Soviet action jars Yugoslavs

Yugoslavs' worries about the welfare of their redoubtable President Tito have sharpened rather than diminished their concern -- and criticism -- over the Soviet action in Afghanistan.

They are dismayed and shocked by this latest demonstration of Moscow's readiness to ride roughshod over the independence and sovereignty of other, smaller, nations. The Soviet move has all too obvious implications for their own nation as it tries to beat an independent path between the superpowers at an extremely sensitive moment.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the news media -- television, radio, and newspapers -- gave a big showing to the United Nations' crushing vote against to Rus sians. IT also was played up as a major vindication of thenonaligned movement's anti-superpower policies and its opposition to the presence of foreign troops on any other nation's territory.

Contrary to first misgivings, however, Russia's move into Afghanistan now is seen as providing some tonic effect for the nonaligned movement, rather than dealing it what initially appeared a damaging body blow.

The Yugoslavs and their friends would have preferred that the West had left the UN initiative to them, since Afghanistan itself was a nonaligned country.

They feared it would become solely an issue between the power blocs instead of an occasion on which the third world could defend the principle of nonintervention without regard to any difference of circumstance that someone might try to use to spuriously "justify" interference of this kind.

But, in fact, the massive UN vote of 104 to 18 (with 18 abstentions) against the USSR is seen as a significant success for the basic position of the nonaligned nations.

For the Yugoslavs, it was a special victory, coming as it did after the September nonaligned summit in Havana, where President Tito fought with considerable effect against Soviet endeavors, through Cuba, to divide and "capture" the movement.

For the Yugoslavs, the adversary in Havana was not Cuba but the Russians, as it is again now.

Their mass response to a government call to welcome their statesman President on his return from Havana was eloquent testimony to their feeling that once more he had stood up to the tactics the Russians have never ceased to employ against "independent Yugoslavia." This is even more evident now in their deep concern for President Tito's health. Because of its coincidence with the latest East-West crisis, his condition has heightened all the old, instinctive Yugoslav suspicions of any new Soviet "security" moves -- like those in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and now in Afghanistan -- in which they can see possible parallels in the Kremlin's thinking about their own country.

With continuing anxiety about the President, the official line is to dismiss speculation on the future, either in the domestic or international context.

"The question, 'After Tito?" is asked much more abroad than it is here," a source said from Belgrade Jan. 16. "The answer is, 'After Tito, there will be Tito, in the shape of his ideas and policies.'"

The allusion is to the "collective leadership" devised to take over -- without a specific individual or permanent head of state or party -- in the post-Tito period.

There is confidence in the system as it has been elaborated, with its fastidious concern, among other things, for the absolute equality and autonomy of all the Yugoslav republics and nationalities. There is also confidence in the unifying effect any future outside interference would have.

Nonetheless, there still is concern as to just how far Moscow's global strategy might reach at some future time.

It is not mentioned, but the Yugoslavs do not feel alone. They have nor formal ties, but they remain confortable with the assurance of a strong Western interest in its independence.

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