To a friend, departed 2004

From: RJD

Sent: Wednesday, February 11, 2004 6:52 PM

To: 'Charles

Subject: RE: Branko


Strange coincidence about Tito, the man I spoke to you this morning about, Doctor John de Courcy Ireland, a huguenot, by the way, also knew Tito and speaks Serbo-Croat. I wonder if he ever bumped into Branko.

As for the Communism, Clive Lindley has a good line that might save you from truncating: He joined the communist party as did many people because they offered a real alternative and vision at the time. Clive was talking about China, but perhaps the words apply to Branko's thinking too.

My only addition to your speech, which you might like, is that Branko was the complete antithesis of a snob. For all his knowledge about wine, etc, he knew how to ferret out an excellent red at 2.99, and start a fashion. One day we bought six Montenegrin wines in Sainesbury's, following his advice. Then the person behind us in the checkout queue bought a few, and suddenly the whole queue was stocking up on the excellent little wine. Sainesbury sold them all.

Whenever I splash out and buy a bottle that does not live up to the price, I think of Branko.

I also remember his lunching with us in that Italian café on Marylebone road when he confirmed that their Al Pesto at 4.99 was one of the best he had ever had.

Bon courage for tomorrow.


Branko, by Charles

Born in 1915 Branko was brought up in a close family, the son of a businessman. Life was not entirely secure since his father's business in Zagreb went bankrupt and he took the risky choice of moving to start again in Belgrade. Branko was perhaps a comparatively rare Croat with a love of Serbia. He once told me that when a Serb became your friend he was a true friend. Despite being the son of a businessman, Branko became a communist in the 1930s. He was physically active, a track runner, a ski-er which as he explained to Alexandra and Harriet , then required walking up the distance and height of the downhill run (99% perspiration) and he was a bicylist across Europe. After the German invasion of Yugoslavia, he became a partisan under Tito. He did not talk much about this heroic period in his life for which he was later honoured by Croatia but he did say that he learned how to live on very little, eating what could be garnered in the forests. Nor did we ever really learn what motivated him to become a communist although presumably it reflected a reaction to injustice and possibly rebelliousness. He said that his father had told him that a commercial organisation could not work if all were equal and that he had later realised that his father had been right. In distinction from the rest of communist east Europe such a system of self management was actually tried in Yugoslavia but that did not stop the emergence of the New Class.

I do not know the precise reasons why he took the dramatic decision to leaveYugoslavia in 1958? but I can put together several. He was always an admirer of Tito for his leadership against Hitler and Stalin but he felt that Tito did not have total control within Yugoslavia and he became disenchanted. His specialty was agriculture and he felt that Yugoslavia's agricultural potential was not fulfilled because of deadening bureacracy which smothered the initiative of small family farmers. But he was also strongly attracted to England, especially London, for which he had developed a deep love when he was minister in the embassy responsible for trade. Even more important than the place were the friends he had made while in London : Hans Braunsberg being perhaps the closest at that time, but he was close to the Labour MP and minister, Arthur Bottomley, George Springall and Harry Kissin. Soon he made new friends, like Roland and Rajka, Buba and Maja, Freddie and Vjera, and Maurice and Mira.

He found work on eastern Europe at the Economist Intelligence Unit, where he met David Phillips, another great friend. Making a living in what was then a much more narrowly English working culture cannot have been easy but he and Beba managed and although their own life was financially constrained they were even able to send Ivana to some private schools all of which she rejected before finding a more open minded welcome at the pioneering comprehensive school of the 1960s, Holland Park.

Branko may have abandoned communism but his deepest enthusiasm after family and friendships was for simple things made with skill and tradition. He could cook a range of delicious meals to which I was occasionally invited when Beba was away. His chef d'oeuvre was Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino which he cooked con amore. Once when staying with him and Beba in Rome—some other of those here enjoyed Branko and Beba's wonderful hospitality in Rome--the portiere of the block of flats took him and me up to the village in the hills, where he came from. Branko was driving and they had a furious row as to whether to drive straight through the city or go by the Raccordo Anulare as Branko, conscious ahead of his time of city-centre congestion, wanted. But once there and shown the barrels of wine and olive oil and eating the local bread he told me he felt that this was really where he belonged. Though Branko had some wealthy friends, he had little interest in luxuries other than keeping his 1977 BMW in near-perfect condition and membership of the Reform Club.

It was therefore appropriate that he should have come back to working with small farmers at the International Co-operative Alliance based in London and then at the UN's food and agricultural organisation in Rome. He said that he particularly loved his trips to India. Soon after I first met him he gave be a book called A Search in Secret India, an appropriate memory as there were many secrets in Branko's life which he would not divulge or do so only occasionally and unexpectedly.

He had a very particular love of good literature, of books which he would read and re-read. These included Conan Doyle stories, Chechov stories, the Leopard by Lampedusa and Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi, in which he recently managed to interest one of his nurses. Branko had a deep love of music especially at a very intimate personal level. He had a friend in Rome called Mille with whom he had little in common except Mille's wonderful violin playing. Most amazingly he even occasionally enjoyed my very ungainly renditions of Schubert on the piano. His own voice was magnificent and with it he poured out his soul.

Branko gave his love to his wife, daughter, step-daughter, family and friends and I believe all will thank him for that warmth which we they will treasure.


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