A cup of coffee
I’m having a cup of coffee in the café nearest to my place of work, aptly named Amerika. The coffee comes with a sugar pack featuring a well-known face. I glance through the other sugar packs crammed into the bowl on my table, and the same face stares out at me from every single pack. Now, if the name of the café was meant to have any significance, then the face should be that of, say, George W. Bush, or the likes of John Wayne, Michael Jordan, or at least Beyoncé. A face befitting an eu country would be a portrait of, say, one of the fathers of European integration, Robert Schuman or Jean Monnet. In the finally independent Slovenia, one would expect to see one of the widely (self-)acclaimed fighters for independence, for example, Lojze Peterle, Janez Janša or Jože Pučnik. As a member of a nation of culture, I should now be looking at the face of Primož Trubar, Jože Plečnik, France Prešeren or some other artist or writer. As a resident of Central Europe, I should see there the image of the honorable Franz Joseph I of Austria or his Sissi. If Slovenia were truly Catholic, the face staring at me should be that of the Counter-Reformation bishop Tomaž Hren or of the recently exonerated bishop Gregorij Rožman. If it is not Catholic, then it should at least be true to its Alpine character, but there is no trace of the intrepid folk band Avseniki, or the pioneer mountaineer Jakob Aljaž, or the Alpine skier Bojan Križaj, or any of the recently proliferating television stars in Alpine, folk-style outfits. Slovenia’s independence was presumably a thousand-year-old dream, but sugar packs do not bear the image of any prominent Partisan fighter or of General Rudolf Maister. After many dark decades of communism, Slovenia is allegedly experiencing the post-socialist transition, but I’m denied the pleasure of looking at the image of some now highly praised dissidents from Socialist times. That is fine with me, but if preferences lay more on the side of the left political block, the face should be that of Boris Kidrič, Edvard Kardelj or Milan Kučan, or some other prominent figure in socialist times. No! Our new natural milieu should be the West, but there is no picture of some renowned public figure or contemporary pop icon from that part of the world. Why not Elvis, Marylin, Maradona, Kennedy, abba, Bruce Lee, Sid&Nancy, the Dalai Lama, Michael Jackson, Princess Diana, or David Beckham?
Or some local pop star? The image on the sugar pack was the 1943 portrait of Josip Broz Tito by Božidar Jakac.
My reaction was probably the same as that of many other coffee drinkers who were stirred by old memories, or of anyone who nowadays comes across a similar picture in the abundant production of nostalgic content – why Tito? Every one among us has his/her own reason for asking this question:curiosity, wonder, shock, unease, elation, accusation, or joy. Some would say that the answer is self-evident: Tito, of course, who else? New moralists would ask what went wrong so that things are as they are. Some find this phenomenon entertaining, others worrying; some ignore it, others think that it is ephemeral, and still others that it is enduring. Some perhaps do not even recognize him. Some would like to erase him from their own and collective memory. For some he is a distant benefactor, for others a dangerous reappearance. Some see him as just another important historical figure who marked the previous century in one way or another. For foreigners, he is a superb tourist attraction. As a cultural studies scholar, a citizen of Yugoslavia for more than half of my life, a member of the generation which, as the cult band from Belgrade, Ekatarina Velika, once poignantly said, did not know that fire was sin, and as someone who has had personal experience of the good and bad sides of both countries and political systems, their achievements and delusions, I’m interested in all the perceptions mentioned above and many more. Why, how, where and with what purpose? To whom or what should be attributed the unusual reappearance of his image, name, values, symbolic meaning and, last but not least, his vision, in our everyday culture, the media, public life, and even in advertising in various parts of former Yugoslavia? Where does this enigmatic neo-Titoism come from? From where do young Titoists spring, those that take it seriously and those for whom it is just an end-of-the-week pastime? The least one can say about this delicate topic is that it is intriguing. The scope and complexity of the phenomenon make it difficult to define, and even more difficult to explain. Therefore, I will contextualize and examine it as part of my wider study of post-socialist nostalgia, an unexpected phenomenon that has surprised practically everyone who has experienced the transition period in former socialist countries, and even more so foreign observers. I will call it “titostalgia,” meaning nostalgia for Josip Broz Tito (1892–1980).
I’d like to point out that this is not another book about Tito, but a book after Tito. I was not interested in his biography, in proven, attributed or imagined episodes of his life. I did not roam the archives of secret services, national institutions, or private collections, nor did I rely on exclusive opinions of his one-time aides and attendants who, all of a sudden, know the whole truth about him. I do not aspire to be a forensic expert historian uncovering unimportant details, such as the origins of his pseudonyms, or the actual date of his birth. Nor am I a “book-keeper,” recording obscure anecdotes from his life, or a “tabloid-style” researcher, feeding like a parasite on the thrilling details from his love life or culinary preferences. Myriads of such peculiarities are already documented in his many biographies, some more and others less favorable, and in a number of historical books, which altogether add up to the true “titology” that had begun to develop during his lifetime. Unfortunately, even more such trivia can be found in cheap print media, within denunciations that make part of daily politics, and sensationalist pseudo-studies. These come complete with meticulous descriptions by and wonder on the part of their authors, but lack practically any reflection on the subject, not to mention serious scientific evaluation.
In brief, I am not asking who Tito was in reality, what his role in history was or how he was praised/hated in his time. All these answers can be found in the large-circulation eulogies and near hagiographies written and painted for decades by Tyrtaean artists and political lackeys, or by his staunch opponents. My subject of interest is diametrically opposite: What does he mean here and now to some? Why does his image live on in a quite positive sense despite everything? How come that he is held in high esteem by groups so diverse that a whole new phenomenon of mass-cultural production could have developed around his image? Why does his name can still “sell” a product even today? In other words, I do not write about Tito from the period before 1980, that is, about a boy from an out-of-the-way village by the Sotla River, or a man who frequented taverns and worked in mechanical workshops before the slaughter of the First World War, or about his service in the military, his dramatic Russian experience, his semi-legal activities during the inter-war period, his leadership of the Yugoslav communist party and Partisan resistance movement, deft steering between the extremes of the cold war blocks, his lifelong presidency of the second Yugoslavia or his lively foreign activities. Nor do I write about his death and funeral, which brought together the world leaders of the time. I do not burden myself with binarisms arising from gossip or newspaper columns, and I’m not interested in whether he was a bad guy or a good guy. The phenomenon of nostalgia is part of my field of research, so my question is why for some Tito is still or (even more intriguingly) once more a positive figure. Why does he continue to be an inspiration to people even today? In this study, I do not look back, but around me. I’m not interested in the old Titoism, but in the new one; not in Tito before and after, but only after. I’m interested in his “life after death” or “life after life.” My questions do not relate to the late Broz, but to the Tito that still “lives,” and not to an “unknown” Broz, but the well-known one – Tito whose signifiers can still be seen in the streets, on facades, in souvenirs shops, in newspapers, at events commemorating his birthday or death, and in the fond memories and beliefs held by people across Tito’s former Yugoslavia.
1 In this book, ideological discourse is italicized. Quotations from professional literature or professional opinion are given in quotation marks.
2 Idemo (Let’s Go), Dum Dum album, Belgrade, 1991.
3 Yet there are exceptions. I’d like to draw your attention to two recent collections containing excellent analysis of the past and present perceptions of Broz using a fresh, inter-disciplinary and theoretically critical approach: one is edited by Kristi Mathiesen Hjemdahl and Nevena Škrbić Alempijević (2006), and the other by Radonja Leposavić (2004). Kuljić’s socio-historical study (2005) is another valuable contribution. It describes Broz’s manner of functioning and governing, meaning his political profile given in the context of the historical circumstances.
4 Rather than dwelling on them any further, I’d like to mention some of the artists who have described or portrayed him. These range from unknown folk artists to the great names within the world of art, for example, Vladimir Nazor, Miroslav Krleža, Božidar Jakac, Boris Kalin, France Bevk, Vojin Bakić, Safet Zec and, of course, An-tun Augustinčić (his famous sculpture of war-time Broz, deeply in thoughts, striding pensively in a long army coat with his hands clasped behind his back, was reproduced countless times in various sizes and materials). For example, see Z. Mutavdžić “Tito in umetniki” (Tito And Artists), DZS, Ljubljana, 1961.