Yugoslav party: younger, ready to tackle problems, push reforms

Yugoslavia's Communist Party is holding its first congress in 40 years without the powerful presence of Josip Broz Tito.

But the only reminders of the late leader were modest portraits in the main conference hall and meeting rooms - and a brief standing tribute at the opening session June 26.

The delegates moved on to a lively and often critical appraisal of the country's current problems, chief of which are economic.

The congress confirms the emergence of youth as a strong group within the party. The League of Communists of Yugoslavia - to use its full name - now counts 2.1 million members. It is almost certainly the youngest of the ruling Communist parties - and the only one to recruit strongly among youth.

Thirty-one percent of its members are under 30 years of age. And nearly 200 of the 1,500 delegates are in this age group.

The congress as a whole seems to be aware that, with the gigantic economic problems facing Yugoslavia in terms of foreign debt, rising inflation, and unemployment - particularly among an ever more restless youth - major changes can no longer be deferred.

It is a question not only of stricter economic policies and reforms but also of political and social changes that must accompany them if they are to be effective.

The demand for a more open society has been growing. Many see it as the only way to preserve this multinational, federal, but highly decentralized, state.

Senior Yugoslav politicians have encouraged the moves toward a more democratic atmosphere. There is more criticism and tolerance than usual, particularly in the press.

Many party veterans will be stepping down from the top leadership, making way for a new generation that will want still more democratization and participation in the party - and in society at large.

Thus in practice the Yugoslavs will be moving further away from the parties within the Soviet bloc. The Russians have said nothing publicly, but there are signs that they continue to view the Yugoslav ''revisionists'' with undiminished disapproval.

Alexander Grlickov - for many years Yugoslavia's trouble-shooter in interparty international relations - alluded to a ''downhill trend'' in relations with some Communist parties (obviously, principally, the Soviets) because of different opinions on international problems such as Kampuchea (Cambodia), Afghanistan, and the role of nonalignment.

Former Foreign Minister Milos Minic, referring to those who criticize Yugoslavia for keeping its distance from both East and West blocs and for holding them equally responsible for world tensions, put it more forcefully:

''Yugoslavia stands neither with East nor West. It forms its own attitudes and judges the performance of each bloc on its merits.

''We have friendly relations with the United States . . . but on individual questions we cannot keep silent, or approve acts of which we disapprove. . . .''

Then, turning to ''our second big friend, the Soviet Union,'' Mr. Minic asked more explicitly: ''How can we agree with its intervention in Afghanistan?''

The congress will vote a final resolution on the party program. The draft prompted lively debate before the congress, and most speakers have criticized what they see as its failure - and thus that of the leadership - to come to grips with the causes of the present crisis.

Last week a disastrous picture of the economy was painted for parliament. Federal institutions appear to be almost at a standstill because of regional rivalries and the ambitions of the individual republics.

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