Tito, beyond the 'Yugo-nostalgia,' evokes mixed feelings
Across the Balkans, feelings towards the man who ruled the former Yugoslavia for three decades are conflicted, to say the least.Belgrade -- Almost 30 years after his death, the legacy of former Yugoslav communist leader Tito still evokes mixed feelings in the Balkans: from nostalgia to dark memories of his decades-long rule.
Josip Broz, better known as Tito, died on May 4, 1980 in Ljubljana, after continuously ruling the former Yugoslavia since the end of the World War Two.
Only a decade after his death, Yugoslavia fell apart, destroyed in a bloody series of wars that erupted between the peoples once united in the communist federation.
The wars are now over, but the tensions between former partners still remain over a number of disputed issues.
But whether you are in Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia or Bosnia, there are high chances you will still find bars and restaurants fueling so-called Yugo nostalgia.
The bars are decorated with portraits or busts of the former leader, with busy waiters in white shirts and blue pants, red scarf around the neck -- like perfect image of Tito's pioneers, school children dressed in such fashion for festivities marking important state holidays or celebrations.
Many streets throughout the six former Yugoslav republics still carry his name, like in Belgrade suburbs or in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo.
In the Croatian capital Zagreb, one square is still named after him, despite numerous demands to change it.
In Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia -- the only one of the six former republics that has become the member of the European Union -- one of the main roads leading into the town will soon be named after Tito.
But not only happy memories are evoked. Many are ready to blame the former communist leader for being pitiless towards his political opponents.
Tito committed "one of the worst crimes" after the World War Two by killing "tens of thousands, some say even hundreds of thousands of people," his ideological rivals after the end of the war, estimated Serbian historian Cedomir Antic.
"We must explore more darker sides of Tito's reign, especially the political violence", said historian Ferdzad Forto from Bosnia.
So far the media, while debating Tito's rule and legacy, have portrayed him either as "our greatest son" or "the greatest criminal in the history" of Yugoslavia, he noted.
"But a critical, historic study of him is still lacking," Forto said.
Antic said Tito is believed to have left three great legacies: the policy of self-management, of brotherhood and unity, as well as of non-alignment, with his Yugoslavia leading the group of non-aligned world countries.
"The three ideas all failed shortly after his death," said Antic.
Prominent Kosovo lawyer Azem Vllasi, once Tito's close ally, was resolute in calling the former leader "a dictator".
"But you can not compare him to Mao Zedong, Stalin or Enver Hoxha," he warned.
"On the contrary, Tito can be considered as a liberal when you compare him" to these leaders, he added.
Kosovo, for example, said Vllasi, has benefited during his rule, notably thanks to the "significant national emancipation" granted by the Yugoslav Constitution.
In 1974, it gave the then Serbian province the autonomy which was in 1990 stripped away during the rule of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
Violeta Ackovska, a historian from Macedonia, noted that "for several decades, Tito succeeded to control nationalist passions in this part of the Balkans."
That could explain why Yugo-nostalgia is still been present among the ethnic minorities in Macedonia: Albanians, Roma, Bosniaks and Turks, Ackovska said.
In Montenegro, Marko Perkovic still refuses to accept the dissolution of Yugoslavia. He has founded a Yugoslav "consulate" in the coastal town Tivat.
"Tito personified a happier era, when we lived in a big and powerful state," Perkovic insisted.
As a symbol of these better times, one can often hear memories of an old Yugoslav passport, which allowed citizens visa-free travel to European states, without "humiliation" they face nowadays when all but Croats and Slovenians are demanded to ask for it, said Forto.
But youths, born years after his death, seem to be unaware of the past.
"And who is that Tito?" inquired 12-year old Macedonian girl Simona when asked about the former leader.