Tito, Jovanka Broz (1924—)

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Tito, Jovanka Broz (1924—)

Croatian revolutionary fighter and first lady of Yugoslavia (1953–80). Name variations: Jovanka Broz; Jovanka Budisavljevic Broz; Jovanka Budisavljevic. Born Jovanka Budisavljevic on December 7, 1924, in rural Croatia near the Bosnian border; daughter of Miko Budisavljevic (a laborer); attended the University of Belgrade; became third wife of Josip Broz Tito (1892–1980, president of Yugoslavia), on April 25, 1952 (separated 1977).

Jovanka Broz Tito was born in a small village in Croatia, on the Balkan Peninsula, in 1924. The region was poor and its politics unstable. Jovanka's father Miko Budisavljevic sought work in the United States and hoped to be successful enough to be able to send for his wife and children. The Great Depression, however, ended his financial hopes, and he returned to his homeland in 1933. In 1935, Jovanka's mother died in childbirth, leaving the 11-year-old girl in charge of the household. Jovanka had to leave school in the fifth grade to work in the fields, cook, sew, and care for her younger siblings. Not until after her marriage in 1952 was she able to resume her education; she received a high school diploma and then studied literature and art at the University of Belgrade.

Jovanka, politicized at an early age, joined the Communist underground in 1940, when she was 16 years old. Inspired by the example of Stefan Matic, a young revolutionary who had died at the beginning of World War II, Jovanka wanted to help drive Nazi and Fascist powers from her homeland. She was also affected by ethnic conflicts in the region, including a massacre of 50 people at Pecane by Serbian troops. She became a private in the partisan army in 1942 and fought in guerilla campaigns in the mountains. One of only four survivors after her unit attacked an Italian

post on the Dalmatian coast, Jovanka endured years of hardship, cold, and hunger with the army. Eventually she contracted typhus, and was brought to the field hospital at the headquarters of the commander in chief, Josip Broz Tito.

Tito, who was also born in Croatia, was leading the movement for Communist revolution in the Balkans. His forces resisted Nazi occupation during World War II and received support from the Soviet Union. At the end of the war, Tito helped to form the new country of Yugoslavia, a confederation of six Communist republics: Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Slovenia. Tito served as Yugoslavia's first prime minister in 1945. In 1948, however, with the backing of the United States and other Western countries, he broke with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to impose his own brand of Communist rule. He became the first president of Yugoslavia in 1953 and remained in office until his death in 1980.

Jovanka first met Tito in 1944, at an assembly in a public square in Drarv. She was only 20 and still a private in the army; he was 52 and had been married twice, in January 1920 to Pelagia Belousova (or Belousnova), with whom he had had three children, and in 1937 to Herta Hass , with whom he had one child. A year later, Jovanka joined his staff in Belgrade, where she worked as a file clerk. She advanced in the army ranks to the level of major, but was demobilized after she married Tito in 1952. She became stepmother to one of Tito's sons, and two of his grandsons also lived with them.

Jovanka and Tito kept their marriage, which occurred on April 25, 1952, a state secret until the following September. Once the marriage was officially known, however, Jovanka was hailed as an attractive and elegant first lady. Foreign dignitaries admired her attractive features, her distinguished taste, and her vivacious personality. Jovanka traveled often with Tito and attended numerous public functions. Among the international heads of state she received with her husband were Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Premier Guy Mollet of France, Prime Minister Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, and the king of Greece. Jovanka traveled with Tito to the United Nations when he addressed the General Assembly, and visited Washington, D.C., with him in 1963.

Though she had fought actively as a partisan, Jovanka assumed a more subordinate role after her marriage. "Of course, I am interested in politics, and I follow actively what is happening in the world and in the country and very often I discuss these events with my husband," she told reporters, "but I do not take an active part in it myself." She further explained: "I never attempt to interfere in [Tito's] business or to influence him. You might say I am his sounding board." Jovanka said that she enjoyed managing domestic affairs to please her husband, even choosing her own clothing to suit his personal tastes. She also appeared to enjoy the luxurious lifestyle to which Tito treated himself after assuming control of Yugoslavia. She was in charge of his numerous palatial residences and helped manage large staffs of gardeners, servants, and caretakers. Yet Jovanka also remained involved in larger affairs, in particular the issue of women's rights. She furthered her own interrupted education after becoming first lady, and supported her younger sisters' schooling as well. "Before the revolutionary war women had no rights whatsoever," she said. "Today, a Yugoslav woman is limited only by her talents in entering any field of work." In addition, Jovanka was credited with a movement to encourage toy manufacturers to make their designs more age-appropriate.

Yugoslavia remained under Tito's control until his death in 1980, although his last years in power were marked by political unrest as well as marital estrangement. He and Jovanka lived separately during the last three years of their marriage; some reports indicate he suspected her of involvement in a planned coup d'etat. When Tito died, the country became destabilized, and the president's vast estate was confiscated as the property of the people. Jovanka was prevented from inheriting his wealth, though she pressed her legal claim, as his widow, to millions of dollars of property said to include such items as a Rolls-Royce and a Cadillac, five motorboats, an orchard, and a vineyard. In the end, it appears, the family was left with only his personal belongings and the royalties to books he had written. She continued to live in Belgrade, receiving a government pension said to be $600 per month—five times the salary for an average Yugoslav worker. This apparently was decreased after Slobodan Milosevic came to power. In the 1990s, as his corrupt, war-mongering regime grew ever more unpopular with Yugoslavians, many began to remember Tito with increasing fondness. To prevent her from serving as a reminder of her husband, Milosevic kept Jovanka under virtual house arrest, watched by secret police and denied visitors. It was reported that his minions confiscated jewelry, clothes, and gifts she had been given while serving as first lady. He may have had other things to focus on in the months after he was indicted in 1999 for war crimes in Kosovo, for on May 4, 2000, the 20th anniversary of Tito's death, Jovanka Tito attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial to her husband in Belgrade.


Chicago Tribune. June 26, 1986.

Frederick, Pauline. Ten First Ladies of the World. NY: Meredith Press, 1967.

U.S. News & World Report. October 27, 1986.

World Press Review. September 1999, p. 37.

Elizabeth Shostak , M.A., Cambridge, Massachusetts