The man who kept Yugoslavia together

Marshal Tito is a divisive figure in Serbia and the Balkans but there is no denying his impact. To visit his grave in Belgrade is to understand a bit more.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Marshal Josip Broz Tito

To understand Serbia and the relationship with its neighbours today, you need to look back many decades. You need to look back to the time when Yugoslavia brought together most of the Balkans under the one country.

And, most importantly, you need to know more about Marshal Josip Broz Tito – a man referred to simply as Tito.

He was the ruler of Yugoslavia for almost 40 years – as Prime Minister from 1943–63 and then President from 1953–80. And, despite his fair share of controversy, he kept the country intact and above much of the conflict that happened around it.

While the Cold War was being fought from either side of Yugoslavia, Tito intentionally stayed non-aligned and, in the process, oversaw a burgeoning economy in the 1960s and 1970s.

While he was criticised by some for being authoritarian, generally Tito was considered to be a benevolent dictator.

Marshal Tito's Grave, Belgrade, Josip Broz Tito, Serbia

Marshal Tito’s Grave, Belgrade

Today his grave is still given the reverence you might expect from someone who had such an impact on this country.

In a suburb of Serbia’s capital Belgrade, about an hour’s walk from the centre of the city, a mausoleum has been built for his remains.

It’s not of the scale of similar communist memorials in Beijing, Moscow, Ho Chi Minh City or Pyongyang. In fact, in comparison, it is very restrained.

The building is called the House of Flowers and it is amongst an enclosed flower garden that his grave lies. A large protruding slab of marble with his name in gold marks the spot.

Marshal Tito's Grave, Belgrade, Josip Broz Tito, Serbia
Marshal Tito's Grave, Belgrade, Josip Broz Tito, Serbia

For many years there was a permanent guard of honour stationed at the entrance but these days there’s just an elderly cigarette-smoking man reading a newspaper keeping an eye on things.

Marshal Tito's Grave, Belgrade, Josip Broz Tito, Serbia

The grave is within a larger compound – called the Museum of Yugoslave History (with nominal entrance fee) – and the other main building is a long exhibition hall showing the presents given to Tito during his leadership.

Sadly it has nothing quite as tacky as the stuffed upright alligator holding a tray of drinks that I once saw at a similar gift room in North Korea. Like the grave, this is tastefully done and uses the presents to showcase foreign cultures.

Marshal Tito's Grave, Belgrade, Josip Broz Tito, Serbia
Marshal Tito's Grave, Belgrade, Josip Broz Tito, Serbia
Marshal Tito's Grave, Belgrade, Josip Broz Tito, Serbia

The number of gifts is telling, though. It demonstrates how Marshal Josip Broz Tito kept Yugoslavia strong externally and internally.

He promoted the unity of the six main Yugoslav nations and they lived relatively peacefully together. By keeping his own house in order, he was able to deal internationally from a position of respect.

Marshal Tito's Grave, Belgrade, Josip Broz Tito, Serbia

Nothing would have happened to threaten the peaceful coexistence of the nations of Yugoslavia during his leadership and life – both of which ended on the same day. It was not until his Presidency was over that tensions began to appear and the current makeup of the Balkans began to take shape.

Marshal Tito's Grave, Belgrade, Josip Broz Tito, Serbia
Marshal Tito's Grave, Belgrade, Josip Broz Tito, Serbia

For that reason Tito is still divisive. He is seen by some as the man who oversaw one of the most peaceful and prosperous periods this region has ever had.

Other see him as the man who stopped the rightful realignment of the six nations. Although what he did, he did well, there is considerable debate about whether it was the right thing.

He is a man who is still an important part of recent history. The respect given to his grave – despite neither prominence nor pomp – shows that. It’s worth a visit in Belgrade for this alone.


You get great value for accommodation in Belgrade so you might want to consider staying somewhere a bit cool!


For a fun and social atmosphere, one of the best backpacker options is Hedonist Hostel.


If you would like something affordable with clean modern rooms, I suggest Omia Hotel.


There is some very funky design at the cool Mama Shelter Belgrade.


And when it comes to luxury, I just love the style at Square Nine Hotel Belgrade.

9 thoughts on “The man who kept Yugoslavia together”

  1. I think the important thing to remember is that, as you say, he was able to keep the peace together between the nations for the time he was in place. Having lived near the area (Bulgaria) and traveled to the region over a period of 6 years prior to my 2 years living in BG…tensions are still high even now, years later, over what should or shouldn’t have been done when things eventually came apart.

    Great piece.

  2. I’ve been interested in the former Yugoslavia for awhile now, so it’s nice to read a little bit about its history here. I never realized Tito was seen as someone who kept the peace between the separate groups, but then I probably didn’t know much about him at all.

  3. I was the only one visiting here the day I went. I found it interesting and loved the museum pieces and relay battons.

    Most people in Serbia want the Tito days back.

  4. I feel compelled to address some of the the misinformation and misconceptions concerning Tito and Yugoslavia, propagated by Tito’s apologists and Yugoslav communists nostalgic for the now defunct Yugoslav state. Unfortunately many people uncritically accept the airbrushed version of Tito and Yugoslavia without examining historical fact and reality. Contrary to popular belief Tito was a ruthless and bloodthirsty communist dictator and Yugoslavia was a poor and backward totalitarian state ruled by Tito and his corrupt communist party cronies. Yugoslavia was never a cohesive unitary state being composed of multiple nations with competing interests and historic grievances. Albanians, Bosnian Muslims, Croats, Macedonians, Serbs, Slovenes combined to form a single state under the aegis of Serbia and her allies, Britain and France soon after world war one ended. This was the first Yugoslavia which collapsed at the being of world war two.

    Tito’s Yugoslavia was not the benign communist utopia often presented to gullible western media. Political opposition to Tito and his Yugoslav communist party was not tolerated and immediately suppressed. Tito and the Yugoslav communist party ruled using state terror, imprisonment and murder much like his contemporary Stalin. At the close of the second world war Tito and his communist partisans executed, imprisoned and tortured hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians, these were primarily Croatians, who had fought against Tito’s forces or were opposed to communism. Finding themselves on the losing side of the war, these unfortunate people surrendered to the British Army in Austria seeking protection from Tito’s communist partisan forces. The British callously handed them over to Tito’s partisans who immediately began mass executions, tortures and forced marches (known as the Bleiburg Massacres). The exact number of victims is not known, sadly mass graves from the period litter Slovenia and Croatia and are still being discovered to this day. It is a terrible irony that Tito, a Croat himself, was responsible for more deaths of his own compatriots than the opposing Axis forces were.

    Moving on from massacres, Tito’s Yugoslavia was the archetypal totalitarian communist state complete with its own gulags for political prisoners such as “Goli Otok”, a barren rocky island in the Adriatic, and a Tito personality cult not dissimilar to that of Mao or Stalin. The Tito personality cult is still alive today albeit with diminished intensity, annual gatherings of Yugoslav Communist nostalgics and cultists to honour Tito are still held at his birthplace in Croatia.

    Tito’s Yugoslav state had all the trappings of Stalin’s Soviet Union, the Yugoslav secret police (known as the UDBA) scoured the globe spying on, hunting down and murdering hundreds of political opponents, emigres and intellectuals in a ruthless and violent campaign which lasted right up until 1989 (e.g. murders of Stjepan Durekovic in Germany and the Sevo Family in Italy, Yugolsav embassy shooting in Sydney Australia).

    Besides political murders, Tito (the president for life) also enjoyed the good life. He had a string of palaces and retreats built for himself across Yugoslavia and lived a life of luxury hosting international celebrities and foreign dignitaries while his people lived in poverty. Poor economic prospects and the lack of political freedoms forced many Croats and others to migrate or seek work in Germany and other Western countries. Economically, Tito’s Yugoslavia was essentially insolvent with entrenched hyperinflation. Massive levels of official corruption and incompetent management by the communist party served to ensure continued economic stagnation. Tito was however a canny operator, he was able to exploit the cold war to his advantage by playing the West and East off against each other. In order to keep Yugoslavia afloat economically and maintain his power base borrowed large sums from both the East and West while championing the “non aligned” movement.

    Tito died in 1980, and the cold war ended in 1989. Yugoslavia being an artificial state based on repression, corruption and injustice collapsed like a house of cards. The various nations which comprised Yugoslavia; Albanians, Bosnian Muslims, Croats, Macedonians, Serbs, Slovenes having competing interests and grievances, guaranteed its dissolution.

    • Thanks again for sharing this detailed comment. I suppose I gathered most of my information for this article from sources that were writing about Tito retrospectively. And history does sometime get a bit warped in the retelling. Maybe people who lived in Yugoslavia during the Tito years would disagree with some of the ways I’ve phrased things. It’s always good to hear both sides.

  5. I have to disagree with the very long negative comment.
    My grandfather was a simple mechanic, a poor and simple man, and yet up until this day, he still gets furious when you say something bad about Tito.

    • That’s really interesting to hear that perspective. It doesn’t surprise me at all, from what I’ve read, but I had wondered whether opinions had changed at all in recent years. Thanks heaps for the comment!


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