What can be said about the Yugoslav heritage

Forty years after Tito

The date was imprinted on a whole generation like September 11th: Everyone knew where they were when a sad-faced gray functionary announced on television on the afternoon of May 4th, 1980, a Sunday, that Tito's death was . In Split on the Adriatic coast, the home team Hajduk was playing against Red Star Belgrade when the news came over the stadium loudspeaker in the 41st minute. Tens of thousands burst into tears, one player collapsed. Spontaneously, the song rang out from 50,000 throats: Comrade Tito, we swear to you - we will never deviate from your path!

Furtive "Titostalgia"

Forty years later, a stealthy but unmistakable "Titostalgia", as the Slovenian cultural researcher Mitja Velikonja calls it, prevails everywhere in the former realm of the deceased. Souvenir stalls and flea markets testify to the permanent attachment. A Serbian motorway service station is set up like a prayer room with lots of Tito icons. Portraits of the marshal in his white uniform hang in hip bars. The strongest witnesses of his aftermath, however, are anonymous opinion polls - and the eulogies that tipsy pub rounds repeatedly suggest to the legendary head of state and party.

Cups with socialist symbols in the "House of Flowers" in Belgrade - Tito's mausoleum is part of the Museum of the History of Yugoslavia

In contrast, "the old man", as he was respectfully called during his lifetime, is nowhere recognized in the official commemorative culture. None of the seven states that emerged from Yugoslavia has found a workable formula for Tito's lifetime achievement.

Controversial souvenir in Croatia

In Croatia, his homeland, the memory of the partisan leader and statesman is highly controversial. Tito's tiny birthplace on the Croatian-Slovenian border, a memorial for the partisan struggle until the 1990s, was converted into a non-political village museum, but remained a place of pilgrimage. The Marschall-Tito-Platz in front of the National Theater in the social democratic ruled Zagreb kept its name far beyond the breakup of Yugoslavia; It was not until 2017 that a right-wing majority was found in the city council to rename it "Square of the Republic of Croatia". Rijeka still has a large Tito Square.

For the dominant "Croatian democratic community" the marshal is a non-person. Instead of Tito, the party commemorates his victim. Every year leading politicians up to former President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović take part in celebrations in the Austrian border town of Bleiburg in honor of several thousand Nazi collaborators who were murdered by the dictator after the end of the Second World War. But this did not prevent party founder Franjo Tudjman from imitating the style of the partisan leader down to the details of the uniform. If you ask in the country who the "greatest Croat of all time" was, Tito regularly wins - ahead of Tudjman.

Between respect and oblivion

Tito's reputation in Bosnia-Herzegovina and North Macedonia is largely unbroken. Both countries were reluctant to become independent when Yugoslavia fell apart. In Sarajevo, the largest boulevard is still named after Tito, and in Skopje there is even a monument to Tito. Slovenia is divided like Croatia when it comes to coming to terms with the past, but feels predominantly left - the image of Tito is correspondingly positive. In Kosovo, with its young population, the Yugoslav past seems almost forgotten. In the older generation, however, Tito, who helped the country to autonomy against Serbian resistance and built the poor province, is still respected. Former Communist Party leader Mahmut Bakalli, who later joined the nationalists, had decorated his living room with lots of pictures of Tito.

Tito and his wife Jovanka Broz, April 1973

In Serbia, Tito is rather embarrassed. Slobodan Milošević, the strong man of the 1990s, completely ignored the legacy in public speech, quietly had the vigil in front of his grave and withdrew the appanage from Tito's widow. The Croatian is a figure of hatred for radical nationalists: he wanted to keep Serbia down at the expense of other nations. But since a large majority regrets the fall of Yugoslavia, its decades-long leader still has a strong following. Contributing to its posthumous popularity is that none of the successor states has the prestige that distinguished Yugoslavia - neither internationally nor among its own citizens.

Tito - an ambivalent legend

Tito stood for national self-confidence, a feeling that disappeared with him. As early as the Second World War, the mysterious rebel, whom no one had ever seen and of whom everyone only knew the battle name, was a legend, similar to Ché Guevara later. The fact that he crossed the oceans with his yacht, was friends with Willy Brandt, Nehru, Nasser and Sukarno and that England's Queen Elisabeth played on the piano, that the entire world elite traveled to his funeral, filled contemporaries of all Yugoslav nationalities with pride. After Tito's death in 1980, the decline began. Good times, like in the 1960s and 1970s, never returned afterwards.

Tito (center) on a visit to the Federal Republic of Germany, 1970. In the picture on the right Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt, on the left Federal Foreign Minister Walter Scheel.

Historians also have a hard time with Tito. An extensive, rather praising biography of the Slovenian Jože Pirjevec achieved high editions. The judgments of scientific posterity rarely go beyond ambivalence. His break with Stalin in 1948, his commitment to the movement of the non-aligned and for the Third World, the relative liberality of his regime are recognized. On the downside are the mass murders of the immediate post-war period and the convict island Goli otok, to which Tito's opponents loyal to the Soviet Union and later other dissidents were initially sent.

One problem with Tito's appreciation is that nothing remained of his work. He had not arranged for a successor, the collapse of his state began with his death. As high as its reputation may be, it no longer offers any orientation.