Yugoslavia: growing problems after Tito?

After over 35 years of Tito's exclusive personal rule, Yugoslavia is facing the unpredictabilities of a life without the supreme leader. And it will not be an easy adjustment.

Let's discard, at this time, the danger of a Soviet military invasion, direct or by the Bulgarian proxy. Having opted for a major armed intervention in Afghanistan (which has created a greater uproar around the world than the Soviet policy makers had anticipated), Moscow is not likely to undertake another military engagement, this time in the Balkans. Moreover, it would come at the moment when Tito's collective heirs are most likely to stand firmly together, and when the country is psychologically best attuned to resist a foreign invasion. One should not even exclude the possibility that top Yugoslav politicians themselves are spreading war rumors in order better to control the domestic situation.

The immediate war scare set thus aside, one may advance a much more probable scenario, namely that Yugoslavia's post-Tito problems will grow more complicated with the passage of time. And this on several potentially debilitating levels:

* In contrast with the situation in present-day Spain, in which the late Generalissimo Franco left functioning democratic institutional machinery to replace his authoritarian rule, Tito's succession formulas appear much less promising. Under the pretext of avoiding the emergence of another exclusive leader, there are already in place in Yugoslavia two supreme collective bodies: the state presidency composed of eight members, whose president rotates annually , and the 23-member presidium of the central committee of the ruling League of Communists of Yugoslavia (LCY), whose chairman's term lasts also only one year. That such a rational "Swiss" formula of equal and interchangeable leaders could function smoothly in a country in which one man, Tito, has been the supreme (and the only accepted and acceptable) arbiter in many conflictive situations, offers a rather improbable perspective.

* For over 30 years since the establishment, in 1950, of the system of workers' self-management, the country has been exposed to an irresolvable conflict. It is between a socialist market economy depending on pluralistic logic and requirements of the principle of self-management, and the unwillingness of the LCY to relinquish its centralizing and in the final analysis commanding role. Space precludes amply quoting scores of Yugoslav economists, both members and nonmembers of the LCY, arguing about the necessity of a choice either in the direction of economic recentralization or the genuine application of a decentralized system following the dictates of the market and decisionmaking by associated citizens.

* Despite the target of stabilization, promised year after year, the Yugoslav economy is facing persistent and cumulative difficulties. The present inflation rate varies between 27 percent and 30 percent; unemployment is over 12 percent; the deficit in the balance of payment is over $6 billion, foreign credit indebtedness is reaching the figure of $11.4 billion -- all this besides acute food and fuel shortages.

* The internal homogeneity of an ethnically complex country, which in 1970-71 was in danger of a Croatian secession (which Tito deflated not without major efforts, threatening even the use of the Army), has not been safely reestablished. A new potentially destabilizing factor is the resurgence of Islamic fervor among more than four million Yugoslav citizens of the Muslim faith.

*Finally, Yugoslavia's role in the nonaligned movement, one of the essential trademarks of Titoism, will necessarily decline without Tito, the last founding father of the movement. Yugoslavia's foreign political isolation will tend, at least at first, to increase, with Yugoslavia being at odds with the fraction of the nonaligned movement dominated by the militantly pro-Soviet Fidel Castro, while keeping its distance for ideological reasons from the "imperialist" United States. (One often tends to overlook in the West the insistence of the official Yugoslav hierarchy on the Titoist Marxist allegiance.)

Tito's case points out the dangers of an overly long dictatorial and flamboyantly personal leadership style. While keeping Yugoslavia's independence from overt Soviet domination, Tito has dometically been above everything else a manipulator and improviser, besides presiding over a political system firmly resolved not to tolerate any domestic, even socialist or social-democratic opposition. His pronounced confidence in the ARmy as the ultimate guarantor of Yugoslav social and political order, enhances the role of the Army in case that LCY's collective leadership falters.

To sum it up, Tito leaves a vulnerable political and socio-economic system. Yugoslav citizens live better than their counterparts in the satellite countries , and still they all wonder what the future has in store for them. And they all know, most of them in apprehension, some in hidden hope, that the Soviet leaders will do their "peaceful" best to expand their decisive influence on the country whose borders touch Italy, Albania and Greece.

Soviet domination of Yugoslavia would essentially change the geopolitical situation in Central Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, and consequently would vitally affect both NATO and US policies. The old Bolshevik, Tito, forced to turn against his former Soviet mentors, could have facilitated Yugoslavia's position had he withdrawn earlier, leaving to younger people, without burden of his past, the destiny of the country. As things stand now, Yugoslavia's future cannot be predicted with any degree of a rational certitude.

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