Balkans hero with a blood­thirsty streak

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

JOSIP Broz Tito, the hard man who man­aged to unite Yu­goslavia af­ter World War II, has long been re­garded as some­how less aw­ful than his fel­low com­mu­nist leaders.

This French doc­u­men­tary makes it clear that even now, af­ter Yu­goslavia has dis­in­te­grated ( mostly chaot­i­cally), Tito is still adored by some in the Balkans, with fes­ti­vals com­mem­o­rat­ing his birth­day and en­thu­si­asts kiss­ing his statue and declar­ing their love for him.

It’s true that Tito suc­cess­fully fought the Nazis, bravely lead­ing a guerilla force of par­ti­sans.

He later man­aged to bring to­gether a no­to­ri­ously war­ring re­gion and even­tu­ally co- founded the non­aligned move­ment. He fa­mously stood up to Joseph Stalin ( and sent him a mes­sage say­ing Stalin might as well stop send­ing peo­ple to kill him be­cause oth­er­wise he would send some­one to kill Stalin and he would have to send only one man).

Yet much of the Tito myth has been slowly dis­solv­ing for years. Tito had a dark side, im­pos­ing his will by force and blood­y­ing his hands with venge­ful reprisals. This doc­u­men­tary is a bit split about him, not­ing the hor­ror sto­ries of the slaugh­ter of Tito’s en­e­mies and com­peti­tors yet say­ing that only Tito’s charisma kept Yu­goslavia whole and peace­ful for decades un­til his death in 1980, when it be­gan to frac­ture.

Dur­ing World War II, Tito was es­sen­tially the most suc­cess­ful of the Balkan war­lords, emerg­ing dom­i­nant from a tan­gle of bat­tling groups ( in­clud­ing a monar­chist, anti- fas­cist force). His blood­thirsti­ness was leg­endary. This doc­u­men­tary es­ti­mates that as many as 200,000 peo­ple were killed in the clos­ing weeks of the war and the vi­cious months that

De­fi­ant: Tito dur­ing his cam­paign against the Nazis in 1944

Tito wrought vi­o­lence on many fronts. His purges were mer­ci­less

fol­lowed, mostly at the hands of Tito’s par­ti­sans. An op­er­a­tion now is un­der way in Slove­nia to mark and un­cover as many as 550 mass graves, filled with the corpses of those flee­ing the par­ti­sans’ vengeance.

It’s thought that many of the dead were sol­diers from the Croa­t­ian Us­tashi regime, which col­lab­o­rated with Nazi Ger­many. Turned back from Aus­tria by the Al­lies and handed over to Tito’s forces, they were ex­e­cuted in the woods without trial. In­ves­ti­ga­tions in Slove­nia have found ev­i­dence to sug­gest the dead were naked, or partly naked, and tied with wire when they were killed.

The graves’ ex­is­tence was an open se­cret for decades, yet they were not doc­u­mented and not com­monly dis­cussed. Some in the Balkans said it was im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that many thou­sands of in­no­cents, in­clud­ing women and chil­dren, were killed by the Nazis and their col­lab­o­ra­tors.

Yet Tito, in­ter­na­tion­ally feted uni­fier of Yu­goslavia, wrought vi­o­lence on many fronts. His purges were mer­ci­less, and his forces rounded up thou­sands of sus­pected op­po­nents and sent them to a prison on Goli Otok ( Bar­ren Is­land) where they were beaten, tor­tured and killed.

Sian Pow­ell

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