Tito: Between Legend and Thriller


Slavenka Drakulic in Eurozine:

When I imagine paradise on earth, it is as a small, deserted island surrounded by turquoise blue sea, with pine trees and pebble beaches. Exactly like the one I saw the other day, while travelling on a boat towards the Brijuni archipelago in the northern Adriatic near Pula.

Josip Broz Tito must have had the very same idea when he visited the islands for the first time in 1947. However, the difference was that for him, this paradise on earth became reality. Soon afterwards, the late president of the former Yugoslavia moved to a newly built residence in Vanga, one of fourteen islands. After him, no one else had a chance to nurture the same dream. Ordinary mortals could no longer even visit the islands. It is said that the surveillance was so strict that even the fishing village of Fazana, on the mainland directly across from the archipelago, was populated solely by secret policemen and their families.

After Tito’s death in 1980, the Brijuni archipelago was proclaimed a national park. On my visit that day I learned that over the thirty or so years that Tito enjoyed the privilege of living there, he often managed to spend up to four months a year in Vanga and Veli Brijun, which he loved the most. I could find out all about his life in Brijuni in a photographic exhibition from 1984 on the first floor of the local museum. There, in hundreds of sepia coloured photos, I saw him in his role as head of state with his important visitors, as well as in his private moments. I could also see that, during his stay in paradise, Tito not only relaxed. He spent his holidays working – as the head of state, chairman of the communist party and commander of the military. At the same time he played host to political leaders from Fidel Castro to Queen Elisabeth, Indira Gandhi to Willy Brandt, Leonid Brezhnev to the Persian tsar Reza Pahlavi – and many, many others.