From first lady to bag lady for Tito's banished widow

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Jovanka Broz, now 81, is spending her twilight years in a bleak Belgrade villa where temperatures can plunge below freezing and a gaping hole in the living room ceiling allows rain to pour through.

"I am shocked at the conditions in which the wife of the former president ... is living," the human rights minister, Rasim Ljajic, told a local newspaper after visiting to check reports that the house had broken plumbing and no heating.

"It's almost unbelievable. She lives in a large house, the so-called Guest Villa, of which she uses only two rooms because the rest are uninhabitable."

Mr Ljajic said the state, which owns the large villa in the plush Dedinje district, would next week begin repairs of the premises. "No one, let alone the widow of a former president, should live like this," he said. "We could at least close the hole in the living room ceiling."

The dismal surroundings of Mrs Broz's later life, surviving on the meagre state pension, are a far-cry from the glorious years she spent as Tito's companion.

Jovanka Budisavljevic was 28 years old - and 32 years Tito's junior - when she married the founder of the Yugoslav state in a secret ceremony in 1952.

Despite rumours that his third wife had been chosen by political aides for her impeccable anti-fascist background, the couple seemed to get along well. The new Mrs Broz was on good terms with the two sons from Tito's previous marriages and, during the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, she basked in the glory of the personality cult around her husband.

But those years came to an abrupt halt when, in 1977, the then first lady of Yugoslavia was thrown out of Tito's residence in the middle of the night, wearing just a nightgown and a coat. Mrs Broz then disappeared from public life. Rumours spread that she had been plotting a coup against her husband; some even suggested she had been planning to poison him.

The more likely reason for her removal from public office, however, was that Tito's aides saw his wife as an obstacle.

"She was the person closest to Tito, he trusted her the most," said Mrs Broz's lawyer, Mr Fila. "Those surrounding Tito were afraid of things she might tell him, which were contrary to their ideas."

Mrs Broz's ordeal worsened in 1980, when Tito died at the age of 88. His successors put her under virtual house arrest and confiscated all her belongings.

Later, as Tito's personality cult crumbled and his once glorified role in the country's history came under scrutiny, she was regarded more as a victim but mostly remained in seclusion. She has been seen in public only once a year, when she pays her respects at Tito's grave on the anniversary of his death.