Twenty years ago, at 15:05 on 4 May 1980, life in what was then Yugoslavia was halted by a single news bulletin: "To the Working Class, Working People and Citizens, Nations and Nationalities of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia: Comrade Josip Broz Tito has died."
At the age of 88, Tito died in a hospital in Ljubljana, then the capital of the Yugoslav republic of Slovenia. Soon after, his body was taken by train from Slovenia, through Croatia and Bosnia and on to Serbia, where he was buried in the federal capital, Belgrade. The funeral was a major world event - heads of state from more than 125 countries attended, showing their profound respect for Tito, the man who not only managed to hold together the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, a state composed of six republics and two autonomous regions, but who also successfully led that state out of Moscow's grasp and who founded the Non-Aligned Bloc - all major feats during the height of the Cold War.
Pilgrimage to Kumrovec
Tito's hometown of Kumrovec, locatedin the Croatian region of Zagorje near the border with Slovenia, played host to over 10,000 people on 4 May, in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Tito's death. Visitors came from all over Croatia as well as Slovenia and Bosnia and even Italy. A long line of people filed through the house where Tito was born, and sirens wailed at precisely 15:05, as they had 20 years before.
Over the course of the past 20 years, Kumrovec has fallen from being a major tourist attraction and even a place of pilgrimage to being a plain rural village, like hundreds of others throughout the Balkans. But things may be changing, as times get worse and Tito's rule is seen more and more as a golden age. Local leaders have recently been trying to encourage tourism by renovating all of Kumrovec and allowing a new pub to open across the street from the house where Tito was born. Tomislav Badovinac, head of the Society of Josip Broz Tito based in Kumrovec and founded four years ago, would also like to see Kumrovec regain its place on the tourist maps.
Badovinac and the Society of Josip Broz Tito (SJBT) have been lobbying to have Tito's body transferred from Belgrade to Kumrovec, a move that they hope would energize the area for tourism. Results of a recent poll showed 60 percent of the Croatian public supports the move. Tito's son Mišo has publicly stated he would not oppose the move, but it is unknown how Tito's widow Jovanka and eldest son Žarko would feel about removing Tito's remains from Belgrade. Resistance has been met from SJBT organizations based in Bosnia and Macedonia.
Thursday's commemoration, organized by Kumrovec's SJBT, may represent an important step in revitalizing the town. This was the first year that Croatia openly observed the anniversary of Tito's death since 1991, as former president and Tito-protégé Franjo Tuđman played down Tito's role in Croatian history, fearing public nostalgia. The new Croatian leadership supported the 20th anniversary memorial, however, and state radio covered the event.
An event, which was attended by several hundred people, was also organized in Sarajevo by the Bosnian Social Democrat Party (SDP) for the anniversary. Sarajevo SDP member Husein Balić's address to the crowd was quoted in the daily Oslobođenje: "It was by Tito's will that Bosnia became a state. In his time, we had factories, firms and houses. We had a good life and we were lucky. Today, we have less democracy. Most people are unemployed. We have become a nation without hope." A poll recently conducted by the daily Dnevni Avaz showed that 59 percent of the respondents saw Tito as a positive historical figure.
Unlike the events at Kumrovec, where the majority of the participants were of the older generation, young people were also involved in Sarajevo's commemoration of Tito's death. At 15:05, a siren wailed, just like in Kumrovec, but in Sarajevo it was a student-run radio station that broadcast it.
Belgrade turns its head
A public commemoration was also conducted in Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia under Tito and today. The event was held at Tito's tomb at Kući Cveća (the House of Flowers), in Belgrade's Dedinje district. The crowd of one or two hundred people was mostly made up of old Partisan fighters and elderly people, but Tito's widow, Jovanka, and other members of the family were also there to lay flowers on the tomb.
Official Belgrade took little or no notice of the occasion, and while Radio Belgrade took the time to announce the death of a member of the old Serbian Karađorđević dynasty, the 20th anniversary of Tito's death was conspicuously omitted. The independent media did, however, report the story and the weekly independent news magazine Vreme gave this week's cover to Tito. Glas Javnosti reported that people from all over the former Yugoslavia, from Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia, had recorded their visit in the guestbook at Kući Cveća.
Serbs generally have good opinions of Tito, especially when comparing their current lifestyles with how they lived in the old Yugoslavia. On the other hand, many see the roots of today's problems in Tito's politics. The one thing that most can agree on is that Tito and his family did not abuse their position - most unlike the current Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milošević.
Jovanka, Tito's widow, lives in Belgrade on a pension. All of the children and grandchildren lead normal, average lives, some in Belgrade, others in Zagreb, Sarajevo or elsewhere throughout the former Yugoslavia. None of the family has entered politics. Upon Tito's death, the family continued to receive royalties from his books, split three ways among Jovanka and the two eldest sons. Everything else was left to the federal government. Virtually the only things the family was able to keep were Tito's personal effects.
That the Broz family enjoys no special privileges only serves to make ordinary Serbs more disgusted at the rampant corruption of Slobodan Milošević's family. In the past decade, while Serbia was engaged (directly or indirectly) in numerous wars, put under sanctions and otherwise made an international pariah, the Milošević family and some 200 others have become incredibly wealthy.
Tito at the Polls
The Slovene daily newspaper Večer conducted a public opinion poll in April 2000, regarding opinions of Tito's rule. Almost half of the respondents, 45.1 percent, responded either "excellent" or "good," and only ten percent responded "poor."
The daily Slovene newspaper Delo conducted a poll in 1995 to determine the most important Slovenes in history. Tito, whose mother was Slovene but who never identified himself as being Slovene, came in sixth. Delo polled the same question three years later, and Tito jumped to third place. In 1999, he was at fourth. The Slovene weekly magazine Mladina undertook the same poll last year, and Tito was fifth.
In Croatia, a public opinion poll determining the most important Croatian politician of the 20th century saw Tito placing second, with 32.2 percent of the vote. In first place was Stjepan Radić (31.7 percent), and Franjo Tuđman took third (16 percent).
Sarajevo's Oslobođenje did not quote any poll results, but did devote an entire story to Tito's place in the Small Soviet Encyclopedia, published in 1990. Tito received almost twice as much coverage as Winston Churchill, and more than twice as much as Franklin Roosevelt. Tito in no way could ever be considered to be a favorite of the Kremlin, making this all the more remarkable.
In an interview with Večer, historian Dr Božo Repet tried to explain the phenomenon. Tito's era, he said, is seen as a golden age. Throughout the former Yugoslavia, you see a new-found respect for Tito, because life was better then. For all of his shortcomings, Tito succeeded in maintaining peace in the Balkans. "He was a fighter for peace," Repet went on. "In a bi-polar world, he succeeded in finding a third way with the Non-Aligned movement.... Throughout the world, he is predominantly considered a positive historical figure for three reasons: leading the Partisan resistance against the Fascists, breaking away from Stalin in 1948 and founding the Non-Aligned movement."
Tito is dead... long live Tito!
Even though Tito died twenty years ago, he lives on in popular culture throughout the lands of the former Yugoslavia. A series of advertisements for Mercedes Benz ran in Slovenia last year depicting historical figures like Cleopatra and Julius Cesar with the cars. One of the ads also featured Tito. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
Tito has made his biggest impact on popular culture in the former Yugoslavia film industry. It is impossible to count how many films have either featured Tito as a character or at least made reference to him.
The first film released after his death that featured Tito prominently was 1983's Igmanski Marč (The March of Mt Igman), about a Partisan battle in Sarajevo in 1942. The most famous film "starring" Tito is Goran Marković's 1982 film, Tito i Ja (Tito and I). Another important film featuring Tito is 1993's pseudo-documentary film Tito po Drugi Put Medžu Srbima (Tito Again Among the Serbs) by Serbian director Želimir Žilnik. The most recent film about Tito is last year's Maršal, by Croatian director Vinko Bresan.
Maršal received a warm response, when it opened in Belgrade last month, which Bresan tried to explain in an interview for Reuters: "One cannot avoid Tito. He is the only common ground we [those who live in the former Yugoslavia] have now."
Brian J Požun, 15 May 2000
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