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Yugoslavia’s Very Secret Service

The UDBA is probably the least known major espionage agency of the Cold War. It remains influential, despite the break-up of the country it was formed to defend. 

Tito is welcomed on a state visit to London by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Foreign Secretary Anthony  Eden, March 1953.  © Bettmann/Getty ImagesThe CIA, the KGB, Mossad and MI6 are familiar, if inevitably opaque, names of secret services that played major roles in the Cold War. Yet, among the spy agencies that emerged from the ashes of the Second World War, the UDBA of the former Yugoslavia is barely known at all. Formally dismantled during the country’s violent break-up in 1991, its legacy lives on in the form of rogue spies, business magnates, politicians and next-generation insiders with familial ties to the former communist regime.

The UDBA (Uprava Drzavne Bezbednosti or State Security Administration, as it is sometimes referred to in English) still has a notorious reputation in the Balkans. Political rivals trade accusations that their opponents have ties to the former agency, while ‘lustration committees’ in the former Yugoslav republics – Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo – have assembled voluminous lists of suspected informants, code names and secret missions. The intention of such committees was not to arrest people, but to identify informants so that they can be denied state jobs in the future. Yet attempts to sever old connections and relationships across former Yugoslavia have never gained much traction in comparison with efforts made in ex-Warsaw Pact countries.

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