A gathering of friends at Tito’s grave (Travel Feature)

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Belgrade (Serbia), July 25 (IANS) He was a Yugoslav communist revolutionary and political leader who gained international attention as one of the faces of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), alongside India’s Jawaharlal Nehru, Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and Indonesia’s Soekarno. But what better way to preserve history and impart Josip Broz Tito’s values to future generations than mounting two permanent exhibitions on either side of his grave?

Tito’s death in 1980 has not intervened in the propagation of his ideals. The values he stood for and nearly four decades after his demise – his funeral was attended by a host of global leaders – the legacy lives on. At his grave in Belgrade, one is immediately transported to the times that this leader of global repute gained prominence in, thanks to the deep respect and reverence that people in this part of the world have for the arts and museums.

The walk uphill from the highway is tiring, often gruesome and may require a few short breaks on the way but the nostalgic bliss that this short trek ultimately transpires into is an experience worth having. Where else, for instance, would one come across the historic Blue Train or relays of youth, letters, gifts and memorabilia, from commoners and key political figures alike?

House of Flowers, as the resting place of Tito and his wife Jovanka Broz is called, is nothing short of fascination as it houses the Museum of Yugoslavia, apart from numerous photographs and antiques presented to him over the course of his illustrious career.

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And yet for a leader of such global repute, there is no pomp and overdoing at his grave. Instead, it is a simple dedication to the leader, steeped in all things artistic and bears resemblance to the values that Tito stood for and propagated among his people. Buried in a simple marble mausoleum, his resting place boasts of running water fountains, abundant natural light and plenty of flowers — all curated just as Tito liked them.

But if his mausoleum evokes nostalgia among the local people, the two permanent exhibitions running on either side of his grave provide a rare glimpse into history, offering the viewers a walk down the memory lane that generally escapes history textbooks. As it is, the House of Flowers is one of the most prominent monuments in Serbia and has attracted a staggering over 1,70,00,000 people since 1982.

Its most attractive component is an unusual collection of relay batons. Since 1945, Tito’s birthday was celebrated every year with a relay race in his honour. A die hard leader as he was, Tito’s commitment to physical fitness, sports and athletics is clearly visible in the photographs on display.

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Not surprisingly, every year the relay baton was passed from hand to hand and then given to Tito. This receiving and passing on of the baton symbolically represented the communication between the President and the people. In addition to the official batons that were used in the race, each year villages, towns, schools, offices and associations sent their batons to Belgrade as a gift for Tito. The rarest and most distinguished of the 14,000 relay batons thus collected are displayed for public viewing here.

And then there is pictorial information on the historic Blue Train. This section introduces the viewers to the railway journeys of Tito from 1947 to 1977. This Blue Train is particularly significant because Tito travelled widely in it, giving his contribution to the development and construction of the erstwhile Yugoslavia, and more significantly, spreading the idea of non-alignment and the struggle for human rights. It was in this train that Tito met and talked to key people, celebrities and statesmen, seeking their support in the philosophy of non-alignment at a time when the world was coping with the Cold War.

The Blue Train ultimately came to be known as the “Peace Train” and Tito travelled more than 6,00,000 kms in it, meeting over 60 national leaders. The train went for over 120 peace missions, taking Tito to 71 states, including France, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Austria and the erstwhile Soviet Union, among others. The train was greeted enthusiastically by hundreds of people who queued up along the railway tracks, waving at Tito. The Blue Train was Tito’s “travelling residence”.

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In New Delhi, there is Josip Broz Tito Marg and his deep friendship with India also finds an equal mention here at his mausoleum. Displayed here with elegance is a rare portrait of Nehru, which was originally gifted to Tito during his visit to India in 1955 by his “close friend and companion” himself. And when Indira Gandhi visited Yugoslavia in 1973, she too gifted a portrait to Tito, which is also displayed here, along with hundreds of gifts presented to the lifelong leader of Yugoslavia by several prominent statesmen, diplomats as well as common folk.

It is indeed a gathering of friends lost in the sands of time — but preserved outstandingly with a sense of historicity and no pomp or gaiety.

It’s also a reminder of the Yugoslavia of yore which couldn’t stay together mainly for ethnic and economic regions and split into Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzogovina and Kosovo – and, of course, the residual Yugoslavia.

(Saket Suman was in Serbia at the invitation of Serbia Tourism and Turkish Airlines. He can be contacted at [email protected])

–IANS

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