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NO 137-138

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Helsinki Charter No. 137-138

March - April 2010


Thirty Years Since Tito's Death


By Vladimir Gligorov

To what extent is Tito responsible for Yugoslavia's disintegration? In my view, the answer to the question draws on three considerations I am going to sum up here. To start with, however, it makes sense to discuss the allegation coming from anti-Titoist circles in Belgrade: Tito drove Yugoslavia to its grave.

The arguments of this allegation boil down to the following: Yugoslavia was a Serb delusion, notably a delusion of Serb communists; Broz played on this delusion to rule autocratically with reliance on the strategy "weak Serbia, strong Yugoslavia;" this strategy resulted in the country's disintegration after his death.

Let's examine the first argument, the one about Yugoslavia as a Serb delusion. Many do not remember or could not possibly remember as they were too young at the time how widespread was this belief in 1980s, after Tito's death. The story was rather incoherent at the time as it is now. It was unclear - and still is - in what way it supports anti-Titoists' thesis that Broz was to blame for Yugoslavia's disintegration. The story went something like this - unlike other nations, Serbs wholeheartedly embraced the Yugoslav project; the others joined Yugoslavia for profit rather than for some noble cause whatever it might have been. Some ascribed the whole story to another Serb delusion: communism. Serbs were again those - particularly some well-known Serbs - who embraced communism for lofty ideological reasons because, say, sky was their limit, whereas the rest accepted communism as a part of a deal. The rest couldn't have cared less for ideals - their traditional beliefs anyway guaranteed them a place in the heaven and they wouldn't renounce those beliefs for the sake of communist ideals.

What Broz has to do with all this? Is he responsible for the spread of the delusion or for not succumbing to it himself? At this point the story becomes incomprehensible. Probably other criticisms may help to untangle it. For instance, unlike anti-Titoists, democratic critics of Josip Broz said he was an autocrat intent to retain power at all costs. Well, that was obvious. The only question was how much his autocracy cost and when would it come to an end. This could not be called anti-Titoism but only a democratic opposition. By the way, democratic countries shared this stand, the same democracies Serb anti-Titoists were often accusing of their support to Tito's regime and even for keeping him in power. Hence, anti-Titoists were anti-Americans at the same time: they believed Tito would not retain power had it not been for Americans.

So it happened that, unlike the democratic opposition, anti-Titoists mostly blamed Tito for holding sway for personal reasons rather than for commitment to Yugoslav and communists ideals. For their part, Serbs were Titoists because they were committed to these ideals, the ideals that were great delusions. For, they say, Broz was not the author of the Yugoslav idea, let alone of the communist ideology. Therefore, he was mostly to blame for using the idea of Yugoslavia and communism as means of power and to stay in power, while not believing in them himself. Had he been a believer or even a dissenter from all these creeds, which would have been acceptable as he was considered the biggest believer of all. But a steady commitment to delusions is one thing and using these delusions to attain one's own, autocratic goals quite another.

Hence, Broz is mostly criticized for wanting the communists system and the Yugoslav state based on interests rather than on delusions. Of course, he was mostly concerned with his own interests. However, he also showed understanding for national and commercial, trade interests, as well as for the interests of other states. But this was not something to sustain and maintain Yugoslavia, claim anti-Titoists, because Serbs were aspiring towards an ideal community, which was a delusion, rather than towards a community of interests.

Such aspirations brought about a support to "a Serb Broz" in late 1980s. The fact that Broz failed allegedly proves the thesis about Yugoslavia being a delusion. For some anti-Titoists, socialism was also a delusion - a welcome, though unattainable ideal. Of course, this is only one rationalization of one political accusation and one political support. It should not lead one to the conclusion that Serb anti-Titoists believed in these ideals or knew they were nothing but delusions and, therefore, dissented from Tito only to pledge themselves to Milosevic later on. You cannot criticize anyone - morally, let alone politically - for not feeling duty-bound to prioritize delusions over interests. No one is duty-bound to aspire towards something that cannot be attained. This means not that aspiring towards everything attainable such as autocratic rule is justified.

Then, Broz is reproached for having based his rule on the strategy "weak Serbia, strong Yugoslavia." This was a key argument of Serb anti-Titoists' criticism of Yugoslavia's constitutional and political development. Tito was responsible the most for it, they say, given that he was a leader, a president, an autocrat and a lifelong president. But what was the alternative? Let's consider the issue from two points of view. First, could have Yugoslavia been based on the principle "weak Serbia, strong Yugoslavia?" Second, could have Serbia played a key role in Yugoslavia's rearrangement within the existing constitutional frame after Tito's death?

Generally, the slogan "weak Serbia, strong Yugoslavia" is not interpreted literally. Or, it is interpreted as if Yugoslavia needs to be weak rather than strong, which implies a weaker Serbia. Or, that other republics can be strong only if Serbia is weak. Vojvodina's and Kosovo' autonomies are then interpreted in this context meant to emphasize that other republics do not have autonomous provinces. Was it or not Broz's strategy its alternatives call for consideration. For instance, take "strong Serbia, strong Yugoslavia. The attempt to have the Yugoslav community established on that foundation failed twice: firstly, as a project of the Karadjordjevic dynasty and then Milosevic's. One could claim, against all odds, that this strategy would succeed had only had Tito wanted it to succeed. But that's not convincing at all. Actually, the strategy would have been successful only had Soviets backed it. But then, how would Yugoslavia sustain after disintegration of the Soviet Union given that Serbs would have taken upon themselves the responsibility for "a Soviet Yugoslavia?"

Let's examine the claim that Broz planned to strengthen other republics to the detriment of Serbia. That's obviously far-fetched. In fact, in 1970s the state policy was based on weaker Croatia and Slovenia as a precondition for keeping Yugoslavia alive. The policy itself was developed after political denouements in late 1960s and early 1970s. These denouements caused distrust between republican and provincial leaderships, the distrust that undermined them at republican and provincial level but also made them weaker partners to Tito. One might say that Tito's strategy was to weaken local leaderships and undermine their legitimacy among their own nations and citizens, and thereby strengthen or at least safeguard his own autocracy. Such an explanation would be justified by facts and the very sum and substance of the regime but would indicate a need to a stronger democratic opposition rather than for Serb national anti-Titoism.

Indisputably, the legitimacy of the communist regime and the Yugoslav Constitution was considerably undermined in late 1970s and hence became a major political problem in 1980s - once Tito was already gone. So the question was how to secure the country's legitimacy and functionality. In response, Serb anti-Titoists decided to advocate constitutional amendment, legitimate or not. They worked under the slogan "State comes first, democracy follows." In this context they realized it would be too hard to push through constitutional changes that would strengthen the power or influence of Serbia and Serb people in Yugoslavia: in other words, that it would be too hard to implement the idea about "strong Serbia in a strong Yugoslavia." The deficiency itself was ascribed to Broz because a system resistant to any reform, notably constitutional reform, was his heritage. That provided the crucial argument in support of the thesis that Tito's anti-Serb policy was to blame for the gradual erosion of Yugoslavia's legitimacy and statehood. Consequently, according to the thesis, republics and provinces had to take over both power and responsibility the inevitable consequence of which was Yugoslavia's disintegration.

But was there an alternative strategy for securing the country's transformation and stability needed for social and economic progress? That alternative strategy could have been summed up in the slogan "democracy comes first, statehood follows." However, such strategy was not good enough for Serb anti-Titoists: democracy could not have secured a change they needed for redistribution of national power for which they cared the most. And so it happened that - unlike all other anti-totalitarian and anti-autocratic oppositions in the socialist world - Serb anti-Titoist opposition opted for force rather than for vote. Therefore, Yugoslavia as a whole has used the most opportune political tool for survival.

In this context, Broz's legacy could hardly be seen as negative. Yugoslavia stood very good chances for transformation through democratization due to its enviable international repute and support. This repute was wasted in 1980s. So the international community finally decided that the country could not sustain and that saving it made no sense. That was also a wrong decision but Tito was not to blame for it.

Finally, what about the claim about Broz's responsibility for the country's disintegration rather than of those who have participated in it, this way or another. No matter how unconvincing the argument itself is most popular in Serbia. Moreover, not only Tito is to blame for the wars but also foreign powers. And how is that being explained?

As for Broz's responsibility, he is to blame for having secured the circumstances in which conflicts were inevitable. Some connect this thesis with the above-mentioned one about Yugoslavia being a Serb delusion. Therefore, a common state could not but result in conflicts and in the wars. Such an explanation can be seen only as an attempt to have decision-makers freed from responsibility for the decisions they were making. The same refers to blaming the wars on foreign powers. Historical context and foreign powers are responsible rather than the policymakers whose decisions have brought about the country's disintegration, claim Serb anti-Titoists. The claim itself is not only immoral but also stands for the biggest problem facing general public in Serbia, the same general public that would readily accept Serb anti-Titoists' explanations and justification.

All this leads to the conclusion that it is impossible to blame Yugoslavia's disintegration on Tito. Broz is responsible for the decades of authoritarianism and missed chances. Today, people are often prone to neglecting it because they compare the present situation with the one shortly before Tito's death - and ascribe more merit to Tito than he deserves.


NO 137-138

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