Yugoslav public presses for reform following party congress

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

In the wake of the four-day party congress here, Yugoslavia's essential problem remains: The country needs radical changes. But such changes are not likely in the near future, because no one -- and no group -- in Yugoslavia is strong enough to push them through.

If the meeting of the League of Communists, which ended here Saturday, did nothing else, it opened the door to a generation of younger politicians who are better educated than many of their predecessors.

The Old Guard was still visible at the party congress. Many chests bore the star of the Partisan fighter -- the generation which with their late leader, Josip Broz Tito, created the present Yugoslav state. But the majority of the congress's 1,750 delegates did not take part in the Partisan war, did not experience the nation's break with Moscow 38 years ago, and did not enter the political scene until the 1960s.

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Sadly, the new leadership is largely identified by the public as an established apparatus, reluctant to change things too quickly and unprepared to yield to demands for accountability.

For example, the new premier, Branko Mikulic, has in hand a package of changes to be legislated by September that would strengthen the federal hand in the economy. He has a reputation for firmness, as seen in the development of the republic he ran before he came to his present post. But, once this package is passed, it is not known whether he intends to follow up with the kind of political reform needed to improve the Yugoslav economy.

And at the congress, the party establishment side-tracked proposals that its Central Committee be democratically elected from a list of dual or multiple candidatures. It conceded only a procedure in which delegates were to confirm, one by one in secret ballot, a predetermined list of candidates with the same number of aspirants as places on the committee. Only if a candidate failed to get two-thirds of the vote was he to be disqualified and the ``consituency'' from which he came called upon to put up the next name on its initial list.

This was a discouragement to those who would like to take at face value the leadership's self-criticism and admissions of failure, as well as its pledge of greater party democracy. This discouragement may have, in some degree, accounted for the fact that the party congress debates were generally lackluster and produced little of the kind of challenge from the floor that the ``liberals'' in the leadership would have welcomed.

Thirty years ago, Yugoslav decentralization ended a single (Communist) party system. Paradoxically, it put in its place a system of eight parties. Local leaderships became so strong that for years they have been able to ``blockade'' federal decisionmaking, as a senior official put it, if something did not match up to their own regional interests. Amendment to the Constitution to prevent veto power in lesser matters is reported to be the next reform.

Meanwhile, the country shows a remarkable vitality and ability to survive inflation, chronic unemployment, and foreign debts which, despite rescheduling, are absorbing more than 40 percent of export earnings.

The abundant food markets, the crowded stores and restaurants of this ever-lively city, give no impression of the austerity suggested by the debates at this party congress.

Yugoslavs are traditionally avid newspaper readers, and last week's congress reports and pictures were, as usual, snapped up. ``Something has got to be done,'' people said. They make it clear they expect the party to do it. And they make clear also that they want more than words.

Although the party had been in good public standing since 1948, its credibility has dropped noticeably of late. It is not attracting youth. Too many young people are unemployed and have scant prospects of finding jobs. And 40,000 of its older, often veteran, members have quit.

The party leader, Vidoje Zarkovic, said recently that the party had been through a crisis of confidence because people thought it incapable of carrying out even its own program.

For the moment, though, the clash of ideas of the past year seems to have been shunted onto ``safe,'' established tracks.

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