The polished marble of Tito’s tomb is as flawless as his legacy in the eyes of those Yugoslavia nostalgics who are still sprinkled liberally across the lands of the former Socialist Federal Republic. The tomb is set within an oasis of tranquillity, flanked by lush vegetation within a mausoleum that in turn nestles within genteel gardens on a hillside well above Belgrade’s bustling streets and snarling traffic, suggesting a serene repose for Yugoslavia’s strong man.
Certainly history has treated Tito more kindly than other autocrats; he is often cited as an example of a ‘soft autocrat’ or a ‘benevolent dictator’, one who wields absolute power but uses it for the benefit of his people and nation. At the same time, his independence from the Soviets and leadership within the non-aligned movement earned him plaudits even in the West. And the outpouring of grief among Yugoslavs seems genuine enough, with crowds lining the streets as his coffin passed and long queues to visit his tomb, shown in photos exhibited at the mausoleum. Even museums in the nations that seceded from Belgrade mostly go easy on him, glossing over less benevolent aspects of his rule like the torture and imprisonment of political opponents in deference to a perceived greater good.
Above all, Tito is credited with holding the disparate nations of Yugoslavia together and keeping nationalism at bay. But as I skated over the marble between exhibits recounting the events around Tito’s death, I pondered whether his soul could truly rest as easy as his mausoleum suggests given the bloody war that ripped Yugoslavia apart just twelve years after his death. Perhaps suppressing nationalist sentiment only delayed the inevitable and caused it to erupt all the more violently in the end.