adapted. Diplomacy and intelligence were not only in the hands of diplomats and intelligence officers, but within the working frame of other experts that also participated in the processes of gathering data and information as well as in the processes of strengthening understanding between different parties as one of the diplomatic and intelligence tools.

These papers further show us that there is no such a thing in practice as fabled James Bond stories. The issue of intelligence activities, especially abroad, is directly related to several skills that must be developed in persons preparing for foreign intelligence: an acceptable level of communication skills; knowledge of culture, customs, habits and especially the language used by the inhabitants of the area in which, or towards which, the action is taken; the ability to remember the culture of communication; etiquette; the existence of safe and reliable communication channels for the transfer of information; analytical skills and in-depth knowledge of the thematic area in order to be more efficient in separating the essential from the non-essential information and knowledge; the ability to travel safely and undisturbed, and find adequate accommodation in the areas of operation. The papers also show how important it is to have real and contextual knowledge about the space, people, rules, customs and processes of the territory in which one operates as well as the one towards which one operates. It shows crucial importance of real knowledge.

Moreover, the papers demonstrate the demands of historical research activities that require an in-depth look at certain issues and processes from many different sides, and how much the history of conflicts of different interests is reflected in the actions of different intelligence centers or individuals. And all this is accomplished without introducing personal emotions or unscientifically flattering daily politics.

These papers clearly show how much history repeats itself to those who do not know it. Thus, we witness an analysis according to which it is evident that Russia recruited Serbian agents and sent them to Montenegro, all in order to organize a rebellion against the Montenegrin rulers who were fighting against Russia (page 90-91): “Czartoryski was a member of the Russian foreign Office and was entrusted with the task of organizing a spy network in Montenegro. (…) with the aim of rebelling against Montenegrin Elders: ruler Petarov I Petrović Njegošovi (1747-1830), who dangerously fought Russia alongside the French. Soon more agents came to Montenegro, creating a Balkan bridgehead for Russian spies.”

The twelve chapters of this book clearly show all the complexity of the history of the peoples, nations, and states in the Balkans, how the Balkans was, is and will be – an area where many different interests, ideologies, religions, and social structures collide. How much this area is burdened with the past and emotions, how much it lives on myths and prejudices, are also issues outlined throughout. Without in-depth and contextual knowledge of the real history of the Balkans, it is difficult to understand modern political national and international relations, as well as to foresight the future activities of political, social, religious, and other important actors that can influence reality.

As it occasionally happens in historical analyses, the personal emotional attitudes of individual authors can be clearly observed. As well as the excess of their targeted prejudices that have no basis in historical facts or in previous parts of the paper. In this paper authors wrote a sentence that is completely taken out of the space-time context, which favors the creation of further prejudices. On page 128, the authors state, “Croatian politicians showed their true face”. This shows their non-objectivity and lack of professionalism. Namely, the topic of the article was not Croatian-Serbian relations during the second Yugoslavia, but something quite different. The “Croatian” part of the paper simply is presenting Jovan Dučić as a “key figure” for “Western historical literature”, using mildly pretentious diplomatic language. Namely, Croatian-Serbian relations were full of many challenging processes and events before the second Yugoslavia, as well as after it. Ultimately, among other causes, they led to the bloody disintegration of the third Yugoslavia. Making decisions based on generalization should not be a tool in scientific research, especially of history. Generalization should be avoided, especially those that have no basis in fact.

The presented papers show the extent of intelligence’s role of conducting both gray or secret diplomacy. Therefore, as it was clearly emphasized in the introduction, it is necessary to study international relations through the history of intelligence activities as well because they are strongly interrelated and connected in cause and consequences. In many cases, having background in intelligence history is very helpful for international relations history analysis.

Moreover, some of the articles open up the issue of writing names in foreign languages. Namely, in several articles the names and surnames of historical figures were misspelled. As a rule, the names of persons should be written as they are written in the native language of the person mentioned in the article. If the article contains the names of persons who come from areas, times and countries where the Latin alphabet is not fundamental, it would be good to write those names in English using the English rules for writing personal names. This rule applies to the Latin alphabet and in those cases where the work is written in the same alphabet. In the case when the paper is written in a different script, then it is necessary to write personal names following the rules of writing in the language in which the article is written.

The following errors were found in this book:

Page 67: Ćorće should be written Đorđe; Corcevic should be written Đorđević.

Page 71: it is not general Sergei Tumanov. He is general Simeon Tumanov (Macedonian by ethnicity) as it is correctly written on page 276.

Page 77: it is not Karaćorćević – it should be written as Karađorđević.

Page 88: footnote 6: name is Mate, not Mete.

Page 91: Petar I Petrovć Njegoš, not as it is written.

Additionally, a comment on the chapter written by Krasimira Todorova. In her paper, on page 262, the author mentions the operations “Labrador” and the “Opera” as “operations of Yugoslav Army Counterintelligence (KOS) – (…).” It is important to correct those mistakes that quite often appears in Croatian papers also.

The real name of military institution that was responsible for counterintelligence activities in that period was Uprava za bezbednost Ministarstva narodne odbrane (Department for Security of Ministry of Peoples Defense). KOS is an abbreviation that was used from March 13, 1946 until reorganization in December 14, 1955. KOS was the official abbreviation for the service that existed until 1955 but remained as an acronym in public knowledge.

“Labrador” was a code name for an operation that was initiated at the end of 1989, and the beginning of 1990 still during the existence of Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia. The operation was initiated by the head of the State security service of Republic secretariat for internal affairs of the Socialist Republic of Croatia. At that time, the head of the Service, Josip Perković, received an operational information that the Department for Security of Yugoslav MoD has moles within service in Croatia. Internal operation was initiated to check that info. Soon they were confirmed, and the key person was identified. It was Branko Traživuk (his codename as an agent was S3) who was a director of the 2nd department (responsible for fighting against emigrants) of State security service in Croatia and one of the deputies of the head of the service. Surveillance of Traživuk confirmed that he, while he was quite often going around with his dog, had undeclared and covert contacts with officers of Yugoslavian military responsible for counterintelligence activities, with officials from Second detachment of Counterintelligence group (KOG) of Yugoslav army Airforce and Anti-Aircraft defense that had headquarter in Zagreb, Croatia. His dog was a Labrador breed. That is the reason why the operation, whose aim was to identify sources and agents of military counterintelligence service within the institution in Croatia, had that name. After the elections in April 1990, and when the new democratic government was elected, activities to identify and interrupt illegal and counter-Croatian activities intensified. After several terrorist activities that author mentioned in her paper, regular uniformed members of Ministry of Interior initiated operation raid against KOG group headquarter in Zagreb and arrested first group of army officers and their agents. After several terrorist activities that the author mentioned in her paper, Croatian military counterintelligence service, named Sigurnosno – Informativna Služba (Security and Information Service – SIS) and the newly created Service for Protection of the Constitutional Order (Služba za zaštitu ustavnog poretka – SZUP) joined the uniformed police after the operation begun and started to collect significant quantity of KOG documentation that they did not destroyed. They were not informed about the intention of uniformed police to raid this offices and arrest these officers and their agents.

On page 274, footnote 53 of the same paper it is written that “Opera is short for Odeljenje za propagandni I Elektornski rat (Department for Propaganda and Electronic Warfare).” This is not completely true. There is no mention of “Electronic warfare” in this phrase, only the Department for Propaganda Warfare). The group “Opera” was, at the end of 1991, established within the structure of Yugoslav People’s Army Airforce and Anti-Aircraft by the order of commandant general Zvonko Jurjević. With the same order a supervised body was established, “Council for Information and Propaganda Activities”, which consisted of: General Živan Mirčetić (head of the Council), General Vojislav Radović, Colonel Slobodan Rakočević, Colonel Mirko Vučinić, Lieutenant Colonel Marjan Ziherl, and Slavko Malobabić and Radenko Radojčić. More about “Labrador” and “Opera” group was written in Akrap, G. Specijalni rat – Knjiga 3, Večernji list, Zagreb. 2012 (Special Warfare – Book 3), and Akrap, G. Hibridne prijetnje I izazovi – Operacije utjecaja I moderno sigurnosno okružje, Hrvatska sveučilišna naklada, Sveučilište u Mostaru, Zagreb, Mostar, 2023 (Hybrid Threats and Challenges – Influence Operations and Modern Security Environment).

Gordan Akrap, PhD, President of the Hybrid Warfare Research Institute in Zagreb

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