BELGRADE : The widow of former Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito was buried in Belgrade Saturday with full state honours as the last symbol of the communist federation that broke up in the 1990s.
Once described as the most elegant first lady of the Eastern bloc, Jovanka Broz, who died of heart failure at the age of 88 on Sunday, was buried in the mausoleum House of Flowers in Belgrade, where the communist strongman was laid to rest in 1980.
In a sombre atmosphere on a sunny autumn day, some 4,000 people attended the ceremony held with no religious service in a vast green complex of the mausoleum.
A military guard fired honorary shots as Broz was a decorated member of the Yugoslav anti-fascist partisan movement in World War II.
A simple wooden coffin without a state flag was put under the white marble lid engraved with “Jovanka Broz, 1924-2013” in golden letters.
Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic bid an official farewell to “the first lady of Yugoslavia... the woman we have committed the sin against.”
“Rest in peace, next to the man you dedicated your life to,” said Dacic, whose party traces its roots to Tito’s communist party, while many shouted “Long live Yugoslavia”.
Once a symbol of elegance and adored in the former Yugoslavia, Broz lived the last three decades of her life as an outcast.
Blamed by Tito’s political allies of plotting a coup, she was placed under virtual house arrest a few years before her husband’s death.
Many among the mourners, mostly elderly former partisans who proudly carried their World War II decorations, dismissed such charges, solemnly waving red, white and blue flags of the former Yugoslav federation that broke apart in a series of bloody conflicts in the 1990s.
“I wanted to say goodbye to her as I did for Tito, because for me, they were like a family,” said 84-year old Minka Jovanovic, who could hardly hide her tears.
Broz’s last public appearance was at Tito’s state funeral in May 1980, which was attended by more than 200 world leaders, including Margaret Thatcher, Saddam Hussein and Leonid Brezhnev.
After Tito’s death, she was forced to leave the former Serbian royal palace where the couple lived in splendour, and spent the following years in isolation and poverty.
“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 that time, “I was in isolation and treated like a criminal,” she told the Politika daily.
Her identity papers were confiscated and only returned by Serbian authorities in 2009, when she was given a pension.
Broz, who was Tito’s third wife, met the charismatic communist leader after she had joined the partisans at the age of 17.
She remained in the trenches until the end of World War II, 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 in 1952.
Tito was 31 years her senior and the couple had no children.
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” - a group of states advocating a middle course for developing countries between the Eastern and Western bloc, 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.
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.