BELGRADE (AFP) ― Jovanka Broz, once a symbol of elegance as the wife of Yugoslav communist strongman Tito, lived the last three decades of her life as an outcast.
For Broz, who died in Belgrade on Sunday aged 88, the glory days ended shortly before Josip Broz Tito’s death in 1980 when his allies accused her of plotting a coup.
“They chased me out ... in my nightgown, without anything, not allowing me even to take a photo of the two of us, or a letter, a book,” Broz said in a rare interview in 2009.
Since then, “I was in isolation and treated like a criminal... I could not leave the house without armed guards,” she told the Politika daily.
Broz’s last public appearance was at Tito’s state funeral in May 1980.
Born into a peasant family in what is now Croatia on Dec. 7, 1924, she joined Yugoslav’s World War II resistance fighters under Tito’s command at 17 and remained in the trenches until the end of the war, attaining the rank of captain.
As Yugoslavia began turning its back on its wartime ally Russia, then under Stalin’s rule Broz was hired as Tito’s secretary in 1948.
The date of their marriage remains unclear, as are most details of Tito’s private life. Some biographers set it at 1952. She was the third wife of Tito, who was 31 years her senior.
With her voluminous raven black hair always swept up in a bun, Broz quickly became a symbol of elegance in a country impoverished by the war, with communist leaders focused on strengthening the new Yugoslav state.
Often described as the “first lady of the Non-Aligned Movement,” founded by Tito and the leaders of India, Indonesia, Ghana and Egypt, she toured the world with her husband.
Broz and Tito were both film buffs, dining with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, among other international movie stars filming in Yugoslavia in the 1960s.
The couple often enjoyed nights in their private cinema at the presidential residence, a former summer home of the Yugoslav royal family, which had been banned from returning to the country after the war.
Broz rarely spoke in public, seemingly satisfied with being a silent first lady, inseparable from her husband during his frequent jaunts, often sailing to their summer residence on the island of Brijuni aboard the official yacht.
But the relationship between Broz and Tito, a notorious philanderer, began falling apart in the late 1970s.
In 1979, Tito, then 87 and in ill health, withdrew from the public eye.
His powerful allies went after his wife, placing her under virtual house arrest and confiscating her identity papers.
“They tried to use me to settle accounts with Tito, accusing me of preparing a plot against him,” she told the Vecernje Novosti daily in February.
“They were able to separate us and isolate us both, Tito and me, and then they did whatever they wanted,” she said, without naming names.
“What scares them is that I was with Tito all the time and noticed a lot, especially in the years before his death,” she added.
Though the two never officially divorced, she was kicked out of their luxurious home after Tito’s death in May 1980.
She and other Tito heirs initiated an inheritance procedure, although the size of his estate has never been made public and the claims are still pending.
Broz began receiving a state pension in 2009.