Feature 25 May 16

Tito’s Admirers Celebrate His Birthday Across Ex-Yugoslavia

Thirty-six years after the death of Josip Broz Tito, his nostalgic admirers in many of the former Yugoslav states still commemorate his birthday despite criticism of his undemocratic regime.

BIRN Zagreb, Belgrade, Sarajevo, Podgorica, Pristina
Celebration of Tito's birthday in Tivat, Montenegro, in 2015. Photo: Facebook.

Tito’s admirers in several former Yugoslav countries held events on Thursday to mark May 25, the ‘Day of Youth’, which was celebrated in socialist Yugoslavia as the birthday of the former president-for-life.

In Kumrovec, the village in northern Croatia where Tito was born in 1892, his birthday is marked each year by the Alliance of Associations 'Josip Broz Tito' of Croatia.

Admirers of the former leader from across the former Yugoslavia will gather for a celebration in the village on Saturday wearing the uniforms of his Partisan fighters and Pioneers youth movement and sing songs about Tito, Yugoslavia and anti-fascism.

But ahead of this year’s event, a small right-wing party called In the Name of the Family - Project Homeland, connected to an NGO called In the Name of the Family’ which petitioned against gay marriage in 2013, said that displays of the red star and the symbols of socialist Yugoslavia and the Partisans should be banned.

“It is unacceptable that a birthday party for Communist dictator Tito is organised in a democratic Croatia,” the party said on Tuesday.

An annual protest to change the name of Marshal Tito’s Square in central Zagreb was also held earlier this month, where the organisers urged the authorities to pass a law that would make “the naming of squares and streets in Zagreb and in Croatia after any person from any totalitarian system illegal and punishable”.

Tito's admirers pose next to his statue in Kumrovec. Photo: BIRN/Sven Milekic

In Belgrade, thousands of people visit Tito’s museum and mausoleum on May 25 each year to mark his birthday.

“Every year on Tito’s birthday there is an increased number of visits to museum. Just this morning we had visits from 1,400 people,” a press spokesperson for the Museum of May 25 told BIRN.

Tito’s birthday is also celebrated in theme pubs and taverns in Belgrade like Korcagin and SFRJ (Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), which are decorated with old Yugoslav flags, photographs and other memorabilia from what their patrons see as a ‘golden age’.

In the Bosnian capital on Wednesday, around 100 admirers laid flowers at Tito’s memorial on the Sarajevo University campus, among them representatives of anti-fascist organisations and the Social Democratic Party.

Vehid Sehic, a former judge and transitional justice expert in Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that Tito deserves the annual honour because he maintained ethnic unity in Yugoslavia.

“He should be celebrated as one of the greatest anti-fascists ever to have lived. He managed to bring under control the nationalistic rhetoric which burst out in the 1990s,” said Sehic.

In Montenegro however there is little interest in marking Tito’s birthday, apart from at theme parties in some cafes across the country.

In the capital Podgorica, which was named Titograd until 1991 in honour of the former Yugoslav president, there has been no organised celebration for more than two decades.

But it the coastal town of Tivat, a group calling itself the Consulate of the SFRJ celebrates Tito's birthday every year on the main square, which attracts dozens of nostalgic ex-Yugoslavs with Partisan memorabilia.

The so-called Consulate is a non-government organisation based in Tivat, where it has opened a museum of the former Yugoslavia, which contains memorabilia from the former regime and some of the uniforms and vehicles owned by Tito.

Tito receiving the 'Relay of Youth' on May 25, 1979.

In Kosovo meanwhile, there were no events to mark Tito’s birthday.

“Tito represents a complex figure for Albanians living in ex-Yugoslav territory,” analyst Halil Matoshi told BIRN.

Matoshi argued that Kosovo Albanians got more educational opportunities and more autonomy under Tito’s rule, and said the former leader used to “moderate between Albanians’ rights and Serbs’ reactions”.

“Tito and other figures should be properly studied and not mythologised. Nothing is black and white, so they should not be glorified or be thrown in the garbage of history,” he said.

But Skender Lutfiu, a historian working at the Kosovo Institute of History, told BIRN that Kosovo Albanians “have no reason” to remember Tito.

He argued that Albanians in Yugoslavia admired Albania’s Communist dictator Enver Hoxha more than Tito.

“There were some achievements under his regime, but Tito should not be credited with any of them,” Lutfiu said.

“There were constant struggles by Albanians for their rights and general development during Tito’s period,” he added.

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