Forty years ago, Yugoslavia's leader Tito died

Paris (AFP) –


The leader of communist Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito, died after a long illness on May 4, 1980, just days before his 88th birthday.

There was an outpouring of emotion over the death of Tito, who refused to let his Balkan country come under the Soviet thumb and kept a federation of different ethnicities and religions together.

Here is an account of his death and his funeral, based on AFP copy from the time.

- 'Comrade Tito has died' -

On Sunday, May 4, Tito is described as being in a "very grave" and "critical" condition in the latest of the bulletins which reported updates on his health since he was admitted to hospital in Ljubljana nearly four months earlier.

The news of his death finally comes in the early evening, in a statement from the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia and the Presidency.

"Comrade Tito has died."

It is addressed to "the working class, all the working people and citizens, and all the nations and nationalities of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia."

At his death, Tito only weighed some 40 kilogrammes (88 pounds).

He had been admitted to hospital in January following circulation problems caused by diabetes and had his left leg amputated, before suffering multiple complications.

The daily health bulletins had described kidney failure, pneumonia, septicaemia, internal bleeding, liver damage and a comatose state.

- Seven days of mourning -

Television starts broadcasting a long tribute to the man who led the communist resistance to the German Nazi invaders, before founding the people's republic in 1945.

He adopted the pseudonym Tito in the 1930s after five years in prison for activism in the Yugoslav Communist Party, which was banned at the time.

Educated in Moscow, at the end of World War II he became leader of a group of nations which had lived in a state of mutual suspicion and hatred that had torn them apart for centuries. Tito preserved unity with an iron grip.

The man who would be named Yugoslavia's president-for-life split with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1948 and co-founded the Non-Aligned Movement, grouping states advocating a middle course between the Eastern and Western blocs.

With a fondness for cigars and usually dressed in a gleaming uniform or white suit, Tito liked to host world leaders and Hollywood stars in his villas on the Brioni archipelago in Croatia or on his yacht in the Adriatic.

Seven days of national mourning is decreed during which chanting and funereal symphonies are played in succession on the radio.

The next day, on May 5, his coffin is placed aboard the official presidential "blue train" which travels from Ljubljana to Belgrade via Zagreb, accompanied by his two sons Zarko and Misa, so all can mourn him.

- Popular tribute -

Yugoslavs line the route, many in tears. The poem of devotion "Comrade Tito, from your path we will not stray!" rings out across the country.

In Belgrade portraits edged in black are displayed in shop windows, along with enormous red banners bearing slogans in his honour: "Tito, your name is freedom".

Several hours before the train arrives, the crowd converges in the rain on the federal Yugoslav parliament where the body will lie in state.

Citizens file day and night past the coffin draped with the Yugoslav flag stamped with a red star.

An old peasant woman in a black headscarf, her face lined with pain, genuflects then makes a sign of the cross before the coffin.

Behind her a former member of the Yugoslav anti-fascist partisan movement, his chest adorned with medals, makes the communist salute of his youth.

- Brezhnev at funeral -

Leaders from around the world travel to the funeral on Thursday, May 8.

They include Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, West Germany's Helmut Schmidt, East Germany's Erich Honecker and Britain's Margaret Thatcher.

The coffin is mounted on a pile of earth on Dedinje Hill, overlooking Belgrade, to the sound of the "Internationale" -- the anthem of the socialist movement -- followed by the Yugoslav anthem. Sirens ring out in all the country's towns and ports.

Tito chose to be laid to rest within the walls of his private residence on Uzicka street. The mausoleum bears simple words engraved in gold letters: Josip Broz Tito 1892-1980.

Yugoslavs and foreign visitors alike wonder whether the country will manage to safeguard its internal unity and independence.

Some fear it will fall prey to renewed Soviet expansionism, the USSR having invaded Afghanistan several months earlier.

As it turns out, Europe's communist regimes will fall one after the other from 1989.

The Yugoslav federation comprising six republics -- Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia -- plunges into an economic and political crisis which will revive nationalism.

In the 1990s it collapses in a series of wars that claim more than 130,000 lives, definitively turning the page on "titoism".