New York Times Highlights Rijeka’s Quest to Restore Tito’s ‘Galeb’

Daniela Rogulj

The New York Times shines the spotlight on Tito’s ‘Galeb’ and Rijeka’s quest for its restoration. 

The city of Rijeka is currently in the midst of a transformation from an industrial hub to artistic center. Namely, the city wants to position itself as a European “capital of culture”, and with this idea in mind, a series of projects are underway.

To become a European “capital of culture”, Rijeka is eager to use around EUR 20 million to transform the city’s deteriorating infrastructure, and with an additional EUR 30 million, they plan to fund a yearlong cultural revitalization of the city, reports Jutarnji List on November 26, 2017.

Barbara Surk of the New York Times writes on November 25, 2017, that the most critical part of transforming Rijeka’s image has to do with restoring the ‘Galeb’, an almost 80-year-old ship belonging to Josip Broz Tito. The former pride of the Yugoslav Navy has been sitting in the port of Rijeka for many years. 

However, Tito’s legacy is still slammed by political actors in Croatia, leaving those whose dream of restoring the Galeb into a museum as a paramount part of Rijeka’s history, uncertain. 

It is Croatia’s far-right that is against this project and, as the New York Times writes, they are “determined to bury Tito’s Communist history and revive the narrative of the country’s Nazi-allied regime during  World War II.”

The New York Times continues:

“Feared and revered in his day, Tito is described by some as a hero of the anti-fascist struggle who kept Yugoslavia’s six republics, including Croatia, together for more than 35 years. Others call him a Communist dictator who purged his enemies.”

The ‘Galeb’ was built in 1938 in Genoa, Italy. Tito used it as a “floating residency, a Yugoslav embassy and a party boat”, and world leaders and Hollywood stars including Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton are said to have attended the many soirees hosted on the ship.

With the Galeb, Tito, as the President of Yugoslavia, traveled to four continents through 49 voyages, and in 1953, he became the first communist leader to visit Winston Churchill after the Second World War.

“The boat was also the incubator for a Tito idea: the Nonaligned Movement, a bloc of countries outside the spheres of influence of the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War,” writes the New York Times.

Liberal politicians, as the NYT states, want to point to Tito’s connection with Rijeka and its surroundings through the restoration of the Galeb, but far-right politicians associate Tito’s name with the repressive apparatus of Yugoslavia, which violently broke up after his death in 1980. 

In the article, the New York Times even draws a parallel between Zlatko Hasanbegović’s efforts to clear Tito’s name from textbooks with the debate around Confederate statues in the United States. 

Of course, not everyone agrees with the nationalist ideas propagated by the Croatian right, and Surk gathered quotes from Rijeka’s citizens to find what they believed life to be under Tito. 

Zlatko Marencic, a 60-year-old worker in the shipping industry, said: 

“Everything was better in Yugoslavia when the old man was running the country. Some say he was a dictator and it was a time of darkness. I say it was the time of peace.”

A political journalist from the oldest Croatian daily newspaper published in Rijeka, Novi List, was also among those interviewed. 

“In 25 years of democratic nation states that have risen from the ashes of socialist Yugoslavia, none of their leaders have come close to matching Tito’s achievements,” explained Denis Romac.

Despite the efforts of Zlatko Hasanbegović and other far-right politicians, the Galeb should see the spotlight and eventually will become a part of the City Museum of Rijeka. 

“It’s not our aim to establish a museum of idolatry,” said Vojko Obersnel, the mayor of Rijeka, for the New York Times. “Although Tito made mistakes, he is an important historical figure, deeply connected to our city.”

You can read the full article in the New York Times


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