Serbia buries Tito's widow, the last symbol of Yugoslavia

The widow of former Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito was to be buried with full state honours Saturday, the last symbol of the communist federation that broke up in the 1990s.

Jovanka Broz, who died of heart failure at the age of 88 on Sunday, will be buried next to her husband in the House of Flowers in Belgrade, where the communist strongman was laid to rest in 1980.

Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic will give a speech at the funeral, to be held with full military honours as Broz was a decorated member of the Yugoslav anti-fascist partisan movement in World War II, the government said.

"It will be the funeral the first lady of the former state deserves. This is the least we could do," said Serbian deputy prime minister Rasim Ljajic ahead of the funeral.

Several dozen people, mostly elderly former partisans, gathered in front of the mausoleum to pay their respects.

Many of them proudly carried their World War II decorations, while others waved the blue, white and red flags of the former communist federation that broke apart in a series of bloody conflicts in the 1990s.

A number of delegates from former partisan units were expected to attend the funeral.

Once a symbol of elegance and adored in Yugoslavia, Broz lived the last three decades of her life as an outcast.

Blamed by Tito's political friends of plotting a coup, she was placed under virtual house arrest a few years before her husband's death.

Her last public appearance was at Tito's state funeral in May 1980, attended by more than 200 top world dignitaries, among them Margaret Thatcher, Saddam Hussein and Leonid Brezhnev.

After Tito's death Jovanka Broz 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... I could not leave the house without armed guards," she told the Politika daily.

Her identity papers were confiscated and only returned by Serbian authorities in 2009, when she was given a pension.

A symbol of elegance

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.

Broz rarely spoke in public, seemingly satisfied with being a silent first lady, inseparable from her husband during his frequent jaunts, often sailing to their summer residence on the island of Brijuni aboard the official yacht.

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.