Yugoslav youth: East Europe's trend setters

Yugoslav youths are setting new patterns of original thinking for their Eastern European comrades. So far, their comrades do not have as much license to follow the lead of their more progressive Yugoslav counterparts, though some Poles are making their own adaptations.

What distinguishes Yugoslav youth are the liberties and outlets unknown to their contemporaries in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

They dress in the latest styles, go about their business with self-assurance, and carry passports in their pockets.

Yet the rulers of a country that three decades ago pioneered the liberalization of a communist regime confess to a generation problem common to the Eastern bloc -- and to the world at large.

Six out of every 10 Yugoslavs under 27 years of age belong to the Communist Youth Federation. Many admit they join because it can smooth postgraduate career opportunities. Many others do not join, however, and there is little evidence that their prospects suffer. Being a good students is what really counts.

From the regime's point of view, most of Yugoslavia's young are politically aloof, detached.

Polish students, meanwhile, have just had to strike to win the right to decide for themselves whether to study Marxism and which languages they will learn. Russian is no longer obligatory.

They may no longer be denied passports because of bad grades or doubtful politics. They have won quite a say in university affairs.

Yugoslav high school and university students won all this some time ago. But , according to the recently retired president of the youth federation, Yugoslav youth are as uninterested in participating in the political system as are their contemporaries in the Eastern bloc.

Predictably, bloc dogmatists blame the Western world and its examples and influences.

Long ago, Belgrade stopped trying to hold back a tide and allowed these "influences" to find their way to every newsstand, bookstore, movie and television screen in town. There were very few restrictions. And no dire results.

On the contrary, Yugoslavia's problem now is "Where do we go from here?" and "How can we bring youth to be less careerist, materialist or - to 'liberal' [for a communist state] in its outlook?"

At least, Yugoslav communists recognize they must accept much of the blame themselves, and they are looking for more common ground with young people.

But can they communicate better? Vasil Tukurkovski, a Macedonian and former president of the youth federation, raised the question and explained the failures so far.

Youth leaders themselves, he said, soon grew to like the advantages of an official job, felt themselves irreplaceble, and contrived to hold on to their offices instead of making way for younger people.

Often, moreover, they were handpicked by the parent Communist Party. He himself had simply been ordered to take over as president of the Yugoslav Youth Federation even though he had not been active in the youth movement for five yeas.

"Though we put in a lot of working hours," he said, "our works was nonrational and, from a youth point of view, a disaster.

"We play the role of representing the younger generation and make the decisions. But we do not have a mandate."

Like young people anywhere now, young Yugoslavs are not easily sold on politics. Talk to teenagers and people in their early 20s and you find warm respect for the late President Tito. They acknowledge the country's and their own gains under Titoism.

They don't want to turn the system upside down. But you quickly sense they want to be accepted as more sophisticated, more mature, equal partners in social developments. They do not want to dwell on the old classroom teaching of the heroic past.

"Young people may speak out as individuals but are not yet permitted to express themselves in their own organized way, either about the contemporary life in which they find themselves or to disagree wit h everyday policies," says Mr. Tukurkovski.

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