- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2006

BERLIN — Choked in ivy, its balconies and pillars crumbling, the once-imposing villa looks as if it were abandoned years ago. A curtain twitches. A dark-haired woman wearing sunglasses peers out before whipping it back.

She lives in just two rooms of the spacious property and one of those has a hole in the ceiling. The others are uninhabitable owing to damp, mold and broken windows.

There has been no heating for 25 years. Water has to be heated on a stove.

Many elderly residents of Belgrade, Serbia-Montenegro, in straitened circumstances share a similar fate. But this is the home of the widow of the former Yugoslavia’s communist dictator, Josip Broz Tito.

Jovanka Broz, 81, was discovered living in penury after her sister, Nada, wrote to newspapers to complain of the “disgraceful way” the former first lady was “forced to live.”

“Little better than a bag lady” was the headline in one newspaper, amazed to discover that she was still alive.

“This lady used to have such high standards, and now everything around her is rotting, even her wallpaper,” said Ljubica Bauk, who was Mrs. Broz’s personal maid for 20 years. She now lives in a cold one-room apartment next to her former mistress’s rusting entrance gate.

Tito’s widow reportedly has three bodyguards supplied by the Interior Ministry and a gardener. But they are nowhere to be seen. The garden is a mess of mud and weeds. The Serbian minister of minorities and human rights, Rasim Ljajic, has now taken up her case, forced to act after Macedonian businessmen appeared at her door offering to help.

Such charity from what are now foreigners would have been acutely embarrassing to the Serbian government.

“It’s unbelievable,” Mr. Ljajic said. “She lives in a large house — the so-called ‘guest villa’ — of which she uses only two rooms because the rest are uninhabitable.

“No one, let alone the widow of a former president, should live like this. The least we could do is fix the hole in the living room ceiling.”

The villa in the fashionable Dedinje district of Belgrade was last renovated in 1961 for Indian leader Indira Gandhi’s use when she was invited to Belgrade by Tito.

Mrs. Broz was placed under house arrest in the villa in 1977 after being dragged from the presidential home in her nightgown with a few possessions when Tito’s aides suspected her of plotting a coup.

Her late husband’s family are unrepentant about their lack of concern for her, saying she brought the suffering on herself and has refused all offers of help.

“I was there when my grandfather kicked her out,” said Joska Broz, Tito’s grandson from his first marriage to a Russian, Pelagiya Belousova. He runs a Belgrade restaurant and is the spitting image of the dictator.

“He was furious with her because she had meddled in politics, rather than remaining an obedient and loving wife,” he said. “After that, she cut off all contact with us and rejected all offers of help even though there was no [dispute].”

But, he acknowledged, “Even if she was to blame for his rejection of her, there’s no doubt she loved Tito immensely, and suffered a lot because of her connection with him.”

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