Ljubljana, Yugoslavia — ``Eighty percent of youth is politically passive. But the 20 percent make up for it,'' says Uros Mahkovec, who runs what is regarded as the best weekly for the young generation in Yugoslavia. Editor and paper alike belong to a youth scene that began with a ``lunatic'' fringe of punks and other way-out trends adopted from the West. But in the last five years, Slovenia's young people have come into their own as a political force.
Slovenia (population 2 million) has 400,000 citizens between 14 and 27 years of age. Pacifists, antinuclearists, ecologists, and young socialist dissidents within establishment groups openly challenge government policies on specific political issues and disown old phrases of Communist Party rule.
In the spring, they took to the streets of this Slovene capital to protest the Chernobyl disaster and federal plans to expand Yugoslavia's nuclear-energy capacity. Two months later, Slovene delegates at a national youth conference startled party diehards by proposing:
To replace the annual young people's relay race on the anniversary of Josip Broz Tito's birth - still run six years after his passing - with a national march by some of Yugoslavia's more than 1 million unemployed.
To introduce a civilian-service option to obligatory military duty.
To annul the so-called ``verbal guilt'' article in the federal penal code, which prescribes severe penalties for public derogatory comment against state institutions and personalities.
The Slovenes got some sympathy but little voting support, though the move for an alternative to the Army is still up for debate.
The antinuclear forces were more immediately successful. Yugoslavia's only nuclear power plant is in Slovenia. After Chernobyl, an opinion poll showed 70 percent of all Slovenes opposed a federal plan to build four plants by 1990, including a second in Slovenia. The government was forced to postpone its plan indefinitely.
Mr. Mahkovec and his paper Mladina (Youth) symbolize a newly militant generation. Mahkovec is a dynamic type, an experienced journalist who did a long stint as a correspondent in the United States for Slovenia's highly regarded leading daily, Delo. The paper shows a flair for mixing serious articles with coverage of its young readership's personal preoccupations. Under Mahkovec, sales increased from 5,000 to 35,000 copies - respectable for an officially licensed journal. More could be sold, but the price of imported newsprint has prohibited this.
``Official'' the paper may be, but that did not deter Mahkovec from coming out with a blank page when a controversial article had to be withdrawn before going to press. The piece, written by a young Slovene sociologist, Tomas Mastnak, questioned whether Branko Mikulic, the new federal prime minister, was qualified to hold that post, to which he was elected in May. In particular, he singled out a run of anti-intellectual activity in the republic of Bosna i Hercegovina during the years in which Mr. Mikulic was, in effect, running the republic as its representative on the Yugoslav state presidency.
Slovenia's attorney general at once indicted the writer for ``slander'' - under the local version of the ``verbal offences'' code. Protest and ridicule here and in several other republics forced the attorney to drop the hot potato very quickly.
But that was not the end of the story. Following Mladina's blank space, Ljubljana's Radio Student broadcast the text under the title ``Another step toward democratization.''
Another local weekly, Teleks, ran an outspoken comment headed ``Who's afraid of public opinion?'' Most Slovenes, it said, are ``in favor of socialism, but are opposed to ideological indoctrination. They also advocate greater efficiency and pragmatism. They believe, above all, in judging political moves according to their practical value.''
``Were you ordered to withdraw the article?'' I asked Mahkovec.
``No,'' he said, ``but the party made clear it didn't like it. It's one of those things where you must decide when, and over what, you feel it's necessary to run your head against the wall.''
Indeed, there are still some frontiers to be approached with circumspection, even in the most ``open'' of Yugoslavia's republics.
Last month, the Slovene journalists' organization took a stand on a more substantial issue by deciding to amend its statute to remove the requirement that journalists are ``consciously loyal'' to Marxist-Leninist thinking and base their work on its ideas accordingly.
Though Tito himself began ``revising'' Marxism 40 years ago, the process is still a potential can of worms in Yugoslavia and the Slovene move provoked furious reactions from ``orthodox,'' hard-line republics.
``But,'' says Mahkovec, ``this is a pluralistic society and it is outdated to insist journalists undertake commitment to a specific ideological credo. It is enough if he is committed to our constitution as a socialist state.''
Second of three articles. Next: the Yugoslav republican flashpoint.