Yugoslav dissident trial opens after four days of false starts

The setting is a crowded district courtroom in Belgrade, the Yugoslav capital. Six dissidents are on trial, charged with counterrevolutionary activities and making slanderous attacks on the personality and policies of the late Josip Broz Tito.

Milovan Djilas, the best-known rebel in the country, is among those in the court's public area. The six were arrested in a private house last April where he was to have given a lecture.

Before the proceedings opened, the defendants mixed with the crowd waiting to enter the courtroom. They distributed statements alleging harassment and infringement of their civil rights.

Many Yugoslavs heartily disapprove of the trial.

An experienced Yugoslav political analyst commented, ''Only 10 percent (of the people) might be behind the hard-liners who themselves were behind bringing these relatively unknown people into court.''

There was a faintly comic air to its opening days. No sooner did the five judges on the panel take their seats than the defense lawyers put forth a series of demands about how the trial should be conducted.

The first was that any of the judges who are, or had been, members of Yugoslavia's Communist Party should step aside on grounds of possible prejudice. The lawyers also requested a larger courtroom with more seats for the public, and they wanted more newsmen to be admitted.

The hearing was adjourned for 24 hours to give the court time to make rulings. Next day the composition of the panel remained unchanged, but more of the public (according to those on the spot, all who wished could get in) and more newsmen were accommodated.

Then a defendant requested a new lawyer because his own had been subpoenaed as a prosecution witness. When the defendant rejected a substitute proposed by the presiding judge, proceedings were adjourned for a few hours to enable him to find an attorney for himself.

He returned with an advocate who promptly requested a week's adjournment to study the documents. He was granted two days.

Only on day four could the court get around to hearing the indictment.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Mijanovic, the principal defendant, announced he would take no part in the proceedings because he ''did not believe in political trials'' and felt publicly condemned from the start.

None of this - or the presence of outside observers such as representatives of Amnesty International - could have happened in a political trial in the East bloc.

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