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Marshal Tito united the Balkan nations despite their ethnic differences

Posted in Communism, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Politics, Revolution, World War 2 on Wednesday, 30 October 2013

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This edited article about President Tito originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 444 published on 18 July 1970.

Marshal Tito, picture, image, illustration

Young Tito escaped from the train taking him to prison in Siberia by C L Doughty

When the Nazi terror swept down on Yugoslavia in 1941 the Partisans went into action. They began with small detachments which blew up railways and bridges and attacked convoys of vehicles. They graduated from using axes and hunting rifles to captured enemy arms and ammunition.

The detachments turned into larger forces as more and more freedom fighters joined them. Until 1943, when the Allies started to give them help and encouragement, the poorly armed, underfed, exhausted Partisans had somehow survived the onslaughts of the greatest army in Europe and its Italian and Hungarian allies. But, apart from their desperate courage, they had one supreme asset, a guerrilla leader named Josip Broz, better known by the assumed name he has made world famous – Tito!

Now a youthful 78-year-old, Marshal Tito is the one revolutionary Communist leader who is universally admired, not only by his fellow-countrymen, but also by millions whose politics are worlds away from his own. His story is the story of modern Yugoslavia.

Tito was born in 1892 before there was a Yugoslavia! His homeland was then Crotia, part of the vast, ramshackle, inefficient Austro-Hungarian Empire. Yugoslavia was created in 1918 from Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and part of Macedonia! Tito did not “make” it, but it owes its existence as an independent country today to him.

Tito’s parents were peasants. The future guerrilla leader was renowned as a boy for reading widely and for leading successful raids on orchards! He loved horses and learnt to ride soon after he walked.

At 14, he started work in a machine shop in a nearby town where everyone seemed to be talking politics, unity of all the Slav peoples being the dream of his new friends. Josip Broz rapidly became a skilled worker and a keen Trade Unionist.

In the 1914-18 War, Josip rose to be a sergeant-major at 23, though, like most young socialists, he regarded the war as a struggle between rival capitalist groups. He was wounded and captured by the Russians and soon found himself mixed up with the Russian Revolution of 1917, so much so that he had to flee to Finland. On his return he was arrested and sent to Siberia. He escaped from a prison train and joined a revolutionary unit, but it was defeated and he found himself on the run again.

He lived with Mongol nomads, riding with them across the Steppes, arguing with them about politics and being hidden by them when soldiers came looking for him. Then at last the war was over and he returned home.

The new Yugoslavia was in chaos. Famine stalked the land and unemployment was rife. Strikes were savagely suppressed. The newly founded Communist Party seemed to Josip the best hope for the future. As a skilled worker he could get employment and the Party used him to recruit members and organise strikes. Then the Party was outlawed and went underground.

Changing his name, continually, and travelling everywhere, Josip organised strikes and trained young Communists. Publicly he was a Trade Union official, but though his membership of the Party was a secret, he was several times arrested. He was beaten up by the police and prevented from sleeping, until he publicly confessed to being a Communist at a sensational trial.

He was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment which probably saved his life, as most other leading Yugoslavian Communists were killed by the police. He came out to find the Nazis on the march in Germany and Yugoslavia a royalist dictatorship. The Communist party was in a shambles, with traitors everywhere and with the Russians interfering up to the hilt in local affairs.

He returned to work, using a dozen names and travelling illegally as far as Vienna with false papers, and he was always careful to dress well. His disguise was brilliant: because the police knew he must be a royalist, being convinced all Communists were dirty and ragged. Tito – he adopted the name, which was commonly used in the country and sounded well – in 1937. He explained later that a white, well-kept hand with a ring, holding a passport, would always allay police suspicions!

Persecutions stepped up. Once he only escaped because he was holding a baby who wet his new trousers and a policeman laughed and stamped his false passport. On another occasion he got away by flying on a newly opened plane service. Once again the police misjudged this particular Communist and left the aerodromes unguarded.

By now it had become clear that there was a traitor high in the party ranks named Gorkich, who found himself called to Moscow and shot. The Russians were busy “purging” many innocent Communists as well. Tito was summoned and barely escaped with his life. He returned to become Secretary of the Yugoslavian Party, which meant he was its leader. He transformed it into a fine, dedicated team.

The Second World War hit Yugoslavia in April, 1941. The Government collapsed and many of its leaders fled to London. Pro-Nazi officials reigned in triumph. A royalist leader, General Mikhailovich, fought the Germans in the hills for a while, but was so anti-Communist that he finally collaborated with them.

Fortunately, the Communist leaders were ready. With the capital, Belgrade, swarming with Gestapo agents and spies, Tito, who had been giving his men arms-training for some years, put his underground force, the Partisans, into action. Hitler’s invasion of Russia simplified the issue. Tito declared a general uprising, not just of Communists but of all true patriots. Sabotage was the order of the day and the night and the Nazis replied with mass slaughter of civilians.

The Partisans were like Cromwell’s Ironsides, men – and women – dedicated to a cause. There was no drinking or gambling, though plenty of Slavonic laughter could still be heard. Not until 1943 was their importance realised by the Allies, yet by the time the war ended the Partisan hold on Yugoslavia was complete. The war had been a revolution as well for the Government in exile never returned.

Tito, of course, was the new leader. He put his war-torn country through a Communist social revolution, but, being a humane man who understands people, it was not too extreme. But his greatest triumph came in 1948.

In simple terms, Russia wanted to appoint Yugoslavia’s leaders: Tito and his people would have none of it and stood up to Stalin, who was a dictator.

The world held its breath, waiting for what seemed the inevitable blood-bath, but Russia climbed down. Yugoslavia became – and has remained – an independent Communist state on friendly terms with nations of goodwill everywhere.

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