The Yugoslav Partisans, or simply the Partisans (Serbo-Croatian, Macedonian, Slovene: Partizani, Cyrillic: ññ; translated "partisans"), official name was People's Liberation Army and Partisan Detachments of Yugoslavia, (NOV i PO) (Serbo-Croatian: Narodnooslobodilaäka vojska i partizanski odredi Jugoslavije; Slovene: Narodnoosvobodilna vojska in partizanski odredi Jugoslavije; Macedonian: ññ»ñ» ññ ¿ñññ ñ ññ»ñ), were a communist-led World War II guerrilla force in Yugoslavia. The Partisans were the military arm of the People's Liberation Front (JNOF) coalition, led by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (KPJ) and represented by the AVNOJ, the Yugoslav wartime deliberative assembly. The commander of the Partisans was Marshal Josip Broz Tito.
The Partisans' goal was to create an Communist state by freeing the country from Axis occupation. Whenever the Partisans established control of an area within occupied Yugoslavia, they forged a disciplined Communist mini-state.
The common name of the movement is "the Partisans" (capitalized), while the adjective "Yugoslav" is used sometimes in exclusively non-Yugoslav sources to distinguish them from other (World War II) partisan movements. Despite the fact that their name suggests they fought as a guerrilla force, this was only true for the first three years of the conflict. From the second half of 1944, the total forces of the Partisans numbered 800,000 men and women organized in four field armies and 52 divisions, which engaged in conventional warfare. When referring to this period, sources often use the term People's Liberation Army.
On 6 April 1941, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was invaded from all sides by the Axis powers, primarily by German forces but including Italian, Hungarian and Bulgarian formations as well. During the invasion, Belgrade was bombed by the Luftwaffe. The invasion lasted little more than ten days, ending with the unconditional surrender of the Royal Yugoslav Army on April 17. Besides being hopelessly ill-equipped when compared to the Wehrmacht, the Army attempted to defend all borders but only managed to thinly spread the limited resources available. Also, some divisions within the Army refused to fight, welcoming the Germans, feeling close to German politics of Nazism and racism.
The terms of the capitulation were extremely severe, as the Axis proceeded to dismember Yugoslavia. Germany occupied northern Slovenia, while retaining direct occupation over a rump Serbian state and considerable influence over its newly created puppet state, the Independent State of Croatia, which extended over much of today's Croatia and contained all of modern Bosnia and Herzegovina and Syrmia region of modern day Serbia. Mussolini's Italy gained the remainder of Slovenia, Kosovo, and large chunks of the coastal Dalmatia region (along with nearly all its Adriatic islands). It also gained control over the newly created Montenegrin puppet state, and was granted the kingship in the Independent State of Croatia, though wielding little real power within it. Hungary dispatched the Hungarian Third Army to occupy Vojvodina in northern Serbia, and later forcibly annexed sections of Baranja, Baäka, Meäimurje and Prekmurje. Bulgaria, meanwhile, annexed nearly all of the modern-day Republic of Macedonia. (All these territorial acquisitions, and the dissolution of Yugoslavia itself, were of course not recognized by any Allied state, nor are they today considered legal by any modern-day state, or the United Nations.)
The occupying forces instituted such severe burdens on the local populace that the Partisans came not only to enjoy widespread support but for many were the only option for survival. In certain instances, Axis forces and local collaborators would hang or shoot indiscriminately, including women, children and the elderly, up to 100 local inhabitants for every one German soldier killed. Furthermore, the country experienced a breakdown of law and order, with collaborationist militias roaming the countryside terrorizing the population. The government of the puppet Independent State of Croatia found itself unable to control its territory in the early stages of the occupation, resulting in a severe crackdown by the UstaÅ¡e militias and the German army.
Amid the relative chaos that ensued, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia moved to organize and unite anti-fascist factions and political forces into a nation-wide uprising. The party, led by Josip Broz Tito, was banned after its significant success in the post-World War I Yugoslav elections and operated underground since. Tito, however, could not act openly without the backing of the USSR, and as the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was still in force, he was compelled to wait.
First Yugoslav Partisan unit (and first anti-fascist military unit in occupied Europe) was established in Brezovica forest, near Sisak in Nazi occupied Croatia (Independent state of Croatia) on 22 June 1941, the day Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. It had 79 members, mainly Serbs and Jews (with the mention of one lady Nada Dimiä) and was commanded by Vladimir Janjiä-Capo and included Janko Bobetko who 50 years later became one of the most prominent Croatian generals in Croatian War of Independence.
Various military formations more or less linked to the general liberation movement were involved in armed confrontations with Axis forces which erupted in various areas of Yugoslavia in the ensuing weeks. The Communist Party of Yugoslavia formally decided to launch an armed uprising on 4 July, a date which was later marked as Fighter's Day – a public holiday in the SFR Yugoslavia. One Åikica Jovanoviä Åpanac shot the first bullet of the campaign on 7 July, later the Uprising Day of the Socialist Republic of Serbia (part of SFR Yugoslavia).
On 10 August in Stanuloviä, a mountain village, the Partisans formed the Kopaonik Partisan Detachment Headquarters. Their liberated area, consisting of nearby villages, was called the "Miners Republic" and lasted 42 days. The resistance fighters formally joined the ranks of the Partisans later on.
On Stalin's birthday, 21 December 1941 Partisans formed the 1st Proletarian Assault Brigade (1. Proleterska Udarna Brigada) – the first regular Partisan military unit, capable of operating outside its local area. After the breakup between Stalin and Tito, 22 December became the "Day of the Yugoslav People's Army". In 1942 Partisan detachments officially merged into the People's Liberation Army and Partisan Detachments of Yugoslavia (NOV i POJ) with an estimated 236,000 soldiers in December 1942. After the war, the Partisan ground forces were the basis for the formation of the Yugoslav People's Army, officially created on 1 March 1945.
The extent of support for the Partisan movement varied according to region and nationality, reflecting the existential concerns of the local population and authorities. The first Partisan uprising occurred in Croatia on 22 June 1941, when forty Croatian communists staged an uprising in the Brezovica woods between Sisak and Zagreb. An uprising occurred in Serbia two weeks later led by Tito (Uzice Republic), but it was quickly defeated by the Axis forces and support for the Partisans in Serbia thereafter waned and increased for the collaborationist Chetniks. Partisan numbers from Serbia would be negligible until near the end of the war when in response to Tito's offer of amnesty on 17 August 1944, tens of thousands of Chetniks switched sides to the Partisans. The amnesty would be offered again after German withdrawal from Belgrade on 21 November 1944 and 15 January 1945.:61 Thus, until late 1944, the Chetnik movement under the influence of the exiled royal government in London prevailed as Serbia's existential interests were not in danger and thus was able to wait.
It was a different story for Serbs in Axis occupied Croatia who turned to the multi-ethnic Partisans, or the Serb Royalist Chetniks whose brutality mirrored that of the Ustashi.:95 Historian Tim Judah notes that in the early stage of the war the initial preponderance of Serbs in the Partisans meant in effect a Serbian civil war had broken out.:119 A similar civil war existed within the Croatian national corpus with the competing national narratives provided by the Ustashi and Partisans.
In Croatia, the declaration of the Independent State of Croatia meant that there was not the existential motivation for a mass uprising in 1941. The Partisan movement only spread beyond the activities of local communists and penetrated the mainstream with the realisation that the Independent State of Croatia was not a solution of the Croatian national question as it 'would share the future of Hitler's European order' and the Partisan's "People's Liberation Movement" 'offered the prospect of securing the nation's own future in a federal model against a return' to the Greater Serbdom of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
The effect of these multiple dynamics was that until in the early days of the Partisan movement, there was majority of Serbs in the Croatian Partisan movement. However as the movement penetrated the mainstream and reached critical mass, by 1943 the majority of Croatian Partisans were Croats. In late 1944, statistics show that the Croats represented 61% of the Partisan troops in Croatia, thus while the Serbian contribution of 28% represented above their proportion of the local population, the majority were Croat.:95:363
Croatian Partisans were integral to overall Yugoslav Partisans; by the end of 1943 Croatia proper, with 24% of the Yugoslav population, provided more Partisans than Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Macedonia combined which collectively accounted for 59% of the Yugoslav population.:95 The Croatian partisans were unique in that they had the highest numbers of local Jews in their ranks of any other European resistance, and in early 1943 they took steps to establish ZAVNOH (National Anti-Fascist Council of the People's Liberation of Croatia) to act as a parliamentary body for all of Croatia – the only one of its kind in occupied Europe. ZAVNOH held three plenary sessions during the War in areas which remained surrounded by Axis troops. At its fourth and last session, held on 24–25 July 1945 in Zagreb, ZAVNOH proclaimed itself as the Croatian Parliament or Sabor.
The Chetniks, were a mainly Serb oriented group. Their Serb nationalism resulted in an inability to recruit or appeal to many of the non-Serb nationalities. The Partisans, on the other hand, learned to play down communism in favour of a Popular Front approach which appealed to all Yugoslavs. In Bosnia, for example, the Partisan rallying cry was for a country which was to be neither Serbian nor Croatian nor Muslim, but instead to be free and brotherly in which full equity of all groups would be ensured.:120 Chetnik ethnic cleansing policies against the Muslims in Eastern Bosnia (led by Pavle Djurisic) killing tens of thousands and Chetnik attacks on Croatians in Dalmatia boosted Bosnjiak and Croat participation.:129 Further, Italian repression and ambition to take Dalmatia resulted in even more Croat support for the Partisans. Italian collaboration with Chetniks in Northern Dalmatia resulting in atrocities further galvanised support for the Partisans among Dalmatian Croats. For example, Momcilo Djucic's Chetnik attack on Gala, near Split, resulted in the slaughter of 200 Croatian civilians.:128 In particular, Mussolini's policy of forced Italianization ensured the first significant number of Croats joining the Partisans in late 1941.
In other areas, recruitment of Croats was hindered by some Serbian Partisans tendency to view the organisation as exclusively Serb, rejecting non-Serb members and raiding the villages of their Croat neighbours.:95 A group of Jewish youths from Sarajevo attempted to join a Partisan detachment in Kalinovnik, but the Serbian Partisans turned them back to Sarajevo, where many were captured by the Axis forces and perished.:77 Attacks from Croatian Ustashi on the Serbian population was considered to be one of the important reasons for the rise of guerrilla activities,:127 thus aiding an ever growing Partisan resistance.:128
As an allied victory became increasingly apparent, non-Serb communities opted for the Partisans as providing a more palatable future than the Serbianization policies of the royalist government in the first Yugoslavia. By contrast, the dynamic in Serbia was influenced by the allies' support of the Partisan governmental institutions over that of the royal government and the need to be part of the Partisans to have a say in the future structure of a Socialist Yugoslavia.:362-367
The Partisans staged a guerrilla campaign which enjoyed gradually increased levels of success and support of the general populace, and succeeded in controlling large chunks of Yugoslav territory. These were managed via the People's committees, which were organized to act as civilian governments in liberated areas of the country, even limited arms industries were set up. At the very beginning, though, Partisan forces were relatively small, poorly armed and without any infrastructure. But they had two major advantages over other military and paramilitary formations in former Yugoslavia: the first and most immediate was a small but valuable cadre of Spanish Civil War veterans who, unlike anyone else at the time, had experience with modern war fought in circumstances quite similar to those of World War II Yugoslavia. Another advantage, which became apparent in later stages of war, was in Partisans being founded on ideology rather than ethnicity, which meant the Partisans could expect at least some levels of support in any corner of the country, unlike other paramilitary formations whose support was limited to territories with Croat or Serb majorities. This allowed their units to be more mobile and fill their ranks with a larger pool of potential recruits.
Occupying and quisling forces, however, were quite aware of the Partisan threat, and attempted to destroy the resistance in what Yugoslav historiographers defined as seven major anti-Partisan offensives. These are:
Later in the conflict the Partisans were able to win the moral, as well as limited material support of the western Allies, who until then had supported General DraÅa Mihailoviä's Chetnik Forces, but were finally convinced of their collaboration fighting by many military missions dispatched to both sides during the course of the war.
To gather intelligence, agents of the western Allies were infiltrated into both the Partisans and the Chetniks. The intelligence gathered by liaisons to the resistance groups was crucial to the success of supply missions and was the primary influence on Allied strategy in Yugoslavia. The search for intelligence ultimately resulted in the demise of the Chetniks and their eclipse by Tito–s Partisans. In 1942, though supplies were limited, token support was sent equally to each. The new year would bring a change. The Germans were executing Operation Schwarz (the Fifth anti-Partisan offensive), one of a series of offensives aimed at the resistance fighters, when F.W.D. Deakin was sent by the British to gather information.
His reports contained two important observations. The first was that the Partisans were courageous and aggressive in battling the German 1st Mountain and 104th Light Division, had suffered significant casualties, and required support. The second observation was that the entire German 1st Mountain Division had travelled from Russia by railway through Chetnik-controlled territory. British intercepts (ULTRA) of German message traffic confirmed Chetnik timidity. All in all, intelligence reports resulted in increased Allied interest in Yugoslavia air operations and shifted policy. In September 1943, at Churchill–s request, Brigadier General Fitzroy Maclean was parachuted to Tito–s headquarters near Drvar to serve as a permanent, formal liaison to the Partisans. While the Chetniks were still occasionally supplied, the Partisans received the bulk of all future support.
Thus, after the Tehran Conference the Partisans received official recognition as the legitimate national liberation force by the Allies, who subsequently set-up the RAF Balkan Air Force (under the influence and suggestion of Brigadier-General Fitzroy MacLean) with the aim to provide increased supplies and tactical air support for Marshal Tito's Partisan forces.
With Allied air support and assistance from the Red Army, in the second half of 1944 the Partisans turned their attention to Serbia, which had seen relatively little fighting since the fall of the Republic of UÅice in 1941. On 20 October, the Red Army and the Partisans liberated Belgrade in a joint operation known as the Belgrade Offensive. At the onset of winter, the Partisans effectively controlled the entire eastern half of Yugoslavia – Serbia, Vardar Macedonia and Montenegro, as well as the Dalmatian coast.
In 1945, the Partisans, numbering over 800,000 strong defeated the Independent State of Croatia and the Wehrmacht, achieving a hard-fought breakthrough in the Syrmian front in late winter, taking Sarajevo in early April, and the rest of Croatia and Slovenia through mid-May. After taking Rijeka and Istria, which were part of Italy before the war, they beat the Allies to Trieste by a day.
The "last battle of World War Two in Europe", the Battle of Poljana, was fought between the Partisans and retreating Wehrmacht and quisling forces at Poljana, near Prevalje in KoroÅ¡ka, on 14–15 May 1945.
Aside from ground forces, the Yugoslav Partisans were the first and only resistance movement in occupied Europe to employ significant air and naval forces.
Naval forces of the resistance were formed as early as 19 September 1942, when Partisans in Dalmatia formed their first naval unit made of fishing boats, which gradually evolved into a force able to engage the Italian Navy and Kriegsmarine and conduct complex amphibious operations. This event is considered to be the foundation of the Yugoslav Navy.
At its peak during World War II, the Yugoslav Partisans' Navy commanded 9 or 10 armed ships, 30 patrol boats, close to 200 support ships, six coastal batteries, and several Partisan detachments on the islands, around 3,000 men. On 26 October 1943, it was organized first into four, and later into six, Maritime Coastal Sectors (Pomorsko Obalni Sektor, POS). The task of the naval forces was to secure supremacy at sea, organize defense of coast and islands, and attack enemy sea traffic and forces on the islands and along the coasts.
The Partisans gained an effective air force in May 1942, when the pilots of two aircraft belonging to the Air Force of the Independent State of Croatia (French-designed and Yugoslav-built Potez 25, and Breguet 19 biplanes, themselves formerly of the Royal Yugoslav Air Force), Franjo Kluz and Rudi äajavec, defected to the Partisans in Bosnia. Later, these pilots used their aircraft against Axis forces in limited operations. Although short-lived due to a lack of infrastructure, this was the first instance of a resistance movement having its own air force. Later, the air force would be re-established and destroyed several times until its permanent institution. The Partisans later established a permanent air force by obtaining aircraft, equipment, and training from captured Axis aircraft, the British Royal Air Force (see BAF), and later the Soviet Air Force.
By April 1945, there were some 800,000 soldiers in the Partisan army. Composition by region is as follows::69, 219, 318:69-86, 113, 199, 209, 279, 301, 332, 348-49, 368, 378, 387, 457, 468, 536-40
|Late 1941||Late 1942||Sept. 1943||Late 1943||Late 1944|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||20,000||60,000||89,000||108,000||100,000|
|Killed in action||18,896||24,700||48,378||80,650||72,925||245,549|
|Wounded in action||29,300||31,200||61,730||147,650||130,000||399,880|
|Died from wounds||3,127||4,194||7,923||8,066||7,800||31,200|
|Missing in action||3,800||6,300||5,423||5,600||7,800||28,925|
The Partisans were responsible for the successful and sustained evacuation of downed Allied airmen from the Balkans. For example, between 1 January and 15 October 1944, according to statistics compiled by the US Air Force Air Crew Rescue Unit, 1,152 American airmen were airlifted from Yugoslavia, 795 with Partisan assistance and 356 with the help of the Chetniks. During the war, 33 B-17 Flying Fortresses crashed on Slovene territory alone and the Partisans, with the help of the local civilian population, rescued 303 American and 30 British airmen.
The Partisans also assisted hundreds of Allied soldiers who succeeded in escaping from German POW camps (mostly in southern Austria) throughout the war, but especially from 1943-45. These were transported across Slovenia, from where many were airlifted from Semiä, while others made the longer overland trek down through Croatia for a boat passage to Bari in Italy. In the spring of 1944, the British military mission in Slovenia reported that there was a "steady, slow trickle" of escapes from these camps. They were being assisted by local civilians, and on contacting Partisans on the general line of the River Drava, they were able to make their way to safety with Partisan guides.
A total of 132 Allied prisoners of war were rescued from the Germans by the Partisans in a single operation in August 1944 in what is known as the Raid at St Lorenzen.
In June 1944, the Allied escape organization began to take an active interest in assisting prisoners from camps in southern Austria and evacuating them through Yugoslavia. A post of the Allied mission in northern Slovenia had found that at Sankt Lorenzen ob Eibiswald, just on the Austrian side of the border, about 50 km (31 mi) from Maribor, there was a poorly guarded working camp from which a raid by Slovene Partisans could free all the prisoners. Over 100 POWs were transported from Stalag XVIII-D at Maribor to St. Lorenzen each morning to do railway maintenance work, and returned to their quarters in the evening. Contact was made between Partisans and the prisoners with the result that at the end of August a group of seven slipped away past a sleeping guard at 15:00, and at 21:00 the men were celebrating with the Partisans in a village, 8 km (5.0 mi) away on the Yugoslav side of the border.
The seven escapees arranged with the Partisans for the rest of the camp to be freed the following day. Next morning, the seven returned with about a hundred Partisans to await the arrival of the work-party by the usual train. As soon as work had begun the Partisans, to quote a New Zealand eye-witness, "swooped down the hillside and disarmed the eighteen guards". In a short time prisoners, guards, and civilian overseers were being escorted along the route used by the first seven prisoners the previous evening. At the first headquarters camp reached, details were taken of the total of 132 escaped prisoners for transmission by radio to England. Progress along the evacuation route south was difficult, as German patrols were very active. A night ambush by one such patrol caused the loss of two prisoners and two of the escort. Eventually they reached Semiä, in White Carniola, Slovenia, which was a Partisan base catering for POWs. They were flown across to Bari on 21 September 1944.
SFR Yugoslavia was one of only two European countries that were liberated by its own forces during the World War II, only with limited assistance and participation by the remaining Allies. It received support from both Western Allies and the Soviet Union, and at the end of the war no foreign troops were stationed on its soil. Partly as a result, the country found itself halfway between the two camps at the onset of the Cold War.
In 1947-1948, the Soviet Union attempted to command obedience from Yugoslavia, primarily on issues of foreign policy, which resulted in the Tito-Stalin split and almost ignited an armed conflict. A period of very cool relations with the Soviet Union followed, during which the U.S. and the UK considered courting Yugoslavia into the newly-formed NATO. This however changed in 1953 with the Trieste crisis, a tense dispute between Yugoslavia and the Western Allies over the eventual Yugoslav-Italian border (see Free Territory of Trieste), and with Yugoslav-Soviet reconciliation in 1956.
This ambivalent position at the start of the Cold War matured into the non-aligned foreign policy which Yugoslavia actively espoused until its dissolution.
A number of Partisan units, and the part of local population, engaged in mass murder in the immediate postwar period against perceived Axis sympathizers, collaborators, and/or fascists. The best known incidents include the Bleiburg massacre, the foibe massacres, and the killings in Baäka.
The Bleiburg massacre was the retribution enacted by the Partisans on the retreating column of Chetnik, Slovene Home Guard, and UstaÅ¡e soldiers that was retreating towards Austria in an attempt to surrender to western Allied forces. The "foibe massacres" draw their name from the "foibe" pits in which Croatian Partisans of the 8th Dalmatian Corps (often along with groups of angry civilian locals) shot Italian fascists, and suspected (or even alleged) collaborationists and/or separatists, in retribution to the decades-long Italian oppression they experienced. According to a mixed Slovene-Italian historical commission established in 1993, which investigated only on what happened in places included in present-day Italy and Slovenia, the killings seemed to proceed from endeavors to remove persons linked with fascism (regardless of their personal responsibility), and endeavors to carry out preventive cleansing of real, potential or only alleged opponents of the communist government. The 1944-1945 killings in Baäka were similar in nature and entailed the killing of Hungarian fascist separatists, and their suspected affiliates, without regard to their personal responsibility.
The numbers of dead due to Italian, German and collaborationist organised killings, however, far outstrip even the most lavish estimates of the Partisan crimes' death toll. Indeed, the Partisans didn't have an official genocidal agenda (unlike the UstaÅ¡e, the Chetniks, the Italians, and the Germans), as their cardinal ideal was the "brotherhood and unity" of all Yugoslav nations (the phrase became the motto for the new Yugoslavia). To put in perspective the extent of genocide occurring throughout Yugoslavia during the war, it suffices to say the country suffered about 1,027,000 dead during the Axis occupation, civilian and military (in comparison, the United States and Great Britain together suffered approximately 630,000). Only a small fraction constitute civilians actually killed by the Partisans.
This controversial chapter of Partisan history was a taboo subject for conversation in the SFR Yugoslavia until the late 1980s, and as a result, decades of official silence created a reaction in the form of numerous data manipulation for nationalist propaganda purposes.
The first small arms for the Partisans were acquired from the dissolved Royal Yugoslav Army. Throughout the war the Partisans used any weapons they could find, mostly capturing weapons from the Germans, UstaÅ¡e, NDH and The Chetniks such as the Kar98k, MP40, MG42 and Beretta Sub Machine Guns. The other way that the Partisans acquired weapons was from supplies given to them by the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, weapons acquired include the PPSH 41 and the Sten MKII.
Partisan ranks included some of the most important artists and writers of 20th century Yugoslavia. The experiences of Partisans in particular had a major impact on the culture of the country. The Partisan struggle was therefore well-chronicled through the memoirs of its participants, and later those experiences served as basis for important literary works, most notably by authors like Jure KaÅ¡telan, JoÅa Horvat, Oskar Daviäo, Antonije Isakoviä, Branko äopiä, Ivan Goran Kovaäiä, Karel Destovnik Kajuh, Mihailo Laliä, Edvard Kocbek, Tone Svetina, Vitomil Zupan and others.
Comic books depicting the Partisan struggle also became very popular, most notably works by Croatian artist Jules Radiloviä. The most popular, however, was the Mirko i Slavko comic book series.
The Partisan struggle also influenced the film industry, which developed its own genre of Partisan film, with its own set of unofficial rules and motives, very much like American Western or the Japanese Jidaigeki movies. The most notable of these was the Oscar-nominated 1969 motion picture The Battle of Neretva. The movie Force 10 from Navarone displayed the struggle of the Yugoslav Partisans during the war, as British and American special forces arrive to help them destroy a German-held bridge.
An outsider's perspective of the partisans is recorded in Evelyn Waugh's 1961 novel Unconditional Surrender, the last of The Sword of Honour trilogy. Waugh was stationed in Yugoslavia towards the end of the war.
The most visible aspect of Partisan legacy, however, is the series of monuments commemorating their struggle. Most of these sculptures belong to the socialist realism art form, with some of them becoming victims of state-sponsored vandalism following the break-up of the country in the early 1990s. (see Yugoslav wars).
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