Blind support for ‘sick’ promises and ideas of ‘almighty and immortal’, almost mythical, leaders usually end in bloodshed.

Violeta Oroshi Berishaj

Exactly 43 years ago, Sanie Hyseni from Prishtina, then-medical student and a Tito Fund scholar, handed over the Youth Relay to Tito for the last time! On behalf of thousands of young men and women, the working class and the peasants, the self-governing and the party, she wished him many more springs. Tito did not live to see the next May 25th! The Youth Relay and the rally in Belgrade were regularly organized until 1988. For several years after his death all citizens had to stand in place at the sound of a siren to ‘remember’ that Tito was still ‘alive among us’… And the slogan ‘Long live brotherhood and unity’ was still shouted out.

The cult of a lifelong president as a brave, beloved and irreplaceable leader, who said a historic ‘No’ to Stalin, founded the Non-Aligned Movement, and introduced socialist self-government (factories for workers, land for peasants!) has been built. The state propaganda media glorified his every word, and cities were given new names – Titograd, Tito’s Veles, Tito’s Korenica, Tito’s Mitrovica.

Films and film news were made (a short film about Tito was shown before any cinema screening), and books have been written about the invincibility of the Marshal, songs have been sung; everything was Tito’s… We were Tito’s and Tito was ours. The ‘internal’ enemies who ended up in Goli Otok and other Yugoslav prisons, the emigration of dissidents and their liquidations were not spoken about, because… well, the alleged prosperity required turning a blind eye to crime in the name of apparent peace.

This collective (almost religious) madness, accompanied by red pioneer scarves, badges with Tito’s face and monuments, reminds me of waving red scarves in today’s China… or a military parade in Moscow… or bunkers in Enver Hoxha’s Albania…

In the 1980s, Serbs ‘discovered’ a new cult of collective worship – Slobodan Milosevic. With a well-designed populist slogan ‘No one is allowed to beat you’ and the ‘famous’ rally of millions of Serbs from all ‘Serb lands’ in Gazimestan (because, of course, Serbia is where the Serb cemeteries are), he announced the war on brotherhood and unity! Symbolically, he died in the War Crimes Tribunal.

The communist Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s life also ended tragically… he was executed, and Hitler – the cult of worship for millions of people, the ‘guardian’ of the pure Aryan race, committed suicide.

I am curious to see how Putin, who regularly changes the Constitution in order to be able to rule for life and eliminates any critics of his ‘democracy’, or Erdogan who seems to apply the proven Russian recipe, or the controversial populist Viktor Orban, who is successfully building the cult of a new Hungarian leader, will end up.

It seems that the ‘graduated’ populist and leftist Albin Kurti started his decade of rule, because he promised equality…a state without rich or poor (?!)… Or Vucic, who has his sights set on defending Serbian peace from imaginary enemies with weaponry.

Economic problems and political disorientation are the foundation for a cult of personality, because it relieves people from responsibility or any need for one’s own unique perspective. In the name of popular, legitimate electoral votes, a ‘savior’ will speak and ‘defend’ their people and the territory from various enemies, or the alleged loss of national identity.

With the death of a dictator his cult should disappear, but it seems that the us in the Balkans are slow to learn the lessons from our recent history. Namely that blind support for ‘sick’ promises and ideas of ‘almighty and immortal’, almost mythical, leaders usually end in bloodshed.


Violeta Oroshi Berishaj, journalist from Prishtina, previously worked at Radio DW, Radio BBC, and is currently a Cologne correspondent for Radio WDR