Sabrina Ramet, professor of Political Science at the Norwegian University of Science & Technology, is the author of several influential books on Balkan history, among them The Three Yugoslavias: State-Building and Legitimation, published in 2006 by The Wilson Center Press and Indiana University Press, and also published in Croatian and German translations.
Was the period between 1951 and 1968 a real “golden age” for Yugoslavia, both in political and economical terms?
Absolutely not. To begin with, Tito was an authoritarian leader and we are not speaking about a democratic country. But even in that context, the years 1951—1968 were scarcely a rosy time. I used that term (“golden age”) to describe the brief period from 1974 to 1980. With the 1974 Constitution, Tito partly met the needs of the liberals, granting some decentralization and a more open economic system. But 1951-1968 was a time of economic hardship and political repression. The economy started to get better only in the mid-1960s.
What kind of public figure was Tito?
An extremely charismatic person, with an enormous ego and self-confidence. He projected the image of a leader who would bring stability to the country, but he made fundamental misjudgements. He wanted Yugoslavia to survive as a unified, socialist country, but lacked a pragmatic sense. For instance, firing liberals in the country in 1971–1972 was extremely damaging and eliminated Yugoslavia’s best hope for survival as a unified country at peace. But I wouldn’t paint him only in black shades: he kept the country away from USSR, he allowed a limited amount of private enterprise, there was a liberalized media system in some republics, especially in Slovenia.
Why so much “Tito nostalgija” in the Balkans?
Some of the appeal surely has to do with kitsch. People love kitsch, but there is more to Tito than just kitsch. Tito was a mixed character. Possibly the worst atrocity he committed was the massacre at Bleiburg . One can also stress how inefficiently he run the country, what kind of legacy he left. But there is still a nostalgia for him, as shown in the articles published about him from time to time in the Croatian press and the availability of his pictures for sale at the Bascarsija in Sarajevo, not to mention his nephew in Belgrade that found a new party playing on the old name of Broz. And Serbs who want to criticize him recently speak about him using the name his family name Broz rather than than his nom de guerre Tito. This tells you that the name Tito has still an incredible magic.