by Natalie Vlakancic

by Ashish Vyas

Tito and his attempt at creating a sustaining Yugoslav identity

by Natalie Vlakancic




There is an old fable that says "..Yugoslavia has seven neighbors, six republics, five nations, four languages, three religions, two scripts, and one goal: to live in brotherhood and unity"( Drama Called Yugoslavia, the Web).  This fable paints a vivid picture of the complexity surrounding Titos attempt at creating an artificial nationality and the difficulty of actually sustaining it without military rule.  Consequently, it is not surprising that when Tito died in 1980, so did his dream of a unified Yugoslavia and an identity that encompassed all southern Slavs.


   Josip Broz Tito, the leader of the Partisan resistance in the three-factions civil war engulfing the region of Yugoslavia during WWII, led his followers to victory and the land of the southern Slavs to unification.  The man who got his name, it is rumored, by the manner he gave his orders, "you this" or "ti to" in Serbo-Croatian, proved to be the only man in history to successfully create an inorganic national identity in an artificially unified multicultural country.  He not only preached the ideas of Marx, but was also one of its few adamant believers. Some people even considered Tito to be more communist than Stalin himself!A Croat and Slovene by ethnic origin, Marshal Tito, a devoted disciple of Stalin, saw communism as the ideal tool to unite the Slavic peoples of southeastern Europe.

  Supported by the US and Great Britain (despite his candid championing of Marxist principles) Tito was able to win the civil war in the region. At the time, people were able to accept Tito because they saw his government as the lesser of two evils vis-à-vis an aggressively nationalistic Serb-Croat rivalry.  It protected the Serbs from the nationalistic Croatian Ustasha and protected the Croats form the nationalistic Serbian Chetniks who took part in massive racist atrocities during the second World War.


  "Yugoslavian", the nationalist banner under which the people were united as Slavs and common workers, was the realization of the great Marshals communist ideals.  Recognizing that it was dangerous to wait for ethnic identity to fade, he created and enforced an artificial nationality to unite the population of the inorganic country.  For the forty-five years during which Tito led the country, this ideology seemed to work relatively well.  But, Tito assumed that by publicly eradicating all those associated with the opposing Ustasha and Chetniks he could stay the eruption of  nationalistic tendencies in the future. He also thought that the artificial unifying nationality as a common denominator could suppress the variety of nationalistic assertions within the country.  The nave communist expectation was that people would be linked in such a manner that individual nationalities would cease to exist and the only classification left would be the glorious "worker".  Indeed, while he was alive this link did exist.  The failure is apparent, however, in the realization that the link was forged of a military dictatorship, not the faux-nationalistic integrity he had hoped for.

     The Titoist government ignored the cultural differences among the people in the region and instead tried to blend them into one.  Although this worked well while he was alive to enforce his domestic policy with force, the differences of the cultures persisted.  These stifled nationalistic emotions consequently ignited at the tiniest sparks of nationalistic propaganda in the early 1990s and exploded into one of the most gruesome wars in history.  This static devotion to the words of Marx misled the Marshal into thinking that the "sense of Yugoslavism and the unity among common workers would supplant the sense of individual nations" (Stokes, 223).  He believed communism to be the ideal path to this unity and brotherhood of equality among men where all nationalities are treated equally as one and the dividing line between religions are arbitrary since religion was sequestered in Titos Yugoslavia.  The years of singing Yugoslavian songs, praising Tito in schools and carefully making sure not to refer to your individual ethnicity seemed to instantly evaporate and so ensued a revival of individual cultures.


Tito miscalculated the power behind the pride of individual cultures and the significance of their different historical background. The division of these Southern Slavs, traced back to the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, is a historical pressure that Tito seemed to have overlooked.  When the Empire split, the dividing line went directly through the region of southern Slavs creating the distinction between Croats and Serbs.  The former being the ethnic group which found itself on the West side of the dividing line and the latter on the East.  As a result of their location these two groups of originally the same people eventually emerged as two very distinct ethnicities.  The Croats and Slovines experienced the western way of life and developed a culture very similar to that of Western Europe: their alphabet was based on Latin, their religion was Roman Catholic and their loyalties were to Western European ideas and way of life.  The evidence that this experience is crucial is vivid in the 1990s when these nations were repulsed at the idea of being considered "eastern" and are presently trying to join the European Union.

     Similarly, the Serbs strongly associated themselves with the eastern half of the Roman Empire and preserve their history as part of their glorious Byzantine heritage.  As a result, Serbian tradition and culture has several eastern characteristics.  For example, they accepted the Byzantine influence in art, religion, language and life.  The Serbs became a predominantly Christian Orthodox culture, with typical Byzantine architecture, paintings and Russian loyalties.  Most importantly, the Serbs shared with the East a common religion and Cyrillic alphabet.   They did not closely associate themselves with Europe as the Croats and Slovines did, but rather looked East with pride to Russia, their big Slav brother.


    Tito’s idea of uniting these different ethnic people was effectively combining a country used to being part of the western tradition and one used to being part of the east into a singular nation against both their wills.  Although they shared the same origin and spoke the same verbal language, the cultures were still different and should have been acknowledged as such.  Instead, the differences were repressed, the years of atrocities committed against each other were dusted over and similarities were emphasized to give Titos new Yugoslavia and its "Yugoslav" inhabitants a feeling of legitimacy.  In the words of Bernard Shaw, "it became a country divided by the same language."

Tito failed to see the importance these cultural differences held. Their suppression only caused resentment.  Workers were not united by a sense of brotherhood, but rather by imposed military force on the basis that feudalism, combined with socialism, could overcome ethnic differences in a multinational state by making them irrelevant.  In 1962 Tito himself claimed that the national problem in Yugoslavia had been overcome (Brown, 222).

   To the contrary, Marshal Tito was actually setting the scene for the bloody civil war that was yet to come.  His decision to treat the Muslim population as an ethnic identity for global political gains, and assume that it would not conflict with a Yugoslav national identity was as careless as his disregard for the differences between the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.  He only created another nation within the multicultural country that would find grievances in the artificial unity, leading to the most embittered conflict in recent history.  His idea of a "Yugoslavian" identity was as ideal and unrealistic as communism; both of which, coincidentally, happen to follow Tito and his military rule side by side to the grave.



  1. Banac, Ivo.  Eastern Europe in Revolution.  London: Cornell University Press, 1992.

  2. Brown, J. F.  Surge to Freedom: The End of Communist Rule in Eastern Europe.  London: Duke University Press, 1991.

  3. Stokes, Gale. The Walls Came Tumbling Down: The collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

  4. The Web:  The Drama called Yugoslavia.(http://www.owu.edul%7Epvnikolo/yugosl.html)

  5. The Web:  Titos Home Page.(http://www.fer.uni-lj.si/tito/tito-eng.html)

  6. The Web:  Western Balkans.(http://www.imperium.net/~obsidian/westbalk.html)



       by Ashish Vyas     




Josip Broz Tito was the leader of Communist Yugoslavia from 1943, and the elected president of Yugoslavia from 1953 to his death in 1980. He is associated with the idea of "self-managing socialism," a variant of the Soviet communism, and also with the nonaligned movement during the cold war, where many countries sided with neither the United States or the Soviet Union.

He was born in 1892 in what was then Austria-Hungary (now the border of Croatia and Slovenia) to a peasant family. At the age of 13, he joined the Social Democratic Party of Croatia, and soon after which he was drafted by the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War I, where he was wounded and taken prisoner on the Russian front. In 1914, Tito was arrested for spreading anti-war propaganda, and detained in jail, but the charges were eventually dropped. After the war he returned to Croatia (which had become Yugoslavia by then), where he worked to build the Communist movement.


He lived in poverty, working in shipyards, and lost two children. He was arrested in 1923, and again in 1925, when he served seven months jailtime. In 1927, he became secretary of the Metalworker’s Union of Croatia but was once against imprisoned as a subversive by Yugoslav authorities from 1928 to 1934. Upon his release from prison in 1934, he became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY). Subsequently, he traveled from Yugoslavia to Moscow, Paris, Prague and Vienna. He worked in Moscow in 1935 in the Balkan section of the Cominterm and participated in its Seventh Congress. In late 1936, Tito was named organizational secretary of the CPY Politburo.

In 1937, Joseph Stalin, then premier of the Soviet Union initiated a purge of Yugoslav Communists living in the Soviet Union, and about 800 were killed. The CPY, as well as Tito, was saved from dissolution by the Cominterm official Georgi Dimitrov, and in late 1937, Tito was appointed secretary general by the Executive Council of the Cominterm. He then returned to Yugoslavia and reorganized the party, taking in young revolutionaries as leaders. It wasn’t until 1940 that Tito was chosen secretary general of the CPY central committee.


When Germany and Italy attacked Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941, Tito organized the Partisan resistance group to fight the Nazis, the Croatian Ustase (fascists), the Serbian Chetniks (nationalists), and other military forces operating within the country. The Partisans made a significant contribution to the liberation of Yugoslavia, and with the backing of the Allies, won control of the country at the end of the war.

After the capitulation of Italy in September 1943, the Partisans numbered more than 250,000. Tito, without informing any of the great powers decided to convene a Partisan’s Parliament (the Anti-Fascist Council of the National Liberation Committee of Yugoslavia), which set up the provisional revolutionary government and declared Yugoslavia a federal community of equal peoples. Tito was named marshal of Yugoslavia. The Tehran conference granted the Partisans the status of allies and sent military missions and aid.

Both Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin felt that Yugoslavia should be unified and both the Yugoslav emigre government and Tito’s revolutionary government should have equal influence in the county (the 50-50 agreement). Tito showed his remarkable diplomatic skills here, in preventing this scheme from becoming a reality, when he met with Churchill in August 1944, and with Stalin the following month. Because of these negotiations, his government became the sole government in Yugoslavia at the end of the war.


The war had however, devastated the country. Dead amounted to appoximately 11 per cent of the population, and damages were very costly. On top of all that, he had many problems with the West, because of his trying to seize Trieste, supporting the communists in the Greek Civil War, and shooting down a U.S. airplane over Slovenia. The relations with the West could not have possibly been worse.

Tito came to power as a loyal supporter of Joseph Stalin, but after the war Stalin made it clear that to him loyalty meant subservience. Tito was determined to preserve Yugoslav independence, while Stalin hoped to take advantage of Yugoslavia’s isolation by trying to bring Tito down through economic blockades, sedition, border incidents, and threats of military invasion.


Tito was not willing to be subservient, and in 1948 this led to a serious rift with Stalin, which resulted in the expulsion of the CPY from the world Communist movement. At this point, the people of Yugoslavia united behind Tito even more than during World War II.Tito then set off on an independent path, developing an alternative ideology to challenge Soviet orthodoxy. Under his doctrine, which he insisted was the purest form of communism. Workers were supposed to manage their own factories, and a complex system of worker delegates was set up to put this idea into effect. With Stalin’s death in 1953, the new Soviet leaders changed their approach, and an official Soviet delegation, headed by Nikita Krushchev visited Belgrade in 1955 where it formally rejected Stalin’s policy, and acknowledged Tito’s.


Yugoslavia’s first constitution (1946) was modeled after the Soviet, passing many of the state’s powers off to the central government, but after the break with Stalin, new reforms decentralized administration and established workers’ councils in the factories. In January of 1953, Tito was elected the first president of Yugoslavia. A new constitution was enacted the same year, with the same "Titoist" communist virtues.



In 1961, Tito joined with Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharal Nehru to form the nonaligned movement as an alternative to the American and Soviet military blocs, and used the movement as a podium for Yugoslavia’s foreign policy views. The conference adopted a 27-point declaration denouncing colonialism, demanding an end to armed action against dependent peoples, endorsing the struggle of the Algerians, and condemning the apartheid system in South Africa. Furthermore, in 1968, Tito denounced the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, claiming that it violated the sovereignty of a socialist country and was a disgrace to socialist power around the world. He followed this by helping set up Partisan and territorial defenses in parts of the country.Tito’s decisiveness, adaptability, moral, and physical stamina were the qualities that made him a successful leader, and enabled him to provide Yugoslavia with more than three decades of stable leadership. In May 1980, Tito died, and power was passed to a collective presidency. The ensuing period was marked by economic deterioration and increasing ethnic unrest. Under Tito’s authoritarian rule, Yugoslavia enjoyed a period of security, inter-ethnic peace, and relative prosperity, all of which disintegrated after he died. He was truly one of the great leaders of the twentieth century.


Works Cited

  1. Ulam, Adam B. Titoism and the Cominform. Greenwood Press, 1952. Westport, CT.

  2. Auty, Phyllis. Tito, A Biography. Mc-Graw Hill Books, 1972.New York, NY

  3. World Book Encyclopedia, 1997. World Book. New York, NY







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