Brijuni Island port.

Brijuni Island port.

Okategoriserade Brijuni or Brioni: Reviewing Tito’s Luxury Island

The island of Brijuni, just off the Adriatic coast of Croatia, hosts a museum celebrating Tito’s presence on the island. An exhibition presents Tito's international engagement with approximately 200 images. The exhibition covers almost all the years of his rule of Yugoslavia. This raises several questions, one is: If a democracy hosts a museum for a dictator, should we be concerned?

Published on on October 18, 2022

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If a democracy hosts a museum for a dictator, should we be concerned? Can citizens who seek to govern themselves allow for uncritical presentations of strongmen? What place should we accord to a troubling past if we seek a better future? How should one deal with such a potential thorny legacy?

These are questions that can come to mind during a visit to the museum that “honors the late Yugoslav Communist ruler Josip Tito”[1] on the island of Brijuni, just off the Adriatic coast of Croatia. The exhibition showcases Tito’s presence on the island and his international engagement with approximately 200 images. The exhibition covers almost all the years of his rule of Yugoslavia[2] from 1945 until 1980. The museum, as one reviewer put it, is “a bit special, but worth a visit.”

In quantitative terms, the museum scores 3.5 out of a possible five points on TripAdvisor and is one of the least-well-rated attractions on the island of Brijuni, next to the Neptun-Istra restaurant (“a truly retro experience” as Izabela 14 from Washington, D.C. comments). If the museum was a restaurant, should it think about updating its menu?

Visitors from around the world seem unsure what to make of the place. CaptErik7 (giving it 5 stars) from Andorra describes the experience as “Walking Back in Time. Nice, Educational Museum.” He adds “Lots of history. Great pictures and lovely staff.” Not everyone agrees. “From the exhibit, you get the impression that Tito was the most awesome dictator ever”, writes hungaryforadventure (3 stars) from Bloomfield, New Jersey, and summarizes her TripAdvisor review as “bizarre celebration of Tito.” CSLWolves (3 stars) from Wolverhampton concedes that it is an “amazing picture collection, even if the main subject raises eyebrows.” IBuch (1 star) from Southern Germany does not recommend a visit: “completely uncritical and uninteresting exhibition!” Another monoplanetarian, Ulten S from Trento, goes further and hopes “that over time this homage to Tito will be discarded.”

The comments seem to offer no clear direction. Arguably, an Ethics of Political Commemoration[3] can bring some structure to this debate. Drawing on Just War Theory, this approach first asks whether such a commemoration should take place at all (Ius ad Memoriam), looking at cause and intention in this context. Secondly, the framework focuses on how to commemorate (Ius in Memoria) and examines whether the museum manages to overcome indiscriminate narrative loops.

How to handle the past, of course, is a present question not just in the blue Adriatic[4] but for many countries[5] with potentially destabilizing chapters in their history, from Stalin’s Museum in Georgia[6] across Franco’s legacy in Spain to contested monuments or names on squares, streets or buildings in so many other contexts. It is my contention that in such challenging cases, the Ethics of Political Commemoration can help.

Plausible Museum, Strange Intentions

According to the Ius ad Memoriam framework, there is plausible cause for this museum. Tito spent much time on the island, on average four months per year, according to Brijuni Park’s official website.[7] Izabela14, who had not warmed to the nearby restaurant, commends “the collection of photographs […] reminding us of the relevance on Yugoslavia in the 1970s as the leader of the non-aligned movement.” Indeed, the Non-Aligned Movement[8] was founded on Brijuni on July 19, 1956 in the presence of India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser. On the island, too, Tito received hundreds of guests, “famous film stars and presidents, world important persons who visited him”, as barbara11m from Ljubljana points out. Someone who shaped politics for more than three decades deserves attention, says Goran S from Zagreb: “aside political differences but Tito was definitely determined part of the history of the region and as such deserved this exhibition.”

What, however, to make of the intention of this museum? Many seem confused. Jorge60 from Luxembourg (2 stars) says “there’s no point to show pictures without having something to say or to share.” From France, deux4six (3 stars) likes the “interesting retrospective of the cold war years.” Yet context is missing. The critical visitor from Bloomfield finds that “this museum does not offer a robust interpretation of Tito’s legacy–you’ll just learn that he loved animals and children and a lot of famous people visited him.” CerberusSP from Dresden gets to the point: “the personality cult still shimmered through.”

Most critical visitors seem to read the intention of the museum as producing respect for authoritarian leadership and to charge Brijuni with political legitimacy. As it stands, the presentation is simply too one-sided, says Guido from Italy: “The figure of Tito is celebrated here triumphantly, above all for international relations and for his charisma, so as not to leave space or time to wonder whether there have also been shadows in so much splendor.”

It was not all sunshine[9] on Brijuni. Italians are particularly aware of some darker corners: “Of course, no mention is made of the period of persecution of the Italians and sinkholes.” Even this comment by Neroassoluto presupposes an awareness that the so-called foibas refer to what opponents were thrown into in the 1940s. Istria was under Italian control until 1945 and most Italians were displaced when control switched to Yugoslavia. The Italian name of the island — Brioni – is now mostly associated with luxury menswear. As Ugo Fazzine from Novara puts it drily, it “is necessary to study a bit of history first to better grasp the facets of the contents shown.”

Faded Albums Rather than Authoritarian Assertion

Yet with the criteria from Ius in Memoria it could be argued that in most other ways the exhibition renders itself harmless. As the reviews suggest, the museum does not present assertive collective claims; its authoritarian narrative is threadbare; and most of its visitors realize that something here is not quite right.

Unlike many nationalist museums, this exhibition does not present a story of autochthonous authority. Tito’s charisma, as TrevorWallid from Reading notes, is mainly that of a host: “Colonel Gaddafi, Queen Elizabeth, Gina Lollabrigida, the fishermen of Fazana, baby tigers – come here and see Josip Broz getting on like a house on fire with each and every one of them.”

Leaders from around the world have to undertake a pilgrimage to Brijuni to come to the island of Yugoslavia’s ruler and do so on his terms: “Ho Chi Minh in a speed boat with Tito shows one enjoying the trip and the other not so sure”, as Tony S from Devizes observes. At the same time, the museum presents authority as resting, in good part, on international approval and debonair outings in the name of peace. In emphasizing this connection, the exhibition does not seek to impose a narrow affirmation of group identity on its visitors. Yugoslavia could almost be conceived of as a negative space that became possible only within a Cold War dichotomy as neither one thing nor another but not really itself either.

Moreover, the original narrative of the museum no longer carries. The experience, Vandieman111 from Adelaide says “is a bit like a time warp as the museum looks and smells like something left over from the 1960’s.” Bygone days, according to Mirjana P from Novi Sad in Serbia, who describes the exhibition as “the testimony of a time and a man that were unique and unheard of.” In almost poetic words, jean_philippem230 from La Grigonnais says that the museum “can only interest those nostalgic for a world that is to be forgotten” (ne peut intéresser que les nostalgiques d’un monde à oublier).

In other ways, the museum inadvertently urges a critical distance onto its visitors. The ground floor, as Daniel S from Sweden reports, is made up of “animals [that] once lived on the island and gifts to Tito – now stuffed. Kids found it strange and the adults found it bizarre.” Even though the guides seem to stress that it was only animals that died of natural causes that were taxidermized, many visitors describe this part of the museum as unsettling in how it seeks to convey life through death: “I didn’t understand the reason of having stuffed animals in the museum and especially baby animals stuffed, maybe was Tito’s pleasure.” (Lucian E, Romania) During my visit, one visitor whose grandparents had emigrated from Yugoslavia under Tito’s commented “and in the basement is where they keep the stuffed dissidents.”

If you are willing to look closely, like the Australian visitor, you can easily spot sinister undertones: “It is a little bit disturbing to see the caption of Tito with a rifle and a dead animal describing how he loved to ‘look after’ his animals!” The actual wording in English is “constantly taking care of the animals.” This unintentional echo of Orwell’s Animal Farm seems to have left an impact lasting enough to be remembered as evocative of how dictators look after their citizens, too.

There are multiple ways, then, in which the attempts at hagiography sabotage themselves. The museum’s efforts to exert dominion – Queen Elizabeth sitting upright gets a smaller image than, say, a boisterous lighting of cigarettes with West German Chancellor Willi Brandt – mostly appear as trying too hard to center the man in the white suit. For many visitors, the claims of these black and white photos fade into insignificance. Katlh from Espoo in Finland describes them as “quite boring” and “would not go again.” Stefano C from Busnago in Italy advises not to “waste more than 10 minutes looking at embalmed animals and pictures of the General Tito during his stay on the islands. You’d rather see the nature of the island or the ancient roman villa ruins outdoors!!”

Tweaks between Fragmentation and Legibility

Taken together, a few possible changes suggest themselves. The menu, so to speak, should be expanded for a fuller experience but need not be changed. Its jarring components already invite citizens to assert their own authority as they make up their minds about the incongruous experience.

Selective interventions should be enough: among them, a framing message in the beginning that highlights that this exhibition has been preserved in order to convey how in authoritarian systems you need to pay close attention to get at it the actual truth. Perhaps, too, visitors could be reminded that as Tito enjoyed a luxury island (“this is what I imagine paradise to be like”, the comment of a friend as we cycled across the island on an April afternoon and watched deer and rabbits grazing side by side in the afternoon light), many people left Yugoslavia for reasons ranging from forced displacement to escaping poverty.  In a separate tweak, one could offer a potential activity to draw attention to major omissions.

The most glaring omission is an explicit reference to Goli Otok, a “haunting place” that is “necessary to see”, as SFBzoo from Sacramento puts it in his review[10] for “the island Tito had for his non-believers. He attempted to have them converted to his thoughts by having them punish each other. […] It is a place the entire world could learn from.” Even just a signpost highlighting the distance (83.2 km) to that barren island – only sunshine, no trees – on which thousands were imprisoned and hundreds died would be a good reminder that Tito not only kept exotic animals in his zoos. To add, perhaps, a small screen that allows people to scroll through reviews from that very different place and the experience would provide a powerful contrast and a more complete picture of the legacy of authoritarian rule. To mirror this, Goli Otok could have had a reference back to Brijuni, too.

As a visitor also at a time of war, I could not help thinking that Tito’s museum makes its own case for the European Union, which Croatia joined in 2013. For all its many flaws, the European project can be seen as moving towards systems centered on citizens rather than one man and his trophical whims, on not having to weigh how much repression is needed to hold a state together, and not having to trace how this atrocity is chained to that other one. In that way, Brijuni can be about more than “If it’s good for Tito, it’s good for me”, as one T-shirt in a souvenir shop proclaims. That Brijuni and Brioni can be seen as a port of departure (“a truly retro experience”), not a destination, seems to be a perspective that is missing here.

On an abstract level, this review of Brijuni may also show how we are at a time of heightened fragmentation and panoptic legibility. The world is panoptically legible in how comments on a commercial site can provide an extraordinary panorama of glimpses.The Slovenian philosopher Slavo Žižek recently made this point by reviewing the new Matrix film based on reading reviews[11] without seeing it in a cinema. (IMDb rating of an earlier Žižek! documentary: 7.3 out of 10.) We can find faults through those stars and it would take weeks of work and the cost of a few seaside vacations to put together such impressions if we had to assemble them through traditional research methods.

We are, at the same time, experiencing a redoubled fragmentation in that the very idea of the album of photographs, as it is presented in the exhibition, is anachronistic. We swipe through snippets instead. The contents often are snapshot summaries casually rendered and easily misplaced, as Pauline B from Norwich mixed up her locations and writes about a “perfect, peaceful hamlet of a few white-washed cottages, one of which was Tito’s birthplace. no traffic, few people, several chickens and a Turkey.”

The fragmentation is exacerbated in that information is searched rather than structured. Each search is like a raid that serves up a jumbled new palimpsest. For the reviews of the museum, you can filter them every which way (including Business, Couples, Family, Friends, Solo) but such immediate availability does not make sense of them. To make that fragmentation readable, in other words, is what frameworks such as Ethics of Political Commemoration[12] are needed for. The insights ranging from Izabela14 to TrevorWallid make much more sense if we put them into a structured context, much as books need shelves to be organized into the accessibility that allows us to read, comprehend and review more than what is immediately to hand.

Stuffed animals belittling or at least contextualizing strongman rule — using such a framework can help to make sense of bizarre locations, recognize where they are comparatively harmless, while also helping to make them a bit safer for democracy, too.


[1] TripAdvisor,


[3] Center for Peace And Conflict Studies, Ethics of Political Commemoration, available at:

[4] Lily Lynch, “Croatia’s Far-Right Rewrites Tito Out of History”, Balkanist, September 3, 2017. Available at:

[5] Hans Gutbrod, “Book Review – Constructions and Instrumentalizations of the Past: A Comparative Study of Memory Management in the Region”, Global Policy, November 4, 2021.

[6] Hans Gubrod, “The Ethics of Political Commemoration The Stalin Museum and Thorny Legacies in the Post-Soviet Space”, PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo No. 759, March 2022. Available at:

[7] See

[8] Lily Lynch, “Belgrade to Host the 60th Anniversary of the Nonaligned Movement” Balkanist, October 10, 2021. Available at

[9] “Murder in Tito’s Name: German Journalists Investigate Liquidations by Yugoslav Secret Police” Balkanist, January 5, 2015. Available at:

[10] See

[11] Slavoj Žižek, “Boringly postmodern and an ideological fantasy: Slavoj Žižek reviews Matrix Resurrections” The Spectator, January 12, 2022. Available at:

[12] Center for Peace And Conflict Studies, Ethics of Political Commemoration, available at:


  • by Hans Gutbrod

    Teaches at Ilia State University in Tbilisi, is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, Seton Hall University and regularly writes on issues of commemoration.

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