Brioni - Titovata Raskosh

Brioni - Titovata Raskosh
The Globe and Mail


Tito's Neverland

The Yugoslavian leader loved to entertain world leaders such as Churchill
and Nehru and actors like Liz Taylor and Richard Burton on his private
playground of Brijuni. ALAN FREEMAN reports on the faded glory of a fantasy world,
complete with zoo and luxury yacht


BRIJUNI, CROATIA -- The Galeb, at one time famous around the world as the
luxury yacht of Yugoslavian leader Marshal Tito, is for sale.

It's massive -- at 384 feet long, still considered the world's third-largest
personal vessel -- and has a storied past, beginning life as a banana boat
and serving the Germans during the Second World War before being converted
into a floating palace, where Tito entertained show-business types such as
Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as well as state leaders
including Nikita Khrushchev and Winston Churchill.

Now, more than 25 years after his death, the Galeb (Serbo-Croatian for
"seagull") has come to symbolize the sad fate of Tito's great Yugoslav experiment:
the multi-ethnic federation that collapsed into civil war and disintegrated
into a half-dozen independent states, the most recent being tiny Montenegro,
whose citizens voted narrowly in May to kiss Serbia goodbye.

The ship, too, has fallen on hard times. A recent refit effort was
abandoned, leaving it a rusting hulk anchored in the Croatian port of Pula and
desperately seeking a buyer.

James Roumeliotis, the Greek-Canadian broker handling the sale, admits that
the Galeb is falling apart and its American owner will be lucky to get a
small fraction of his asking price -- $6-million (U.S.), marked down from

"I figure, for $700,000 or $800,000, he'll let it go," Mr. Roumeliotis says.

In fact, just before Montenegrins went to the polls in late May, it nearly
was auctioned off as scrap.

The yacht is not the only fading vestige of Tito's penchant for
state-supported luxury. Ten kilometres from Pula, on the verdant islands of Brijuni, his
legacy lives on in the lumbering form of Sony and Lanka, two aging Asian
elephants who arrived here in the early 1970s, a personal gift from Indian prime
minister Indira Gandhi.

Why such largesse for a Communist? Because the wartime freedom fighter who
ruled Yugoslavia with an iron fist for a generation was, in fact, a political r
enegade, the founder of the Non-Aligned Movement, an influential group of
nations that did not want to be lumped in with either the socialist East or
capitalist West. By playing both sides against each other, Tito managed to
survive and prosper.

Comrade Tito, as he preferred to be called, also liked to have a good time.
He was a dandy who loved to hobnob with the rich and famous and who had a
soft spot for exotic animals. Like some forerunner of Michael Jackson, he built
a private zoo on Brijuni, turning his summer residence into a Balkan-style
Neverland Ranch.

Today, although Yugoslavia is a thing of the past, the remnants of Tito's
animal collection, led by broken-tusked Sony, still populate what must be the
world's most bizarre safari park.

Roaming the grassland on the shores of the Adriatic are the descendants of
zebras that came from Amhed S#195;©kou Tour#195;© of Guinea, as well as antelopes from
Zambia's Kenneth Kaunda, Shetland ponies said to be from the Queen, plus
llamas and ostriches from who knows where. Outside the safari park, herds of deer
roam freely, munching away at the grass on the 18-hole golf course.

But this is no animal kingdom devoid of humanity. Every day, hordes of
schoolchildren, busloads of overweight Austrian tourists and the odd Croatian
golfer clamber aboard an aging ferry for the 15-minute trip from the tiny port of
Fazana to Veliki Brijuni, the largest of the 14 islands that make up the

Once on the main island, they take guided tours through the safari park on a
toy train, which passes Roman ruins and vast abandoned villas from the
Austro-Hungarian-era. They also visit animals that have died, been stuffed and put
on display at the Tito Museum, or trade Croatian curse words with the late
leader's aging parrot, Koki, housed in a cage nearby.

Warm and fuzzy feelings for the old marshal are probably stronger in Bosnia
and Serbia, which have strong economic reasons to look back on Tito's reign
as the good old days. The attachment in Croatia, whose scenic Adriatic Coast
is enjoying quite a tourist boom, is more sentimental -- he's the local boy
who made good.

Of course, nostalgia for communism pops up all over former East Bloc
countries. So many people who grew up in East Germany pine for the past that savvy
capitalists are making a killing off their "Ostalgie" by marketing classic
Spreewald pickles, Trabant mini-cars and a proposed East German theme park near

In the former Soviet Union, even Joseph Stalin has diehard fans more than 50
years after his death. Not surprisingly, they are especially numerous in
Gori, his Georgian hometown, where there's a giant statue of the brutal
dictator, a museum dedicated to his life story and talk of repatriating his remains
from Moscow's Red Square.

But the feeling isn't limited to the Caucasus. In 2004, a survey conducted
in Russia found that to 21 per cent of respondents, Stalin remains "a wise
leader who brought the USSR to power and prosperity."

Now a national park, Brijuni (known to Italians as Brioni) is located off
the Istrian peninsula in northern Croatia, a place where national borders have
changed five times over the past century, usually as a result of war.

Once part of the Venetian empire, Istria fell into Austro-Hungarian hands in
the 19th century after being briefly held by the French. The Italians seized
it after the First World War and then lost it to Yugoslavia after the
Second. When Yugoslavia came apart in the early 1990s, Slovenia took a northern
sliver of the peninsula. The rest went to Croatia.

The result of this historical m#195;©lange is a place where a restaurant meal
starts with Italian-style prosciutto, followed by a main course of grilled lamb,
and ends with a slice of Viennese apple strudel smothered in whipped cream.

The architecture is just as eclectic, from charming hill towns with
Venetian-style campaniles to resorts with Yugo brutalist-style hotels from the 1960s.

For more than three decades, Brijuni was Tito's alternative seat of power
and private playground, where he greeted world leaders and relaxed away from
the prying eyes of the masses, who were banned from the place until several
years after his death.

"Brijuni became a second centre of government," says Neil Barnett, a British
journalist and author of a recently published biography of Tito. "He held
court there. He saw himself as a great figure on the world stage, which he was
in some ways. He needed somewhere where the Queen or [Ethiopian emperor]
Haile Selassie or movie stars could hang out and be suitably impressed."

Tito was born Josip Broz in 1892 in Kumrovec, a Croatian village near the
border with Slovenia. His father was Croatian, his mother Slovenian, and he
trained as a locksmith, becoming active in the Communist Party and union
activities in the 1920s.

After leading the Yugoslav partisans to victory in the war and crushing
domestic opposition, he emerged as Yugoslavia's president for life.

Although a Communist, he eventually broke with Stalin, learning to dance
between the two great rivals during the Cold War.

"Standing up to the most powerful Communist power in the world, however, did
not turn Tito into a democrat," British journalist Misha Glenny writes in
The Balkans: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers 1804-1999.

"He was undeniably adored by many Yugoslavs, but he never considered putting
his popularity to an electoral test.

"Had he done so, he probably would have won comfortably," Mr. Glenny
continues. "The result might also have undermined his self-image, which demanded
unquestioning approval: The entire political structure in Yugoslavia was
dependent on Tito's belief in his own infallibility."

The archipelago that Tito chose as his personal retreat had been a heavily
wooded and largely neglected backwater until it was purchased from a Trieste
merchant in 1893 by Paul Kupelweiser, an Austrian steel magnate.

Anxious to tame the locale, Kupelweiser hired Robert Koch, a Nobel
Prize-winning medical researcher, to oversee eradication of the malaria-bearing
mosquito population that infested the main island. The plan succeeded, and
Kupelweiser transformed the island into a playground for Europe's aristocracy.

Fresh water was piped from the mainland, four kilometres away, hotels were
built on the shoreline along with a revolutionary indoor swimming pool using
heated seawater.

The rich and powerful flocked to Brijuni. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose
assassination helped to spark the First World War, was a frequent visitor, as
were Karl I, the last Austrian emperor, and Wilhelm II, Germany's final kaiser.

After Kupelweiser's death in 1919, his son Karl built Europe's biggest golf
course on Brijuni, as well as a polo club and a casino. But he ran into
personal and financial problems. In 1930, he killed himself with his father's
hunting rifle.

The Italian government under Mussolini seized the islands, but, despite the
clouds of depression and war, Brijuni resumed its carefree allure, attracting
the glitterati for polo competitions in its warm and sunny mini-climate.
Visitors included actor Douglas Fairbanks, writer George Bernard Shaw and
financier John D. Rockefeller.

The Germans occupied the islands in 1943, after the Italian capitulation.
When they became part of Yugoslavia, Tito took one look and decided to keep
them, believing like a latter-day Louis XIV that l'#195;©tat, c'est moi.

"He had very little private property, but he regarded the assets of the
state as his to use," says Mr. Barnett, the biographer. "He didn't own houses and
buildings. He didn't have Swiss bank accounts. He lived extremely well --
but he was not a kleptocrat."

In 1953, the islands' last 279 permanent residents were removed, and Brijuni
was declared a military and diplomatic reserve. And Tito began to entertain.

The parade of visiting world leaders, who numbered more than 90, was
impressive. Often dressed in his dazzling white military uniform and sunglasses, the
heavyset president greeted India's Jawaharlal Nehru, Egypt's Abdel Nasser,
Cuba's Fidel Castro and North Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh, as they set foot on the
island for a conference or a state visit.

A fan of movies and beautiful women, he also played host to Ms. Loren and
Gina Lollobrigida, as well as Liz and Dick. In fact, Mr. Burton was a
particular favourite; he played Tito as a wartime leader in the 1973 feature film

To impress his guests, Tito would take them on a spin around the main island
in his big-finned, 1953 Cadillac convertible -- or for a ride aboard the

Built in Genoa in 1938, it had been used by the Nazi fleet to lay mines
until being sunk by British bombers off the Croatian port of Rijeka in 1945.
After it was salvaged and turned into a yacht, Tito sailed it up the Thames,
accompanied by a Royal Navy escort, during a 1953 state visit.

"The Galeb was truly a dream ship," says Zoran Joksimovic, who played
accordion aboard it in a military band. "It emanated beauty: Persian carpets,
wooden furniture, golden dishes and cutlery. Back then, I could barely believe my

After Tito's death, the Galeb was moored in Croatia and all but abandoned
until being purchased in 2000 by John Paul Papanicolaou, a Greek businessman
who also bought and renovated the Christina O., the former Canadian minesweeper
transformed into a yacht for shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis.

Similar plans for the Galeb foundered and it was put up for auction by a
Croatian court in May, missing the scrap heap only after authorities gave it
official heritage status. Local politician Vojko Obersnel wants to turn it into
a tourist attraction. "The ship is of huge historical and cultural
importance, which is why we want to buy it."

Back on Brijuni, the Tito Museum documents the Yugoslav leader's life as a
dapper dictator, with fading photographs of the great man. "He was a very good
host," Mr. Barnett says. "He was extremely charming. He was a man's man. He
loved chasing women. He liked carousing. He always got along well with the
army. He liked going hunting. He was never an intellectual and never pretended
to be."

Tito's schedule on Veliki Brijuni was so busy that he decided he needed a
retreat from his retreat. So he built a peasant's cottage on the nearby island
of Vanga for relaxation, leaving his White Villa on the main island for
official visits.

And he was ever anxious to maintain an image as a man of the people. Photos
at the museum show him busy working at a wood lathe, trimming his beloved
tangerine trees, tending his vineyard, even clearing brush #195; la George W. Bush.

One famous picture depicts him trolling for fish in the waters off Brijuni,
wearing a suit. Another shows him adjusting the telescopic lens on his
hunting rifle, with a caption that says he is "taking care" of animals.

Downstairs from the photo exhibit are displays of the ones that didn't get
away, dioramas including one with the baby giraffes that apparently died en
route to the Tito zoo and got stuffed soon after.

The museum was completed in 1984 -- four years after his death -- and not a
word on any display appears to have been altered since, surprising given the
rejection of the pan-Yugoslav federation he stood for.

But the Croatians are clearly ambivalent about Tito. They may not cry much
over the collapse of Yugoslavia, but they still think highly of the late

In a 2004 survey by the Croatian magazine Nacional, he was ranked as the top
Croatian ever born. And in Fazana, the port opposite Brijuni, they recently
held a week-long celebration in honour of his birthday.

"Croatia is a small country," Mr. Barnett says. "They're probably quite
pleased that one of their boys was a world figure, although they're also still
resentful of the old Yugoslavia."

Perhaps nothing better demonstrates that ambivalence than the run-down state
of Brijuni itself. Like the faded glory of the Galeb, the three hotels still
operating could use a massive overhaul, starting at least with a coat of
paint, and the zoo displays that once housed lions, tigers and pumas are eerily
empty and overgrown with vegetation.

Ivo Banac, a Croatian historian who as environment minister was briefly
responsible for Brijuni, admits that he has never even set foot on the islands.
"I don't like the associations," he says.

As for Sony and Lanka, in 2000, the cash-starved park management decided
that the elephants were too expensive to feed, so the aging pachyderms were sold
to a circus. After animal-rights groups discovered they were subject to
abuse, the elephants returned to Brijuni, where they are now fed thanks to
donations from the public, including Croatian tennis star Ivan Ljubicic.

In the meantime, government officials say there are plans afoot to restore
the islands as a playground for the world's wealthy and well-connected.
Brioni, the Milan-based fashion house that takes its name from the islands, plans
to build a 400-room luxury spa, described by its chief executive, Umberto
Angeloni, as "a Capri or Davos in the Adriatic."

As part of that plan, Brioni has already helped to bring polo back to the
island for the first time since the 1930s. This month, the third annual Brioni
Polo Classic Tournament took place amid rampant speculation that former U.S.
president Bill Clinton had been invited and would arrive aboard the Christina
O. But in the end, Mr. Clinton was a no-show. Perhaps he, too, didn't like
the associations.

Alan Freeman is a correspondent in The Globe and Mail's Washington bureau.
Aleksandra Yahtava podobro ke beshe da ja napravea kako turisticka atrakcija, sepak e del od istorijata odkolku da ja prodavaat na neznam koj, i koja moze da zavrshi vo kolekcijata na nekoj multimilioner od neznam kade.