The rapidly disappearing trappings of the Balkan titan: Robert Fisk in Belgrade finds that Josip Broz Tito has become a prophet without honour in the country whose destiny he once forged and directed

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THERE is no more guard of honour around the marble sarcophagus, no more gawking at the hunting lodge. The old man's billiards-room is locked. You can forget the 'Fourth of July Museum', where the junk of admiration - hunting rifles from Churchill, Brezhnev and Zhukov, diamond-studded ashtray from Nasser, coffee service from Saddam Hussein - lies under dust sheets.

Even the '25th of May Museum', that shrine to Josip Broz Tito's partisan leadership and his foundation of the Yugoslav state, has been cleansed as efficiently as the forests of Bosnia, transformed into an exhibition of Serbian military history. 'They're getting rid of things so fast these days,' the plump and elderly female retainer puffed as we climbed the steps to 'The Residence'. 'Who knows what they will close next? We don't even know how long this place will last. If Tito was alive today, he would not believe what has happened.' The purpose of The Residence is to persuade you that Tito is still alive. A journey through its giant portals is therefore an apparatchik's trip down memory lane, a visit to the very last few square yards of old Yugoslavia.

'This is where Tito spent his happiest hours, entertaining, reading, watching films, meeting eminent people . . .' The old lady's soliloquy is banal and her hands flap in a tired way as she directs her visitor's attention to the pointless artifacts with which this titan of the 20th century decorated his residence.

The palace - wartime home to General Lohr of the Wehrmacht's Army Group E (among his intelligence officers, one Lieutenant K Waldheim) - is not without taste. A few high-quality Persian carpets on the floor and a series of lovely oil paintings line the walls. Paja Jovanovic's Portrait of a Girl stares wistfully towards Tito's library, where the works of Hegel nestle against volumes of partisan-brigade history. In the 'Room for Ladies', nude statues and portraits of reclining girls reflect the priapic old dictator's interests. 'There are 14,000 books in the library,' the woman rambles on - did Tito read them? - 'and over there is his photo collection.' The great albums are firmly shut, the visitor forbidden to look through wartime snapshots of the 'National Liberation Army and Partisan Detachments of Yugoslavia'.

In the echoing corridors of the neighbouring Tito museum, the word 'partisan' cannot now be found. Nor the name 'Tito'. Instead, the place has been taken over by an exhibition of the bloody 1917 Serbian uprising against Austrian rule at Toplica.

In the First World War, it may be recalled, a young man called Josip Broz, born of a Slovenian mother and a Croatian father, served in the Austrian army. So there are, in this 'cleansed' museum, unmistakably genuine photographs of old Serb women standing on chairs, waiting to be hanged by a grinning rabble of Austrian and Bulgarian soldiery, rhetoric in praise of the Serbian army's dogged winter retreat across Albania and pictures of hussar- like officers, the precursors of Tito's old royalist enemies, the Chetniks.

If Josip Broz has been turning in his grave these past 12 years, there are no cracks yet in the sarcophagus, although the permanent guard of honour of four soldiers has been replaced by a scruffy youth with a two-way radio, now the sole protector of those immortal bones. 'See how they never put the Communist star on his tomb?' asked a Serbian visitor. 'They say that's because he was a Freemason.' They also claim, according to Belgrade's most vengeful rumours, he was really a Hungarian, he was never buried here; if he was, the body was long ago secretly removed.

Tito, as every Serb knows, was not a Serb. Nor did he forget his native Croatia. Krsto Hegedusic's tableau of the Battle of Stubica, the medieval rising of the Croatian peasantry against the nobility, hangs in his office. And on his desk are two newspapers still awaiting the old man's perusal, abandoned by him there, unread, on the day he left for hospital for the last time.

What dreary headlines greeted Tito on his last day in office? The title of Politika's lead story read: 'It is not necessary just to maintain what we have achieved, but to go on building all the time.' The headline of Borba was more fateful: 'Fraternity and Unity - the investment for our future]' No wonder they withdrew the guard of honour.

Comments