Tito still charms three decades after death
Tito, widely considered a liberator of Yugoslavia from Axis Nazi powers, is celebrated in a new exhibit in Belgrade this month.Belgrade -- A Belgrade exhibition of odd gifts given to Josip Broz Tito, the late communist ruler of the former Yugoslavia, is proving a hit among young and old alike almost 30 years after his death.
Several thousand people, among them tourists from former Yugoslav republics like Macedonia and Slovenia, have already passed through the city's History Museum in the first month of "The Tito Effect" exhibition.
Some of the so-called Yugo-nostalgics came with their own memorabilia from what they consider the good old days, when life was laid back, jobs were safe and social inequalities less visible.
"This was the last time I squeezed his hand," an emotional elderly man who clutched a photograph of himself beside Tito said with a mixture of pride and sadness.
Tito, widely considered a liberator of Yugoslavia from Axis Nazi powers, received the gifts from individuals but also from various state enterprises, factories and organisations.
Among the handmade items are cushions embroidered with messages of admiration, lamps featuring scenes from World War II, and even a miniature mock up of a dental clinic.
Many are grandiose, including a stuffed trout measuring two metres (6.5 feet) from a fisherman from Titograd, the Montenegro capital now known as Podgorica, while another features a bridge spanning several metres (yards).
"Most of these gifts were brought for his birthday, but some were made to mark the completion of a major work project, or celebration," said exhibition curator Marina Dokmanovic.
Tito's birthday, on May 25, was for years marked with a huge rally at a sports stadium when he was presented with a baton.
Batons were considered a symbol of his policy of "Brotherhood and Unity" which managed to hold together the former Yugoslavia until its bloody collapse little more than 10 years after his death.
They were passed hand-to-hand throughout the six-republic communist federation, relayed by youngsters, sportsmen, workers and soldiers.
The museum houses more than 22,000, including those given to Tito, who headed Yugoslavia until his death on May 4, 1980.
A rare soul
Fifty are displayed at the exhibition. One is shaped like a washing machine by a white goods factory, another as a pear by farmers, and yet another a book by publishers.
"For your longevity in the years to come for happiness and the well-being of our socialist Yugoslavia," read an inscription on one of them.
Dokmanovic told AFP that visitors often asked to see the strangest exhibit.
"But for me, it is not the objects that are bizarre, but the relationships" that people who offered the gifts felt they had with Tito, she said.
People of all generations attend the exhibition, the elderly showing admiration and nostalgia, while youngsters simply smile in bewilderment at the odd collection.
In one hall, two former members of the elite Tito Guard stood in silence, listening for the reactions of youths as revolutionary music accompanied old black and white footage of Yugoslavia's post-war reconstruction.
"He impressed everyone. Such a man will never be born again," said one of them, an 80-year-old who only gave his name as Simo.
But a student in her 20s saw the exhibition in a different light.
"I find these objects funny as they were made, I would say, naively," said Maja, whose only experience of Tito was through stories told to her by her late grandmother.
"People tried to make them as good as they could. You can see they made a huge effort, but the outcome is rather comical," she said.
She pointed to a ceramic vase, almost 1.5 metres (4.5 feet) high, decorated with floral ornaments, which surrounded Tito's portrait.
"See, isn't it so kitsch?" she said with a smile.
Curators said the exhibition's aim was to show "the charisma of Tito" and explore post-war Yugoslavia and its relation with Tito through the objects.
But Dokmanovic stressed it was difficult to alter people's perceptions of the past.
"The people who come here with nostalgia do not leave the museum bitter, although they probably should. They will not see any negative image that could impede their bliss," she said.
The Serbian capital's Tito Effect exhibition runs until June 1.