All throughout the Balkans, you cannot visit a single city that doesn’t have a Tito Square or a Tito Street. When you mention Josip Broz Tito’s name, people’s eyes light up as though you have mentioned god. Even Bulgaria, which was never part of Yugoslavia, is fond of Tito. The Balkan countries might not all be on friendly terms at the moment but you will find people from Slovenia, Macedonia, Albania, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia and Bosnia can all agree on the greatness of Tito.
The history of the Balkans is complicated, even Eastern European historians have a hard time wrapping their heads around timelines, alliances, and conflicts. Over the last 200 years, the region has been involved in 23 major conflicts. With Tito in the leadership role, it was a time of peace for the region. He ruled Yugoslavia from 1953 til his death in 1980.
After WWII, Tito did not take sides with the Soviet Communist or the Democratic West. He was highly respected and admired on both sides even though Stalin send 8 assassins to kill Tito at various times. Tito successfully challenged Stalin on several issues but the most prominent was Yugoslavia’s refusal to join the Soviets. Tito and Indian president Nehru created the Non-Aligned Movement after WWII, which was a group of countries who were not formally aligned with the Soviets or the West during the Cold War era.
With my conversations with locals, it was difficult to tell how much of their memories of Tito were real and how much they bought into the socialist values and idealized his leadership. Many older generations are nostalgic about the 35 years of Tito’s Yugoslavia. Some residents of Balkans believe Tito was too good for the region and if he was born in a different place, he would have achieved much more greatness. Under Tito’s socialist regime: everyone had jobs, everyone had a roof over their head and everyone had food on the table. Many of today’s successful businessmen today, credit their success to Tito – because of the property Tito had given their family, they were able to use it as seed money to initiate their business.
What I did hear is that in the Yugoslavian era, people of different religions, languages and nationalities lived together peacefully. Tito was fair in his treatment of all citizens. Currently Muslims, Croats, and Serbs who used to live alongside each other, no longer tolerate each other. All of the ex-Yugoslavian countries have aspirations for E.U. membership. At the time of my visit, Slovenia and Croatia are part of the European Union. It will be interesting to see if the E.U. grants Serbia membership in the future, both the E.U. and Serbs are weary of each other and have some trust issues.