Belgrade, Tito’s Grave, Yugo Nostalgia.

This is from an April 2009 letter:


When I picked up my teacup a few mornings ago, the one with Tito, I noticed that my fingers were black.  I don’t know if Tito is rubbing off on me.  But the cup is a bit less stark than it once was.

On Saturday I went to an exhibit “The Tito Effect” at the museum near his tomb.  It explores the charisma that held Yugoslavia together after the Second World War.  At the entrance a youth choir was singing.  The group was backed up by a bass, guitar, and drum.  They were singing upbeat syncopated versions of old communist songs and on one song the singers were marching in place, high steps, arms moving back and forth with some swing in step.  At the end they sang a very straight version of “The Internationale.”  All around me I could hear soft voices, some barely mouthing the words.  The lady with red hair and white roots standing next to me was singing, at first softly, and then with more gusto as the revolution moved forward.

The artifacts are mostly gifts to Tito on his birthday. There are needle point scarves with his picture, hooked “Tito” rugs, a portrait of him made from a collage of newspaper pages.  And there were models of every sort, models of ships, trucks, busses, a globe spanned with cable made in Novi Sad. One of my favorite artifacts was a portrait of Tito lecturing Stalin with Lenin looking down, smiling approvingly.

Then there were the batons.  Each year on Tito’s Birthday (May 25) relay teams ran batons from each corner of Yugoslavia and the final runner presented his group’s baton to Tito.  The batons represented every facet of life.  One was topped with a crown of spark plugs, one had a doll’s house stove on top, one was carved in the shape of a bazooka.  Several had red stars, hammers and sickles, and national flags.  Each baton made by some club or organization to present to the Big Man on his birthday.

The museum displayed photos and slides of letters to Tito.  Some fawning, some militant, some almost love letters.  The amazing thing is that each gift had a card that identified the giver, where they were from and the year.  In the exhibit catalogue Radonja Leposavic wrote:

“Do the items on display at the May 25 Museum entertain you or frighten you?  Those thousands of embroideries, models, socks and batons?  And what do you think?  How many of the people who made them would today disown their handicrafts?  How many of them, subsequently, are ashamed?  How many of them would like to hide the fact that they were the ones who sent things to Tito, gave gifts, ran with batons, wrote songs and poems?”

I got the answer while looking at the batons.  An old man with white moustache was strolling with his family.  His eyes lit up as he saw a baton made of metal in the shape of a plow.  His whole presence glowed as he pointed to each weld explaining its construction to a younger man who repeated “Bravo Grandfather.”

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