Obituary: Stanislaus Rapotec

As a friend and a wartime fellow officer of Stanislaus Rapotec, writes Aleksa Gavrilovic, (we served in the Royal Yugoslav Battalion in Middle East before and after his mission to the occupied Yugoslavia), may I add to Professor Stevan Pavlowitch's obituary [9 December]?

Pavlowitch is correct: Rapotec's 1942 reports were "lucid and unprejudiced". However, his statements that the reports "may not have been to the liking of those to whom he reported" and that they were probably not passed to London "but kept in Cairo by Yugoslavs and British there", need clarification.

Rapotec was briefed and debriefed separately by the British Special Operations Executive, by the Yugoslav military and by Jovan Djonovic, Yugoslav Government Delegate for the Middle East. Serb, Croat and Slovene ministers of the Yugoslav government in London received Rapotec's information with varying degrees of enthusiasm: Rapotec reported positively about General Mihailovic's activities and those of nationalists in Slovenia and confirmed the horrors of the Croat Ustasa regime.

SOE documents released earlier this year ("How a Soviet mole united Tito and Churchill", Independent, 28 June) have confirmed that SOE (Cairo) was Communist- dominated. Information favourable to the nationalists was not passed to London.

Pavlowitch writes that Rapotec met Archbishop Stepinac several times during his mission. I had long discussions with Rapotec about these meetings. Stepinac told him that he could achieve more, including saving lives of individual Serbs, by not condemning publicly the Ustasa regime. Rapotec fully believed in the Archbishop's integrity. However, Stepinac's wartime activities remain controversial, as indeed do those of Pius XII. One must await the release of Vatican documents before making a final judgement.

Rapotec was a flamboyant personality in peace and in war. In 1944, Churchill persuaded King Peter that the only way to safeguard his position was to co-operate with Tito. The young king broadcast on the BBC an appeal to all Yugoslavs to unite under Tito. This caused great confusion. Colonel F. Stropnik, the CO of the Yugoslav battalion, a Slovene like Rapotec, decided to respond to the King's appeal. Officers who were against co- operation with Communists left. However, Rapotec with his sergeant returned in the night and "stole" the Royal Standard, which had been presented to the battalion personally by the King. This was a great embarrassment to Colonel Stropnik, who was still claiming his allegiance to the King.

Soon afterwards it became clear that no accommodation was possible with Tito. One Slovene, Stropnik, put the red star on his cap, and returned to Yugoslavia, where he was promptly dismissed from the army. The other Slovene, Rapotec, became an Australian.

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