Who had the grandest funeral of them all?
Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings died earlier this month and last Friday two ex-presidents, four presidential nominees and an impressive group of political figures attended his funeral at the New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton compared Elijah to “the prophet” from the bible who bears the same name, and as the funeral’s extensive press coverage conveys, it was a grand event. An event quite similar, in fact, to the vibe of respect and admiration expressed at a funeral last year for Cummings’ fellow representative from across the aisle, John McCain. Services for the longtime Arizona senator were held at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington DC and featured not one, not two, but three former presidents, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, as well as a bevy of powerful sitting senators.
Funerals are a time to come together, to climb past our differences and celebrate our shared human values, and a funeral for an important political figure is no different. While Digital Dying advocates respect in death for all stripes and types, the recent highly publicized funerals of political figures did get us thinking: Which politician has had the grandest funeral of them all? The answer was a bit surprising.
Josip Broz Tito was an anti-Nazi hero of the Second World War, a liberation fighter, and the father of post-World War II Yugoslavia. He led the country for nearly 35 years. He “was a towering figure on the world stage,” wrote former US President Jimmy Carter, and “a man who sought practical and lasting solutions not only to the issues confronting his own country but to those affecting countries and peoples far from Yugoslavia’s shores.”
When he died, on May 4, 1980, just three days short of his 88th birthday, the world was still locked in the grips of the Cold War and seemed very much divided. That same day a statement was issued by the government of Yugoslavia:
To the working class, all the working people and citizens, and all the nations and nationalities of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia:
Comrade Tito has died.
On the day of May 4th, 1980 at 15:05 in Ljubljana, the great heart of the President of our Socialist Yugoslavia, the President of the Presidency of Yugoslavia, the President of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, Marshal of Yugoslavia, and the Commander-in-chief of the Yugoslav armed forces, Josip Broz Tito, has stopped beating.
Great sorrow and pain is shaking up the working class, nations, and nationalities of our country, our every citizen, worker, soldier, war veteran, farmer, intellectual, every creator, pioneer and youth, and every girl and mother.
And on the message goes. Televisions went blank across the nation, and the announcement was readout. At an important soccer match that day, the tense game was halted and the news was announced. “What followed were sudden scenes of mass crying with even some players…collapsing down to the ground and weeping,” notes a Wikipedia entry on Tito’s funeral.
Given the man’s import and the times —a tense period during the Cold War— it seemed clear to political observers that the funeral was going to be a big one. But perhaps no one could have predicted just how big.
Tito’s funeral was attended by four kings, 31 presidents, six princes, 22 prime ministers and 47 ministers of foreign affairs. In total, 128 countries out of the 154 UN members at the time were represented. “Based on the number of attending politicians and state delegations, it is regarded as the largest state funeral in history,” reads the Wikipedia entry.
But it wasn’t just the number of kings and presidents who attended Tito’s funeral that was impressive. As with both the funerals of Congressman Elijah Cummings and Senator John McCain, it was the diverse belt of leaders that were brought together for the event that made it so notable. In attendance at Tito’s funeral was the Governor-General of Canada, the President of Austria, the President of Algeria, the King of Belgium, the President of Guinea-Bissau, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, the President of Togo, the President of Zambia, the President of Syria, President Saddam Hussein of Iraq and the highest leaders from both East and West Germany.
Wow. It appears that in death, human beings truly do tend to come together.
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