Jovanka Broz

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Jovanka Budisavljević Broz
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Јованка Будисављевић Броз
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Jovanka Budisavljević Broz (Serbian Cyrillic: Јованка Будисављевић Броз; 7 December 1924 – 20 October 2013) was the former First Lady of Yugoslavia and the widow of Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito. They were married from 1952 until his death in 1980. Following her husband's death, all of her property was nationalized and she was placed under house arrest for a time.

As an immediate witness and insider of the entire turbulent epoch in the history of the Balkans, she was the subject of immense regional media interest in the decades following the conflicts in the early 1990s. However, she maintained an extremely low-key existence since 1980 and rarely gave interviews. She lived the remainder of her life in Belgrade, Serbia. She was reported to be living in relative poverty as of 2006, after a government inquiry found that her house in Dedinje, a suburb (next to the Royal Palace) of Belgrade, had received no maintenance since her arrest. Efforts were being made to improve her living conditions. She passed away on Sunday, the 20th of October 2013.

Jovanka Broz (née Budisavljević) is of Serbian ethnicity. She held the rank of major in the Yugoslav People's Army.

Early life

Jovanka Budisavljević was born in the village Pećane, Lika (in today's Croatia), into a peasant family to father Milan and mother Milica. She grew up with two brothers, Maksim and Pero, and two sisters, Zora and Nada. Jovanka was very young when their mother died and their father remarried, meaning that much of her childhood was spent with a stepmother.

World War II broke out when she was nearly 15 years old. The family was forced to flee the Ustasha regime that took power in the newly created Nazi-puppet Independent State of Croatia. Their house was eventually burned down by the Ustasha's.

At 17, Jovanka joined the Partisans and was assigned to the Prva ženska partizanska četa (First female Partisan brigade), where she quickly distinguished herself as an excellent marksman. After the brigade was disbanded, she was reassigned to First Corpus' headquarters where she worked as a nurse. She was on the scene in Drvar in the summer of 1944 during the German raid codenamed Operation Rösselsprung, where she greatly helped out in the evacuation of the wounded. She saw Tito for the first time there. She continued as a nurse until the end of the war, advancing to the rank of captain in the Fourth Lika brigade. She was wounded twice during the war.

Life with, and around Tito

How exactly a young Partisan girl from Lika became the wife of the Yugoslav communist leader isn't quite clear.

According to one version, shortly after World War II ended, Interior Minister Aleksandar Ranković demanded his provincial subordinates send him a bunch of girls with checked backgrounds for work in the Marshal's cabinet. From about 50 candidates, Ranković reportedly picked five girls and presented them personally to Tito, who took a liking to the 24-year-old Partisan Jovanka Budisavljević. This version is confirmed by General Đoko Jovanić, who was the head of Yugoslav Counter-Intelligence Service KOS military arm at the time - according to his story, he personally responded to Ranković's order and suggested Jovanka for the position of Tito's associate.

Another version claims Jovanka was picked by Ivan "Stevo" Krajačić, NKVD's intelligence confidant for Yugoslavia, which is probably where the story originated that she was a Soviet spy.

Yet another version, this one by former JNA General Marjan Kranjc, says Jovanka was assigned to the Marshal as early as 1945 as part of the personnel that checked his food and overall cleanliness for the purpose of preventing disease. After the death of Tito's great love Davorjanka Paunović, whose grave is in the Royal Compound in Dedinje, 1946, Jovanka became his personal secretary according to Kranjc. "In this way she became a part of the inner most security ring around Tito and had to sign a secret cooperation agreement with the State Security Service (SDB), which was the law" - says Kranjc.

Initial relationship

So, for six years until 1952, Jovanka was part of Tito's circle in the undefined role of secretary/residence staff member, while he went about his usual business, which occasionally included romancing other women, like opera singer Zinka Kunc for example.

Milovan Đilas, one of the communist revolutionary movement's leading members and ideologues, and a subsequent dissident, provides more details about Jovanka during this period in Druženje s Titom (Friendship with Tito). According to him, the relationship with Tito was extremely difficult for her.

"She never appeared outside of Tito's company. We'd see her many times as she was keeping a vigil for hours in a hallway [while we're holding a late-night meeting inside], to make sure she is available if Tito needs anything as he's going to sleep. Because of that, the wrath and the lack of trust she was receiving from other servants was almost inevitable. [According to what was on offer]the motives for her closeness to Tito could've been explained in endless ways, none of which would show her character in a good light: career climbing, cajolery, malicious female extravagance, exploitation of Tito's lonesomeness..."

Đilas continues:

"As far as she was concerned, Tito was a war and communist party deity for whom everyone was supposed to sacrifice everything they had. She was a woman deep in the process of comprehending Tito as a man, while also increasingly and devotedly falling in love with him. She was resigned to burn out or fade away, unknown and unrecognized if need be, next to the divine man about whom she dreamt and to whom she could only belong now that he has chosen her". Marriage


Jovanka Broz in 1971 during a visit to the Nixon whitehouse, with Tito, former president Nixon, and former first lady Pat Nixon .

The exact date of their marriage is also subject to debate. What is indisputable is that Jovanka was finally unveiled as more than just a secretary, at least within Tito's inner circle, during his gallbladder episode in 1951. Milovan Đilas writes: "Before Tito's operation we gathered in the salon. Alongside the doctors and the entire Politburo, Jovanka was there as well - promoted for the very first time from her unnatural role. She was quiet and a little embarrassed".

The secret wedding ceremony happened shortly thereafter during either 1951 or in April 1952, however the location of the ceremony is also not clear. Some sources say it took place in the posh Dunavka villa in Ilok while others list Belgrade's municipality of Čukarica as the location. Aleksandar Ranković was the groom's best man, and generalIvan Gošnjak was the bride's. Her official public unveiling as the first lady took place on September 18, 1952, during a state visit by British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden.

According to Đilas she had no influence on Tito's decision-making and mostly occupied her time with housekeeping and taking care of her husband: "With Jovanka around, order and consciousness started reigning supreme, but Tito would still often be extremely gruff, rude and cynical towards her, even in front of others".

On the other hand, General Kranjc, a Slovene, accuses her of beginning to scheme shortly after getting married and claims she had stately ambitions, though he offers nothing to support his claims.

Đilas was not without criticisms of Jovanka either, but his were far less serious, mostly having to do with the shift in her general demeanor. "Marriage gave birth to protocol shaped Jovanka. Sitting at the heights she didn't scale herself, power and fame quickly went to her head. She would gather artists and journalists around her and pitch them movie ideas. About Tito, of course, but also about herself and her wartime unit. Those better informed say she was marked as early as mid-1960s because of things like this".


The married couple's relations started to deteriorate in the early 1970s. Their relationship became fodder for fierce political debates. Jovanka claimed she was trying to protect her aging husband from various agents - she considered ten of his eleven party State Secretaries (Ministers) to be agents of some sort. Her enemies suggested the opposite, that she was the one working against her own husband.

According to a 1988 report written for the SFRY Presidency, between 1974 and 1988, Yugoslavia's highest political forums spent 59 meetings solely discussing Jovanka. This process was actually started by Tito's own decision on 21 January 1974, when he ordered the Communist League to form a special commission to look into "the case of comrade Jovanka". The commission was presided over by Rato Dugonjić, with Stevan Doronjski, Todo Kurtović, Fadilj Hodža, General Miloš Šumonja, Džemil Šarac, and Ivan Kukočas its members.

The long list of accusations Jovanka faced in those years reads like an ambitious spy novel: being a Soviet spy, giving up the highest state secrets, scheming with Serbian generals, firing and hiring high-ranking politicians, taking part in a conspiracy against Aleksandar Ranković, planning a coup d'état with General Đoko Jovanić, etc.

Many believed her to be a victim of the ambitions of various politicians who managed to manipulate the aging Marshal into turning against his wife. According to Ivo Eterović, a writer and photographer with unprecedented decades-long access to Yugoslavia's ruling couple, "the main culprits for the Tito-Jovanka split are that pig Stane Dolanc and General Nikola Ljubičić".

Final breakup

By the mid 1970s, she became increasingly alienated from Tito, who by this time was almost completely under the influence of Stane Dolanc and Mitja Ribičič.

The breakup occurred in stages. During 1975, she was absent from some of Tito's foreign visits and rumours started circulating about them feuding frequently. In April of the same year, Tito left their residence at 15 Užička Street and moved into Beli dvor.

Jovanka's last official public appearance was on 14 June 1977, at a lavish reception for the Prime Minister of Norway. Later that summer, she disappeared from public life under suspicious circumstances. There was never an official explanation given, reportedly ordered by Tito himself. She did not see Tito in the last three years of his life. The only communication between the couple was a bouquet of flowers which was sent from Tito to his wife on her birthday. She appeared again in public during Tito's funeral in early May 1980. In all state proclamations and news statements of the time, she was referred to as Tito's widow, as there was no official divorce.

After Tito's death

On 27 July 1980, not even three months after Tito's death, men broke into the residence at 15 Užička where she was living. They ransacked the place, confiscated her property and forcedly moved her to 75 Bulevar Mira, where she was placed under house arrest. Her younger sister Nada, who was present while all of this was happening, was threatened with death if she mentioned what she saw to anyone.

In a letter Jovanka wrote in 1985 to Yugoslavia'a Federal Assembly, she described the ordeal:

"They rummaged through my belongings for 11 hours, before taking it all. I was all alone when they came because the entire staff had been sent away somewhere. When they started breaking down the front door I called my sister to come. I was surrounded by 10 unknown men and I was afraid. I was even afraid for my life. As they were leaving, that man named Nikolić came up to me and threatened my sister would be killed if she speaks about what she saw".

Ever since then, Jovanka has stayed away from the spotlight. Recently, in a rare 2003 interview, she absolved Tito of responsibility for what happened to her, saying he did everything possible to save her life. In the same interview, she singled out Stane Dolanc ("he hated the fact I'm Serbian") and General Nikola Ljubičić ("I immediately saw through his posturing and recognized his struggle for power") as the main reasons why her life hung in the balance during late 1970s and early 1980s.



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