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Fwd: [KDN] NPost: The widow-prisoner Tito
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DATE: Fri, 01 Dec 2000 14:55:42
From: "D. Dostanic" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: KDN <email@example.com>
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NATIONAL POST, Friday, December 1, 2000
The widow-prisoner Tito
In 1977, Jovanka Broz, the wife of Yugoslav dictator Josip Broz Tito,
was arrested without explanation. She remains under house arrest in a
rundown mansion, silent, permitted only to visit her husband's grave
once a week
BELGRADE - The iron gates that lead into the Greek revivalist mansion on
the Boulevard Mira are rusty, and the doorbell probably stopped
functioning years ago. The knocker is also rusty and stiff. Few have
bothered to use it because no visitors are permitted beyond the gates
where the grand old lady of Yugoslav communism, the widow of legendary
leader Josip Broz Tito, has been under house arrest for nearly a
Jovanka Broz, 75, was arrested under mysterious circumstances in the
summer of 1977, three years before the death of her husband. There was
never an official explanation for her incarceration, which was
reportedly ordered by Tito himself. Over the years, political analysts
have speculated that Mrs. Broz, who served as Tito's nurse, bodyguard
and chief policy advisor, was leading a struggle among Serb generals to
take power from her ailing husband, a Croat, who died at 87 after
serving 35 years as Yugoslav leader. But no one has ever confirmed this,
and none of the old Communist officials loyal to Tito during his
administration have ever spoken publicly about what is known as the
During the 13-year rule of former Communist dictator Slobodan Milosevic,
who was ousted from power in a popular uprising in October, the
government reportedly kept a close eye on Mrs. Broz, though no one
really knows why. Mrs. Broz lives in the ornate but shabby mansion,
surrounded by a high, concrete wall and located just across the street
from the White Palace, the sumptuous presidential residence still used
by Mr. Milosevic. A plainclothes security guard keeps watch over Mrs.
Broz's home, where cracked statues of Greek gods look out over an
Today, with a newly installed government led by democratic reformer
Vojislav Kostunica, Mrs. Broz and her relatives are hoping she may soon
be able to return to a normal life. In the last week, she began lobbying
her relatives who are close to some of the members of the coalition that
is ruling the country, to make official enquiries on her behalf. She
wants to know why she is still confined to her home -- a prisoner,
without a passport or other identity documents.
"She is hoping that the new democratic administration will take pity on
her," said Vlada Zivulovic, a Belgrade lawyer and a cousin. "After all,
she has served the maximum jail term in this country, and we are not
even sure just what she did wrong."
What they are sure about is that Mrs. Broz, a rotund, raven-haired widow
with a penchant for the tinted glasses worn by her late husband, is
afraid to speak out about her incarceration or the events that led to
the break with Tito and his inner circle.
"Every time I see her she tells me she is terrified to speak," said Mr.
Zivulovic, who sees Mrs. Broz once a year during the family's "slava," a
feast day honouring an Orthodox Christian saint. According to family
members, she appears at their home every year in a battered Mercedes
sedan, driven by one of her ageing bodyguards.
"Every time I see her, she tells me she is very happy to be alive, and
not the victim of, say, a 'car accident' set up by the regime to do away
with her," said Mr. Zivulovic, who is close to members of the Democratic
Opposition of Serbia, the 18-party alliance that swept Mr. Kostunica to
victory in elections this fall. Mr. Zivulovic says he has already begun
to make "discreet enquiries," and adds he hopes Mrs. Broz's situation
will be resolved in the near future.
In the meantime, Mrs. Broz continues the routine she has followed for
the past 23 years. Barring medical emergencies, she is permitted to
leave her house only once a week, to visit Tito's grave, located some
five minutes away in a pristine hillside park that overlooks the
smog-choked Yugoslav capital. Guards at the Tito Memorial say she
arrives every Monday morning to lay a bouquet of flowers on the marble
monument, which contains Tito's remains.
"She comes in here every week and stands in front of the tomb for a few
minutes, then leaves," said one of the Tito Memorial Park guards,
standing in front of the tomb, next to a piece of a Tomahawk cruise
missile that landed perilously close to the memorial during the NATO
bombing last year. The guards decided to leave the missile fragment
where it fell, as a reminder of the nearly three-month campaign that
left many parts of the country devastated.
"She doesn't cry," said the guard, who refused to be identified. "She
just stands in silence."
Jovanka Budisavljevic was born in Croatia to Serb peasants in 1925. The
legendary beauty met Marshal Tito when she was a 17-year-old private in
the underground Communist movement during the Second World War. Tito,
who was not only her commanding officer but 32 years her senior, was
captivated by the young recruit, and they began a torrid affair. By the
end of the war, she had been promoted to major and become a member of
Tito's secretariat. Tito and his Communist partisans were victorious
against rival Serb monarchists and Croatian fascists. Tito emerged as
the country's leader, uniting the myriad ethnic factions that made up
the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and managed to contain nationalism
that would later feed wars in Croatia, Bosnia and the southern Serb
province of Kosovo.
Jovanka and Tito married in a secret ceremony. The marriage, Tito's
third, was disclosed only in 1952 when Tito's office formally announced
that President and Mrs. Josip Broz Tito would be receiving the then
British prime minister Anthony Eden at a government function. Like her
husband, Jovanka Broz had a fondness for the good life, appearing
regularly at public functions in diamonds and furs. She was last seen in
public on June 14, 1977, at one of the glamorous fetes that became a
trademark of her husband's rule, a lavish reception for the prime
minister of Norway.
Later that summer, she was conspicuously absent from state visits Tito
made to the Soviet Union, North Korea and China. No official explanation
was ever given for her disappearance, though many speculated Yugoslavia
was headed for a situation similar to the one playing out in another
part of the Communist world at the time. In 1976, the widow of Mao
Zedong was arrested in China for an alleged plot to take over the
government. Jiang Qing, Mao's widow and the leader of the Gang of Four,
later hanged herself.
But, according to Mrs. Broz in the only interview she ever gave to the
press, this was not the case in Yugoslavia.
"They accused me of wanting to take power, even though I never had such
ambitions," said Mrs. Broz in an interview that made international
headlines in 1996. A journalist from Yugoslavia's Studio B television
station appeared at her home with a concealed tape recorder. The
recording of their conversation was later played on Yugoslav national
television and picked up by media outlets around the world.
In the interview Mrs. Broz repeated that she had not been trying to fuel
a conflict between Serbs and Croats in the late 1970s by trying to
secure top army positions for Serb officers. She claimed Tito's top
aides wanted her out of the picture because she knew too much about how
they were allegedly manoeuvring behind her husband's back.
"Why all the energy against the First Lady of Yugoslavia?" she told the
Studio B journalist. "Because I knew too much about Tito's entourage,
the people who were not his friends, and who told him lies about the
situation in the country. I was the only person capable of warning him
and protecting him."
Mrs. Broz, whose family says she was furious after the Studio B
recording came to light, has since refused to speak to journalists.
"She will not talk to you unless you have official permission to be
here," said Raya Fatic, a Montenegrin security guard assigned by the
Yugoslav government to guard Mrs. Broz for the past 23 years.
Despite letters of introduction from the federal Ministry of
Information, Mrs. Broz refused to speak to the National Post, though she
accepted a gift of chocolates and flowers.
"She says you can leave the chocolates that you brought if you wish, but
she will not speak to you," said Mr. Fatic, who was careful to lock the
tall iron gates to the back entrance of the mansion whenever he went to
consult Mrs. Broz during the several hours of negotiations for an
Mr. Fatic, who says he is looking forward to his retirement this month,
says he receives his salary from the Yugoslav government. Mrs. Broz's
family members say that the government has also provided Mrs. Broz with
a cook and maid, both of whom come once a week. Though she receives a
modest government pension, she has endured desperate times in recent
years, her family says. In the mid 1990s, high inflation left Mrs. Broz
practically destitute, says Mr. Zivulovic.
"During that time we would leave parcels of food outside the front gates
of the house," said Mr. Zivulovic. "Without that food, she said she
would have died."
In 1986, Mrs. Broz, along with Tito's two sons from his previous
marriages, launched a suit against the Yugoslav government claiming
millions in luxury items and chateaux they said were the personal
possessions of the late Communist leader. The Communist administration
in Belgrade contended that everything that belonged to the late leader
was the property of the government, and the Broz heirs lost their suit.
Today, with a new, progressive government in Yugoslavia that has no ties
to the old Communist leaders, Mrs. Broz is hoping she will soon return
to a normal life, Mr. Zivulovic says. But with crucial elections for a
Serb parliament approaching on Dec. 23, inflation at 26% a month and a
fractious ruling coalition, President Kostunica seems to have more
pressing problems on his hands. It is no surprise his office has not yet
commented on the fate of Mrs. Broz.
"All she wants is to have a small apartment and her identity papers
back," said Mr. Zivulovic. "She just wants to be normal and anonymous,
just like everyone else. Really, is that too much to ask?"
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