IN the midst of the present turmoil in Yugoslavia, one thing is clear: Croatia and Slovenia will be free, independent, and democratic nations - with or without the blessings of the so-called "world powers."No action or inaction on the part of any government is going to reverse the will of the majority of Croatians which has been expressed by every generation since 1918. For centuries, the Croatians and Slovenians fought for autonomy within the Hapsburg Empire. By the early 20th century, they had succeeded to a great extent and had no desire to be absorbed into another multinational state. Seventy-two years later, opposing forces have reached a centrifugal mass that is now tearing Yugoslavia apart. On June 25, the long-held dream of independence became a reality for Croatia and Slovenia. The Slovenian and Croatian peoples have seized control of their own destiny and are now seeking a new arrangement with Serbia and other republics. Since last October, the presidents of the two republics have offered a proposal for a confederation in which each republic would direct its own economic development and have full responsibility for its own security and for the preservation of its culture. The proposal was met with government-inspired violence and a de facto Serbian coup in the federal government. In light of the hostility caused by the Yugoslav experiment, and Serbia's unwillingness to relinquish its control of the army, party, and government, Croatia and Slovenia had no other choice but to declare independence from Belgrade. It now appears that the Army may become a law unto itself, writing the final chapter in the brief, bloody history of Yugoslavia. The United States can, by immediately granting recognition to the nations of Slovenia and Croatia, do much to lessen the violence now being visited upon these two peaceful and largely unarmed republics. By delaying recognition further, the United States emboldens the Yugoslav army and communist hard-liners. And once again, while preaching to other nations about freedom, democracy, and self-determination, we find ourselves supporting totalitarian regimes long after it has become obvious that the people will prevail. In 1776, the first European government to recognize the newly founded United States of America was the tiny, democratic Croatian republic of Ragusa, now known as Dubrovnik. Perhaps now is the time to return the favor. The chaotic events that are unfolding in Yugoslavia cannot be judged in simple terms of capitalism versus communism, democracy versus totalitarianism - or even in terms of the often mentioned "Balkan rivalries." In fact, all of these issues are blended into a kaleidoscope of politics, history, ethnicity, and nationalism in Yugoslavia. To those unfamiliar with this history, Yugoslavia appears to be a nation divided against itself. In fact, the present conflict is not within a nation but among nations. Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia are not only different nations, they belong to two different cultural spheres. The Slovenians and Croatians are historically and culturally a Western people. They are predominately Roman Catholic and use the Latin alphabet. Serbians are an Eastern people who spent 500 years under Turkish rule. They are almost entirely of the Orthodox faith and use the Cyrillic alphabet. Even though they speak a similar language, the Serbs' inability to communicate with the other peoples of Yugoslavia has written the history of the region for 70 years. Last spring, a transformation began in Croatia and Slovenia with the first free elections in more than 40 years. In Croatia, the result was an overwhelming victory for Franjo Tudjman, a partisan war hero, a former general of the Yugoslav Army, a former communist, and a former political prisoner (in that order). Dr. Tudjman is a renowned scholar of Croatian history who was purged of his power and position after exposing official party history as fiction. Slovenia also elected a democratic, pro-market gove rnment. This past spring, with new governments and new constitutions, Croatians and Slovenians again went to the polls to choose continued federation with the other Yugoslav republics or independence. In a massive outpouring, the people voted for independence by more than 90 percent. Of the many challenges facing these new nation-states, none is greater than building new governments with freedom, democracy, and a market economy while assisting each of the other nations and nationalities of present-day Yugoslavia in peacefully finding its own free, democratic, and separate destiny in a new European and world order.