Belgrade — "The time is coming," an official says, "when we shall not have Tito to turn to. There will be problems, but we believe you will see that he has built a system that, as it grows in experience, will be able to meet them."
At time of writing, Yugoslav leaders were bracing for the possibility of President Tito's passing. But there is widespread confidence here that the changeover to a more collective leadership will be a smooth one.
A longtime Western observer of the Yugoslav scene concurs. "Tito's whole life since 1948 [the year of the break with Stalin] has been to stand Yugoslavia on its own feet -- and with a great measure of success."
In the process he has given the country a tremendous sense of pride in itself -- something that indelibly stamps Yugoslavia as vastly different from the East European states and the conformism and frustrations that arise from their dependent status and the totality of their ties with the Soviet Union.
Most Yugoslavs feel their system is well-enough rooted to survive in the President's absence.
They seem suddenly much more conscious than before of the still greater need for multi-national unity. They are confident, too, that the base is strong enough now to withstand either internal difficulties or pressures that might conceivably come in time from outside. It is the former "liberals" who want to see Yugoslavia become a still-more-open society who voice the more serious doubts.
Pushed aside after the nationalist outbreaks in the early 1970s, they play no political role and have no influence just now, though clearly they have hopes for the future.
Such hopes come from a belief that there must at least be changes of style and emphasis as the country moves into the period without the man who has led it for nearly 40 years.
The "liberals" are also more apprehensive, though they, no more than most other Yugoslavs, anticipate danger in terms of any open or direct threat from Russia.
"But don't forget," one remarked, "the Russians have never abandoned hope of drawing us back into the bloc."
This also is an official view. It is a central theme in the just-published memoirs of the late Edvard Kardelj, the architect of the Yugoslav constitutional system and, for the Russians, the "arch-revisionist" of the militantly independent party program written after Soviet intervention in Hungary.
Mr. Kardelj recalls the constant pressures on this country, first under Stalin and later under Khruschev.
Future pressures from Moscow are expected to be more subtle than those on Czechoslovakia of Afghanistan -- most likely through playing on economic difficulties with those Yugoslav communists who argue they can be solved only through more authoritarian, centralized direction of affairs.
This is Yugoslavia today -- a little more tense than a month ago, a little uncertain as the President's constitutional successors-to-be seek day by day to establish the impression of a nation "at the ready" for whatever may befall.