You knew nothing about Tito and what you thought you knew was mostly inaccurate. In the book titled “Tito’s Secret Empire,” we give answers to questions about his career. Perhaps all the answers are not correct, but they are thoroughly investigated – says Denis Kuljiš, who wrote his second book on the enigma that is Tito.
Once you start talking with Denis Kuljiš you cannot stop. And it seems that the talk about the former Yugoslav president, Josip Broz Tito never ceases, so much so that Kuljiš has written his second book, called “Tito’s Secret Empire” about him, in collaboration with his tragically deceased writing partner, William Klinger. We started our interview with Tito’s body of political work and later switched over to talking about his successors in the ex-Yugoslav republics.
1. What new things about Tito are we going to find out from your new book that are not classified as conspiracy theories?
The conspiracy theories, that were disseminated by the domestic journalistic feuilletonists, are based on the fact that nobody could even answer the basic questions about Tito. For example, where was he born and where did he grow up, how he got his nickname – the cryptonym Tito – when he was admitted to the Communist Party and what did he really do in his career until 1944 when he emerged publicly at the age of 52? All in all, nobody knew much about him, despite numerous biographies written about the man.
Probably the best books on Tito – Dedijer’s ”Tito speaks: His self-portrait and struggle with Stalin”, published in 1953, the year when Stalin died, and ”The Heretic: The life and times of Josip Broz-Tito” from 1957 – are fantastically written while their writers knew the character that was Tito and participated in his profiling.
But these were literary pamphlets designed to create desirable perceptions with the global public. Subsequent biographers took this data and re-told and expanded the story, more or less. There was no new research whatsoever, except for Dedijer’s “New Contributions to the Biography of Josip Broz Tito”. This is a thick compendium, or rather a mishmash from 1980, that was attacked by all the media outlets close to the regime, although it was not a biographical synthesis, but rather an extensive bulk material.
However, by then, Tito had become a saint and we all know too well what kind of reactions one would get if they published a book called “Saint Franjo through the eyes of psychiatrists and his real relationship with Saint Klara”. While Tito was alive, the regime kept his secrets while superpowers created a programmed perception of him because they deemed him as an important instrument of international policy. When everything collapsed – both the Yugoslav state and communism – the time came to answer all the questions but there were no materials to provide the answers so they were fictionalized which, in turn, created a conjuncture for the journalistic feuilletonists, various idlers from the capital city, the people who tried to make history by writing fake autobiographies, and the like.
The academic community completely fell short. The only valuable discoveries were those by journalistic publicists like Milomir Marić (“Children of Communism”) and Pera Simić (countless books), though these were not historiographies, but live sensational pieces from that era. Professor Jože Pirjevec from Trieste scrupulously compiled the sources for his book “Tito and Comrades”, which was quite popular among readers, but he didn’t write anything new in it, apart from stating his original idea of the alleged super-importance of Tito’s deputy from Slovenia, Edvard Kardelj, who was actually a pencil pusher and unevolved teacher. The book that we had been writing for six years, and that is now finally released after the earlier one “Tito: Untold Stories” from 2013, which contained undiscovered material with commentary, provides answers to all the questions concerning his career.
I am not saying that all of it is true, but it had been meticulously researched from the various sources with the bibliographic body of work that contains around 1,000 footnotes and a critical overview of the sources spread over 150 typed pages. In short, everything you did not know about Tito and what you thought you knew about him was wrong for the most part.
2. William Klinger, the book’s co-author, was killed in New York City at the age of 42. What exactly happened because there have been various speculations about his murder?
My friend William Klinger, a young historian from Rijeka who possessed multicultural identities and knowledge and studied in Trieste, Klagenfurt, Budapest and Florence, lived in the provincial town of Gradisca di Isonzo and worked as a freelance historian in Rovinj’s Centro di Ricerche Storiche. Despite his youth, he was one of the most quoted authors in scientific databases. At the age of 42, he decided to go to America and give a lecture there, in defence of his colleague, an interpreter, whom he met at the Dante Alighieri High School in Rijeka. This colleague had promised to sell his apartment in Queens, New York, to William, and then killed him and took his money. The highly decorated New York detectives were swift to react, the killer was arrested in 48 hours after the murder and following three years of the trial, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, with the right to seek parole only after spending 25 years in prison. In conclusion, the judge said that “he robbed his victim of the American dream.”
3. You are perceived as one of the best experts on political relations in the region. Shall we start with Serbia? What is the biggest mistake that Vučić and the Serbian opposition have made?
Mr Vučić inherited a state ruled by predatory elites created during Milošević’s era. His general direction of action is correct – focusing on Serbia becoming an EU member, establishing an entrepreneurial, liberal economy, and creating a new Serbia – Serbia 2.0., if you will – that could live beyond its mythomaniacs and cargo cults. One would think that this is very difficult but not impossible to conceive, but, in actuality, it is – Belgrade was and is a European metropolis, and the Serbs, the Serbian elite, are actually Westerners, while the future of their country is in the West. Serbia is not in Kosovo but in Belgrade.
Modalities, or rather political means to achieve these goals, are a different ball game. This is what the opposition is focusing on and judging by street protests, is something that people reject. The people’s dissatisfaction, that the opposition has failed to properly direct, is a very bad thing, both in Serbia and in France. Historically speaking, the Serbian opposition fell short again in failing to accept a liberal project and instead has been focusing only on bringing down what they perceive as unworthy leadership.
4. What is your view of the current power struggle on the Croatian political scene?
Back in the day, Ivo Sanader “de-Tudjman-ized” the biggest political party – the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ, abbreviated in Croatian) and created an opportunity for a European future. However, his government broke down due to endless kleptocracy which was a transnational, middle-European, “joint criminal endeavour”. Milanović’s left government then proceeded to destroy the Croatian economy, while Karamarko’s right government destroyed the society and hence the state. Plenković is now rebuilding the state and trying to “de-HDZ-ize” HDZ, but, by the same token, he is also “re-Tudjman-izing” it, putting himself in the position of the omnipotent chancellor. This does bring stability, but it also pools all the flaws of the previous three governments.
5. Is Bosnia and Herzegovina a sustainable union after all, or should it fall apart as Yugoslavia or collapse like Iraq, as Peter Galbraith claims in his book “The End of Iraq”?
I’ve known Peter for many years and I even made an hour-long documentary about him in which we tried to sum up his entire career and not only the years he spent in the Zagreb and Balkan adventures. Galbraith was a US ambassador both in Croatia and Bosnia and is actually a diplomat appointed by the US administration for the territory of the ex-Yugoslavia. Together with his friend, Richard Holbrooke, he managed to bring peace here and create the Dayton Agreement. He was also in favour of both Iraq and Yugoslavia being divided, but not Bosnia. On the contrary, he was against the “ethnicization” of this composite state (which he advocated in Dayton as the main building principle). I share his views on this. Bosnia should be transformed into a federation, with one parliament, one prime minister and one state president (who would hold only a ceremonial role), but also with a Senate (the current Council of Nations) where the Senate members would be chosen from real, municipal election units. Is this possible? I couldn’t tell you. I would like to see a debate about this topic and I would gladly participate in it – not as a Croat, mind you, but as an ex-Yugoslav who feels he has a certain debt to pay to the unfinished business of democratic transformation.
6. You spent your whole adult life in the media. What is your view of the media scene in Serbia and Croatia today?
They have never been stronger, right? So many TV stations, mobile platforms for sporting, entertainment and news content, portals, the whole lot… A lot of money is being spent on that but most of it the money earned goes to big corporations, just like everywhere else in the world. I would be perfectly happy with this progress if we could somehow stop the state from meddle into media so much. The state meddles both as a ruling authority and as a judge. In Croatia, it has managed to implement judicial terror, in Serbia, it uses other means, and in Slovenia, it relies on provincial self-censorship. In Bosnia, foreign embassies run rampant in the media because they are the real power there. Journalistic profession is in jeopardy, but then again, it always has been.
7. You are also an expert on airline scene. What do you think of the changes in that segment in the region? What do you think of Air Serbia, in the context of its six-year-long business ‘marriage’ with Etihad, Air Croatia, the new airport in Zagreb, Vinci taking over Belgrade airport, the Serbian government now running the airport in Niš and such?
In collaboration with Etihad, Air Serbia has managed to substantially increase traffic at Belgrade airport and thus regain its dominant position in the region. However, Etihad is not doing so well, particularly when it comes to its expansion format in Europe.
Croatia Airlines has to find a strategic partner in order to prevent a complete collapse, and the transfer of concession of the airport to the European consortia is a bad thing. We should have picked a Korean or an American partner that had also competed. But once you enter the immediate European orbit, your hands are bound. Large German and French companies are a disaster for aviation. We should now do business with the Poles, and you should do it with the Hungarians. As for Niš Airport, I really don’t know what to tell you. I would not give airports to cities to run. They are always seen as a job opportunity rather than a development chance.
8.This year, we are marking centenary of the Paris Peace Conference, 80 years since the beginning of the Second World War and 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. What do you think, in which direction is Europe heading?
Europe is being re-feudalized. They succeeded in getting rid of the British, the EU’s best country, while ethatism now dominates over liberalism, and is accompanied by left-wing and leftist populism, which, at its margins, is transforming itself into neo-Communist fascism, that is, right-wing pro-Russian Nazism. I would say that, ideologically speaking, this is not such a major problem, but that the biggest problem lies in the sclerotic economy, which cannot function because of the double terror from the Brussels bureaucratic regulation and the oligopolistic collision of large European corporations which are very successful and which are, actually, keeping Europe alive. If you lack medium-sized capitalists, well, at least you have the big ones. In fact, what is most worrying is the composition and average values of the European governments. It’s been a long time since we witnessed such mediocrity. Countries are run by former teachers, third-grade pencil pushers from regional governments, and nerds devoid of charisma. Incompetent governments lead to economic crises, but as my friend, an economist, says, European crises are the only good thing in Europe at the moment, as they are a sort of a stress test for their institutions.