Friday, May 06, 2005

Remembering Tito

Twenty-five years ago, on May 4, 1980, Yugoslavia died.

Technically, it was Josip Broz "Tito," the Beloved Leader, who had passed away at the age of 88. But though few could see it back then, the country he created would not live much longer, either. There is a compelling argument to say it could not. Tito was Yugoslavia, an apotheosis of the Leader Cult that was in itself a logical extreme of the State-as-God idea that cut a bloody swath through the 20th century.

Tito died as Yugoslavia reached its zenith. Then the years of bad economics, foreign loans, repressed or deliberately engineered ethnic tensions came home to roost. Having purged everyone who could have threatened his grip on power, Tito left no successor; the bureaucrats and committees that took over after him could not cope with the Dear Leader's legacy. Only Slobodan Milosevic, who ascended the political stage seven years after Tito's demise, had anything similar to Old Man's flair.

But he was a Serb, and Tito's Yugoslavia was kept together in no small part through the constant harping about the "threat of Greater Serbian hegemonism." The bureaucrats used to power and privilege since 1974 (when Tito's right hand, Edvard Kardelj, redefined Yugoslavia into a de facto confederation) feared Milosevic both as a Serb, and as a potential centralizer. Having just buried Tito, they did not want another. So they either became nationalists, or allowed the nationalists to win. When the League of Yugoslav Communists began fracturing in 1990, Yugoslavia itself wasn't far behind.

Fifteen years of wars, blockades, ethnic cleansing, death, destruction and an ocean of lies have reduced the once-proud Yugoslavia to a patchwork of impoverished, semi-barbaric successor states under various degrees of domination by the Euro-Atlantic Empire. The tyranny of witless bureaucrats has been replaced by the tyranny of vicious thugs, kleptocrats and Imperial satraps; both have understandably spawned nostalgia for the days of Tito's "benign dictatorship," its harsher edges softened by the passage of time.

People now remember Tito as a "symbol of a better life, of social justice and freedom" (AFP). They don't really know what freedom is - they didn't have much under Tito, and they have even less now. Nor do they really understand the concept of "social justice," which is meaningless outside the self-referential, arbitrary Marxist logic. But at least they remember living better in Tito's times. Maybe because those were simpler times just about everywhere.

But those who have read beyond the grade-school textbooks, and even the supplemental volumes used in "Tito's Paths of Revolution" academic contests, can see that Tito's most important legacy surely is the creation of Yugoslavia, and sowing the seed of its destruction. Using the cult of personality developed around him (along the Stalinist pattern) during the 1941-45 war, Tito and his aides reinvented the country that had probably been erroneously established to begin with. Following the Soviet model, they carved up the country into "socialist republics," drawing borders any which way they pleased. Instead of a common Yugoslav identity, they nurtured particularism: republics were mostly ethnic; in addition to Serbs, Croats and Slovenes of the old kingdom, Macedonians, Montenegrins and Muslims were elevated to nationhood. Ethnic politics was also behind the subdivision of Serbia, with two "autonomous provinces" of Vojvodina and Kosovo. The reinvention of Muslims as "Bosniaks" and Albanians as "Kosovars" that took place in the 1990s owes much to Tito's ethnic politics.

Paradoxically, prior to World War Two the Yugoslav Communists advocated the destruction of Yugoslavia and its partition along ethnic lines, "freedom" for "captive nations" from the "Greater Serbian bourgeois imperialists." They backed a slew of ethnic separatist movements, from Croat Ustasha to Albanian kachaks in Kosovo and the pro-Bulgarian VMRO in what is today Macedonia. The Nazi invasion in April 1941 was a godsend: here was the ally of the Soviet Union, doing to the wicked Serbian hegemonists exactly what the Communist party always wanted. Only when the Reich turned on the Socialist Motherland three months later, Tito and the comrades changed the tune. And made damned sure no one ever brought that up. History began in July 1941; everything prior was the "darkness of oppression." Whoever disagreed was shot.

After the war, when Yugoslavia was all theirs, they were less willing to smash it up. Tito liked being a Beloved Leader himself, rather than a sock puppet of Comrade Dzhugashvili in Moscow. So he built a country - but never a nation - along the pre-war political blueprint for its destruction. The only thing that held it together was the Beloved Leader, Tito himself, whose word was law. Keeping the peace between the constantly frictious Yugoslav ethnics may seem like a praiseworthy deed, but for two things: Tito created the frictious system himself, and he had apprently given no thought whatsoever as to what would happen after his passing. Surely someone so politically astute would have at least tried to look ahead?

Unless he did. Unless what came to pass in the 1990s is precisely what he wanted to happen anyway. Could he have thought, like Madame de Pompadour, Apres moi, le deluge? It is not something the Tito- and Yugo-nostalgics want to hear. So in the dreary aftermath of Yugoslavia's death they remember Tito and his legacy fondly, oblivious to the fact that the Old Man from Kumrovec, the Sutla Boy who rose from a humble metalworker to incredible power, riches and fame, only cared for Yugoslavia as long as he was around to enjoy it. After all, Communists don't believe in Heaven.

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