Tito’s mausoleum, the House of Flowers, still draws about 15,000 visitors a year. The tomb includes an exhibition of gifts sent to Tito, including paintings, love letters, and crocheted tablecloths. It’s located on the grounds of the Museum of Yugoslav History, home to more than 200,000 items from Yugoslavia’s 20th century history, most emphasizing Tito’s life and work.
Marshal Tito and the rise and fall of Yugoslavia
By Tatjana Bojovic, Program Director, Serbia
When Yugoslavian leader Marshal Josip Broz Tito died in 1980, his was the largest state funeral in history, attended by dignitaries from 128 countries. This tribute was impressive, considering Tito was a communist leader during the Cold War. Tito’s independence from Russian communism and “benevolent dictatorship” over Yugoslavia made him popular during his 35-year rule, but wars and ethnic strife following his death have tarnished his legacy.
Born Josip Broz in 1892 in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Tito fought against Russia during World War I. He went on to participate in Russia’s 1917 October Revolution and later joined the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY). When the CPY was outlawed in Yugoslavia, he assumed the surname “Tito” to avoid notice.
Tito rose to power during World War II. After the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia in 1941, the Yugoslavian monarchy fled the country. Tito’s communists organized the Partisans, a resistance group who fought fiercely against occupation. Post-war, Tito became Prime Minister and worked to rebuild the country and unite its six republics (Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Macedonia). The war had stirred up ethnic tensions between republics, which Tito suppressed—through sometimes brutal means—under the Yugoslavian national slogan of “brotherhood and unity.”
While Yugoslavia was a communist country, Tito refused to let Stalin dictate its policies, leading to a bitter rift between the former allies. Stalin sent assassins to Yugoslavia, leading Tito to write in a letter in 1948, “Stop sending people to kill me. We’ve already captured five of them, one of them with a bomb and another with a rifle [...] If you don’t stop sending killers, I’ll send one to Moscow, and I won’t have to send a second.”
Throughout his life, Tito pursued a policy of “nonalignment,” maintaining diplomatic relations with Western countries and opening Yugoslavia’s borders to international travel by both visitors and citizens. These measures helped to give the country a favorable international image. The Non-Aligned Movement, a formal organization based largely on Tito’s principals, exists to this day and has 120 member nations from around the world.
The ethnic and nationalist tensions Tito had held back for half a century exploded a decade after his death, leading to the Yugoslav wars that killed 125,000 people in the 1990s. Many in the former Yugoslavia blame Tito’s repressive and autocratic regime for covering lingering ethnic hatred with a veneer of communist ideals. Today, Yugoslavia is gone and its former republics face uncertain futures as independent countries, leaving Marshal Tito’s dream of “brotherhood and unity” a relic of the past.