Democratic Croatia Seeks Yugoslav Confederation

DEMOCRACY has come to Croatia, Yugoslavia's second-largest republic, and Franjo Tudjman, its first democratically elected president since World War II, is proud. ``We've succeeded in a dignified way without any problems,'' says Mr. Tudjman of the solid victory of his Croatian Democratic Community (CDC) in April and May elections.

The CDC polled almost 42 percent of the vote and an absolute majority, 205 of 356 seats, in the Croatian parliament.

The second-largest vote-getter was the renamed communist party, the League of Communists of Croatia Party of Democratic Changes, which won 23.5 percent of the vote. The Coalition of National Accord, made up of eight political groups ranging from Social Democrats to Liberals and Christian Democrats, won 11 percent.

But the arrival of democracy in Croatia and the election of Mr. Tudjman have created new strains in Yugoslavia, whose existence as a single country is under debate. Among questions being asked: How far will Tudjman take Croatia? What are his goals? Will Croatia leave the Yugoslav federation?

Croatia and Serbia, the largest Yugoslavian republic, hold the key to the country's future. If they cannot reach an agreement on the make-up of the country, the break-up of Yugoslavia seems unavoidable.

But with a democratically elected, anti-communist government in Croatia and a conservative communist regime in Serbia, an agreement will be difficult to achieve.

Tudjman acknowledges a need for talks with Serbia's Communist strongman, Slobodan Milosevic. But he says the only acceptable outcome of talks is an ``alliance of sovereign republics,'' based on the concept of a Yugoslav confederation.

Tudjman, a former army general and partisan war hero, was imprisoned in the early 1970s for his Croatian nationalist views. Many observers see Tudjman changing as he faces his new responsibilities as president.

``Tudjman is turning away from the nationalist rhetoric of the election campaign and becoming a politician, reducing the influence of the radical right,'' says Hido Biscevic, editor of Croatia's leading daily, Vjesnik.

But, says Mr. Biscevic, if Tudjman cannot realize a new relationship between the republics in Yugoslavia, ``the disintegration of Yugoslavia is inevitable. Croatia can survive by itself,'' he states.

Milovan Djilas, the long-time dissident who once was a top Communist official, says Tudjman is a conservative nationalist, but also a democrat and not a fascist. Yet Mr. Djilas says he is worried about the people around the Croatian president.

``Tudjman has serious opposition inside his own party,'' says Djilas, from radical nationalists who are not different from the ustashi (Croatian fascists who during World War II were aligned with Nazi-Germany).

Others point to the fact that not much concrete has happened in Croatia since Tudjman took office on May 30. Biscevic says that Tudjman still is without an effective economic program.

Croatia's main problem now is its economic transformation, says Tudjman. He desires a free-market system, with plurality of ownership. Incentives for private entrepreneurs must be created, he says, but the road to capitalism and a free market is going to be difficult. ``Most of our enterprises face collapse, and we expect hundreds of thousands of our workers will be unemployed,'' he acknowledges.

However, Tudjman sees not only Serbia as an threat to Croatia's sovereignty, but also the attempts of Yugoslavian Prime Minister Ante Markovic to strengthen the federal government and realize radical economic reforms.

``Like Markovic,'' says Tudjman, ``we are for a free market and a pluralist democracy, but we oppose Markovic's desire for a centralized federal government.''

He says the free multiparty elections to the federal parliament scheduled for November and December ``will change nothing.''

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