Belgrade, 4 May 2018
Josip Broz Tito, better known as Marshall Tito, led the partisan resistance movement against German and Italian occupation of Yugoslavia during the Second World War. He then ruled the country from 1945 to 4 May 1980, when he passed away. Only a decade later, first democratic elections were held in Yugoslavia which resulted in victory for nationalist parties across Yugoslavia’s constituent republics. The country broke up in 1991, and horrific wars ensued in most of the former state. The Yugoslav identity has largely faded away since.
However, many still call themselves Yugoslavs and see Tito as an inspirational leader who had unified the people of Western Balkans and who had brought prosperity to Yugoslavia. They are of the view that the people were much better off during Tito’s rule. Unemployment was low, everyone had social and health security, crime rates were negligible, and Yugoslavia enjoyed an excellent reputation globally. Most importantly, there was peace among Yugoslavia’s different peoples who had a long history of conflict. Others will disagree, citing, among other, lack of political and religious liberty during the communist reign.
Tito was buried in Belgrade, at the “House of Flowers” which, unplanned, I visited on 4 May 2018, 38 years after Tito’s death.
Today, many tourists from across the world visit the House of Flowers and the adjacent Museum of Yugoslavia. For example, I saw a large group of visitors from Cyprus and I heard a number of different languages at the site.
Remarkably, among groups of tourists, there was also a number of Yugoslavs who came to pay their respects to the former leader. I admired their determination to come to the House of Flowers and walk up the many stairs that lead to it, but also to hold on to the ideals of the former state. On their faces I could read a number of emotions: determination, sorrow, pride, nostalgia… I was most impressed by a blind man, who was guided by his wife who softly spoke her instructions to him “to the left, to the right, up”. I chatted to them briefly. It seemed to me that they had come to remember happier times.
Tito’s resting place seemed like a pilgrimage site today. Not long from now, many of the people who remember Yugoslavia will have died. Decades from now, will there be any more Yugoslavs? A group of school children who also visited on this day may have the answer. Considering how complex the history and the politics of Western Balkans are, who is to say.