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BALKANS: ‘Tito-nostalgia’ Reigns 30 Years After His Death

Vesna Peric Zimonjic

BELGRADE, Apr 30 2010 (IPS) - For many former Yugoslavs, May 4 will be a day to reflect on the 30 years since their charismatic but controversial leader, Josip Broz Tito, died.

Tito steered a plural country for 35 years after the end of World War II and, whether they liked him or not, most people above 45 in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia – that were created out of Yugoslavia by the wars of the 1990s – know that the Tito era was the best part of their lives.

“We were moving forward in each and every way since 1945,” said Tanja Dokmanovic, 75, a retired elementary school teacher from Belgrade. “Our living standards were great compared to what we have now, we were welcome everywhere we went,” she told IPS. “But since the wars, Serbs have become pariahs and poverty is constantly knocking on ordinary people’s doors,’’ Dokmanovic added.

Like many ordinary people, Dokmanovic cannot understand how and why the Tito magic, that lasted a decade after his passing, turned into bloodshed.

However, for historians and analysts, the answers are pretty simple.

“Tito was a master of enchantment,” history professor Predrag Markovic told IPS. “On the one hand, he enchanted the West with his anti-fascist liberation movement in the WW II; on the other, he enchanted the developing countries in the early 1960s by creating the non-aligned movement.

”At home, people lived comfortable lives under his liberal dictatorship, as socialism takes care about all your needs…when people say they are nostalgic about his era, they are practically nostalgic about the safety and security of the past”.

For analyst and sociologist Aleksa Djilas, Tito was also popular due to his “resistance to [former Soviet dictator Josef ] Stalin, as Yugoslavia never went into his orbit and people lived different lives from other communist nations.”

According to Djilas, the achievements of Tito’s rule were also about “social justice, participation of workers in the production process and profit distribution and undoubted anti-fascism”.

On the other hand, some of the achievements of modern 20th century were not cherished under Tito, Djilas told IPS, “most importantly, the rule of law and building of a society with real human rights.”

Tito was relatively mild towards dissidents. He either put them into prison for several years or removed them from the political scene when they were seen to be a danger to his undisputed popularity or publicly defied his official communist party policy.

Aleksa Djilas’s father, Milovan, one of Tito’s aides during WW II and for several years afterwards, became a prominent dissident who spent years in jail due to his criticism of Tito’s rule. Aleksa Djilas had to live in exile for years due to his father’s activities.

Yet he thinks that disintegration would not have been the destiny of Yugoslavia had there been the adequate modern policy and democratisation after Tito’s death rather than the “hegemonic rule of [communist] party where proper, democratic institutions were never created.”

“Yugoslavia was not an artificial creation, it disintegrated in bloodshed that should have never happened, but I’m still Yugo-nostalgic, yet not Tito-nostalgic,” he said.

Being Yugo-nostalgic or Tito-nostalgic is a controversial issue in parts of former Yugoslavia even today.

In Croatia, this amounts to heresy as the nation forged its independence in the war against federal troops that came from the Serbian (and former Yugoslav) capital of Belgrade. However, what goes for official policy does not go for ordinary people.

“Compared to what we have now, Tito’s era was the time when God walked the earth,” said Nives Lucev, 65, a retired shopkeeper.

“I like to live in independent Croatia, of course, but there’s a big difference between then and now. We can’t afford what we could easily have in previous times and pensioners barely survive if they don’t have children to support them,’’ Lucev said.

‘’I support my mother who is 85, and the time is coming when my daughter will have to support me. And we see people getting richer on our backs simply by stealing the property created in the past, and mostly in Tito’s time,” Lucev told IPS over phone from Zagreb.

Social injustice and the hardships of adapting to capitalism have not spared Tito’s kin.

Tito’s grandson Josip Broz, 63, inherited nothing from his grandfather. ‘’He [Tito] wanted everything to go to his people, to the state. He is better remembered in the non-aligned nations now than among former Yugoslavs…When Serb officials now travel to those countries trying to revive membership, they are greeted with the words ‘Yugoslavia, Tito’, I know that for sure,” he told IPS.

“I’d like everything that Tito collected or that belonged to him while he was alive to be put into exhibition at one place, so that people can see what he left to them…I know that there’s a ‘Tito’s villa’ in each of the former republics, but those were premises owned by people and not by him. Now they’re shamefully usurped by local leaders or by tycoons who simply took them over for themselves.’’

For the younger generation, there is little to know about Tito apart from what their parents tell them. Mention of Tito in the history texts depends on the level of odium against him in each of the successor states.

The views of the young on Tito can be summed up by what Hajra Smajlovic, 22, from Sarajevo, said: “That’s something my parents or grandparents talk about. I don’t know what to think about Tito…I often think that it’s their talk, about their youth and better times and nothing else.’’

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