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Tito's Mausoleum Draws Few Visitors, But Leader's Unifiying Legacy Endures

At a hillside park in a fashionable suburb of Belgrade there is a mausoleum that very few people visit. It is the resting place of Jozef Broz Tito, the Communist who led Yugoslavia from the second world war until his death in 1980.

On a bright autumn morning the only people at the Tito grave are a few university students from Slovenia who are visiting Serbia. Slovenia is the richest and most western of the six republics that comprised the old Yugoslavia. One of the students, Grusa, says she wanted to see the grave of the man admired by her parents. She says she has no memory of him as she was born two years after he died.

"Yes, he died two years before. We read a lot of books about him. He was an historical person and we wanted to see where he is resting," she said.

Her university colleague, Vit, has a stronger opinion, not so much about Tito but about the bigger, multi-national Yugoslavia that Tito so much believed in.

"It's too bad it broke up. It was a great country. But I don't know. We [Slovenes] seem to be a little bit different [from the other Yugoslavs] after all," he said.

In Croatia, the land of his birth, Tito is mostly ignored. In Serbia he is fiercely controversial with few people openly supporting him. But the Belgrade government maintains his gravesite, a large block of marble placed inside a glass structure. The building was damaged during the NATO bombing of Belgrade in 1999 and parts of a cruise missile lay on the floor next to the grave.

Sonja Biserko, a human rights campaigner, was working in the Yugoslav foreign ministry at the time Tito died. She remembers the funeral as a huge event, attended by leaders from all over the world. She says even at the funeral there was a sense that Yugoslavia might not hold together, although no one imagined the savage wars that were to come in the 1990s.

"He [Tito] was a leader who stood up for the unity of Yugoslavia. And maybe now after all these years and what has happened, the world might have understood that Yugoslavia would face big problems, which proved to be true later on. So the event [funeral] had this dimension as well," she said.

Back at the mausoleum, Jernaj, one of the students from Slovenia, describes how important Tito was to Yugoslavia.

"Tito was the force that kept it [Yugoslavia] together. So when he died it took, what, ten years before it broke up. So I guess he still means a lot to Serbs, to all the nations of the former Yugoslavia," he said.

But Tito doesn't seem to mean all that much to the people of Belgrade. His picture is nowhere to be seen, except in an out-of-the-way hotel that itself seems lost in time. His name was once on streets throughout Serbia but those streets have been renamed.

For those Serbs who want to pay homage to the former Yugoslav leader, as well as those who are simply curious about him, the only place they can go is a lonely gravesite outside Belgrade.