A Reflection on Two Dictators
Branko Milanovic on the materials each dictator had to work with and what they meant for their legacies.
Tito and Franco could not be, in many ways, more different: they were the antipodes. One fought with the Nazis; another against them; one was a strict reactionary favoring religion; another an atheist Communist; one was excluded from the post-World War II global governance structures, almost a pariah; another fully integrated in them; one leading a colonial war, another being lionized by anti-colonial leaders; one protecting private property, another abolishing it. I could probably go on.
Like with all antipodes, there are similarities too. Both were born the same year (1892), and died within less than five years of each other; each ruled for more than three decades, unchallenged; both acquired or gave themselves military titles: one was a Generalissimo, another Marshall; both named streets and squares after them (Tito even cities); both came to power through bloody civil wars; both proceeded to mass executions of their opponents (although the degree of guilt and involvement in atrocities and genocide among Tito’s opponents was of an entirely different order of magnitude than among Franco’s); both started economic reforms in the 1960s; both were born Catholic; and both were buried in memorial complexes (although Franco’s is much more grandiose).
What they have in common too is that very little of what they did or built remains standing. And it is precisely what I would like to highlight. How little has remained of what the European strongmen of the first half of the 20th century tried to create. History has not been kind to them (as they were not kind to their contemporaries). Lenin and Stalin’s edifice is all gone: the social system has returned to capitalism, and the country has crumbled and been divvied up. The same is true for Tito. Kemal Ataturk’s foundations are on a daily basis dismantled by Erdogan. Of Mussolini’s Italy there remain only imperial-looking buildings and bridges: no corporatism, no imperial glory, no monarchy. And obviously, Hitler’s Germany ended up in ruins, both literally and figuratively. The Federal Republic (as well as the GDR) were built on the direct contradiction of all that the Nazi stood for. We should be glad that history has been so unkind to the 20th century's European dictators.
But looking at Tito and Franco I was also keen to look at what still remains of the two’s “work”. And it seems to me that the verdict there is in Franco’s favor (though I will explain later why it might be so). Reading on the one hand Spanish newspapers and on the other hand, Serbian (and less frequently Croatian), I notice a much greater frequency with which Franco, compared to Tito, is mentioned. And this is not only because of the current moves to exhumate, and bury elsewhere, his remains. He is mentioned by those who criticize the post-Francoist constitution, and by those who notice that the current monarchy was “blessed” or installed by him.
For Tito the situation is different. Not only has the edifice he created disappeared and been broken into pieces (although along the borders he designed or at least approved), and the political and economic system he favored disbanded, but there is no one in the successor states of Yugoslavia that can be considered to be his “heir” or to have been put in a position of power by him, even indirectly so.
While the political heritage of Franco is more apparent, this may not be so on the level of popular memories or perceptions. Francoist “logistics”, names of streets etc. are, I think, completely expunged in Spain, but Tito’s remain in parts of Yugoslavia (in a few places in Slovenia, Croatia, and Macedonia; only in Serbia is he completely “erased” from history although his tomb is there). In people’s memories however Tito’s period, for most of those who lived then, or who learned about it from their parents, remains linked with economic prosperity, ethnic peace and conviviality, and an important international role. While the economic prosperity is significantly greater in some former republics now, it is not so in others; ethnic peace has been replaced with either permanent conflicts or at least tensions—almost no single border of the former republics is free of dispute; and a significant international role has been replaced by its very opposite: insignificance. But this is not the case with Franco because today’s Spain is much richer, freer, and internationally influential than the Spain he left.
So, while the “people’s memory” may be kinder to Tito than to Franco, the fact that politically everything that was associated with Tito has disappeared means that if we measure how much, politically, remains of the two, the balance is in Franco’s favor. But that does not mean necessarily that Franco was a better statesman. I think the main difference comes from the “material” with which they built their states. Franco built on the foundation of a nation, that although regionally and ethnically diverse, existed within more or less the same borders, for some seven centuries before he came to power. Moreover, a nation that was a major world power. Tito’s “material” were peoples who, for most of the previous five or so, centuries were under foreign rule or tutelage. The foundation on which Tito built existed but for a couple of decades before he came to power—and moreover exploded to pieces and genocidal killing in the World War II. So one built with stones, another with sand.
Tito’s task, as well as the task of every Eastern or Central European leader who tried to rule a multi-ethnic country, was to build a state edifice using a crumbling “material”—or to paraphrase Bolivar, to try to harvest the sea. (“J’ai labouré la mer”). This is why politically or socially nothing remains of Tito’s times. And why such a state of affairs will never return.
This post first appeared on Branko's blog.
Image credit: Andrew Albosta via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)