A dead dictator, his rusting boat and a fight for history
RIJEKA: In a Croatian port sits a boat built to carry bananas from Africa to Italy, that laid mines for Nazi Germany and was sunk by Allied planes before it was salvaged as the personal yacht of a globe-trotting communist leader.
Josip Broz Tito and the state he led - Yugoslavia - have long passed into history, and the boat, the Galeb (Seagull), was left to rust in a corner of Rijeka’s once mighty docks. Now, with Rijeka readying to become European Capital of Culture in 2020, city authorities have secured European Union money to restore the 117-metre (384-feet) boat as a museum, just as debate in Croatia rages over the life and deeds of the man who graced the pink mattress in the front port-side cabin. If the Galeb was a symbol of Tito’s prestige on the world stage – a communist leader welcome in ports West as well as East – its restoration is part of Croatia’s own tortured process of reconciliation with its 20th century history. To conservatives in Croatia, Tito – who was born in what is today Croatia to a Croat father and Slovene mother – was a totalitarian dictator: to look fondly on him means to be nostalgic for a shared federal state that denied Croats their own until they forged one in a 1991-95 war.