"The Poles are the second ones after the Yugolsavs to show 'real socialism' [ Soviet- style communist rule]," commented one Yugoslav with approval. The Polish democratization was such a magnet to a second Yugoslav that he hopped onto a truck delivering goods to Warsaw to see things with his own eyes -- and came back happily reporting that morale was high despite the queues, and that Poles were sticking to their ideals regardless of the economic cost.
A third Yugoslav detected some misgivings on the part of the Yugoslav Communist Party leadership about the Polish pluralism, however. "No one is talking about it publicly. No one is writing about it. But the way the Poles are trying to organize the Communist Party is not only new, it's revolutionary."
Poland's liberalization arouses enormous interest here. Typically, during one of the days of the now-concluding Polish Communist Party congress. Belgrade TV carried as much as 45 prime-time minutes of live coverage. The mood is upbeat. Any avoidance of a Soviet invasion, even a provisional one, is cheered -- both because Yugoslavs fear an invasion could set a precedent for Soviet intervention in post- Tito Yugoslavia, and because they fear it could encourage "Stalinist" behavior by their Albanian and Bulgarian neighbors.
The collective leadership that has ruled Yugoslavia since President Tito's death in the spring of 1980 has therefore been un equivocal in opposing any Soviet military intervention in Poland; it made the first of three strong statements to this effect as the Warsaw Pact leaders gathered for their Moscow summit at the height of the first invasion scare Dec. 5.
On the other hand, Yugoslav leaders are hardly cheering the negative effect of the Polish developments on the Yugoslav economy -- and some of them are wary of the political implications.
On the economic side, Poland's near bankruptcy seems to have made Western banks leery about adding more loans to the $17-18 billion Yugoslav indebtedness, a level that evokes comparison with Poland's disastrous $27 billion debt. In the past Western bankers loaned large sums to Yugoslavia, as to Poland, on the assumption that the Soviet Union, with its impeccable credit rating and collateral of Siberian raw materials, would never let any East European country default.
The current Polish situation has shaken that assumption, and Yugoslavia is reportedly getting the backlash. No Western banker has stated this to Yugoslav negotiators, Gavra Popovic, the assistant federal secretary of finance, stressed in an interview. But Western diplomats are pursuaded this is so.
At any rate, Yugoslavia has managed to raise only $600 million of its $2.1 billion target for hard-currency borrowing in 1981.In particular, the consortium of US, Canadian, British, and Japanese banks that loaned Yugoslavia a large amount last year has not yet agreed to repeat the funding this year.
On the political side, the Polish experiment certainly doesn't threaten to destabilize Yugoslavia. This country's several historically feuding nationalities with their three religious allegiances could never imitate the spontaneous grass-roots unity of a fiercely nationalistic and Roman Catholic Poland. And resentment of the party elite's privileges, which added such fuel to the workers' revolt in Poland, is simply not repeated in a Balkan country that is accustomed to corruption and personal profit.
There might be some resentment of the steering of affairs from above in a society supposedly organized to maximize worker participation in decisionmaking. The frequent press harangues about "bureaucratism" and "technocratism" in trade union and party work suggest that this is the case. But in what is largely a satisfied consumer society, except for the most backward regions, such annoyances remain petty.
Furthermore, the Yugoslav leadership, which earned its spurs in the World War II partisan resistance, has always carried more authority with the population here than its Soviet-imposed counterpart in Poland.
For all these reasons, what at first seemed like concern by some Yugoslav officials about the Polish example has been assuaged. Publicly, officials are proud that Yugoslav self- management is one of the models that Poles are looking at in charting their own evolution. And certainly Soviet complaints that Solidarity's requests for self-management might lead to "group property" (as distinct from common socialist state property) echoes one of the main Soviet indictments of Yugoslavia.
The Yugoslav leadership's misgivings could be revived, however, if the Poles succeed in institutionalizing the radical democratization of their Communist Party. Certainly for Yugoslavia the Central Committee's election of the party secretary by secret ballot as in Poland in 1981 would be a revolutionary step. And even in such a decentralized system as Yugoslavia's, open elections from the bottom up could well upset the present leadership.