Tito’s Yugoslavia: A Book and Cinema Review: Goran Marković’s ‘Tito and Me’ and Jože Pirjevec’s ‘Tito and his comrades’

Josip Broz (Tito) & Willy Brandt smoking cigars. Photo: Pietro Izzo/Flickr. No changes made. View the license here.

By: Michaela Nudo

Throughout history, redrawn maps have shaped identities and driven ethnic conflict, the Balkans are no exception to this trend. The legacy of Yugoslavia and Tito will forever leave an impressionable mark on current studies of the Balkans. Yugoslavia maintained its façade of order and success while ultimately delaying the subsequential breakdown of its states. Through being inept to social and ethnic tensions, Yugoslavia jeopardized the future success of these nations after his death. Yet, arguably, Tito was the essential personality holding social, ethnic, political, and economic tensions on his shoulders until his death. As a result, this book and film review is a discussion of Tito’s influence, character, and ultimately what led to his state’s decline.

Goran Marković’s Tito and Me portrays the life of a ten year old in 1950s Belgrade. It uses satire, comedy, and drama to illustrate Tito’s impressionability among even his youngest comrades. Likewise, the film uses metaphors and vast imagery to understand the complexity of the Yugoslav state. Jože Pirjevec’s Tito and his comrades also discusses Tito’s life and rule in great detail. Pirjevec explains Tito’s presence during his rule, and subsequently why it would fail after his death. While both authors provide different perspectives, combined, they tell a valuable prequel to the current Balkan states. In this review, I use Pirjevec’s book to complement many of the themes that are present in Tito and Me and other national and political issues which would arise thereafter. Unlike the film, Pirjevec and other biographic books, are able to compel direct instances state fracture.

Tito and Me: The Centrality of Titoism

Goran Marković’s Tito and Me was released in 1992, which at first may seem ironic as the state would disintegrate the same year. Although, Marković’s Tito and Me proves itself to be an impressive reflection into the many whimsical notions of leadership and statehood which would resonate even as early as the 1950s in Yugoslavia.

The film begins in Marković’s hometown Belgrade in the dysfunctional home of Zoran, his parents, his aunt, uncle, cousin, and grandmother. The house is an immediate reflection of the dysfunctionality of the Yugoslav state. The house is situated within the dining room in the centre and the various, very different, rooms surrounding the shared area. Zoran stays in a room with his somewhat outlandish artist parents who could not be more different than his aunt and uncle. His aunt, uncle, and cousin frequently feud with Zoran’s mother and father.[1] There is no known ethnic conflict within the household; instead, ideological conflicts are very present. The opening scene begins with Zoran’s father playing the clarinet, causing his aunt to burst into hysteria over the noise. Artistically, the scene is quite interesting and plays into a larger metaphor. Throughout the argument, the viewer cannot see his aunt or uncle, only their shadows reflecting in the doorway as they call Zoran’s mother a slut and insult his father. Yet Zoran explains that by the end of the day his mother and aunt will be peeling pepper as if nothing happens, and his father, disgusted by the events that transpired takes the clarinet away to never see the instrument again. The feud between the two branches of the family persists between his young cousin and Zoran’s mother, or as she calls the artists “filthy communists.”[2]

Josip Broz Tito, president of Yugoslavia. Photo courtesy of Markon Padrino/Wikimedia Commons. No changes made. View the license here.

Moreover, the relationship between Zoran’s grandmother and grandfather is complex. He does not live with the family yet will come around noon every day. His grandmother only talks about his grandfather in pronouns.[3] During their scenes, there is fragmentation resonating a shift after the second World War which Marković leaved unexplained. Given the film’s language and audience, Marković brings it up casually, alluding to a shared post war experience. Similar to the country as a whole, Zoran’s family lives in a complex state.

Despite his precarious household, and the state it parallels, for Zoran, Tito represents a man of honour for Yugoslavia. While social and institutional flaws are evident, he chooses to idolize Tito. His struggles are Tito’s struggles, and he must honourably defend them.[4] For example, due to food scarcity, Zoran’s family would eat venison, and despite its disgusting taste to Zoran, he envisions Tito and his comrades eating it as they hunted and overcame World War Two.[5]

Due to his grandmother’s inherited wealth, Zoran’s life may appear lavish in comparison to other characters in the film, and he is frequently teased as a result. Meanwhile, as the viewer can see for the first scene, many aspects of Zoran’s household are less than ideal. As challenges arises for Zoran, a mirage of Tito seems to appear throughout the film. Through Zoran’s visions of a strong and charismatic Tito, he overcomes restless challenges in his family, at school, and with the pubescent Jasna, he has a crush on. Especially during the first half of the film Zoran often immortalizes Tito.[6]

In the film Zoran writes a poem about Tito, explaining that he loves Tito even more than he loves his parents. His poem wins him a spot on a camping trip through Yugoslavia ending in a reception at Tito’s palace.[7] Although the trip was going anything but smoothly. Comrade Raja, who spirals into insanity throughout the trip leads the young children through Tito’s steps. His crush Jasna was also invited on the trip, but she is much more preoccupied with an older boy named Kengur. The harsh terrain challenges Zoran. Throughout the trip, Zoran questions his beliefs, momentarily gets lost, and nearly gets sent back to Belgrade.[8] During the trip, the children stay a night in a castle, which is a turning point for Zoran. Many of the other children, and especially Raja, project shame onto Zoran for his behaviour and accepting a drink from the owner. Jasna explains that it is anti-communist to act the way Zoran had and Zoran is subsequently shamed by some members of the group.[9] Now in modern-day Croatia, Zoran offers some money he had to the Catholic church in hopes that his Orthodox god will absolve his wrongdoing.[10] He also writes a letter to his family, explaining that he actually loves them more than he loves Tito, and in fact, he does not really love or like Tito anyways. This letter was intercepted and leads to Zoran nearly being sent home on a train. Consequently, rather than sending him home, all the other children except for Jasna support Zoran’s defiance and he stays with the group. Carrying on with the metaphor of the fragile political state, Raja is unable to maintain order amongst roughly twenty unruly children.[11]

Tito and his comrades: Structural Issues in the Yugoslav State

Jože Pirjevec’s Tito and his comrades provides a different perspective into the same complex social and political institutions in Tito’s Yugoslavia. Since the book takes a biographic approach, it covers a substantial part of his life before the Second World War and his rise to power. The book uses a voluntarist perspective to break down the formation of the state and the turmoil the area would sink into during the 1990s. In this review, I am going to focus on themes of collapse and weaknesses within Yugoslavia in Pirjevec’s book. Pirjevec does dedicate part of the book to Tito within the communist bloc and to Stalin but today’s discussion focuses on domestic themes during the 1950s until Tito’s death such as contemporary statesmanship and social implications within Yugoslavia.

Unlike the interwar period, and differently than other communist countries, Yugoslavia experienced valuable improvements in the quality of life, and during this time the wealth gap also dramatically shrunk.[12] Although more similar to the rest of the communist bloc, Yugoslavians lacked freedom of opinion, and the ability to freely discuss controversial social and political issues.[13] Evidently, Pirjevec interprets Tito’s censorship as a detrimental flaw and subsequently played a large role in its fall. Pirjevec, rather correctly, demonstrates that Yugoslavia would find it hard to exist without Tito. He explains that the organization and the policies of Tito’s government lacked the critical discussion of a post-Tito government. Moreover, both before and after World War Two, Yugoslavia suffered weak economic institutions with a median inflation of 17 percent and a large and disorganized trade balance. Moreover, given the unique conditions of the different Yugoslavian states, a growing divergence between “developed” and “underdeveloped” nations persisted.[14]

By Original by Hoshie; derivative by DIREKTOR – Made by DIREKTOR, see above for more details on sources, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15851941.

For Pirjevec, another critical factor in Yugoslavia’s demise was the problem of nationalities. Before various economic failures and reforms, nationalities were much less persistent than they were by the late 1960s.[15] Stemming from economic failures Tito faced stronger pushes towards liberalization since roughly 1967, by the end of 1968 this resulted in constitutional amendments. The 1968 amendments recognized equality between the Yugoslav “nations” and the “nationalities” as various ethnic minorities.[16]Although, by this time, constitutional amendments were too little to combat the growing turbulence in the state. In 1969, Ljubljana’s government and the federal government feuded over jurisdiction of urban planning resulting in the “motorway affair”.[17 ]Individuals and national governments engaged in the Maspok, or mass movement, in hopes to establish democratic relations between Tito’s government, national governments, and the working class.[18] Pirjevec explains that Maspok could be initiated via thoughtful action and movement, but also supervision of Tito’s government and its institutions.[19] In this period, Croat representatives also published proposals to further amend the constitution and implement a new institutional pact.[20] In an attempt to combat the growing unrest, Tito took the defaulted iron fist approach to the Croats. Rather than considering institutional, and arguably country-saving changes, he chose to liquidate Zagreb liberals and flood a heavy police presence on the city.[21] Consequently, throughout the book, Pirjevec deconstructs many of the institutional flaws in Tito’s decision-making process.


Both Marković and Pirjevec explain Tito and Yugoslavia’s flaws and eventual decline. Throughout both Tito and Me and Tito and his comrades themes of poor institutionalism, economic weakness, and Tito’s character persist. Pirjevec’s book often complements and creates a bigger picture of ideas and discussions in Tito and Me. Likewise, while Tito and Me has its moments of obscenity, such as a deer in the bathtub, eating the wall, and birthday cake with Tito, Marković satirically tells the story of children in 1950s Yugoslavia. Yet, even as a child, once Zoran sees past the indoctrination of his schoolteacher and the state, he recognizes the obscurities of the society around him. Released as Yugoslavia disintegrated, Tito and Me explains the foreshadowing of its fall as early as the 1950s. Tito and Me showcases the impression and charisma of Tito which enabled him to rule for such a long period.

Likewise, Tito and his comrades fills the gaps in the period after Tito and Me from a voluntarist perspective. Understanding the technical side of Tito and Yugoslavia’s demise is also very important to interpret art and symbolism in films and stories similar to Tito and Me. Comprehending the economic degeneration in Yugoslavia is more difficult to explain through satire in this case. The viewer would not expect Zoran’s four-foot frame to explain it. Ultimately, Tito and his comrades enables the viewer to understand the causes of Raja’s or Zoran’s schoolteacher’s sometimes deranged and outlandish notions of Tito.

Moreover, while different nationalities only play a very small role in Tito and Me, Marković presents notions of dissent under the same roof. Zoran’s family is certainly representative of post-war divisions amongst families and communities. Similar volatility is seen in Pirjevec’s explanation of nationalities and the fight for representations. Therefore, Marković’s Tito and Me and Pirjevec’s Tito and his comrades showcase different perspectives of Tito’s Yugoslavia, both can be used together to gain a greater understanding of the Balkans before 1992.


  1.  Tito And Me, directed by Goran Marković, (Yugoslavia, Kino International, 1992).
  2.  Tito And Me, directed by Goran Marković, (Yugoslavia, Kino International, 1992).
  3.  Tito And Me, directed by Goran Marković, (Yugoslavia, Kino International, 1992).
  4.  Tito And Me, directed by Goran Marković, (Yugoslavia, Kino International, 1992).
  5.  Tito And Me, directed by Goran Marković, (Yugoslavia, Kino International, 1992).
  6.  Tito And Me, directed by Goran Marković, (Yugoslavia, Kino International, 1992).
  7.  Tito And Me, directed by Goran Marković, (Yugoslavia, Kino International, 1992).
  8.  Tito And Me, directed by Goran Marković, (Yugoslavia, Kino International, 1992).
  9.  Tito And Me, directed by Goran Marković, (Yugoslavia, Kino International, 1992).
  10.  Tito And Me, directed by Goran Marković, (Yugoslavia, Kino International, 1992).
  11.  Tito And Me, directed by Goran Marković, (Yugoslavia, Kino International, 1992).
  12.  Jože Pirjevec and Emily Greble, Tito and His Comrades (Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2018), 451.
  13.  Pirjevec and Greble, Tito and His Comrades, 451.
  14.  Pirjevec and Greble, Tito and His Comrades, 456.
  15.  Pirjevec and Greble, Tito and His Comrades, 356.
  16.  Pirjevec and Greble, Tito and His Comrades, 356.
  17.  Pirjevec and Greble, Tito and His Comrades, 359.
  18.  Pirjevec and Greble, Tito and His Comrades, 361.
  19.  Pirjevec and Greble, Tito and His Comrades, 361.
  20.  Pirjevec and Greble, Tito and His Comrades, 363.
  21.  Pirjevec and Greble, Tito and His Comrades, 363-364.


Marković, Goran, director. Tito And Me. Yugoslavia, Kino International, 1992. 1hr., 58 min. 

Pirjevec, Jože, and Emily Greble. Tito and His Comrades. Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2018.

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: