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news 25 May 11

Tito's Followers Mark Bygone Yugoslav Era

The museum where the late Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito is buried was transformed into the site of a mini-reunion of Yugonostaligics on Wednesday, as they marked Youth Day.

Bojana Barlovac
Belgrade
Hundreds of people from all over the Balkans gathered on Youth Day in front of the House of Flowers in Belgrade

Yugoslav flags with the red star in the middle flew on sticks as the sounds of the traditional tune 'Druze Tito Mi Ti Se Kunemo' (Dear Tito, We Pledge Allegiance to you) blared over loudspeakers. Hundreds of people from all over Balkans cheerfully joined in the celebration, with many wearing badges and shirts with Tito's portrait.

While Tito may be criticised by some for his autocratic rule, those celebrating at the House of Flowers today wouldn't have any of it. 'We will never live better than we did under Tito' and 'Come back to bring us back our dignity' were among the slogans heard from the stage.

Cultural and artistic groups from all over the former Yugoslavia gave the gathering a festive atmosphere, and even prompted a few older folks to dance along.

Shirt with Tito portrait
Shirts with Tito's portrait

"We are all young today on Youth Day," says 67-year old Darinka Markovic, who was dancing in the warm sun with smile on her face.

Today's gathering was a throwback to an earlier event celebrated every year in Yugoslavia on May 25, Youth Day.

Youth Day was marked with a massive relay that wound across the entire country, through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia, and ended in Belgrade on May 25 with a spectacular ceremony at the Yugoslav Army Soccer Stadium that was broadcast live.

May 25 was also the birthday of Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito, who was ceremonially presented with the baton, which had passed through all major cities in the country and carried a symbolic birthday message from the youth, at the event in the stadium.

Tito's grave
People laid wreaths on Tito's grave

Ever since Tito died in 1980, nostalgic Yugoslavs have gathered in front of the mausoleum on his birthday.

While older folks laid wreathes on Tito's grave on Wednesday, younger people took pictures with the bronze Tito statue. Two young men from Croatia who came to the site for the first time this year showed up dressed as Tito's pioneers, with red scraves and blue caps.

"I have been laughing at my grandparents who visit the House of Flowers each year and admire what Tito did but after I see what western democracy brought to the Balkans I see they were so right," 28-year-old Tibor Jerkovic said, referring to the fact that he must pay for everything from health care to university, unlike during Tito's era.

This year's relay in honour of Tito, which left the Croatian town of Umag on May 18, was welcomed in Belgrade with the sounds of Druze Tito Mi Ti Se Kunemo.  

Celebration of Youth Day
Older and younger folks celebrate Youth Day together

Slovenian, Croatian and Macedonian representatives ceremonially presented the relay baton and delivered a speech which evoked memories of "the good old days", and recalled that the idea of old Yugoslavia still lives on.

"As the years pass and all the Balkan countries dig deeper into the mud, we appreciate Tito more and more," an elderly man told Balkan Insight at the gathering.

"When you hear the word Tito, you have to take your cap off (in respect)," he added.

During Tito's 35-year-long reign, he was accused of the imprisonment and murder of political opponents and a poorly-advised economic policy, which some observers say led to high foreign debt and a fall into an economic crisis in the late 1980s, but his legacy is complex and still debated today.

Nevertheless, there is still much nostalgia in Yugoslav successor countries, where Tito's rule is also remembered by many as a time of unity and peace, and relative prosperity.

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