Aonce-imposing but now rusting yacht that took the Yugoslav leader Tito up the Thames to meet Winston Churchill is to be turned into a museum and tourist attraction in Croatia.
The yacht has had a long and eventful history – built in Genoa before the Second World War, it was originally used to transport bananas from Africa, but was then requisitioned by the Italians when war broke out. It was torpedoed by the British in 1941 but repaired.
Later it was used by the German navy as a minelaying vessel and again found itself in the crosshairs of the Allies – it was sunk by Allied bombers in 1944 on the coast of Croatia.
The ship was then hauled up from the sea bed, restored and converted into an official yacht for Josip Broz Tito.
He sailed the vessel, named Galeb or Seagull, up the Thames for an encounter with Churchill in 1953, the first time a Communist head of state had visited Britain.
He used it not only as a floating residence and office, but as a party boat, hosting celebrities including Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
For years the 385ft-long ship has been quietly rusting away in the Adriatic port of Rijeka in Croatia, presenting a forlorn sight.
But now the city, which will be a European Capital of Culture in 2020, plans to convert the vessel into a museum at the cost of €5.4 million.
Not everybody in Croatia is thrilled by the idea. Nationalists and conservatives dislike Tito not only for the Communism he espoused but also for his part in subsuming Croatia into the Yugoslav federation.
Last year Tito’s name was stripped from a square in Zagreb, the capital.
The decision to change the name of Marshal Tito Square to Republic of Croatia Square was the result of pressure from a Right-wing party, Independent for Croatia, which said Tito was a dictator.
“No street or square in Croatia should bear Josip Broz Tito’s name,” said the party’s ultranationalist leader, Zlatko Hasanbegović.
The mayor of Rijeka insists that turning the ship into a museum does not mean glorifying the memory of Tito.
Instead, the idea was “to talk about the history around Yugoslavia and Croatia,” Vojko Obersnel told AFP.
The iron-fisted leader made mistakes but remains an important historical figure, the mayor said, adding that the ship would become “an extraordinary attraction” for Rijeka.
Although dilapidated, the ship still contains furniture used by Tito and his wife, Jovanka.
“All the furniture is original and we will try to keep it in its original state in order to present their life on the ship as genuinely as possible,” said Kristina Pavec, from Rijeka’s City Museum, which is overseeing the project.
The ship was bought by Rijeka nearly a decade ago and the industrial port, which has fallen on hard times, hopes it can spearhead a rejuvenation effort.
Born in 1892 to a Croatian father and Slovenian mother, Tito ruled the former Yugoslavia for 35 years until his death in 1980 at the age of 87.
After his death, Yugoslavia collapsed in a series of bloody wars that claimed more than 100,000 lives.
He remains a divisive figure for many people in the republics that succeeded the federation.