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Thursday, 12 August 2010

Image“My mum calls me Marshal Tito,” says Didier Drogba, FC Chelsea player, this year’s Premier League champion, the best scorer of the league, probably the most popular African player of today and one of the best players in the world, in his exclusive interview with The Sun. When Tito died Drogba was just a little baby in his birth place of Abidjan, Ivory Coast. I must confess that I was pretty surprised by this interview. Is it possible that the memory of President Tito is still alive in Africa on that level? As Clotilde Drogba, Didier’s mother, told The Sun about Tito and her son: "I loved him a lot because of his fighting spirit and that's why we called Didier ‘Tito’."

 

Josip Broz Tito has one of the most interesting biographies of 20th century: born at the end of the 19th century as the seventh of fifteen children in a small Croatian village on Slovenian border (at that time both parts of the Austro-Hungarian empire) to a Croatian father and Slovenian mother.  It will be very hard to mention all the important facts of his unbelievable curriculum vitae, but here are a few things to start with: Josip Broz was a locksmith, Mercedes Benz test driver, Austro-Hungarian army fencing vice-champion and youngest sergeant major awarded the Silver Bravery medal on the Eastern front in Galicia, Bolshevik soldier and Komintern secret agent, resident of Moscow’s dangerous Lux hotel and secretary general of the illegal Yugoslav Communist Party, guerrilla leader in WWII when he began  a resistance unit with a small group of anti-fascist fighters ending the war with an 800,000 troop army wearing the rank of marshal, he was for the remainder of his life the president of Yugoslavia, the man who dare to say ‘no’ to Stalin, one of the founders and main leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement and patron of workers’ self-management utopian experiment, he was excellent piano player, a pool player and great hunter, a playboy and charmer, the communist who knows how to enjoy life and share it with his people.

 

Sofia Loren cooked spaghetti for him using her mother’s recipe. According to one legend, young Queen Elisabeth II was so fascinated by him that she said once: ‘If this man is locksmith, I’m not the Queen of England!’ His funeral, even during the Cold War, was the biggest ever meeting of heads of states.

 

Too much for one man and too much for just one life? Even that arouses the imagination of many and is the source of many different conspiracy theories about Tito. Proclaiming that ‘Tito’ was not just one personality, some like to conclude that real Josip Broz died in the Spanish civil war and that the Tito we know was a Soviet spy who took his identity; others try to prove that he was born a Jew in Poland, another says that he was the illegal child of some Habsburg prince.

 

‘Tito’ was just one of a lot of his conspiracy names, but most serious historians are sure that Tito is really Josip Broz born in Kumrovec 1892. Or that Tito is simply – Tito, as most ex-Yugoslavs like to say.

 

In a spite of all attempts by new nationalistic oligarchies in post-Yugoslav states to minimize Tito’s place in history and to demonise his personality, Tito’s cult still lives on among the people. More than 60,000 people gathered at his birthplace to celebrate his birthday this year, exactly 30 years after his death. The main street in Sarajevo still keeps his name, as well as lot of streets and squares all around the Balkans. Tito (even as an official) probably enjoys the respect of most people in Bosnia today, or rather in a ‘Bosnian part’ of Bosnia, as well as in Macedonia and parts of Montenegro. Smaller Yugoslav nations are still thankful to the old leader who recognised them at one time. People in Slovenia, already a long time EU member, like him, too – Slovenians also got full national, territorial and economical emancipation in Tito’s time.  In Croatia people are divided: some worshiped him as the greatest Croatian in history who joined Croatia to the winning side and liberated parts of Croatian territory ruled by Italians before WWII, but other hated him as a bloody dictator - even as a war criminal. In Serbia, where he still lies in his grave, some are trying to present him as one of the greatest enemies in their nation’s history.

 

There was a kind of cult of personality in Tito’s time, too. But not exactly a strict or dangerous kind as it was in Stalin’s Soviet Union or today’s North Korea. Partly because his cult was produced from below – from a kind of people’s own initiative. Anyone who traveled through Yugoslavia in the seventies will recognize all the places where Tito’s name was written by thousands of white stones across entire hillsides, mostly made by local people without anybody’s order. These T.I.T.O. letters were so big that sometimes you could read them from a plane, even from outer space.

 

Recently I found a beautiful photoshop joke on the internet. An anonymous author, who must have an ex-Yugoslav background, used an amazing photo from NASA’s Mars explorer reminding us all of Tito’s name written on the hills.

 

Its real humor could only be understand by someone who lived under Tito’s rule.


Tito’s name on Mars - for us, that is something quite easy to imagine.

 

Antonije Žalica

 

EX Ponto 23.7.2010

 
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