For young Yugoslavs, Tito myth has toes of clay

For Yugoslavia's first postwar generation, Josip Broz Tito was the beloved ``Father of the Nation'' who stared down Joseph Stalin, stitched together a group of squabbling nationalities, conceived the path-breaking worker self-management system, and constructed the ``nonaligned'' movement. Eight years after his death, Tito's legacy looks less impressive. It is a legacy of a $20 billion debt, triple-digit inflation, double-digit unemployment. It is a legacy of sharpening regional conflicts. And it is a legacy of wondering where Tito's ``third way of communism,'' an alternative to Moscow and Peking, is leading the country.

Conscious of these problems, a new generation has begun to reevaluate Tito. The Slovene Socialist Youth Federation is leading a campaign to cancel the traditional Tito birthday celebrations. The youth want to substitute protest meetings against military service and unemployment.

``We're tired of living in Tito's shadow,'' complains Ingrid Bakse, a leader of the Slovenian Youth Federation. ``My generation won't stand for leaders justifying themselves by saying, `Tito would have wanted it that way.'''

Party elders attacked the rebellious youth as traitors. Unlike other major communist rulers such as Stalin and Mao Tse-tung who were discredited following their death, Tito's successors continue to promote his reputation. Portraits of him hang everywhere from pubs to regional parliaments. As products of Tito's system, Yugoslavia's communist leaders fear they might undermine their own legitimacy by harping on his failures.

``We are disciples of Tito's thought,'' remarks Slobodan Fillipovic, executive secretary of the Central Committee. ``We won't do anything which would jeopardize his giant mission.''

Even now, Tito's memory serves as a useful symbol of national unity. Without it, orthodox leaders fear Yugoslavia could be torn apart by ethnic rivalries and a deteriorating economy. In the worst scenario, the disarray could open the way for Soviet intervention.

``Tito was a great leader who could calm all our tensions,'' says Avni Spihiu, foreign editor of Rilindza, an Albanian language newspaper in Kosovo. Kosovo is Yugoslavia's poorest province, and hostilities there between Serbs and Albanians have turned nasty since Tito left the scene.

``By criticizing Tito,'' says Mr. Sphihiu, ``people want to reopen old wounds.''

But pressure to demystify Tito has mounted, particularly here in Slovenia, Yugoslavia's richest and most westward-looking republic. De-Titoization, many independent Slovenes believe, is necessary if Yugoslavia is to achieve political maturity.

``The old habit of leaning on Tito was a sign of a primitive political culture,'' says Tamas Mastnak, a dissident researcher at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences.

``If we are going to become a modern country, with a modern political system, we have to end the exaggerated cult of personality and develop a more realistic view of his role in history,'' he said.

Historians are uncovering blemishes in Tito's past. Tito took over the Yugoslav Communist Party in 1937 after Stalin dispatched its other leaders to Soviet labor camps. Not only did Tito go along with the purges at the time, he also never revised Stalin's bogus claim that his fellow comrades were ``capitalist spies.''

Tito's record in World War II also is questioned. The official line is that Tito, as leader of the Partisan rebels, never bargained with the Nazi enemy. New evidence suggests he contemplated negotiating a cease-fire with the enemy.

Along with the revisionist history, a scandal has sullied Tito's good name. Jovanka Broz is suing for items from her husband's extensive estate which were claimed as public property by the state. No mind that the state gave her a comfortable Belgrade villa. The widow wants Tito's cars, his yachts, his houses, his horses, his vineyards, his medals, his mementos.

This has spawned nasty jokes like the one about the residents of Titograd, who want to change the city's name so as not be considered as part of Tito's heritage. It also led to serious criticism of Tito's policies.

Economists have begun blaming Tito for the economic policies pursued during the 1970s, when Western loans fed an unprecedented prosperity boom. Unfortunately, the loans were not invested well, leaving Yugoslavia with a crippling debt.

Intellectuals similarly are questioning Tito's fundamental political beliefs. Last year, the Serbian Academy of Sciences criticized him for giving Yugoslavia's individual republics too much power under the 1974 Constitution.

``Slowly, steadily, Tito is being demythologized,'' concludes a Western diplomat. ``The old generation which idealized him is dying off and a new generation is growing up which doesn't feel obligated to honor him.''

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