The transfer of power in Yugoslavia to the collective succession is virtually complete. High officials here now assume that President Tito, the towering personality who has led the country for 40 years, is unlikely ever again to resume his office. Indeed, the handling of the President's message calling on world leaders to salvage East-West detente illustrated the changeover that already has taken place.
The President dictated the text of the message early this month.He had planned to send it when he left hospital. but the latest sudden decline in his recovery, after an earlier, more hopeful period, intervened.
Instead, the letters went out to Presidents Carter and Brezhnev and others under the signature of Alexander Kolisevski, current vice-president of the 8 -member state presidency that is to be President Tito's collective successor.
Even Mr. Kolisevski will not remain in office long. Under safeguards to ensure that Party leader is not assumed by any one individual, but that these powers are rotated annually among nationalities, Mr. Kolisevski, from Macedonia, is due to step down in May to make way for Cvijetin Mijatovic, from Bosnia. The same principle is enshrined in the party statutes.
The country at large, too, is carrying on calmly despite the people's concern for their longtime leader.
"We cannot change events; we have to continue, and I think we are doing quite well," Anton Vratusa, Slovenia's prime minister, observed to this writer.
Dr. Vratusa has been closely identified with the forward-moving reforms that began in the 1950s and the decentralized system of worker participation and decision-influencing in self-management. He is among the most able of the younger men who will have the task of implementing the country's general resolve to maintain and further develop the democratic aspects of the system.
"The role of personality is very important," he said, discussing President Tito's unique place compared with the equal standing of members of the future collective leadership. "But the system was never thought of or conceived as something unable to carry on without it."
Party spokesmen repeatedly stress the same continuity in foreign relations.These are likely to present the country with its most sensitive future problems.
Latet to drive this point home was Stane Dolanc, another Slovene and a strikingly forceful figure in the leadership, at a meeting of the party committee ostensibly on youth.
"Our youth rejects the misuse of 'international solidarity' as a pretext for interfering in other states internal affairs to impose 'models' on their social systems," he said. "It will not allow our achievements to be endangered from any quarter . . . . LEt that be clear to everybody beyond our country's borders!"
The Soviet Union was not mentioned. But his words added up to a point-by-point indictment of Moscow, not just over Afghanistan but also against using the 'Brezhnev doctrine' or any other kind of pressure to maneuver this country back into the Soviet fold.
Here in Ljubljana, this sophisticated capital Slovenia -- one of Yugoslavia's two most advanced republics -- presents the same non-crisis atmosphere of working normality as does Belgrade, the national capital.
The only visible police presence outside the clinic where the president has been confined since Jan. 12, for instance, is a solidarity uniformed milicija (policeman) at the drive-in. People pass constantly in and out. Visiting facilities for other patients have not been curtailed. Only just inside the main reception hall are they any security men -- in the white hospital coats -- to check that all going in have legitimate reason.
Leading officials convey an impression of quiet confidence that they have begun shouldering the job of leadership where the President has had to leave off; that collective presidency in this mixture of six major nationalities and a score of other ethnic groups can and will work.
These are early days. There are major areas of potential disagreement. But substantial safeguards undoubtedly do lie in an autonomous framework in which each republic and province has its own parliament, radio, television, and newspapers, its own banks and multilingualism for all national groups.
Two big arguments, in fact, already are on the boil. One concerns how aid the developed north should give the backward south. The other revolves around how much the country as a whole can afford to help Montenegro meet its $2 billion to $3 billion earthquake recovery bill.
"Differences are quite normal," officials insist. "Slovenia accepts the need to help less developed regions. It is natural enough for Kosovo [the poorest] to look for all it can get. But it is a question of what is fair and howm support can best be given, and then reaching consensus on mutually tolerable settlement."