kenny hodgart

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In memoriam, Tito’s elephant

This article appeared in The Herald

I read with interest that an elephant which belonged to Tito, the former communist leader of Yugoslavia, has died in a zoo in Croatia.

In 1963 Tito became, or at any rate made himself, President for Life of the bizarre federal agglomeration of republics he’d fought heroically against the Nazis to preserve, but he was outlived by his elephant, Sony, by 30 years. Now Sony is gone too.

Not much at all survives of the old Yugoslavia; in fact, not even the Jugo, the somewhat useless motor car which was exported to western countries in great numbers for a while in the 1980s. But the people of Yugoslavia are apparently nowadays experiencing nostalgia for “the good old times.”

I cannot profess to be surprised. Well I remember the enjoyment I derived from looking at Yugotours brochures as a child. Yugoslavia was quite clearly a happy place of castles, mountains, beaches and pretty women. But after hearing friends of my parents – serious leftist types who wore Russian hats and drove a Lada – talk ruefully about how the country had been “opened up”, it was only a matter of time before I stopped asking to be taken there on holiday.

Now we learn that economic recovery after years of war and strife having been set back in most Balkan states by the global recession, older people remember life in the old Yugoslavia was good. A bit rummy for dissidents, secessionists, radicals and the like, maybe, but other than that a model of prosperity, fraternity and so on.

Sadly, one cannot go to Yugoslavia any more. The closest I came was some years ago when I stayed in a London B&B London that was listed as Yugoslavian-owned; and to see the walls there hung with photographs that could have adorned the pages of Yugotours was very bliss.

In the morning there was an embarrassing moment when I had to ask for a knife and fork with which to eat my cooked breakfast (English, not Yugoslavian). The man serving looked aghast but nevertheless entered the kitchen and returned with a “fork an’ knife”. We did not get around to discussing the photographs.

Of course, many of the old places can still be visited even though they are now in different countries.But now that Sony has been taken at 42 – elephants routinely live until they are 70 – there is one reason fewer to go to Croatia.