Jovanka Broz, onetime first lady of Yugoslavia, dies at 88


Flanked by their wives, President Richard Nixon says goodbye to President Josip Broz Tito following their final round of talks at the White House on October 30, 1971. Mrs. Broz, who was married to Yugoslavia’s authoritarian leader Josip Broz Tito for nearly 30 years but lived in isolation as the federation he had built broke apart, died Oct. 20 at 88. (UPI/UPI)
October 21, 2013

Jovanka Broz, who was married to Yugoslavia’s dictator Josip Broz Tito for nearly 30 years but lived in isolation as the federation he built broke apart, died Oct. 20 at a hospital in Belgrade, Serbia. She was 88.

The hospital director announced the death and said the cause was a heart ailment.

Tito led the partisan communist resistance movement that fought the German occupiers of Yugoslavia during World War II. He met Jovanka Budisavljevic — born into a farming family in what is now Croatia — when she was fighting in the first female brigade of the guerrilla group.

After the war, Tito, an ethnic Croat, took power and ruled the multiethnic federation of Yugoslavia with a heavy hand. But he also kept close relations with the West and gave Yugoslavia’s citizens liberties such as free travel that were not allowed in other communist nations at the time.

After Tito came to power, Mrs. Broz, an ethnic Serb, was assigned to work with the communist leader. They began a relationship and married in the early 1950s. Over the next two decades, she accompanied Tito during his many international trips and at meetings with foreign leaders and celebrities, including British royals, U.S. President Richard Nixon and Hollywood stars.

The couple drifted apart by in the 1970s and her influence, never enormous, waned. She was held incommunicado for months in the late 1970s and was investigated for alleged political intrigue involving appointments to important military positions.

Tito died in 1980, and the six-member federation fell apart in the early 1990s in a series of ethnic conflicts. Seven independent nations emerged after warfare that left about 100,000 people dead and millions homeless.

Tito’s successors accused Mrs. Broz of ambitions to take over the country and placed her under house arrest. Mrs. Broz said she was kicked out of her residence, which was ransacked and her personal belongings impounded.

Later, as Tito’s personality cult crumbled and his once-glorified role in Yugoslavia’s history came under scrutiny, Mrs. Broz mostly remained in isolation.

In a rare interview in 2001, she told the Blic newspaper that she lived in a Belgrade house without heating and often no electricity, and that she had no income or property to support herself.

“I’m totally deprived of any rights,” she said.

She did not hold valid Serbian identity documents until 2009, when a pro-democracy Serbian government moved to improve her status.

On Sunday, Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said in a message that “unfortunately, the historic injustice has just started to be undone at the end of her life.” He said his government supports burying Mrs. Broz at the same complex where Tito’s tomb is located in a residential area of Belgrade.

The couple did not have children.

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