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The Long Way Home (1953)
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After spending a month in Japan, ER took what she called “the long way home.” She visited Hong Kong, then stopped in Bangkok, Rangoon, New Delhi, and Istanbul on her way to Greece. She spent a week in Greece before going to Yugoslavia for two weeks, then to Vienna, London, then finally back to New York.
ER’s brief time in Hong Kong offered her her closest look at the People’s Republic of China she was ever able to have, despite her later attempts to visit that country. She visited the border the first full day of her time in Hong Kong, and told her My Day readers about the refugees she saw along the road. She felt that they were likely neither “Communists or non communists. They just want to be let along and given a chance to earn a living.” In a private letter, she said they were likely “questioned so often and bedevilled so much” by the PRC that they “can’t stand it any longer.”
ER’s stops as she and her secretary, Maureen Corr, travelled west were mostly short layovers, where embassy and local government officials would meet her at the airport and, on the longer stops, she had a chance to meet local press and have a quick meal with friends. In New Delhi, she had the opportunity to catch up with Madame Pandit, and in Istanbul she and Corr were so “determined” to see the city that the American Consul General gamely drove them around to see the Byzantian walls and a few mosques, even though they were not open for visitors “so early.”
In Greece, ER visited the royal family and toured archaeological sites—acting as much the tourist as she was ever able. She visited Athens, Delphi, Corinth, and some of the surrounding towns and ruins. She toured the Agora excavations in Athens with Alison Frantz (a member of the excavation team and a specialist in early Christian and Byzantine archaeology). That team also “mapped out the roads and the sights we were supposed to see and lent us a guide and a book on Delphi, all of which was most kind and helpful.” She spent a week in Greece, mostly visiting historic sites.
The main purpose of ER’s long trip home was a visit to Yoguslavia, which she saw at the invitation of the country’s leader, Josep Broz Tito. ER had supported a friendly relationship between the US and Yugoslavia since the war, disagreeing even with members of her own party who sought to cut off relations with this communist nation. ER served as the honorary chair of the American Committee for Yugoslav Relief (ACYR) from late 1945 until its dissolution in July 1948, and argued with the Truman administration over food aid to that country. By the time of her visit, however, the US had more friendly relations with Yugoslavia than with any other communist country. Since its break with the USSR in 1948, Yugoslavia itself was attempting to create its own form of communism and differentiate itself from the Soviet style, and the US hoped to deepen the divide between the two nations. Eisenhower hoped to use Yugoslavia to help persuade other Soviet satellites to leave the Cominform. Shortly before ER’s visit, Yugoslavia entered into a friendship pact with Greece and Turkey, both members of NATO, which included language leaving room for other Soviet nations to join the pact if they separated from the Cominform.
Domestic politics in Yugoslavia also seemed to encourage the belief that it might evolve into a less dictatorial system. During her visit, ER reported that “everyone seems to agree that during the last year great changes have taken place in the government of Yugoslavia. There seems to be a general agreement that decentralization of government power has been encouraged. This is quite remarkable, I think, for it is rare when people have absolute power that they are willing to divest themselves of any of it.” Later, she wrote that she believed Tito was “concerned with providing a government that benefits the people, or at least enough of the people to maintain him in power.”
ER visited Belgrade, Sarajevo, Titograd, the coastal towns of Cetinje, Kotor, and Dubrovnik, then traveled to the northern part of the country to see Zagreb, Ljubljana, and to spend a few days with Tito at his home on Brioni. On her first day in Yugoslavia, in Belgrade, ER slipped away from her hotel with her friend and traveling companion, David Gurewitsch, and explored the local shops, asking at furriers, candy shops, toy stores, and the like both about their goods and about their country. As she moved quickly from town to town, she toured a rural wine cooperative and a machine factory, visited museums, met with women’s organizations, toured coal mines and iron mines, and explored historic sites. She even attended a water polo match and a folk play. She had meals and teas with numerous government officials, both Yugoslavian and American, and met with people she’d known from her days serving on the American delegation to the United Nations. Near the end of her trip, ER and her traveling companions, David Gurewisch and Maureen Corr, visited Tito and his wife on the island of Brioni. There, they rode on Tito’s speed boat to visit other small islands, went swimming, and visited a vineyard.
ER also interviewed Tito for an article to run in Look. After her return to the United States, she urged her readers to remember that “Tito’s Yugoslavia, despite its break with the Soviets, remains part of the Communist world. Let us not fool ourselves that it has any sympathy for, or understanding of, our kind of free-enterprise system. But also, let us not become so obsessed with the words that we disregard Yugoslavia’s importance to us as a powerful enemy of the Soviet imperialism which is the greatest menace to our free world.”
Sources: Leslie Benson. Yugoslavia: A Concise History. New York: Palgrave, 2001; Evanthis Hatzivassiliou, Greece and the Cold War: Frontline State, 1952-1967. Cass Series : Cold War History. NY: Routledge, 2006; Tony Judt. Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. New York: Penguin Books, 2005; Peter Kenez. A History of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to the End, second edition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006; Lorraine Lees. Keeping Tito Afloat: The United States, Yugoslavia, and the Cold War. Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997; Eleanor Roosevelt.”Why Are We Co-Operating with Tito?” Look (October 5, 1955): 80-83; Eleanor Roosevelt. The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt. New York: Da Capo Press, 1992 (1958).For more on ER and Yugoslavia, see The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, vol. 1, 168-70, 529-32, 541-42, 652-54, 673-75. Quoted material also comes from My Day and from the documents included in this unit.
ER to John RooseveltJune 30, 1953 (Hong Kong, Rangoon, New Dehli)
US Cultural Attache in Hong Kong to Maureen Corr (Hong Kong)
ER and Madame Pandit later in 1953 (New Dehli)
ER to John, July 9, 1953 (New Dehli, Greece)
ER's Greece Itinerary(Delphi and Corinth, Greece)
ER to US Ambassador in Athens (Athens, Greece)
ER's Draft Schedule for Yugoslav Visit July 8-21, 1953
Dragan Stojiljkovic to ER July 6, 1953 (Belgrade, Yugoslavia)
ER to Dragan Stojiljkovic July 8, 1953 (Belgrade, Yugoslavia)
ER to James Roosevelt July 10, 1953 (Sarajevo, Yugoslavia)
My Day July 21, 1953 (Sarajevo, Yugoslavia)
My Day July 22, 1953 (Kotor, Yugoslavia)
ER and Tito Shake Hands (image) (Brioni, Yugoslavia)
ER to Tito July 20, 1953 (Zagreb, Yugoslavia)
ER to Lorena Hickock July 22, 1953 (Vienna, Austria)