The Politics of Self-Destruction

Tito and the Rise and Fall of Yugoslavia

by Richard West
Carroll and Graf, 436 pp., $27.50

The Death of Yugoslavia

by Laura Silber and Allan Little
Penguin, 400 pp., £6.99 (paper)

Genocide in Bosnia: The Policy of "Ethnic Cleansing"

by Norman Cigar
Texas A & M University Press, 247 pp., $29.95


At the end of his life, the old lizard had a fondness for greenhouses: he would lie there, warming himself by the hour amid the poinsettias, slipping in and out of sleep. When he died, they buried him in the biggest of his greenhouses and set an honor guard to watch over the white marble slab with his name in raised brass letters: Josip Broz Tito, 1892–1980. It once was a national shrine: visiting heads of state and schoolchildren came there to lay wreaths. Hardly anyone visits it anymore. When I stopped by Belgrade in the autumn of 1992, the honor guard was gone and I had the place to myself. It was raining and drops were splashing onto his tomb from a broken windowpane.

The ruin of all he stood for makes it easy to forget that he was probably the only leader of a Communist system who ever seemed to enjoy genuine popularity, and whose cult depended on something more than terror and propaganda, although it certainly depended on them as well. Years after his death, his photograph was still everywhere: taped to the cash register of a pasticceria in a Dalmatian resort; stuck beside a plastic Orthodox cross on the dashboard of a Belgrade bus; in a plastic wood frame over the mantelpiece of a tin-roofed cottage in central Bosnia. They made a cult of him, but it was prudential rather than reverential, for his people knew his foibles only too well: his taste for heavy south German luxury, for uniforms, cars, villas on the Adriatic; he, like them, was living beyond his country’s means. Some knew about the Goli Otok, the Adriatic Alcatraz he kept for political prisoners. But they also knew that he had kept the Russians at bay in 1948, 1956, and 1968; that because of him, they had an ambiguous kind of freedom to run their bars and hotels, to travel abroad and earn marks in Germany and lire in Italy.

Most of all, they knew he had stopped them from killing each other. At party rallies, they used to shout “We are Tito! and Tito is us!” He guaranteed their survival. He had saved them from themselves. When they forgot this, he would bang the table and remind them. In 1971, the nationalist revival in Croatia began: signs written in Cyrillic were smashed; the Croatian flag was waved in public; the Serbian minority began arming themselves. Tito came to Zagreb and harangued the Central Committee. “Do we want to have 1941 again?” The mere mention of that terrible year of foreign invasion, civil war, and genocide was sufficient to bring them around. And then he sacked the party brass and imprisoned some intellectuals, including Franjo Tudjman. Just to show that he was being fair, he also purged the Serbian party. Divide and rule was the reality of Tito’s “brotherhood and unity.”

For thirty years, his regime made the most of his wartime accomplishments, but the publicly available version of these…

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