Tito's legendary, rusting yacht set for overhaul
Zagreb (Croatia): Once a stage for geopolitical dealmaking and host to the 20th century's most glamorous stars, the now-dilapidated yacht of late Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito is set for a new chapter as a museum.
"Galeb" (Seagull in Croatian) was in its heyday an icon of Yugoslavia, carrying the charismatic communist president on business around the globe -- and counting Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren and dozens of heads of state among its guests.
After Tito's death in 1980, his yacht declined in tandem with his rudderless country: Galeb was left to rot as the federation collapsed in a series of bloody wars.
Now Croatia's northern port city of Rijeka, which bought the boat nearly a decade ago, plans to transform Galeb into the star feature of its stint as European Capital of Culture in 2020.
"A ship with such a history can be an extraordinary attraction," Rijeka's mayor Vojko Obersnel said.
The mayor has come under fire for the project in Croatia, where Tito is much more controversial than in other ex-Yugoslav republics.
In September, the capital Zagreb -- under pressure from nationalists -- stripped the late leader's name from a prominent square. While admirers praise Tito's role in defeating the Nazis and raising the global profile of Yugoslavia, opponents slam his communist rule and personality cult. Croatian conservatives -- increasingly hardline in recent years -- are keen to downplay the legacy of Tito, which they link to Belgrade's domination of the former Yugoslav federation that Croatia battled to leave in the 1990s.
"The idea of the ship is not to glorify Tito non-critically," said Obersnel, of the centre-left Social Democrats.
The aim is rather "to talk about the history around Yugoslavia and Croatia" -- and tell the tale of the boat's "very turbulent" past, the mayor said.
- Banana boat turned warship -
Built in 1938 in Genoa, Italy, to transport bananas from Africa, Galeb -- then called "Ramb III" -- was deployed in World War II by the Italians and torpedoed by the British in 1941.
Repaired but later seized by German forces and turned into a minelayer, the ship was sunk by Allied bombing while in Rijeka in 1944.
The 117-metre (384-foot) boat was raised from the sea and became Tito's official yacht after the war.
The Ship of Peace, as it was also known, first drew global attention in 1953 when it sailed Tito up the Thames in London to meet Winston Churchill, marking the first visit of a communist head of state to Britain.
Galeb also played an important role in the Non-Aligned Movement, founded by Tito and the leaders of India, Indonesia, Ghana and Egypt in reaction to US and Soviet dominance during the Cold War.
"It was indeed on this ship that the most important talks regarding that political movement were held," said Kristina Pavec, curator at Rijeka's City Museum, which is overseeing the project. Looking on Wednesday at Galeb's rusting hulk, it is hard to imagine an era in which presidents, royalty and Hollywood stars trod its decks.
Dusty mid-century modern chairs lie scattered around the main salon, a bucket catches dripping water in one of the narrow corridors and some ceilings look close to crumbling. Among the better preserved parts of the ship are the cabins of Tito and his wife Jovanka.
The city plans to spend 40 million kunas (5.4 million euros, $6.4 million) of EU funds on refurbishing Galeb as a floating museum, with some quarters offered in concession for a hotel or restaurant.