Yugoslavia without Tito: achievement to build on

FIVE years ago last Saturday, President Tito died after ruling Yugoslavia for 35 years. In the last decade of his rule he gradually withdrew from day-to-day decisions to devote himself to preparations for his succession. But he remained the ultimate arbiter of Yugoslav affairs until his death. What is the verdict on Yugoslavia after Tito? What are the current prospects for the peoples of Yugoslavia?

For the 15 years before his death, Western analysts were drawing up contingency plans in an attempt to determine whether Tito's successors could hold this complex, multinational, multilingual state together. Many granted Yugoslavia only six to 12 months of relative political peace before it confronted a crisis that could lead to its disintegration. Such a crisis, they thought, could result from economic collapse, internal political and nationality conflicts, and Soviet pressures.

A few observers of the Yugoslav scene gave the country's leaders more credit. They believed that, when faced with potential crisis, the politicians, economists, and military chiefs would close ranks rather than drift apart. They argued that Yugoslavs would have more cogent reasons to resolve their differences than to go their own separate ways. Yugoslavs have indeed managed to keep their nation together, though their efforts to meet its challenges have had mixed results.

Tito left his followers an almost unmanageable political system. To achieve balanced and equal representation among the six constituent republics and two autonomous provinces, the positions of president of the nine-member state presidency and chairman of the Presidium of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia rotate annually. Members of the government, including the prime minister, have longer portfolios, but the watchword throughout the federal government is to ensure a fair distribution of positions among the representatives of the republics and provinces according to a nationality ``key.''

Powerful party organizations and government structures are in command at the republic and provincial levels. The division of power between federal and republic/provincial authorities is designed to protect against the emergence of a dominant personality or ethnic group, but it can lead, as has been shown at times during the last five years, to impasse and inaction in national affairs.

In the economic area, the weakening of the authority of the federal government has made it difficult to control inflation, curb unemployment, streamline industrial production, and stimulate exports. Faced with mounting foreign debts (some $20 billion for a population of 22 million), Yugoslav authorities managed last year to reach agreements with the International Monetary Fund and Western creditors and are now gradually making progress in overcoming their precarious financial situation.

The problem of the ethnic Albanian minority, which lives mainly in Kosovo Province, the cradle of Serbian nationhood, has bedeviled Yugoslav leaders since Tito's death. With the lowest per capita income and highest birthrate in Yugoslavia, Kosovo is a financial drain on the federation.

Even worse, the upsurge of ethnic Albanian nationalism has caused concern that neighboring Stalinist Albania is intent on undermining Yugoslavia. Ethnic Albanian student demonstrations, demands that Kosovo be elevated to a republic, anti-Serb violence and anti-ethnic Albanian retaliation, and foreign criticism of Yugoslav human rights practices have plagued Belgrade. Although ethnic Albanians as such do not threaten the stability of the regime, there is no constructive solution in sight.

Like many countries, Yugoslavia has its particular set of problems. The solutions it seeks take account of its history of inter-ethnic and religious strife (Serb vs. Croat, Serb vs. Albanian, Orthodox vs. Roman Catholic and Muslim), its many Western liberal traditions, and its desire to have good relations with both East and West. Nonalignment in foreign policy and the system of socialist self-management at home, including workers' councils, can only be part of the solution.

Tito left a viable but complicated Yugoslavia, difficult to govern and even more difficult to govern both fairly and effectively. In the absence of the ``Old Man,'' as they called him, his followers have struggled with the destiny of Yugoslavia with mixed results. At least they have tried to deal pragmatically with economic, political, and social problems and have averted the catastrophes that had been forecast for them. This in itself is no mean achievement to build on.

Nicholas G. Andrews is former director of the Office of Eastern European Affairs in the US Department of State.

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