Biographies Book

A review of Tito and Yugoslavia

“Achievement makes the man, not the man the achievement” says Milovan Djilas in his biography of Tito written shortly after the latter’s death in May 1980. At the time of his death, more than 122 representatives from around the world gathered to pay their respects. This contrasts with the present day when there was virtually no commemoration of the anniversary of his death. It shows that his image has not withstood the ravages of time and only proves the saying in the poem about King Ozymandias that “the paths of glory only lead to the grave”.

That said, it might seem strange to talk about Tito now. After all, neither he nor his creation, Yugoslavia, exist. So why talk about it at this point? Admittedly, I only consider the subject from the point of view of the biography I have read of Tito. Outside the Balkans, it is traditionally a powder keg. Twice there was chaos in the region in the 20th century. In 1914 it precipitated World War I and in the 1990s a devastating civil war broke out there which marked the end of Yugoslavia as a nation.

Tito is considered the founding father of Yugoslavia and it is believed that it was the strength of his personality that kept it going. As the Comintern appointed him head of the Yugoslav Communist Party, or “League of Communists” in 1937, following the Communist victory in 1944-45, he assumed full control. A control that lasted until his death in 1980 at the age of 88. Milovan Djilas notes, however, that he was a personality with limits, for example as a military strategist. Likewise, while it was systematic, it was not supported by party functionaries who were also. Where I disagree with Mr. Djilas is in describing the communists as a monolithic entity presiding over a plural entity. Let’s not forget that in the Yugoslav context, he was a figure of “Hu Yaobong”. Also as early as the 1920s and 1930s, Communists were divided between moderates and radicals. Likewise, while Tito, according to Djilas, envisioned collective leadership after his demise, it was, he says, out of step with the party bigwigs and likely led to the rise of men like Milosevic. However, I would attribute this much more to the strength of ethnic feeling in Yugoslavia. It would be appropriate, I think, in this context to quote Aleksa Djilas writing in a recent issue of “Foreign Affairs” magazine in this context: “Over time, the official concept of Yugoslavia has become increasingly emptied of he ethnicity, language and historical tradition common to all national groups in Yugoslavia was almost completely meaningless in the 1960s, the Titoist ideology being replaced by a substitute.

Democratization and the 1970 Constitution

Likewise, it was ruled that Tito was not a democrat but let us not forget that the 1970 Constitution marked an important step towards decentralization transforming the country into a virtual confederation. At the same time, going as far as possible in this direction would have meant ending the Communist Party’s monopoly on power, which could not have been tolerated at the time. This was to come later with the revolutions in Eastern Europe in 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in this form. Despite this, major economic reforms towards decentralization were initiated in the 1960s. Whether these were real or cosmetic and only resulted in autarky and duplication of effort, as Aleksa Djilas would have us make believe it is a moot point. However, when it comes to duplication, there is a lot of it in free market economies as well.

Is there a legacy?

A more complex question is just what is Tito’s legacy? Unfortunately, concretely, there is nothing except that he unified the Balkans under one leadership like Ataturk did in Turkey. The difference, of course, is that Turkey lasted while Yugoslavia did not.

In evaluating Tito’s role, we must bear in mind that a single man cannot make a country. Everyone must unite for this purpose. From what the events of the 1990s have shown, considerable elements of the population and their leaders were imbued with ethnic feeling and there seems to be a belief that this was reflected earlier both in the party and in the intelligentsia. Moreover, Tito himself had the weight of history against him, having been born in 1892 in Croatia which was then part of Austria-Hungary and having served in the armed forces of this country against Serbia during the conflict of 1914. The Comintern also played its part in the ideological deconstruction of Yugoslavia by initially viewing it as a “prison of nations” and only changing its approach in the 1930s when it was deemed convenient as a barrier to Nazism and to fascism. As later events showed, that was not all, and that probably changed once again with Tito’s falling out with Stalin.

Either way, it is undeniable that Tito was a remarkable leader. He assured that Yugoslavia was one of the architects of the Non-Aligned Movement and enabled a relatively small country to play well above its weight in world affairs. Therefore, Robert West’s view in his book ‘Tito and the Rise and Fall of Yugoslavia’ that Tito’s role is exaggerated and only maintained by communists and police secret is a simplistic assessment as Yugoslavia lasted a full decade after Tito’s death. This brings us to the salient point that the process did not end with the disintegration of Yugoslavia and now a calculated effort is being made to deconstruct the image of its founder. This is important because we cannot ignore Western hostility towards Yugoslavia as having contributed to its disintegration. This is amply confirmed by the NATO intervention against Serbia in the civil war of the 1990s and the bombing of Belgrade as well as the selective indictment of Serbian politicians as “war criminals”. We must bear in mind that in war there are no heroes, only dead and wounded and also that crimes must be committed by everyone. This is particularly the case in a region that has traditionally been on a “short fuse” (Achin Vinayak over South Asia). We can only hope that it will not explode again and cause a great international conflagration.

Finally, this is a subjective account of Tito as it is littered with value judgments, perhaps unsurprising as Djilas eventually fell out with the Yugoslav Communists and Tito and was imprisoned in successive periods for his ideological tendencies. For those of you interested in a more factual understanding of the period, you can refer to Duncan Wilson’s excellent account in his book “Tito ‘Yugoslavia’. As a former British Ambassador to Yugoslavia, Wilson brought a very broad perspective on the subject, although we might not agree with all of his observations, some of which he didn’t really explain in depth, like that Tito was always a ‘ soul partner”. of the Soviet Union or that Brionne’s encounter between Tito, Nasser and Nehru was more important to Nasser than Nehru. Nevertheless, Tito is a very broad subject and there is no limit to the extent to which we can approach the subject and these books are a good start in understanding him and Yugoslavia.

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