Yugoslavia Still Has a Chance

THE changing world of communism has left Yugoslavia behind. Ironically, the country which in 1948 held the most promise for the transformation of communism is still struggling with the shortcomings of ideology and state organization. Unlike Poland and Hungary, Yugoslavia is a multi-national state. The post-World War II decision to join ethnic nationalities in one country was ingenious, but problematic. Force was used from the start. For forty-five years a merciless police carried out the arbitrary decisions of the communist party. Yugoslavia is now in desperate need of reform but unable to accomplish it. It is crippled by corruption, but has no determination to uproot it. It sinks under a heavy debt and a directionless economy. Yugoslavia is a country with little or no collective identity, and it suffers from ossified party and state structures.

Poland and Hungary are both mono-national countries, and each had a unifying church tradition (Roman Catholic) which served to remind successive rulers of their moral responsibilities. Yugoslavia, as the state of six ``states,'' did not have either advantage. Each of the six ``sovereign'' republics has its own past. The ``northern republics'' of Slovenia and Croatia, and the Province of Voivodina, share an Austro-Hungarian tradition which is closer to Europe. Their ``southern'' partners, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia with their five centuries of Ottoman rule and Slavic Orthodox dogmatism are less willing to adopt the western European values of individual freedom. The republics are relatively mono-ethnic (except for Serbia) and each has a church of its own. Thus it is reasonable to assume that common purpose may be impossible for Yugoslavia. Compromise reached through consensus may be the only avenue left.

This explains why the present Serbian course of action is irrational and dangerous. Serbia's past has been built on the suppression of other states. The present nationalistic euphoria aims at building ``a strong and unified state of Serbia'' capable of dominating the political life of the Yugoslav Federation. To achieve it, Serbia's leader, Slobodan Milosevic, invented a provocation to justify his course of action. In 1933, Hitler chose to burn the Reichstag. In 1987, Mr. Milosevic chose to exaggerate the alleged crimes committed by ethnic Albanians in the Province of Kosovo against Serbs and Montenegrins.

Initially, the strategy worked. Millions of Serbs took to the streets protesting the alleged crimes. Milosevic succeeded in declaring martial law in the Province of Kosovo. He sent army units and special police forces to the area. (They killed Albanian demonstrators.) He changed the Provincial Constitution to fit his plans, and arrested Albanian leaders who disagreed.

Public discussion in Serbia on Kosovo is rife with emotional outbursts, slogans, and deprecatory metaphors. A US congressman who returned recently from a trip there found only contempt for Albanians among Serbs - and a deeply rooted sense of humiliation among Albanians, ``a perfect setting for revolt in Kosovo,'' he said.

This ominous Serbian trend, which is destroying the fabric of Yugoslav Federation, endangers the co-existence of Albanians and their Serb, Montenegrin, and Macedonian neighbors. It is a curious and little known fact that during the most crucial moments in Balkan history - the Turkish invasion in the 14th century, and the Nazi invasion in World War II - Serbs and Albanians found themselves united in a struggle for survival. The present Serbian posture rejects that spirit.

In Serbia, a ``Young Turks'' movement is developing into rabid nationalism. If not stopped, it may lead to the final dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation. The forced overthrow of the governments of Voivodina and Montenegro a year ago, and bloodshed in in the streets of Kosovo last spring, are initial steps toward a Serbian domination of Yugoslavia. Persistent attacks against Slovenia, and the recent Serbian provocations in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina are also part of the Serbian plan to dominate the country.

The seemingly hopeless situation has caused pessimists to conclude that the breakdown of Yugoslavia is inevitable. Yet I still think the country can be put back on the right track.

Most people believe that the complex problem has an easy answer: free elections and a free market economy. This is the road being taken by Slovenia, and to a lesser extent by Croatia. Proper representation would allay the fears of the non-Slavic people, especially the large ethnic groups of Albanians and Hungarians. If they had the right to freely present their views, these groups would be able to join the process of democratization, thus reducing tensions. Constitutionality and the rule of the law, now sorely missing in Yugoslavia, would be installed to protect both individuals and national groups. Democracy would also eliminate the present untenable division between Slavic ``nations'' and non-Slavic ``nationalities.'' For the one million restless ethnic Albanians, it could mean self-government in the republic of Kosovo, rather than remain an appendix to the Serbian republic, something they deeply resent.

Since 1945, the West has tolerated the socialist system in Yugoslavia, as long as the foreign policies of that country have remained relatively neutral. A turn to democracy will not upset the balance in Europe, especially after the constructive initiatives of the Soviet Union in East Europe. Therefore, a democratic Yugoslavia is not only feasible, but probably the only chance to avoid further upheaval, or civil war.

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