Obituary: Vane Ivanovic

Dejan Djokic
Thursday 08 April 1999 23:02

VANE IVANOVIC devoted most of his life to the idea of Yugoslav unity. A well-known athlete in the 1930s, a leading shipowner, one of the founders of the European Movement and Consul General of Monaco in London, he primarily saw himself as a democratic Yugoslav-in-exile, whose views belonged to a "mini-minority" (as he liked to say), both in Yugoslavia and in the Yugoslav diaspora.

He was born in 1913 in Osijek, present-day Croatia, to a Croat father and a Serb mother. His father, Rikard Ivanovic, was one of the founders of the National Progressive Party (NNS) and a deputy in Croatia's Sabor (Assembly). His mother, Milica, was a sister of Dusan Popovic, a leading Serb politician in the ruling Croato-Serb Coalition, which also included the NNS. Svetozar Pribicevic, the other leading Serb in the Coalition, was the best man at Rikard and Milica's wedding, while Ivan Lorkovic, the NNS leader and the leading Croat in the Coalition, was Vane's godfather.

After his parents' divorce in the early 1920s, Vane moved to London, where his mother's second husband, Bozo Banac, lived and ran a shipping business, which included Yugoslav Lloyd, then Yugoslavia's largest shipping company. Banac, a native of Dubrovnik and a believer in the Yugoslav unity, had in 1914 placed the whole of his mercantile fleet under Serbia's flag and had helped the creation and activities of the Yugoslav Committee, a group of Habsburg Croat, Slovene and Serb politicians and intellectuals based in London.

Because most of his family participated in the creation of the first Yugoslav state, formed on 1 December 1918, Vane Ivanovic was a living proof that Yugoslavia was not artificially created by the Great Powers at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919-20, as it is today tempting to claim. The family background clearly contributed to Ivanovic developing a strong Yugoslav identity, while life in Britain and the education he received in Britain (Westminster School and Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he read Economics) made him a staunch Anglophile.

He was a member of the Yugoslav team at the 1936 Olympic Games held in Berlin, running the 110-metre and 400-metre hurdles. He was the undisputed Yugoslav champion in both disciplines throughout the 1930s. In 110m he reached the semi-finals in Berlin and in 400m hurdles he held the Yugoslav record for 17 years, from 1936 until 1953.

When the Second World War broke out, Ivanovic had, acting on behalf of his ailing stepfather, placed 10 out of the 22 steamers owned by Yugoslav Lloyd in the service of the British. Thus, Banac and Ivanovic were the first shipowners from a neutral country to join the Allies. After Yugoslavia was invaded by Germany, Italy and their external and internal allies in April 1941, Ivanovic organised other Yugoslav shipowners in the Yugoslav Shipping Committee. Its aim was to prevent the capture of the Yugoslav mercantile fleet still in neutral waters by the Nazis.

In the summer of 1943 Ivanovic joined the Yugoslav section of the Political Warfare Executive (PWE), as most of the Yugoslav Lloyd fleet had either been sunk or captured. In his memoirs (LX: memoirs of a Yugoslav, 1977), which should be a compulsory reading for anyone studying the history of Yugoslavia, Ivanovic explains why he did not return to the occupied country to join Tito's or Mihailovic's resistance movements: "I had no desire to forget the enemy and engage in a fratricidal war among my fellow countrymen, especially as I did not wholly agree with either side."

He spent the rest of the war between London, Bari and Cairo and was demobilised as a Major in the British army. Because of the Communist seizure of power in Yugoslavia, Ivanovic remained in Britain as a political refugee. The irony is that the same country Ivanovic joined in 1939, when Tito was a little-known General Secretary of the small and illegal Communist Party of Yugoslavia and a puppet of Moscow, then allied to Germany, had provided a sustained help to the consolidation the regime which had proclaimed him an "enemy of the people".

After the war Ivanovic resumed a successful career in shipping, despite most of the pre-war fleet being destroyed or nationalised by the new Yugoslav authorities. He was the founder and the first president of the Association of Free Citizens of Yugoslavia, a charity, financed mainly by himself, designed to help other Yugoslav emigres. He continued to help his fellow countrymen until his death, sponsoring a number of postgraduate students who fled the 1990s conflict in Yugoslavia.

Vane Ivanovic was one of the founders of Jean Monnet's European Movement, heading the Yugoslav Committee for the European Movement for more than three decades. In 1967 he was appointed to the post of Consul General of Monaco in London. He also wrote several books on spearfishing, of which the 1975 edition of Modern Spearfishing remains a classic.

Yet he will most likely be remembered by historians for his role in a group of Yugoslav emigres who advocated democracy as the alternative to Tito's Yugoslavia. The Democratic Alternative, founded in 1963, included, besides Ivanovic, well-known inter-war Yugoslav politicians, such as Bozidar Vlajic of the Democratic Party, Ilija Jukic and Branko Peselj, both of the Croatian Peasant Party, as well as a group of younger, pro-Yugoslav emigres, such as Desimir Tosic and Adil Zulfikarpasic.

Ivanovic was the spiritus movens and one of the key members of the group. The final memorandum of the Democratic Alternative, produced in 1982, argues that Yugoslavia can only survive as a democratic community of sovereign nations, and that any other scenario would almost inevitably lead to a civil war. Vane Ivanovic lived long enough to witness the awful fulfilment of this prophecy. Fortunately, he was not conscious during the last two weeks of his life, so he remained unaware of the latest Yugoslav tragedy. It is sad and symbolic that Ivanovic died at the time when the final remnants of his former country are being destroyed in another brutal civil war and by Nato bombs.

His last wish was to donate a large private library and numerous paintings and sculptures to the former Yugoslavs. Yet, neither Zagreb nor Belgrade were particularly interested in what would have been a memorial to Ivanovic's tolerant and democratic Yugoslavism. The Yugoslavia of Vane Ivanovic's ideals never materialised, but it was never given a proper chance. All those who knew him will be immensely saddened by his death. They will remember him as the most charming, generous and tolerant person and will feel honoured to have known him and to have belonged to his "mini-minority".

Ivan Stevan Ivanovic, athlete, shipowner, political activist, diplomat, writer and philanthropist: born Osijek, Austria-Hungary 9 June 1913; married 1939 June Fisher (two sons, one daughter); died London 4 April 1999.

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