“I am the leader of one country which has two alphabets, three languages, four religions, five nationalities, six republics, surrounded by seven neighbours, a country in which live eight ethnic minorities.” (Tito)
Tito was a true revolutionary humanist, a Social Democrat and later a proponent of International Communism. He fought against Fascism in all its shapes and forms – fighting Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s branch of Chetnik troops (supported by the British) in the heart of Europe. He never wavered in his commitment to Socialism, and was loved by all who really knew him.
When my Grandpa (an old Labourite socialist) died in 2008 I visited my Grandparents home for the last time. I was told by my parents to pick out anything I could find that I wanted to keep before everything got recycled. Searching around for a while I discovered the odd memento here and there I wanted to keep as a reminder of him.
Just 10 minutes before my Ma called for us to leave I stumbled into the room where my Nana spent the last few weeks of her life. The room was dull, heavy and sombre – still anxious to free itself from the passing of a last breath. There was a book self at the end of her bed. Even after the many years of visiting that room I don’t think I’d ever consciously acknowledged it before. But I decided to have a rummage.
To this day I don’t know what drew me to that book shelf, or to the book I was about to pick up and absorb intensely over the next 24 hours, but I felt a compulsion from somewhere to take a look at the dusty covers sat shoulder to shoulder on these forgotten shelves.
I vaguely recollect that there were variety of books and old Labour Party pamphlets stacked from top to bottom. And there in the middle, on the left hand side of a shelf, 4 shelves up, was a jet black book. And written across the binding in gold print it bore the words ‘TITO of Yugoslavia’. I picked it up almost without thinking, started reading the first few lines and was instantly hooked. Next thing I know I was walking out the house with it in my hand. It’s now the only thing of my Grandparents I permanently keep close, to remind me of their legacy.
Perhaps it was because I had just written a thesis on Communist China that I recognised the name, or perhaps I had encountered the name Tito somewhere else, either way the intrigue of the man behind this mysterious name gripped me.
After reading the book in a day flat on the long drive to university – in a van loaded with my ‘stuff’ and two enormous plant pots we retrieved from outside my Grandparents home – I became an admirer of Tito. Only recently, thanks in part to a friend doing a dissertation on Kosovo, did I decide to re-read ‘Tito of Yugoslavia’ to jog my memory and ensure I wasn’t deceiving myself; and to my relief I wasn’t.
This book – ‘Tito of Yugoslavia’ by K. Zilliacus – has been the start of a passionate journey into 20th century Central and Eastern European history. This journey has been partly literal, in the sense that I have subsequently travelled all over Yugoslavia visiting many of the key places on Tito’s path. Most recently I went to the city of Pula, located in the region of Istria on the coast of Croatia, and managed to get a very ‘brief’ glimpse – since we were on a boat – of Tito’s old resident home on the Brunjni islands.
The author – K. Zilliacus – was a lifelong friend of Tito; he visited him frequently and was one of the only ‘Westerners’ ever to really get close to Tito. Baring in mind the book was published in 1952 it only charts the first 60 years of Tito’s life, and yet almost 30 years later he was still President of Yugoslavia – revealing that he wasn’t a short-lived revolutionary leader. With his death on the 4th of May, 1980, came bloody civil wars and an end to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) in 1992.
Tito of Yugoslavia: The Heart of a Communist Lives Strong in the Minds and Ideas of Revolution
Once upon a time the infamous ‘Tito’ was known as Josip Broz. A small peasant boy born May 25th 1892, he grew up in the foothills of Slovenia at the dawn of the industrial revolution but in a society that was still subject to a semi-feudal political and economic framework.
His father was Croat and his mother was Slovene. He loved horses, and could ride bareback almost as soon as he could walk. He was a strong and physically able adolescent, ‘with a good eye, a steady nerve and cool courage’.
Yet nobody would have thought then that this young peasant boy would become the leader of one of first and only, truly, Socialist States; Yugoslavia.
At aged 14 he went to work as a mechanic’s apprentice in a factory in Croatia. He learnt the meaning of social democracy from his ‘master’ there and this is where he witnessed the rising tide of worker’s rights movements.
But it was his encounter with International Workers Day (May Day) that first taught him the lessons of the labour movement – the power of unity, of striking and protest. Not long after, aged 20, he joined the Social Democrat Party of Croatia and Slovenia, and the Metal Workers Union of Croatia.
He went on to work in various cities around Central and Eastern Europe, from Bosnia and Montenegro right the way through to Austria and Czechoslovakia.
This brought him into contact with all manner of peoples and languages, by his early 30’s he was pretty well fluent in English, German, Czech, Russian, and Croat-Serb-Bosnian and spoke various languages like Austrian respectably. This was to help him escape and evade capture in his later years.
He schooled himself in Leninism and Marxism but was taught much of what he came to apply later as leader of Yugoslavia from the Yugoslav Academy and Communist Youth League (C.Y.L).
Tito later owed much of his credit to the C.Y.L for the knowledge he gained there, and for the part they played in the resistance of Nazi occupation.
A young Josip was swift to accept all people no matter race, nationality or religion and recognised the united struggle amongst the South Slav peoples (Yugoslavia if translated literally means ‘Land of the South Slavs’) against the Capitalist classes.
As an avid Trade Unionist travelling all over Europe he supported and helped organise revolutionary protests for workers rights. At workshops and factories he staged strikes and demonstrations to gain better wages.
In one particular instance, Tito (not then known by that alias) and a group of several dozen fellow workers from a broad spectrum of nationalities (Croats, Serbs etc) were drafted into a factory in Czechoslovakia where upon arrival they discovered that their Czech brothers had gone on strike because of low wages. Instead of replacing them, Tito persuaded his fellow workers to join the strike and before long the factory owners conceded and they were all employed on higher salaries.
In 1913, as was the norm, Tito was conscripted to the army.
The close revolutionary ties between the Croat Social Democrat Party and the decrepit, and receding, Austro-Hungarian Empire meant Tito was soon to be in the line of fire.
After the murder of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo by a Bosnian student with connections to the Serbian Establishment “Austrian guns opened fire on Belgrade across the Sava River, and so the world plunged in Armageddon.” (35)
The First World War had started, and Tito was recruited to fight against Russian Tsardom on the Eastern Front in Galicia.
During his time in the Zagreb 53rd regiment he was singled out for his talent and placed in charge of a platoon – consisting of 80 infantry soldiers – which he commanded with dignity, decisiveness and courage aged only 23; the youngest ever sergeant-major to serve in the Austro-Hungarian Army.
He was highly regarded as a superb leader whose intelligence, formidable strategising, strength of character, sense of fairness and humility meant he was warmly embraced by his troops.
He got to know every single one of them intimately; he cared for and looked after them with devotion and sensitivity.
But Josip hated the war (so did most of his troops) and having gained their trust and confidence decided to surrender to the Russians.
This, however, did not stop him from being impaled very close to his heart nearly killing him.
He spent the next year in a medical infirmary in Siberia, where he took the opportunity to learn Russian fluently and made friends with anti-Tsarist Russians.
Frequently practicing his Russian with the beautiful girls in the area, who found this stranger in their midst handsome and charming, he ended up marrying his first wife; Pelagija Belousova.
Once he was better he visited Soviet Russia. He went to Petrograd and participated in the July Days demonstrations. This was where he encountered Bolshevism which was to further revolutionise him.
He was to stay loyal to the ideology of Bolshevik communism and Social Democracy until his death, unlike the later-day fakes; the Stalinists.
Later, on his way to Finland, he was to spend time in a goal on suspicion of being a Bolshevik. He managed to blag his way out after telling the Finns that he was an Austrian War Prisoner. Nevertheless, he was arrested again by the Kerensky police who sent him back to a Siberian gulag. Yet again he somehow managed to escape along the way.
Not long after hearing Lenin and the Bolsheviks had taken the Winter Palace in October Revolution (1917) he joined the Red Army. His safety in the Siberian branch of the Red Army was short lived.
Czech units had be captured by the anti-communist Tsarist Army – the Whites – and were now recruited to do their fighting.
Advancing fast on Tito’s place of residence, a town called Omsk, he was forced to flee to the steppes where he met, and then lived, with “a tribe of Kirghiz, Mongol nomads proud of their descent from Ghenghiz Khan…Josip Broz dressed like the Kirghiz, learned their language, ran a flour mill for their chief, one Isaiah.” (51)
Their relationship was one of mutual respect. Isaiah knew Tito was a Bolshevik and purportedly was proud to call him ‘My Red’. They hid him any time the White forces drew near.
“The Kirghiz used to trek for hundreds of miles with their herds of horses. Josip Broz rode with them. He broke horses too, for Isaiah. He enjoyed this and won the admiration of the Kirghiz – good judges – for his horsemanship and daring…He loved, too, the sight of the great herd of horses motionless under the full moon on a summer night, their backs silver and their shadows long and black on the steppe.” (51)
This period was to hold a great impression in his life.
After the civil war had receded Tito went looking for his wife, and after a long time searching, he eventually found her in a small village.
Yet he yearned for home and didn’t want to remain in newly established ‘Soviet Russia’.
They both went on a long vogue back. He dreamed of bringing the revolution back with him, and igniting the worldwide struggle for social democracy. Little did he know he was to unite the regions and the peoples of Yugoslavia in a way seldom anyone else could have done.
On returning to his Yugoslav homelands – which included Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia-Hercegovinia, Montenegro and Macedonia – now free from the tyranny of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but still under the command of the Yugoslav Royalist Dictatorship, he became a member of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (C.P.Y) which was outlawed at the time (1928).
Because of his formidable reputation that preceded him; his years of experience outside of Yugoslavia; his connections with the Soviets; his leadership skills; his moral integrity; and his dedication, trustworthiness and charisma; he was quick to ascend the ranks.
People fondly referred to Tito as ‘Stari’ (the ‘Old Man’). Decisions were made collectively by groups of more experienced party members but because the ‘Old Man’ was very well liked and respected his decisions were often met with approval.
He encouraged the promotion of ‘young blood’ and ‘the Communist Youth League grew rapidly’ as schools were set up to train these ‘Cadres’. Many women were recruited into the Party, whilst much attention was paid to supporting the peasantry.
The C.P.Y had to operate covertly, and thread a network of underground cells and organisations through the fabric of a rotting Yugoslav society.
“The underground Party worked through legal and semi-legal bodies at the surface, such as Trades Unions, youth groups and women’s organisations. Regional organisations were set up for every area where they did not exist, and notably for Macedonia and Bosnia-Hercegovina.” (114)
Josip Broz was wise to the prejudices of the Capitalist and Fascist classes, and hastily learnt that lesson the hard way after nearly being caught by the Yugoslav reactionary police carrying out a train inspection.
He learnt that dressing and appearing ‘smart’ would increase his chances of evading capture. He was always clean shaven, well turned-out and immaculately dressed.
It was about this time that he started adopting alias’s to avoid the authorities’ attention. His alias’s varied considerably but it was the name ‘Tito’ that stuck with Josip, and became the popular folk legend that we know today.
People have argued that in fact ‘Tito’ was many different people, and, perhaps, at times different Yugoslav communists may have used the name. All the same it was Josip Broz who was to become the famous proprietor of the name.
Before spending some time in Vienna with the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia – who had sought refuge there – he was already well known for his leadership qualities.
By 1937 Tito had become Secretary of the C.P.Y and was preparing for battle against the dictatorial regime of Royalist Yugoslavia under the rule of King Peter II.
Tito was also increasingly aware of the impending doom of a second European war. With the rising tide of fascism in Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy the concessions and political ties of the Royalist Yugoslav government with these regimes only further antagonised the situation.
Tito encouraged his Party to organise the workers, peasants and any other anti-Royalist/Fascist movement into a Popular Front – later to become known as the Partisans – to bring down the Royalist government.
Around this time Stalin signed a pact with Hitler’s Germany. Let us not forget Stalin had various pacts and peace-treaties with Germany and Britain and America at different stages during the long period he was in power.
However, it was the Soviet-German Pact, which was put forward at the Seventh Comintern Congress in 1935, that almost jeopardised Tito’s position and Yugoslavian solidarity.
“The Communist Party of Yugoslavia supported the Spanish Republic and condemned ‘non-intervention’; it denounced Nazi rearmament, the occupation of Rhineland and of Austria and Czechoslovakia; no less than 10,000 Yugoslavs, mostly members of the Party and of the Communist Youth League, volunteered to fight for Czechoslovakia against Hitler.” (118)
However, Stalin didn’t want the C.P.Y to commence, or indeed continue, military intervention against the Royalist government (which Hitler regarded as a breaking of the Pact).
When Tito informed Stalin that the Croat and Pan-Serb dictatorship – the Cvetkovich-Machek Royalist government – had been colluding with the Fascists in Italy and Germany and killing many communists across Yugoslavia, Stalin still referred to their Pact of Non-Aggression.
Nevertheless, Tito and the C.P.Y continued their resistance; and the Royalist dictatorship was overthrown on March 27th 1941.
Machek in Croatia had continually imprisoned communists in concentration camps. He handed them over to the Fascists when his government fell in 1941 who then slaughtered some 220 leading communist members.
“The Cvetkovich-Machek regime was hand in glove with the Axis imperialists and selling out the country: the Communist Party must unite all democratic and anti-fascist elements in a Popular Front to replace this regime by a democratic government that would give equal rights to all Yugoslav nationalities and would defend the country’s independence.”
Thankfully many members of the Party were loyal and true to the socialist dream Tito had of a united Yugoslavia: they galvanised, defended and fought alongside the Popular Front – the Partisans – who died in their hundreds of thousands resisting occupation in WWII.
In April, 1941, Tito was appointed ‘Commander-in-Chief’ of all the Partisan detachments of Yugoslavia.
They fought bravely against the Nazi’s – and Mussolini’s troops – who were funding and arming Ante Pavelich, a fascist who came to power in a pre-planned coup by the Axis after the collapse of the Royalist government.
Ante Pavelich (Mussolini’s protégé) had considerable support from the Catholic hierarchy in Croatia, particularly Zagreb Archbishop Stepinats, who endorsed his campaign of terror and welcomed the ‘Ustasha crusaders’.
They rounded up the Greek Orthodox Serbs in the thousands, and, when they refused to convert to Catholicism, they drove them into churches and burnt them down – burning them alive.
Tito, the Communists and many Partisans were the only ones who stood up to these fascists.
Meanwhile, the British were in turn supporting the Nazi and Italian collaborator Drazha Mikhailovich, leader of the Serbian Chetnik movement, who was the last remaining representative of the old aristocratic classes – the Royalist Yugoslav Simovich government.
The Royalists fled to London after the German and Italian invasion; where they were supported by Winston Churchill – who wanted to see the Greek and Yugoslav King’s back on their thrones.
Mikhailovich and the Chetniks slaughtered thousands of communists and communist sympathisers, or otherwise – instead of fighting them – allowed the fascists to murder a great many of his fellow Yugoslav civilians on the orders of the British and Royalist émigré government.
“He [Mikhailovich] had British and American liaison officers attached to him, received arms and supplies for 2 years, but as from October 1941, ceased to do any fighting against the Axis forces and ended by collaborating with them. Officially his strategy, reinforced by explicit orders from the London Government, was to let the Communists destroy themselves by fighting the Nazi’s while his Chetniks remained passive in the mountains waiting until the German retreat began or there was an Allied landing…what they were fighting for was to preserve the old Royalist Yugoslavia.” (129)
But what was to happen during the rest of the war was to come as surprise to everyone except Tito.
Not Mikhailovich, King Peter II, Churchill, Eisenhower, Mussolini and definitely not Hitler ever thought the ‘backward’ and ‘poor’ nations of Yugoslavia – with their ill-equipped and untrained soldiers (whom were merely peasants and workers mostly) – would resist occupation and ultimately colonisation from one of the Great Empires: whomsoever they presumed it would be.
And throughout it all Tito fought on the frontlines.
The Politbureau and Central Committee of the C.P.Y were nearly always just miles from their enemies and were nearly caught or killed on many occasions.
But the Partisans were strict and disciplined. Looting was severely punished and an eye was firmly kept open at all times for spies and agents provocateurs.
They were told that they must uphold their basic duties and set an example for the people.
Their military targets were only to be railways, bridges, factories and wireless stations, anything that might aid the fascists. The Partisans began to gather pace towards the end of 1942, gaining vital ground, capturing much need weapons from the fascists and liberating vast areas.
“The Partisan’s then set up a new State machine in the shape of People’s Committees elected by the local inhabitants, and in fact dominated by the Communist Party and Partisans…They gathered supplies for the forces, kept economic life and communications going, and acted as committees of public safety upholding law and order, and fighting fifth-column activities, banditry, speculation and looting.”
In 1942, as the momentum built, the Peoples Committees elected a united body ‘The Anti-Fascist People’s Council and its National Committee’ (AVNOY).
It was roughly a year later, in their famous meeting on November the 29th, 1943, at Jajtse, that the Yugoslavs officially date the founding of the Republic – named ‘Democratic Federal Yugoslavia’ – with Tito as Chairman.
The German’s enraged with the humiliation of defeat continued their ‘offensives’ – there were a total of 7 in all. The 4th and 5th offensives were one of the lowest points in the Yugoslav war.
The Germans pressed ruthlessly, pushing the Partisans deep into Bosnia. Hitler’s forces attempted to surround and then annihilate the Partisans – every man, woman and child.
“Tito took what he afterwards described as the hardest decision of his life – to sacrifice a division on order to cover the retreat of 50,000 refugees, through the mile-deep canyon of the Sutjeska River. The fight was deadly and bitter, and Tito stayed behind in the thick of it to make sure that the wounded were all brought out. The Partisans had no aeroplanes or anti-aircraft guns and were pitilessly strafed by the enemy air force.” (158)
And this was all executed with the aid of Chetnik troops who had the 100% support of the British according to a letter sent to Mikhailovich by Major Hudson on June 11th, 1942.
As Colonel Bailey (former chief engineer at the Trepcha copper mines in Royalist Yugoslavia) corroborates when he visited Mikhailovich in December, 1942, we “knew all about his plan for Chetnik forces to attack the Partisans as part of the German 4th and 5th offensives, and raised no objections.” (152)
Tito never worked for the CIA or MI6; if one believes such nonsense they really ought to check their history books, starting with the book this narrative is based on.
He was wise to the backhanded tactics of the ‘Western Capitalist powers’. Tito never succumbed to their ideology or their sly extension of a political hand, knowing full well that Churchill would use the other hand to stab him in the back at any opportunity he could; which Churchill did in Greece after the War, and would have attempted to do in Yugoslavia if it hadn’t been for the vitality of Tito and the Communist Party.
Drawing towards the end of the war reports where coming into London from officers like Brigadier Fitzroy Maclean describing the great sacrifices the Yugoslav’s had made, and the support the C.P.Y had in the region.
On realising the strength of the C.P.Y and the Partisans, Churchill, King Peter II and Roosevelt tactically switched from supporting Mikhailovich and officially recognised Tito, the C.P.Y and the Partisans, as the legitimate leaders of Yugoslavia.
Of course at times Tito worked with the British to resist Nazi occupation (as many communists did at the time) – it was supposedly an allied resistance against fascism after all.
In one instance, when fighting alongside Tito and the Partisans during the Germans 5th offensive on the first British Military Mission, Major Stewart was killed in a bomb blast which also wounded Tito and Captain Deakin.
In particular Tito worked closely with Brigadier Fitzroy Maclean who’s book Eastern Approaches is a first-rate account of the period.
And where was Stalinist Russia in all this? When the Partisans (and Tito) needed help and reinforcements where were they? No-where to be seen.
They let them die; sending messages of support rather than the arms, medicine and food the Partisans urgently needed. “Moscow sent plenty of admiration but no ammunition.” (156).
As for the assertion that the Soviets were running low on resources, militarily or otherwise, it’s completely false. Stalin had promised Tito that’d he’d send planes, which would drop supplies, parcels of food etc, but they never arrived.
Stalin, who had entitled the émigré Royalist government in London to an embassy in Moscow, also couldn’t (or wouldn’t) believe Tito’s reports that the Royalist Government in Britain had been helping the Axis powers murder many Yugoslav communists.
In the end Tito and the Partisans were left to fight all alone. However, Tito continually requested help, attempting, via letter, on many occasions to patch up relationships and ask for assistance.
‘I must ask you again, is there really no possibility of your giving us any help at all? Hundreds of thousands of refugees are slowly starving to death. Cannot you really find any way of helping us after twenty months of heroic, almost superhuman, fighting? We have been fighting for twenty months without the least material help from any quarter. I assure you that the wonderful and heroic people of Bosnia, Lika, Kordun, Dalmatia, fully deserve the maximum help. Typhus has broken out, and we have no medicines. Our people are perishing from hunger, but they do not complain. These hungry people are giving our soldiers their last crumb of bread, and themselves starving. They give their last stockings, shirts and shoes, and go naked and barefoot in this winter. Do everything you can to help us’ (Tito: January 31st 1943).
For a long time Tito admired Stalin, and Stalin greatly admired Tito too (they even reconciled in 1956: watch clip below).
Tito met Stalin on many occasions; they were comrades for years fighting for the same cause. It was only when Tito wanted the Partisan Liberation Movement in Yugoslavia to be truly independent – and began to distance himself from the Comintern – that Stalin began to slander him.
After the WWII Tito still stood by Stalin and defended Soviet Russia. Still the USSR tried to send in ‘advisers’ to help Tito (who, to be fair, had requested them) but instead of advising the C.P.Y they tried to control and direct the Yugoslav revolution and liberation movement.
Tito sent the ‘advisors’ packing, saying determinedly that they would find ‘their own path to socialism’.
Stalin didn’t like that. He pressurised and forced the surrounding Comintern neighbours to place sanctions on Yugoslavia, enacted a vicious propaganda campaign against the C.P.Y and attempted to assassinate Tito.
Even then, to the bitter end of Stalin’s policy of isolation towards Yugoslavia, Tito still refused to separate ties from the Soviet Union.
“In a speech to Parliament in April, 1950, he said the destiny of Socialist States was to federate, but on the basis of equality and freedom of all, not through big power bullying and directing the others.”
The British on the other handy were sneaky, crafty and backstabbing.
To some extent, after WWII, they did aid Yugoslavia. There were fears in the British camp that Communism, and what Churchill described as the claw of ‘Russian Barbarianism’, might come to Britain.
However, the British had thought they just might be able to manipulate Tito’s government if they helped him; they were wrong.
Having just come out of WWII Yugoslavia was shattered.
The economy in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s was in a terrible state. The country was depleted agriculturally; towns and factories were smashed; only two ports could receive ships; livestock reduced in some areas by 9-10ths; 6 out of the 7 power stations were out of service; and infrastructure was destroyed.
It was said not one home from Bosnia to the top of Croatia was left undamaged.
Baring in mind that Post-War Yugoslavia was in a bad shape generally; a split with the USSR; a dire economic situation; and an inability to move supplies from areas of surplus to deficiency forced Tito to except loans and welfare support from the ‘West’. The United Nations stepped in to help.
U.N.R.R.A aid managed to fend off the various famines and food shortages which plagued many regions of Yugoslavia in the subsequent months and years. Tito praised and thanked them graciously for saving many lives.
And yet they still they faced the possibility of civil war with the old Royalist regime that wanted to re-establish power.
There were battles against the British and ex- Yugoslav Royalists in areas like Istria and particularly in the city of Trieste where Anglo-American troops occupied the city.
Winston Churchill even tried to pursue a merger between the C.P.Y and 6 ex-émigré Royalist minsters.
The C.P.Y were voted into power by a huge majority in the elections following the founding – on 7th March, 1945 – of the provisional government; the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia.
But their merger with the old monarchy failed miserably.
The minsters attempted to boycott the elections…“because they said they didn’t have the necessary freedom to put their case to the people through the press and in meetings. Candid Communists admit that, indeed, they had no such freedom for opposition parties as is considered normal in the West. But, they point out, they had a good deal more freedom than the outlawed Communist Party enjoyed before the war, when it nevertheless managed to be politically active and influential, and to back and secure the election of candidates to Parliament. If, they said, the émigré ministers had had any convinced support in the people and been themselves men who believed in their cause, they could have contested the election.” (176)
As for the British and Americans, well Tito resisted interference all his life.
The people loved Tito above all else for his commitment to independence and rejection of outside interference and manipulation by the Great Powers.
He accepted aid, food, medicine, infrastructure and money to help build Yugoslavia but he never wavered from his commitment to Socialism.
He actively encouraged and aided the establishment of local councils – called Peoples’ Committees – similar to the Robinson Programme in Venezuela introduced by the government of Hugo Chavez.
“The Constitution grew out of the state of affairs existing at the end of the war. It was founded on the equality and full self-government of the six Republics [Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia] and provided for a Federal Parliament divided into two houses, in one of which the Republics were represented with an equal number of members each; in the other, deputies were elected through constituencies based on population. Republican and local government were based on Peoples’ Committees. The Constitution nationalised the country’s natural resources – coal, oil, minerals, water power, forests etc, as well as rail and air transport and communications by post, telegraph, telephone and broadcasting. It did not nationalise land and said the means of production might be in State, co-operative or private hands…The Nationalisation of Industry Law confiscated the property in Yugoslavia of enemy nationals, war criminals and collaborators. This put over 80% of Yugoslav industry under state control.” (185)
Tito was a friend of all who stood against fascism, capitalism, imperialism or any system of governance that led to injustice or inequality.
Squint ever so slightly and the iconic image of Tito quite happily morphs into the face of Che Guevara. Some might not agree, but for me one of Che Guevara’s famous sayings quite unintentionally portrays the true character of Tito, and could have quite easily been one of Tito’s own:
“If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.”
In talks with a delegation from Kosovo and Metokhija Tito was reported saying:
‘The essence of Socialism is that people should live better. If Socialism is built as some kind of abstraction, so that people are always hating and making each other miserable, then we are building up something that is no use to people. But that is not Socialism. For we are building Socialism, also, for we are building it for man, for people. It must be human. Nothing good can be made by terror. On this point we have parted company with the revisionists from the East [and West].” (289)
Wise words from a man who managed to unite the peoples of, perhaps, the most diverse region on earth.
On his last point, these words still resonant a poignant message. We might want to heed a lesson or two from them.
This is a true credit to the esteem in which Tito was widely held both abroad and at home.
“Tito was the first leader who was loved equally by all the peoples of Yugoslavia. The Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Bosnians, Macedonians and Montenegrins had all had their national heroes. But this was the first time they had all gathered round one man, because he stood for the great idea of brotherhood and unity of all the Yugoslav peoples.” (283)
For years Tito fought against British and Western Imperialism. He was loved by his countrymen for it – by the vast majority of Yugoslav workers and peasants.
Yugoslavia was to remain fairly united and peaceful under Tito’s leadership. Sadly there was no predecessor.
With his death on the 4th of May, 1980, many more deaths followed.
His loss marked a significant change in society. It was reported that many Yugoslavs openly mourned him.
In the Split soccer stadium, where Serb and Croat teams were playing against each other in a match, they both stopped upon hearing of Tito’s passing and tearfully sung the hymn “Comrade Tito We Swear to You, from Your Path We Will not Depart.”
Yet from his path they did depart, more bloody wars were fought in the struggle for political power after Tito’s death, and many thousands more needlessly died in the name of nationalism.
Yugoslavia collapsed under the weight of factionalism that resulted from a vacuum of unity – a void which Tito had once symbolised the bridge between.
Tito was ‘the’ figure of unity. He was the glue that banded together the many religions, tribes, nationalities, ethnicities that the peoples of the Yugoslavian regions engendered.
Without Tito things began to crumble, and by the early 1990’s Yugoslavia had all but disintegrated.
The civil wars that raged across Yugoslavia throughout the late 1980’s finally brought the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) to an end in 1992.
Tito’s dream of a united South Slav people’s Socialist Democracy was finished, with Slobodan Milošević at the helm of the brutal breakup. And most should know what happened next…
I write this as a tribute to those ‘who tremble with indignation at every injustice.’ We should never forget the many peasants, ordinary workers, communists and revolutionary democrats who died fighting for Yugoslavian liberation. No-one should ever dismiss Tito or all the brave Yugoslavians who lost their lives fighting fascism, imperialism and in the end soviet totalitarianism!