The last ambassador of the SFRY during Tito’s time in Great Britain, from 1977 to 1981, was Živan Berisavljević (87). He is one of the few people in our country who had close contacts with the British royal family.
During his mandate, to which he came as the youngest member of the collegium of ministers, at only 42 years old, Tito, as he tells Danas, was the backbone of our then country’s relations with the United Kingdom.
He went to diplomacy as a punishment, as he reveals, “he was kicked into the air”, in fact, removed from the then main currents of internal politics where he was the Minister of Culture, Education and Science.
We meet our vital and intelligent interlocutor in his apartment in Novi Sad, which is probably the most valuable library for diplomats in Serbia.
After the prologue about how great Sremac is, Berisavljević thanks the public for being able to express his condolences to the royal family and King Charles, with whom, as he states, he developed blasphemous relations.
“Elizabeth’s statesmanship capacities and wisdom grew as the capacities of British prime ministers declined, from the undisputed Churchill, to Margaret Thatcher, who introduced a serious interruption. Great Britain was falling into historically truly critical situations. The position of the royal family is along the lines of “I don’t interfere in politics, but I have a huge influence on it”. Now, in these fashionable and cheap times, she would be called an influencer, with the fact that she was destined for it by birth”, once said our youngest ambassador in the world.
His arrival in London coincided with the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the reign of Elizabeth II, who he says held Tito in high esteem.
“My predecessor, Ambassador Vladimir Velebit, attended the scene when Tito sat down at the piano while visiting the queen and started playing, and he knew how to do it decently. She then whispered in Velebit’s ear: “If this man is a locksmith, I am not the British queen,” says Berisavljević.
He stayed in Britain for four and a half years, acquired valuable acquaintances and friendships, such as the one with Lord Peter Carrington, with whom he developed a very personal relationship.
The context was such that he was sent by the head of a country that did not become easy war prey, as he says, who was already well-known as a world name on the political scene and led an active policy, and when he came to London, it was already known that Elizabeth II to grow into a person who will have a serious role in world-historical relations.
“From an apparently politically ineffective position, but morally and ideologically very significant in her society, she helped Britain go through all those transformations. In the process of decolonization, the liberation movements of entire continents and peoples, it largely overshadowed everything through its ruling crown, and that Britain carried it out in a way exactly appropriate to the way they rule. They left the colonies, but they left strong ties there,” he continues.
Indira Gandhi, who is protesting against this influence, adds our interlocutor, said that they have no other language that unites them, if they do not use the language of the colonizers, and attending a play in Kashmir where young girls there played Shakespeare to show how much are emancipated, although they belong to a culture older than the British one, somewhat sadly, but also illustratively, they say what that empire actually meant for the whole world.
Tito’s visit to Great Britain and problems with Chetnik emigration
During Berisavljević’s diplomatic mission, the crisis that would engulf post-Tito Yugoslavia was already felt, despite the appearance that everything was working.
But that’s why on the international level, says our interlocutor, Tito has never been more popular, partly because he devoted himself to international politics.
Thus, Yugoslavia became absolutely one of the most influential countries in the system of international relations at the time.
Berisavljević says that his most remarkable international tour from 1978 proves that.
He was in the USA and Canada, and at the insistence of the British Government, he was invited to visit England for two days on his way back from America, because they could not allow him to skip London, and then go to Moscow, Beijing and the United Nations.
“There are few heads of state that Great Britain invites,” adds Berisavljević.
However, by lagging behind the conflict of the belligerent European right, Yugoslavia had a strong involvement of the most conservative part of the British establishment, which managed to force the non-opposition of the Government itself to engage the Chetnik and Ustasha emigration, to protest where Tito appeared.
A little to spite the then Prime Minister Callaghan.
“In order to get the authorities to remove the alleged demonstrators, Callaghan appeared before Tito at the airport, which British prime ministers never do, and took us to the Claridges Hotel, which then became our residence. In front of the hotel, the Chetnik emigration met us, and in the afternoon they were to be replaced by the Ustasha. We told the English that it makes no sense for them to do this to us, if they have already called us and if we all know that Tito is probably here for the last time. I went to my residence and as I knew that we were being listened to, I told the people in the embassy that no one leaves the building because it is possible that I will return to Yugoslavia with Tito, as early as tonight, if the demonstrators don’t leave,” recalls the former ambassador.
He said this sentence in the embassy premises around seven o’clock, and already at half past seven, he was called from Claridges to go back, because Callaghan is coming again to take them personally to Buckingham Palace, which is nearby.
What the queen did next, she says, is typical for her. Whoever comes to the reception through Buckingham Palace passes through three halls before reaching the Queen.
Elizabeta, he adds, made an unprecedented gesture, she went out on the outside stairs and welcomed Tito.
Tito was already old but shrewd and he immediately realized that the matter surrounding the demonstrations was over.
“He immediately told me at the beginning, you ambassadors, take care of the visit, and let these barkers go.” He was probably unhappy inside. After the queen’s gesture, he cheered up. At dinner, on his own initiative, he invited Charles to come to Yugoslavia in October of that year,” continues our interlocutor.
How much they appreciated him is proven by the fact that the royal family, which normally does not officially go to funerals, did so exceptionally when the queen attended the funeral of Charles de Gaulle, and her husband, Prince Philip, buried Tito.
Margaret Thatcher and all the presidents of the English parties were also there.
“Then I saw for myself what the relations between the royal family and the government are like. Thatcherism was already widely around the planet, but when she met Prince Philip at the airport, she fidgeted in front of him like a schoolboy. What is interesting is that they shared a plane, but the prince went to the royal section, and the members of the government went to their own section, they were not together at all. These are the relationships that are difficult for a person to understand if he does not see them”, Berisavljević reveals to us.
Visit of Prince Charles to Yugoslavia and conversation in Igalo
Tito was treated in Igala when Prince Charles came to Yugoslavia. He received him there. At that lunch, it was clear how much Charles was already prepared for the role intended for him.
He behaved more like a curious young man who asked Tito questions of a political nature, such as whether the USSR was preparing a world revolution?
At one point, Charles asked what the president of Yugoslavia thought about the Irish issue, stating that he liked the way we resolved inter-ethnic relations.
He also said that when he becomes ruler, he would prefer to unite Ireland, but he is aware that this would probably cause a war.
“He asked him what he thought of Churchill. Tito then told him about one of their conversations in the car. Marshall then told the British Prime Minister that he knew that the latter did not like him, to which Churchill replied “no, I hated you when you reconciled with us around Trieste almost to the point of war, but I love you because you were yourself, and then and now”, said the former ambassador.
Berisavljević also prepared the visit of Prince Charles to our embassy, which had to be carried out in the utmost secrecy because the rule is that members of the English royal family do not visit the ambassador, unless they are closely related to the ambassadors of certain royal countries.
As his daughter went to the gymnasium that Kamila also attended, she wanted at all costs to see the prince, even though she was not allowed to do so according to protocol.
“I could not prevent her from seeing the prince coming to our house. We invented her to meet him, to hold his coat, like a servant girl. But she, being the way she is, stood in an extremely Mangup style, showing that she was not a servant, and Charles caught on to that in an instant. He asked her where she learned such good royal English and immediately added that he too grew up with such terrible parents,” says Berisavljević and continues that when the oval with meat arrived, the prince already knew what kebabs were.
Joking aside, Berisavljević believes that Charles will continue to maneuver the throne with great skill, will adapt the country to new processes in the world, because he was “raised to be a man of good intentions”.
Silver Order of Queen Elizabeth
In the showcases of Berisavljević’s cabinet, you can find, among others, photographs signed by Elizabeth II and President Tito, as well as a silver medal he received on the occasion of the queen’s 25-year reign.
“It’s such a high-ranking order that I was surprised when I found out. In the biography of Lord Mountbatten, who had a huge number of decorations, he included this one among the first, out of the one hundred he stated he had,” says the former ambassador.
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Source: Dnevni list Danas by www.danas.rs.
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