Tito's Epochal Funeral PDF Ispis E-mail
Monday, 28 March 2011

ImageA moving event, and then the question—who, or what, could replace him?  Hundreds of thousands of Yugoslavs lined the streets and hillsides of Belgrade for a glimpse of the long cortege bearing the body of the man who had led their country for 3½ decades. Wizened veterans of his partisan campaign during World War II, wearing rows of medals, let tears stream down their faces. Middle-aged housewives who had never known any other national leader put their arms tenderly around their children's shoulders and sobbed into handkerchiefs. Groups of schoolchildren, reared on his all-embracing national legend, waved small Yugoslav flags with awe in their eyes. At the edge of the crowd, a youth knelt on an open newspaper, clasped his hands and moved his lips in silent prayer.


"He was somebody very close, like in my own family," said Nikola Margis, 68, a craftsman with a white mustache, who had waited for ten hours to pay his respects at the lying-in-state. "For 35 years we lived together, and we had only good things from him."


The state funeral for Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito last week was the most emotional that Europe had experienced in a decade, unrivaled since the memorial Mass for Charles de Gaulle at Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral in 1970. In attendance was a comparably vast assemblage of statesmen and royalty. It was a reflection of Tito's unique global role that his funeral attracted leaders from both East and West blocs, and from the Third World, in almost equal numbers. Official mourners came from 123 countries: four Kings, 32 Presidents and other heads of state, 22 Prime Ministers, more than 100 secretaries or representatives of Communist or workers parties. Tanjug, the official Yugoslav news agency, summed it up simply: "The summit of mankind."


Conspicuously absent from this summit was Jimmy Carter. In a decision that appalled many Western allies and annoyed some Yugoslavs, the President stayed home and instead sent a delegation headed by Vice President Walter Mondale. The official U.S. mourning party of 25 included Treasury Secretary G. William Miller and the President's mother Lillian, as well as low-level politicians from Mondale's home state of Minnesota. "I don't think we have anything to apologize for," said a ranking U.S. diplomat defensively, adding that "Mondale is a major figure."


The lowly and the mighty watched solemnly as eight military officers in braided dress uniforms appeared at the door of the Federal Assembly Building adjoining Marx and Engels Square carrying Tito's pale oak coffin. As distant cannons boomed out 21-salvo salutes, the casket was placed on an open gun carriage and covered with the blue, white and red Yugoslav flag. A military band struck up a funeral dirge, Yugoslav air force jets screeched overhead, and a jeep drew the carriage slowly along six-lane Kneza Milosa. Behind the casket, sobbing and dressed in black, was Tito's third wife, Jovanka, 56, who had dropped from public view three years ago amid rumors of a falling-out with the President. Next to her were Tito's two sons by two previous marriages, Zarko, 56, and Miso, 39.


Two hours and 2½ miles later, the cortege reached the grounds of Tito's principal residence at 15 Uzicka Street, in the hilltop suburb of Dedinje overlooking the capital. He had asked to be buried there. To the strains of the Internationale, the coffin was placed above ground in a white marble vault bearing a stark inscription in raised gold letters: JOSIP BROZ TITO, 1892-1980. He had died just three days before his 88th birthday.


The two little-known men who automatically succeeded Tito in his two national posts—Communist Party Chairman Stevan Doronjski, 60, and State President Lazar Koliševski, 66—eulogized their predecessor profusely. Said Koliševski at graveside: "You have left in your wake one of the deepest traces that a man can imprint upon history." Doronjski praised Tito's dramatic break with the Soviet Union in 1948 as "one of the turning points in the history of our movement," which ever since, he said, has resisted "tying itself to any power bloc."

Listening impassively nearby was Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev, who commanded most attention among the visiting dignitaries. In a surprise move, Brezhnev decided to attend the funeral at the head of a phalanx of East European delegations. For the Soviets, Tito suddenly appeared to have attained a saintliness he had never enjoyed when alive.


Moscow had wasted no time in trying to get on the good side of the post-Tito government. On the eve of the funeral, Brezhnev and his Kremlin party sat down with Doronjski and Koliševski for what Tass, the Soviet news agency, called a "warm, comradely" meeting. China, which under Mao Tse-tung had long condemned Tito's "revisionism," similarly acted almost as though it had never differed with him. The first major head of government to arrive in Belgrade was Chairman Hua Guofeng, who grandly praised Tito for "great contributions to the proletarian revolution." At the gravesite, Hua and Brezhnev glanced fleetingly at each other, but never spoke.


When the rites were over, the inevitable question lingered: After Tito, what? For months, Western leaders had barely disguised their apprehension that possible instability following Tito's death could inspire the Soviets to try to regain control over a onetime satellite that had escaped Moscow's orbit. But on the surface, at least, calm and order prevailed.


Even as he lay dying, the cumbersome machinery of succession he had devised to provide an orderly transition of power went into effect. Koliševski, a Macedonian and longtime Tito loyalist, chaired Cabinet and other government meetings. Koliševski was acting as one of the first beneficiaries of the "collective leadership" plan incorporated into Yugoslavia's 1974 constitution. This plan established a state presidency of eight regional and presumably equal members, who are supposed to rotate as chairmen each year. Tito also set up a companion 24-member system for the party Presidium, the highest body of the Yugoslav League of Communists. Its chairmanship is currently occupied by Doronjski, a Serb from Vojvodina province, whose term runs until October.

Koliševski is due to leave the state presidency on May 16. He should be succeeded by another little-known figure, Bosnian Representative Cvijetin Mijatović, 67, a conservative party functionary who earned Tito's trust as Ambassador to Moscow from 1961 to 1965. In Belgrade, however, there was speculation that either Koliševski's term might be extended to provide an additional period of continuity, or else the rotation order might be changed to allow the election of the collective presidency's best-known public figure: Vladimir Bakarić, 68. He is the last of Tito's close wartime comrades still in power, currently heading the Federal  Council for the Defense of the Constitution, the important agency that oversees the internal security apparatus. Promoting Bakarić out of turn might provide the country with a respected transitional leader. It would also imply that the Yugoslavs have less than full confidence in the main principle of the collective leadership—namely, that no one man can succeed Tito.


In a recent speech, Presidium Secretary Dušan Dragosavac warned against any machinations by aspiring Titici—Serbian for Little Titos. Nevertheless, a power struggle is expected to develop eventually among an inner circle of top party leaders. Among them: General Nikola Ljubičič, 64, a short, powerfully built Serb, was also a wartime comrade of Tito's. The senior member of the Cabinet, he has served as Defense Minister since 1967. Stane Dolanc, 54, a tough, Stane Dolanc, 54, a tough, widely traveled Central Committee member from Slovenia who is considered by some to be the party's ablest and most ambitious behind-the-scenes politician.

Miloš Minić, 65, a Serb who, as Foreign Minister from 1972 to 1979, was responsible for policy toward the Soviet Union and became the party's chief foreign policy strategist.

Whatever their personal rivalries, the country's new leaders are not expected to clash over ideology or basic policy. They are all Tito loyalists, committed to his basic principles: a federal political system for maintaining Yugoslavia's national unity, the unique system of worker self-management of factories that characterizes the country's maverick brand of Marxism, and strict nonalignment between East and West. Says one French diplomat: "The country's leadership and people will unite at the slightest hint of Soviet menace."


Most experts dismiss the possibility that the Soviets, especially since Afghanistan, would be so imprudent as to undertake any direct invasion of Yugoslavia. An invading force from the Soviet Union, which would require 35 or more divisions, totaling more than 300,000 men, would have to take on a large-scale fight not only against the well-equipped 259,000-man Yugoslav army but also against the 3 million-member partisan militia. In addition, there would be the risk of causing a confrontation with the Western allies.

The serious threat to Yugoslavia is likely to be more internal than external. The country is a patchwork of six nationalistic republics—plus two so-called autonomous provinces—that have their own languages, religions and cultures. The Soviets might try to exploit the traditional hostility between the Serbs and the Croats; together they constitute more than 60% of Yugoslavia's 22 million people. Another potential trouble spot is the southern province of Kosovo, the country's poorest region, where friction is developing between Serbs and the rapidly exploding ethnic Albanian population. Two months ago, 50 ethnic Albanians in Kosovo were charged with fomenting political unrest. This could conceivably serve as a Soviet pretext for stirring up trouble in Yugoslavia, as could the thinly disguised Bulgarian claims on Macedonia, the country's southernmost republic.


The country's uneven economy could work either for or against stability. On the one hand, the industrial and urban transformations wrought by Tito have had a cohesive influence. "People have been concentrating on a better standard of living instead of hating their neighbors," says a Western diplomat in Belgrade. But a severe economic downturn could aggravate the glaring inequities, and consequent animosities, between the developed northern republics like Slovenia and hinterlands like Kosovo. Lately the economy has been ailing. Unemployment, estimated at more than 13%, is growing. The current annual inflation rate is estimated at 35%, compared with 14% in 1978. Productivity has slowed, and workers, under the self-management system, have voted themselves inflationary wage increases. Worst of all, the country's trade deficit has ballooned in a year by more than 40%, to $6.4 billion, caused mostly by oil and consumer goods imports.


But in the end it will be up to the Yugoslav leaders to secure the country's future. They have all the effective levers of power in their hands, including the apparent loyalty of the army. They appear to have taken every conceivable precaution against subversion. One haunting question remains: Who or what could replace Tito's towering personality? The answer to that question will determine not only the future of Yugoslavia, but possibly the shape of Europe for years to come.

Time 19.5.1980.

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