“Stop sending people to kill me. We've already captured five of them, one of them with a bomb and another with a rifle. [...] If you don't stop sending killers, I'll send one to Moscow, and I won't have to send a second.”
That was in a message President of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito, sent to Joseph Stalin, who tried to have Tito killed after the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia's relationship fell apart. Stalin also attempted to make Yugoslavia a Soviet satellite state, but Tito firmly rejected it. Stalin lined his tanks on the border between Hungary and Yugoslavia, ready to attack, but he withdrew as Americans decided to back Tito. That ensured Yugoslavia's economic aid from the U.S.
And still, when Tito died on this day 40 years ago, the U.S. President Jimmy Carter called him "a towering figure on the world stage" and said the U.S. would continue to support Yugoslavia.
Tito can easily be considered one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century. He served as a president of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from 1953 until he died in 1980. During World War II, he was the leader of Partisans, considered one of the most effective resistance movements in occupied Europe. He was seen as a unifying symbol and the one that kept peace in Yugoslavia. He was also the chief leader of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Upon his death, the New York Times wrote:
“Tito sought to improve life. Unlike others who rose to power on the communist wave after WWII, Tito did not long demand that his people suffer for a distant vision of a better life...Tito moved toward the radical improvement of life in the country. Yugoslavia gradually became a bright spot amid the general grayness of Eastern Europe.”
Tito made Yugoslavia opened to the world from which his citizens could travel and work anywhere, and many did in Germany, Italy, America, and so on. But many others also came and studied medicine and dentistry in Yugoslavia. Although it was a socialist republic, it was opened to everyone, and its people had a good life, jobs, and opportunity. There was no threat of abuse and kidnapping children or attacks on women. Yugoslavia was safe 24 hours a day. Safer than most Western countries.
Soon after his death, international media from America, Germany, Italy, France, and as far as the Middle East and Asia reported it as headline news. Not many have ever gotten such coverage that Tito received.
Tito's funeral on May 8th, 1980, was described as the largest funeral in history. It was attended by 4 kings, 31 presidents, 6 princess, 22 prime ministers, and 47 ministers of foreign affairs from both sides of the Iron Curtain. Out of 154 UN member states at the time, 128 countries were represented. There were also delegations from 7 multilateral organizations, 6 movements, and 40 political parties. For the full list of dignitaries, click here.
But all was lost with his death. Not only did Tito die on May 4th, 1980, but so did Yugoslavia and everything he built. Soon after his death, nationalists from Serbia and Croatia, who feared Tito, took over. There was no one to stop them. Serbs began to dream of Greater Serbia, and by 1986, the Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, known as the SANU Memorandum, was published detailing how Serbs wanted to create Greater Serbia.
Everything Tito worked for and how he unified people, came to an end in 1991 with the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia. Serbs from Serbia had removed all weapons from the army barracks of republics of Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia and took it to Serbia. It is essential to point out that during Tito’s leadership, Yugoslavia was armed by the Americans, British and French after he opposed Russia. Yugoslavia was in the top three countries in Europe for its weapon strength, so what Serbs took made the genocide easy to commit. And those European countries that once cried over Tito’s death were now backing Serbia by imposing weapons embargo which prevented Bosnia to defend itself. It is America that supported Bosnia during the war and now its peace.
What became of once-prosperous republics of former Yugoslavia is butchery, corruption, warmongering, division along the ethnic lines, and poverty. If Tito could come back from the dead, to see what happened to his Yugoslavia, he would die all over again, but this time from a heart attack.