A dead dictator, his rusting boat and a fight for history

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Living in the shadow of a former dictator
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Living in the shadow of a former dictator
Detail on the yacht Galeb is seen in the port city of Rijeka, December 16, 2015. Rijeka announced plans to convert the yacht Galeb used by Yugoslavia's communist leader Josip Broz Tito into a floating museum moored in the city's harbour. Now in disrepair, the 117-metre ship was an iconic symbol of luxury and used by Tito from the 1950s until his death in 1980 to entertain world leaders and celebrities, including the likes of Khruschev, Gaddafi, Indira Gandhi, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Picture taken December 16, 2015. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
Salko Rizvic, dressed in historical clothing, holds a portrait of the late president of the former Yugoslavia Josip Broz Tito as he poses for a picture during a gathering in Jajce November 29, 2014. Hundreds of anti-fascists and people from the countries of the former Yugoslavia gathered in the Bosnian town of Jajce to mark the 71st anniversary of the creation of the federal Yugoslavia in 1943. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Tags: ANNIVERSARY POLITICS SOCIETY)
General view of a monument to Josip Broz Tito in Velenje November 20, 2014. Across the former Yugoslavia stand giant monuments to a state that no longer exists, once visited and celebrated during public holidays such as Republic Day on November 29, marking the creation of socialist Yugoslavia. Many are now neglected or ignored, aging symbols of a joint state forged during World War Two but torn apart by nationalism half a century later. Republic Day is no longer marked in any of the seven independent states that emerged from its ashes. Picture taken November 20. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic (SLOVENIA - Tags: CITYSCAPE SOCIETY)
A tourist takes a picture of a Josip Broz Tito statue in Kumrovec, Croatia, September 13, 2017. Picture taken September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
The statue of Josip Broz Tito is seen next to his house of birth in Kumrovec, Croatia, September 13, 2017. Picture taken September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
Headlines of old newspeaper with information "Tito is dead" is seen in Josip Broz Tito's house of birth in Kumrovec, Croatia, September 13, 2017. Picture taken September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
The bow deck of the yacht Galeb is seen in the port city of Rijeka, December 16, 2015. Rijeka announced plans to convert the yacht Galeb used by Yugoslavia's communist leader Josip Broz Tito into a floating museum moored in the city's harbour. Now in disrepair, the 117-metre ship was an iconic symbol of luxury and used by Tito from the 1950s until his death in 1980 to entertain world leaders and celebrities, including the likes of Khruschev, Gaddafi, Indira Gandhi, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Picture is taken December 16, 2015. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
The interior of the yacht Galeb is seen in the port city of Rijeka, December 16, 2015. Rijeka announced plans to convert the yacht Galeb used by Yugoslavia's communist leader Josip Broz Tito into a floating museum moored in the city's harbour. Now in disrepair, the 117-metre ship was an iconic symbol of luxury and used by Tito from the 1950s until his death in 1980 to entertain world leaders and celebrities, including the likes of Khruschev, Gaddafi, Indira Gandhi, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Picture taken December 16, 2015. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
A general view of the yacht Galeb is seen in the port city of Rijeka, December 16, 2015. Rijeka announced plans to convert the yacht Galeb used by Yugoslavia's communist leader Josip Broz Tito into a floating museum moored in the city's harbour. Now in disrepair, the 117-metre ship was an iconic symbol of luxury and used by Tito from the 1950s until his death in 1980 to entertain world leaders and celebrities, including the likes of Khruschev, Gaddafi, Indira Gandhi, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Picture taken December 16, 2015. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
The interior of the yacht Galeb is seen in the port city of Rijeka, December 16, 2015. Rijeka announced plans to convert the yacht Galeb used by Yugoslavia's communist leader Josip Broz Tito into a floating museum moored in the city's harbour. Now in disrepair, the 117-metre ship was an iconic symbol of luxury and used by Tito from the 1950s until his death in 1980 to entertain world leaders and celebrities, including the likes of Khruschev, Gaddafi, Indira Gandhi, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Picture is taken December 16, 2015. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
The master bedroom of the yacht Galeb is seen in the port city of Rijeka, December 16, 2015. Rijeka announced plans to convert the yacht Galeb used by Yugoslavia's communist leader Josip Broz Tito into a floating museum moored in the city's harbour. Now in disrepair, the 117-metre ship was an iconic symbol of luxury and used by Tito from the 1950s until his death in 1980 to entertain world leaders and celebrities, including the likes of Khruschev, Gaddafi, Indira Gandhi, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Picture taken December 16, 2015. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
The interior of the yacht Galeb is seen in the port city of Rijeka, December 16, 2015. Rijeka announced plans to convert the yacht Galeb used by Yugoslavia's communist leader Josip Broz Tito into a floating museum moored in the city's harbour. Now in disrepair, the 117-metre ship was an iconic symbol of luxury and used by Tito from the 1950s until his death in 1980 to entertain world leaders and celebrities, including the likes of Khruschev, Gaddafi, Indira Gandhi, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Picture is taken December 16, 2015. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
The bow deck of the yacht Galeb is seen in the port city of Rijeka, December 16, 2015. Rijeka announced plans to convert the yacht Galeb used by Yugoslavia's communist leader Josip Broz Tito into a floating museum moored in the city's harbour. Now in disrepair, the 117-metre ship was an iconic symbol of luxury and used by Tito from the 1950s until his death in 1980 to entertain world leaders and celebrities, including the likes of Khruschev, Gaddafi, Indira Gandhi, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Picture taken December 16, 2015. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
The ship's telegraph on the yacht Galeb is seen in the port city of Rijeka, December 16, 2015. Rijeka announced plans to convert the yacht Galeb used by Yugoslavia's communist leader Josip Broz Tito into a floating museum moored in the city's harbour. Now in disrepair, the 117-metre ship was an iconic symbol of luxury and used by Tito from the 1950s until his death in 1980 to entertain world leaders and celebrities, including the likes of Khruschev, Gaddafi, Indira Gandhi, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Picture taken December 16, 2015. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
The interior of the ship's bridge on the yacht Galeb is seen in the port city of Rijeka, December 16, 2015. Rijeka announced plans to convert the yacht Galeb used by Yugoslavia's communist leader Josip Broz Tito into a floating museum moored in the city's harbour. Now in disrepair, the 117-metre ship was an iconic symbol of luxury and used by Tito from the 1950s until his death in 1980 to entertain world leaders and celebrities, including the likes of Khruschev, Gaddafi, Indira Gandhi, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Picture taken December 16, 2015. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
The starboard side of the yacht Galeb is seen in the port city of Rijeka, December 16, 2015. Rijeka announced plans to convert the yacht Galeb used by Yugoslavia's communist leader Josip Broz Tito into a floating museum moored in the city's harbour. Now in disrepair, the 117-metre ship was an iconic symbol of luxury and used by Tito from the 1950s until his death in 1980 to entertain world leaders and celebrities, including the likes of Khruschev, Gaddafi, Indira Gandhi, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Picture taken December 16, 2015. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
A label on a door is seen in Josip Broz Tito's underground secret bunker (ARK) in Konjic, October 16, 2014. In the early 1950s, Tito, the late leader of the former Yugoslavia, ordered the building of the secret bunker, located 900 feet (270 m) underground and near the Bosnian town of Konjic, to safeguard the country's ruling class in case of a nuclear attack. Construction at the complex, which had a cost equivalent price tag of $4.6 billion, continued until 1979, the year before Tito died. Picture taken October 16, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SOCIETY)
Water switches are seen in Josip Broz Tito's underground secret bunker (ARK) in Konjic, October 16, 2014. In the early 1950s, Tito, the late leader of the former Yugoslavia, ordered the building of the secret bunker, located 900 feet (270 m) underground and near the Bosnian town of Konjic, to safeguard the country's ruling class in case of a nuclear attack. Construction at the complex, which had a cost equivalent price tag of $4.6 billion, continued until 1979, the year before Tito died. Picture taken October 16, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SOCIETY)
A member of the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina stands near Josip Broz Tito's portraits in Tito's underground secret bunker (ARK) in Konjic, October 16, 2014. In the early 1950s, Tito, the late leader of the former Yugoslavia, ordered the building of the secret bunker, located 900 feet (270 m) underground and near the Bosnian town of Konjic, to safeguard the country's ruling class in case of a nuclear attack. Construction at the complex, which had a cost equivalent price tag of $4.6 billion, continued until 1979, the year before Tito died. Picture taken October 16, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SOCIETY)
Josip Broz Tito's office is seen in his underground secret bunker (ARK) in Konjic, October 16, 2014. In the early 1950s, Tito, the late leader of the former Yugoslavia, ordered the building of the secret bunker, located 900 feet (270 m) underground and near the Bosnian town of Konjic, to safeguard the country's ruling class in case of a nuclear attack. Construction at the complex, which had a cost equivalent price tag of $4.6 billion, continued until 1979, the year before Tito died. Picture taken October 16, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
The office of Josip Broz Tito's Secretary is seen in Tito's underground secret bunker (ARK) in Konjic, October 16, 2014. In the early 1950s, Tito, the late leader of the former Yugoslavia, ordered the building of the secret bunker, located 900 feet (270 m) underground and near the Bosnian town of Konjic, to safeguard the country's ruling class in case of a nuclear attack. Construction at the complex, which had a cost equivalent price tag of $4.6 billion, continued until 1979, the year before Tito died. Picture taken October 16, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SOCIETY)
A bust of Josip Broz Tito is seen in his underground secret bunker (ARK) in Konjic, October 16, 2014. In the early 1950s, Tito, the late leader of the former Yugoslavia, ordered the building of the secret bunker, located 900 feet (270 m) underground and near the Bosnian town of Konjic, to safeguard the country's ruling class in case of a nuclear attack. Construction at the complex, which had a cost equivalent price tag of $4.6 billion, continued until 1979, the year before Tito died. Picture taken October 16, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SOCIETY)
A portrait of Josip Broz Tito is seen in his underground secret bunker (ARK) in Konjic, October 16, 2014. In the early 1950s, Tito, the late leader of the former Yugoslavia, ordered the building of the secret bunker, located 900 feet (270 m) underground and near the Bosnian town of Konjic, to safeguard the country's ruling class in case of a nuclear attack. Construction at the complex, which had a cost equivalent price tag of $4.6 billion, continued until 1979, the year before Tito died. Picture taken October 16, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SOCIETY)
Phones are seen in Josip Broz Tito's underground secret bunker (ARK) in Konjic, October 16, 2014. In the early 1950s, Tito, the late leader of the former Yugoslavia, ordered the building of the secret bunker, located 900 feet (270 m) underground and near the Bosnian town of Konjic, to safeguard the country's ruling class in case of a nuclear attack. Construction at the complex, which had a cost equivalent price tag of $4.6 billion, continued until 1979, the year before Tito died. Picture taken October 16, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SOCIETY TELECOMS)
A partisan star is seen on a book cover in Josip Broz Tito's underground secret bunker (ARK) in Konjic, October 16, 2014. In the early 1950s, Tito, the late leader of the former Yugoslavia, ordered the building of the secret bunker, located 900 feet (270 m) underground and near the Bosnian town of Konjic, to safeguard the country's ruling class in case of a nuclear attack. Construction at the complex, which had a cost equivalent price tag of $4.6 billion, continued until 1979, the year before Tito died. Picture taken October 16, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SOCIETY)
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RIJEKA, Croatia (Reuters) - In a Croatian port sits a boat built to carry bananas from Africa to Italy, that laid mines for Nazi Germany and was sunk by Allied planes before it was salvaged as the personal yacht of a globe-trotting communist leader.

Josip Broz Tito and the state he led - Yugoslavia - have long passed into history, and the boat, the Galeb (Seagull), was left to rust in a corner of Rijeka's once mighty docks.

Now, with Rijeka readying to become European Capital of Culture in 2020, city authorities have secured European Union money to restore the 117-metre (384-feet) boat as a museum, just as debate in Croatia rages over the life and deeds of the man who graced the pink mattress in the front port-side cabin.

If the Galeb was a symbol of Tito's prestige on the world stage – a communist leader welcome in ports West as well as East – its restoration is part of Croatia's own tortured process of reconciliation with its 20th century history.

To conservatives in Croatia, Tito – who was born in what is today Croatia to a Croat father and Slovene mother – was a totalitarian dictator: to look fondly on him means to be nostalgic for a shared federal state that denied Croats their own until they forged one in a 1991-95 war.

Liberals, however, recall his guerrilla fight against the Nazis and the relative freedom and prosperity of Yugoslavs compared to those who lived in the Soviet Union or in its shadow.

They see in the disdain of conservatives a thinly veiled fondness for the World War Two Croatian state that collaborated with the Nazis but was snuffed out with Tito's Partisan victory – a sentiment that has gained a foothold in mainstream Croatian politics in recent years.

It is a tug-of-war over history and identity that was encapsulated this month in the renaming by Zagreb's city council of the capital's Marshal Tito Square to Republic of Croatia square.

Days later, the government ordered the removal of a plaque near the site of a World War Two concentration camp that bore a notorious slogan associated with the Nazi puppet regime in Croatia.

"We live in a time when history is being reinvented retroactively," said Ivan Sarar, who as head of culture at Rijeka's city council is in charge of its 2020 makeover.

"It's interesting that just by undertaking this (restoration) we have already been declared revisionists," he told Reuters.

"EXHIBITIONISM"

After years of false-starts, work on restoring the Galeb is imminent – a mammoth, multi-million-euro task to recreate the 1950s chic of Tito's floating palace, host to over 100 heads of state and some of Hollywood's finest.

Some of the furniture remains - in Tito's cabin, his turquoise-tiled bathroom and the adjacent salon with doors that open to the deck. But the ship itself is little more than a rotting hull.

The Galeb was the stage for Tito's major contribution to history, said Sarar, a showcase for the non-aligned movement he helped found in answer to the East-West polarization of the Cold War.

But Sarar stressed: "We won't be soft on anyone."

He noted Tito's cozy ties with dictators around the world, the exodus of Italian residents of Rijeka when he took the city as part of Yugoslavia, and his denial of democracy during 35 years of one-man rule until his death in 1980. Yugoslavia fell apart in war a decade later and some 135,000 people were killed.

It was Tito's seizure of Rijeka and the Istrian peninsula that cemented his status in this part of Croatia as a liberator. Dozens of streets in Istria still bear his name, as do others in the Balkans - most notably in Serbia, once the dominant republic in Yugoslavia.

Conservatives, however, struck a blow with the renaming of Zagreb's Marshal Tito Square, part of a deal struck by the mayor to secure his majority in the city assembly.

The man behind the initiative, leading right-wing politician Zlatko Hasanbegovic, told Reuters that while Tito was "undeniably a significant historical figure," so were Napoleon, Stalin and Lenin.

"In all countries, streets and squares bear the names of those who embody the values with which the entire nation identifies itself," he said, describing the restoration of the Galeb as part of an attempt to revive the cult of Tito.

"Those insisting on it should ask themselves how the tens of thousands of victims of Yugoslav communism look on that kind of quasi-cultural exhibitionism."

In Rijeka, Sarar denied planning any kind of homage to Tito.

"We want to create a place for dialogue, away from the current situation of extreme black, white and red truths that lead nowhere," he said. "It's bound to be difficult."

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