May 4

This Day in History

Cold War

May 4, 1980:

Tito dies

Josip Broz Tito, communist leader of Yugoslavia since 1945, passes away at the age of 88 in Belgrade. During his 35-year rule, Tito guided Yugoslavia along a pathway that combined dogmatic allegiance to Marxism with an independent, and often combative, relationship with the Soviet Union.

The child of peasants, Tito became a convert to the ideals of communism as a young man. His rise to prominence in Yugoslavia began during World War II when he led resistance groups fighting against both the Nazi occupation forces and their Yugoslav collaborators. In 1944, he appealed to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin for assistance in capturing the capital city of Belgrade from its Nazi occupiers. Stalin sent units of the Red Army to help in the attack and by early 1945 Tito declared himself ruler of a new Yugoslav Republic. Unlike many other Eastern European nations, however, Tito's Yugoslavia was not subjected to a lengthy Soviet occupation.

After 1945, relations between Tito and the Soviet Union deteriorated rapidly. Tito's assistance to Greek communists was considered poor policy to Stalin, who had earlier reached an agreement with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to accept British hegemony in Greece. In addition, Tito's independent course in his foreign policy irritated Stalin, who expected the communist "satellite" regimes in Eastern Europe to toe the Soviet line. In 1948, Stalin expelled Yugoslavia from the Communist Information Bureau (an agency designed to coordinate communist policy in the international sphere). This action effectively severed ties between the Soviet bloc and Yugoslavia. Tito reacted to this by actively seeking U.S. military and economic assistance. Somewhat surprisingly, this aid was forthcoming. President Harry S. Truman and his advisors saw in Tito an opportunity to drive a wedge into the supposedly monolithic communist bloc and encourage other communist regimes to break free from Soviet domination. If the Americans expected Tito to deviate from his Marxist ideology, however, they were sadly mistaken. Until his death in 1980, Tito remained a steadfast communist, albeit one who charted an independent course from the Soviet Union.

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