The ghost of president Tito, founder of the Nonaligned Movement, stalks this island paradise in the northern Adriatic, where OPEC oil ministers are struggling to deal with deep divisions in their once all-powerful cartel.
At one time the playground for the idle rich of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Brioni has become a monument to the energetic personality and luxurious tastes of one of the most remarkable leaders to emerge in the communist world. There are reminders of Tito wherever you look: his mahogany-keeled yacht anchored in the peaceful little harbor, the white villa that was his summer residence, his private safari park and zoo, the vineyards and orchards he tended himself.
It seems appropriate that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries should choose to hold its semiannual conference on the private island of the man once regarded by many Yugoslavs as their uncrowned communist monarch. A staunch supporter of the Arab world, Yugoslavia is now struggling to pay back a foreign debt of over $20 billion racked up in the 1970s when western banks were awash with OPEC oil money.
Both Yugoslavia and OPEC may be in crisis, but life on Brioni has an unreal, almost ethereal, quality that makes it difficult to believe there is very much wrong with the outside world. The island, a magical alchemy of white stone and lush pines suspended between the blueness of the sea and sky, is populated almost exclusively by bureaucrats, journalists, security men and herds of deer. It is as if the cares and worries of ordinary people had been left behind on the mainland.
Tito chose Brioni as his summer residence in 1949, when Yugoslavia was still recovering from the wartime devastation. He quickly set about restoring the beauty of the island that had been developed as an exclusive tourist resort before World War I.
Tito, a World War II guerrilla leader who never allowed his communist ideology to interfere with his love of the fine things in life, was delighted by his find. He once wryly told some local dignitaries: "I must tell you that Brioni -- to where various princes and others used to come to recuperate from their exhausting life of leisure -- is also very therapeutic for those who have to work."
Here, Tito launched the Nonaligned Movement in 1956, in a meeting with India's Jawaharlal Nehru and Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser. In later years, he used the island to entertain a parade of monarchs, communist party chiefs, prominent artists and revolutionaries.
The extent of Tito's personal wealth has become clear only recently as the result of a court case brought by his widow, Jovanka, whom he quarreled with before his death but never divorced. Unsatisfied by a fat pension and a large house in Belgrade, Jovanka claimed that she was entitled to all her late husband's assets, which include about 20 villas, a fleet of cars, jewelry and countless gifts from heads of state.
Alarmed at what it considered Jovanka's rapaciousness, the government promptly passed a bill nationalizing the lot.
Many of Tito's private residences have been transformed into luxury hotels or hunting lodges. Brioni was declared a national park in 1983 and, when not being used for high-level meetings such as this OPEC conference, it can be visited by tourists.
For the OPEC oil ministers, the island is a change from the luxury hotels in Geneva and Vienna, where they usually meet. Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Zaki Yamani sailed over from Venice with his family on his yacht. Mana Said Otaiba of the United Arab Emirates jogs through the pine woods, surrounded by aides and bodyguards murmuring into walkie-talkies.
When the delegates are not haggling over production quotas and price ceilings, their main preoccupation has been how to secure a bicycle to tour the island. The limited supply has led to heated arguments between journalists and OPEC bureaucrats who feel they should be given priority.
For Yugoslavia, hosting the OPEC talks has provided an opportunity to make a small dent in its foreign debt by charging exorbitant prices. Using the oil cartel's strategy, the Yugoslavs have raised prices to three or four times normal on the apparent assumption that they can impose any price they wish on a captive market.
The delights of Brioni inspired OPEC's resident poet, Otaiba, to compare the peace and quiet of the island with the "din of oil markets." The UAE oil minister concluded his poem with these lines, translated from Arabic:
We meet today on this island, but worry like a cloud
Hangs over my head. I wish we came here as tourists for fun
And to relax rather than stirring up dormant distress
Or blowing hot the buried embers of our dissent.