When Marshal Tito, president of Yugoslavia, died on May 4, 1980, the representatives of 122 states, including an impressive array of world leaders, attended his funeral. He was almost universally hailed as the last great World War II leader, the first communist to successfully challenge Stalin, and the founder of "national communism." Above all else, Tito was praised as the creator of modern Yugoslavia, the leader whose wisdom and statesmanship had united Yugoslavia's historically antagonistic national groups in a stable federation.
In his excellent book, Tito and the Rise and Fall of Yugoslavia, Richard West provides us with a biography, travelogue, and popular history of Yugoslavia and an analysis of the personalities and events that brought about the country's disintegration and civil war. West loves Yugoslavia and has a native's feel for local color and anecdotes. He writes so admirably that one enjoys his book even when its conclusions are questionable. This is certainly one of the most readable books ever written about Yugoslavia.
Tito as unifier of Yugoslavia is one of the author's main themes. The Communist Party came to power in Yugoslavia at the end of World War II after its Partisan army fought not only German, Italian, and other occupiers but also fellow Yugoslavs in rival, often quisling, military units. The Partisans were a multinational group (although Serbs predominated in the first half of the war), as was the Communist Party. They advocated national equality and a federal Yugoslavia in their propaganda. This helped them win the civil war since their opponents were mostly nationalists who had followings only inside their own national groups and whose extremism alienated large segments of the population.
After the war and throughout the Cold War, a triumphant Communist Party, with Tito at its helm, claimed that it had once and for all solved the nationalities problem. Because Yugoslavia collapsed after Tito's death, many--including West--believe that it was his genius that kept it together. Nothing could be further from the truth.
RISE OF A COMMUNIST