Josip Broz Tito giving a speech to workers in post WWII.

Josip Broz Tito (May 7, 1892 - May 4, 1980)
(Created by Alen Beganovic, History 135, November 2004)

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How did Tito's foreign policies of Yugoslavia influence the politics and events of the Cold War?


Josip Broz Tito was an enigmatic figure of personal and social character who captured the political and social respect on a global basis through his revolutionary contributions during his lifetime to the country of Yugoslavia and the world. He was born to a multi-ethnic peasant family in the village of Kumrovac on May 7th, 1892 in province of Zagorje in Croatia, which at the time was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. By nationality his father Franjo was a born Croat and his mother Marija was a Slovenian, with both parents being a traditional Roman Catholics. Josip’s early childhood was characterized by the social and political unrest of the peasant class under the empirical rule of the Austro-Hungarians due to the agricultural issues of poor land quality and quantity, as well as the unrealistic regulatory practices of the empire. During his childhood days Josip grew up with his grandfather Martin Javorsek in Podsreda, Slovenia where he learned to speak Slovenian fluently, but which would later give him troubles when he enters the elementary educational system in Croatia in 1900. During his attendance at the elementary school the linguistic differences of the Croatian and Slovenian languages caused Josip to fail the first grade and to completely end his elementary education in 1905. Between 1905 and 1907 Josip was forced to work with his uncle in Slovenia due to the financial hardships of his large family as he was the seventh child of fifteen, thus putting off his education and apprenticeship until 1907. In 1907 Josip moved out of the native Kumrovac to Sisak where he began his apprenticeship at a locksmith shop where he became familiar with the notion of a Labor Day which was celebrated for the first time on May 1st, which would consequently lead to a later political and social involvement.

After the completion of his apprenticeship in October of 1910 Josip joined the Union of Metallurgy Workers and the Social-Democratic Party of Croatia and Slovenia, and starts taking more active roles in the social and political movements of the time. Taking advantage of unrestricted movement within the Austro-Hungarian empire, Josip took the opportunity to travel around the empire and thus visited Mannheim and Vienna where he employed himself in the Mercedes Benz and Daimler factory as a test driver of the vehicles between October and November of 1912. Upon the receipt of draft notice from the Austro-Hungarian army in December Josip traveled back to Zagreb(capital of Croatia) where he served most of his military duty until the breakout of World War I, with which he did not agree and was sentenced to prison due to his anti-war propaganda in August of 1914. After serving his sentence Tito and his 25th Patriot regiment was sent to the Russian front where in April of 1915 he was wounded by the German Howitzer shell and the whole regiment was captured by the Russian army. During his captivity he spent thirteen months in a hospital rehabilitating from his wounds during which he learned the Russian language through reading. After his rehabilitation period was over he was sentenced to a POW labor camp and was later sentenced to three week prison sentence for organizing demonstrations of prisoners of war. Upon his release Josip partook in large St. Petersburg demonstrations and was forced to flee Russia to Finland, but was arrested in the beginning of August of 1917 and was again sentenced to three weeks in Petropavlovsk prison from which he managed to escape to Omsk, Russia. There he registered for the Bolshevik’s Red Army and applied for the Russian Communist Party for which he gets accepted. In December of 1918, Josip as a member of the Red Army, helps liberate Omsk under the movement known as the Bolshevik Revolution. After the establishment of the communist Russia Josip applied for the Yugoslav section of the Russian Communist party for which he was accepted in March of 1919 in Omsk.

Upon his acceptance of the membership Josip returned to Zagreb in fall of 1919 where he organized demonstration rally against the establishment of dictatorial government in the newly established Kingdom of Yugoslavia, but the political influence of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia was minimal at the time. As a result Josip quietly worked in politics from the fall of 1920 until March of 1925 when he was again arrested for spreading communist propaganda and sentenced to seven months for giving a speech at comrades funeral in which he stated, "We swear, comrade, until the end of our lives we will fight for the idea, that you were so devoted to. After completing his sentence Josip united the communist party which at the time was fragmented, but was under constant surveillance of the police. In the late June of 1928 he organized a demonstration of 30,000 in Zagreb, based on a leaflet in which he called upon the workers of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia to come out and protest the working conditions, compensations, and exploitation. As a response the government issued the arrest warrant and upon his arrest he served another sentence of five years in the notorious prison of Lepoglav, which he started to serve at the end of February of 1929 until March of 1934, and uses that time to plan and organize partisan unit formations. After his sentence the authorities issued him a confinement to his native Kumrovac which he disregards in order to pursue the desired political life and in the process becoming a fugitive, hence he started to use for the first time Tito as his political name. In the later explanations Josip clarified that there was no specific reason for the chosen name, except the fact that Tito was uncommon national name. Thus Tito resumed his political activities by becoming a member of Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Party of Yugoslavia in July of 1934. As an active political member his duties included travels to Moscow, Vienna and other cities of communist meetings during that era. At the end of 1937 Tito became a General Secretary of the party, traveling around the Europe and slowly advocating the labor force rights and his political ideals of a Social-Democratic political system of equality on national, ethnic and religious levels of all peoples of Yugoslavia.

As the Hitler’s regime and ideals were spreading throughout Europe, Tito tried to warn the government of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia but the regime was unresponsive as they did not perceive the full threat of Germany. As a result the Tito organized the 5th State Conference of Communist Party of Yugoslavia on October 19, 1940 in Bihac(Bosnia and Herzegovina) in order to warn the oncoming threat of Hitler. At the conference there were 101 elected delegates and the consensus was reached that the armed resistance was going to be imminent in order to preserve the existence of Yugoslavia as a nation and its people. Unfortunately as the warnings of the party went unheeded the German 14th Panzer Division arrived at Zagreb on April 10th 1941 and proclaimed under the capitulated government of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the establishment of Nazi regime. On the same day Tito and the Communist Party of Yugoslavia dispatched representatives to all regions of the country in order to organize an armed resistance to the Nazi. On July 12 Tito wrote the proclamation of an armed uprising of nations of Yugoslavia in which he proclaimed his party’s determination on liberation from foreign occupation, revolt against nationalistic hatred, and called upon all workers, peasants, youth, civilians, and all patriots to unite in the fight for national independence and freedom. At the same time under the capitulated government there were paramilitary forces of the now disintegrated kingdom of Chetniks and Ustashes, mainly from Serbia and Croatia respectively, which were self-interest serving for the good of Croatia and Serbia, but cooperated with Nazi during the occupation, which in return provided self-reign over the certain regions of Yugoslavia which were largerly occupied by either Croatians, who were dominantly Catholics and Serbs who were largerly Orthodox, thus creating a competing environment for the territories on the basis of ethnicity and religion.

Initially Tito attempted to garner support from these groups in order to enlarge the resistance force to the Nazi. On September 19, 1941 Tito met with Draza Mihailovic, the commander in chief of Chetniks, to discuss active fight against the Nazis but Mihalovic turned the offer down, but accepted the suggestion not to attack Tito’s partisan forces. Again in October 26th another meeting took place with Tito offering twelve points proposal to Mihalovic which ended with the same conclusion as the previous meeting of promise not to attack partisan forces. That turned out to be untrue on November 2nd as the Chetnik forces attacked partisan formations in Uzice, which was successfully repelled. With the establishment of Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia in June 27th 1941, Tito was elected as marshal or the supreme commanders of the armed forces of Yugoslav National Liberation Army, and on November 29th and 30th he reached a decision on future establishment of federative nation of equal peoples of equal nationality of Yugoslavs. Thus Tito declared on December 4, 1943 a provisional democratic Yugoslav government, despite the current occupation of Nazis. With establishment of the new federation of Yugoslavia Tito was able to seek a formidable support from the Allies during the WWII, with a enormous success through military support and supplies. In his meeting with Winston Churchill in August 12-13, 1944 Tito firmly fought for the international recognition of the newly established Yugoslavia which was later officially recognized after the war. On October 23, 1944 Tito arrived with his forces to the freed capital of Belgrade(Serbia) and a year later establishes on November 29, 1945 The Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia with WWII and German occupation officially ending on May 15, 1945 in Yugoslav territories.

On April 1, 1948 Stalin offered Tito a proposal of federation between Yugoslavia which he refused and as a result on March 27 and May 4, 1948 Tito received a letter from the Communist Party of Russia with allegations of unconformity to Stalin’s Cominform. Tito’s refusal to conform to Stalin’s political and economical policies for the sake of own good for the peoples of Yugoslavia earned him the respect in the Western world and ensured the cooperation. As a result of Tito’s independent policies for the benefit of Yugoslavia, relations with the USSR until Stalin’s death were stringent with minimal support of Kremlin compared to other nations with established or developing communist or socialist forms of governing during the Cold War era. In the aftermath of the war Tito became the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, while Ivan Ribar, another commander in chief of partisan forces, was the President of Yugoslavia until January 13, 1953. On January 14th at the joint session of the Federal Assembly and the People’s Assembly Tito was elected as the first president of the Republic of Yugoslavia. With the notion of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain encompassing the global politics in the aftermath of WWII, Tito founded a League of Non-Aligned Nations along with Egypt’s Gamal Nasser and Inidia’s Jawaharlai Nehru, with first Conference of Chiefs of States and Governments of the Non-Aligned States held on September 1, 1961. Tito toured the Third World countries to promote non-alignment during the Cold War and in his tours he managed to visit over seventy different nations on all continents.

In June of 1950 Tito introduced a labor law in which major infrastructure businesses were state owned but managed by its own labor force, thus reinforcing the old socialist saying of factories belonging to workers. In order to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure and to advance the economical potential of Yugoslavia, Tito used the power of unity and brotherhood which he promoted throughout his lifetime as one Yugoslav nation, to recruit volunteers in order to build important infrastructure of the economy during his era and in return provided jobs to his citizens upon completion of various projects. Through his political policies of non-alignment, cooperation and peace among nations on a global level, he was able to establish Yugoslavia in international political and economical arena as a global promoter of equality and prosperity of all peoples of all nations. One of the greatest achievements of Tito was his ability to unite different ethnic and religious fractions within the country which enabled the existence of post war Yugoslavia until 1990s when Balkan wars erupted, diving the country and its people in a gruesome ethnic war. The unity of Yugoslavia was ensured through acceptance of Chetniks and Ustashes into the ranks of Yugoslav National Liberation Army towards the end of WWII despite their radical ideologies of expansionism of their respective territories and ethnic groups. As for their movement leaders they were imprisoned in the political prison camps such as Goli Otok.

On May 4, 1980 at exactly 3:05 PM Tito died in hospital center in Ljubljana after a long battle with his deteriorating health. He was buried in Belgrade in The House of Flowers and at his funeral there were 209 delegates from 127 different world nations, making it the largest funeral of any political figure in the 20th century. The funeral procession attendees included Margaret Thatcher, Yasser Arafat, Saddam Hussein and Leonid Brezhnew among others.


May 7th, 1892 - Born in Kumrovac, Croatia to a multiethnic family.
May 1st, 1907 - The introduction of a Labor Day for the first time.
April of 1915 - Tito is wounded on the Russian front in WWI.
December of 1918 - Tito as a soldier in Red Army liberates Omsk.
June of 1928 - Organized protest of 30,000 workers with Tito as the primary organizer.
April 10th, 1941 - German 14th Panzer Division overruns Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the government capitulates.
July 12th, 1941 - Tito writes proclamation of armed resistance to the Nazis.
June 27th, 1941 - Establishment of Anti-Fascit Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia and the armed forces of Yugoslav National Liberation Army, Tito becomes the commander of forces.
December 4th, 1943 - Tito establishes a provisional democratic Yugoslav government.
August 12th & 13th, 1944 - Tito meets with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
October 23rd, 1944 - Belgrade is liberated from the Germans.
November 29th, 1944 - The Federative People's Republic of Yugoslavia is established.
May 15th, 1945 - WWII officially ends in Yugoslav territories.
April 1st, 1948 - Stalin offers a proposal for a federation between USSR and Yugoslavia which Tito refused.
January 14th, 1953 - Tito is elected as the first president of The Republic of Yugoslavia.
September 1st, 1961 - First conference of Non-Aligned States is held.
May 4th, 1980 - Josip Broz Tito dies at 3:05 PM in Ljubljana.
Early 1990s - Yugoslavia disintegrates in a series of ehtnic wars.

WWW Resources

Timeline - Chronological section of events in Balkans, including Tito's era.

WWICS - Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars with Cold War information about Yugoslavia and the Cold War; and the material on Tito and his relations to USSR.

Powder Keg of the Balkans - An article written by Lt. Col. Dallace L. Meehan with brief background of the Balkans and the Cold War relations of Yugoslavia and the West.

Wikipedia - Extensive article about the Soviet-Tito split

Josef Broz Tito Internet Archive - Lot of information.

Cornell University - A website put together by a group of professors. If you click on the images audio commentaries are available.

Foreign Affairs.org - A great resourse site with past and present events and figures. Just search the archives.

Titoville.com - A home page for Tito.

Some other sites:

Recommended Books

Between Hitler and Tito : Nazi occupation and communist oppression, Ljubo Sirc. London : A. Deutsch, 1989.

Josip Broz Tito, Ruth Schiffman. New York : Chelsea House, 1987.

Keeping Tito Afloat : the United States, Yugoslavia, and the Cold War, Lorraine M. Lees. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997.

Tito and the rise and fall of Yugoslavia, Richard West. New York : Carroll & Graf, 1995.

Tito : the story from inside, Milovan Djilas. New York : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980.

Tito speaks : his self portrait and struggle with Stalin, Dedijer, Vladimir. London : Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1953.

Yugoslavia and the New Communism, Hoffman, George W.. New York : 20th Century Fund, 1969.

Tito-Yugoslavia's great dictator : a reassessment, Stevan K. Pavlowitch. Columbus : Ohio State University Press, 1992.

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This page is copyright © 2010, C.T. Evans and Alen Beganovic.
For information contact cevans@nvcc.edu