Respected and revered by his people, Josip Tito led Yugoslavia as president from 1953 until 1980. Throughout his rule, he carried with him a message of unity and nationalism. With his humble, peasant background, Tito had the ability to relate to the poor and disenfranchised. He had excellent control over national issues, easing ethnic tension and conflict. Diplomatic matters also played a major role throughout his rule, balancing the east-west powers in Europe, and maintaining a strong policy of nonalignment. Tito dominated the economic policy of Yugoslavia, and coined the phrase "Titoism" as his form of Yugoslavia's Socialism. Yugoslavia's unity was so closely associated with Tito that when he died in 1980, it marked the beginning of the end of a unified Yugoslavia.
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Josip Broz Tito was born in 1892, the seventh of 15 children in Kumrovec, Croatia. His parents were peasants, and he spent the early part of his life in a poor community in the countryside. But Tito was not to be an ordinary peasant farmer. As a metal worker, Tito joined the trade union and the Socialist Democratic Party of Croatia. After fighting in WWI, he joined the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, working his way up the ranks of the party to lead an independent movement.
In 1941, he led the Yugoslavian National Resistance Movement in an effort to gain an independent, liberated Yugoslavia. A provisional government was established in 1943, and Yugoslavia was declared a nation of "equal peoples" with Tito at the helm. In a bold move against Stalin, he broke from the USSR alliance in 1948. Tito's foreign policy and desire for equal representation did not align with Stalin's policies. He envisioned Yugoslavia as a socialist state, not Soviet-style Communist.
Elected President in 1953, Tito was anxious to build a strong Yugoslavia. A constitution was drafted that called for a Socialist Republic, including joint nationalities and equal republics, linked as social, economic and political communities. Under his strong leadership, Yugoslavia became a strong leading socialist state in the Eastern Bloc. Tito spent a great deal of time focused on foreign policy. After Stalin's death, he was able to establish friendly relations with Khrushchev. He refused to align with the US or the USSR, and encouraged other nations such as Egypt and India to do the same.
Tito's greatest strength was suppressing nationalist insurrections and maintaining unity throughout the country. In 1969, he established the League of Communists, attempting to bring national states and ethnic groups within Yugoslavia together. He later formed a collective presidency under his office with representatives of major nationalities. The constitution was revised in 1974 to include these reforms, and the collective presidency passed power when Tito died.
Without Tito's call for unity, the people of Yugoslavia could not hold together . They were lost without his powerful leadership. Ethnic divisions and conflict grew, and eventually erupted into a gruesome war. For many living in Yugoslavia, Tito was the only leader they had known, and the only leader that could hold them together. His life was Yugoslavia's livelihood, and it has never been able to rebound from the loss.