Russia’s Missing Peacemakers
Why the Country’s Elites Are Struggling to Break With Putin
The grand old man of Balkan politics, Marshal Josip Broz Tito, no longer rules. At this writing, the founder of nonalignment, the originator of the first new brand of socialism since Lenin, the friend, or at least the colleague, of world leaders from Stalin and Roosevelt through Khrushchev and De Gaulle to Hua and Carter, lies mortally ill. At home he attempted, at the very least, to forge a united nation from a host of competing, often antagonistic ethnic groups, each with its own aspirations in terms of economic and cultural development, religion, language and political awareness. Here, too, his success has been tempered by a gnawing realization that perhaps this very success has contained less than meets the eye, that perhaps it was merely Tito's own personal charisma and personal loyalty to an ideal that produced a progressive, prosperous and united Yugoslavia.
The future of Yugoslavia, in short, contains many pitfalls and dark passions all waiting to be exploited by the opportunists, at home and abroad, who have long lain in wait for this time.
From the moment of its formation more than 60 years ago, one nation or another has wanted something from Yugoslavia. An amalgam of the leavings of the Hapsburg monarchy and a disparate set of the most backward peoples of the Balkans, Yugoslavia, long before its present leadership or its present communist system appeared on the scene, was a particularly tempting and apparently vulnerable prize. The Ottoman Turks prized its trade routes, and its roads carried their troops to the gates of Vienna. Hitler and Mussolini coveted its Adriatic ports and its rail lines leading down through the Balkans toward Greece.
But there is more to Yugoslavia's value today than its unquestionably strategic geopolitical position. For Yugoslavia has become a symbol: of resistance to the Soviet Union; of a system of economics and government of value throughout the Third World; of cohesion, continuity and the existence of a ruling communist party that is unique because of geographical proximity to the Soviet bloc and its refusal nonetheless to take its lead from Moscow.
Many countries, for their own peculiarly selfish reasons, have sought out ties with Yugoslavia. And for its part, Yugoslavia has not been loath to exploit them in its effort to gain support in the large portion of the world that calls itself nonaligned. But now another period of transition has arrived at a time of particular sensitivity for the various forces with the most immediate interest in Yugoslavia.
Today, a quiet, but intense, three-cornered power struggle for Yugoslavia between the Soviet Union, China and the United States is underway with a variety of other clearly not disinterested players-Europe, both East and West, and the Third World-watching nervously for the outcome. It is a diplomatic, political, economic and perhaps ultimately military struggle with stakes growing steadily in an era of collapsing détente. It is a struggle that encompasses many of the same elements of the triangular relationship that are at play in other parts of the world.
At home, Yugoslavia has not for decades been quite so vulnerable or so ill prepared to resist such a struggle.
Its economy is in an increasingly desperate condition. Led by imported oil and gas prices which have risen 60 percent in the past year, inflation hit nearly 30 percent in 1979 and is expected to surpass that figure this year. The country's hard-currency debt has ballooned to more than $13 billion, and it has renegotiated some $1.1 billion during the past year. Its balance-of-trade deficit reached a postwar record of $6.3 billion last year.
In the government-owned Centroproms, the national chain of food shops, and in the smart boutiques that line the Kneza Mihajla promenade in Belgrade or Boulevard Revolucija in Zagreb, shortages have begun to develop for the first time in such staples as butter and milk and in luxury dresses, suits and shoes that Yugoslavs have come to accept as their due. Long lines have shown up at gasoline pumps for the first time since the immediate postwar years, and more and more stations have their gas hoses slung casually over the pumps, indicating the tanks are dry.
In this respect, Yugoslavia has always been vulnerable. Unlike neighboring Romania, it has no substantial domestic supply of oil, and within the last two years its production of natural gas has failed to keep up with rising demand. Last year, according to State Department figures, Yugoslavia produced 79,000 barrels per day of crude oil, but consumed 359,000 barrels per day. Also last year, when a major new oil pipeline opened from the island of Krk across Croatia into Hungary and Czechoslovakia, officials conceded some difficulty in finding enough Middle Eastern crude to carry. Yugoslavia's principal suppliers of crude oil-Iraq and Libya-are highly unstable and fickle partners that could, during some future crisis, be swayed through economic blackmail by the Soviet Union, which is also becoming a significant supplier of crude oil to Yugoslavia.
Last year, the Soviet Union agreed to supply Yugoslavia with 2.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas annually for the next six years. An east-west natural gas pipeline network, originating in the Soviet Union and designed to carry 3.5 billion cubic feet of gas per year into Yugoslavia, is broadening, after the opening of the first spur early last year. At the same time, Yugoslavia, with no desire to become significantly dependent on such a politically dangerous source of petroleum as the Soviet Union, has been searching the Middle East for new suppliers of crude oil. Early last year, President Tito swung personally through four Middle Eastern countries, including two major oil producers, Kuwait and Iraq, where, Yugoslav diplomats disclosed, most of the talk was of oil.
At the same time, like Poland's, Yugoslavia's agriculture, which is largely in private hands, is peculiarly sensitive to difficult climatic conditions. In 1978-79, imports of corn jumped from 100,000 metric tons to 1.2 million metric tons, while in 1979-80 imports of wheat have jumped from 200,000 metric tons to one million metric tons to fill a gap produced by bad weather and late spring thaws. As a result of sharp swings in production of wheat and especially corn, which is the most widely used livestock feed, imports of red meat jumped from 35,000 metric tons in 1977 to 51,100 metric tons in 1978 and rose again to 53,000 metric tons in 1979, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures.
Fundamental problems are developing as well in the vaunted system of socialist self-management, the decentralized system of worker management of industry and commerce. Edvard Kardelj, the principal theoretician of Yugoslav communism, invented "self-managing socialism" 30 years ago as the philosophical justification for the break with Moscow and the Cominform. Recently, the system has been forced to absorb more than one million Gastarbeiter, or guest-workers, returning suddenly from West European countries whose own inflation-ridden economies are no longer able to employ them. Factories are swollen with the underemployed, who are empowered to vote themselves salaries comparable to those they received in Germany or France, regardless of the ability of their enterprises to cover the costs. Endless "worker self-management" meetings sap the energies of workers and managers alike.
Fundamentally, though, the weight of the Yugoslav system appears to be shifting, particularly in the more developed regions of the north and west, away from the traditional reliance on agriculture toward industry. Between 1966 and 1975, the contribution of agriculture to the gross material product fell from 26.4 to 19 percent while that of industry rose from 34.4 to 39.5 percent. Major joint-venture manufacturing projects have begun with Dow Chemical and General Motors as well as a variety of West European industrial and chemical corporations. The first nuclear generating plant is under construction. Export-oriented food processing enterprises are attempting with considerable success to marry the strengths of the agricultural and industrial sectors. And Yugoslav heavy industry is now producing at home the quality dishwashers, stoves, refrigerators and automobiles that once could be bought only abroad.
There are, however, limits to all this development. A severe shortage of trained engineers and technocrats and the reluctance of the most highly qualified and highly educated youths of the cities to embark on an assembly-line career, no matter how much technical skill may be required, is a factor clearly limiting future expansion of the economy. With the increasing mechanization of the countryside, large numbers of workers are also being driven off the farm. But with little training and no skill, they, too, are glutting the already saturated, unskilled industrial establishment.
In short, Yugoslavs have become accustomed to a lifestyle that may be increasingly difficult to sustain. This consumer-oriented economy, perhaps the most advanced in Eastern Europe, is heavily dependent on the import of luxury goods from the West and raw materials for which there is increasing competition on the world market. It is dependent, too, on the free access to foreign travel that is an equally serious drain on the brittle economy.
Even more potentially disruptive to the long-term stability of Yugoslavia are the traditional, deeply embedded centrifugal forces generated by the country's multi-ethnic composition.
Despite the 35-year effort by Marshal Tito to promote unity behind a single Yugoslav identity, the ancestral enmities between the various component nationalities of Yugoslavia, particularly the Serbs and the Croats, have barely cooled. These are deeply felt, highly emotional, even irrational animosities-the Catholic Slovenes and Croatians with their heritage of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Orthodox Serbs, Montenegrins and Macedonians, the Muslim Bosnians with their heritage of rule by the Ottoman Turks. The differences are as fundamental as alphabets and cultures-the Cyrillic used in the eastern republics and the Latin alphabet in the western provinces.
There are disparities, too, in lifestyles and incomes. According to World Bank figures, the positions of the two poorest regions, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, relative to the wealthiest, Slovenia and Croatia, were "considerably worse" in 1975 than in 1954.1 Today, while the average income per household is less than 6,000 dinars (about $315) per year in Kosovo, it is more than 16,000 dinars (about $840) per year in Slovenia.
Each region still competes for the lion's share of development projects and foreign exchange allocations, ministerial appointments and foreign ambassadorships. These posts are selected as much on the basis of ethnic origin as individual accomplishment. Each republic has its own semi-autonomous central bank and set of republican ministries that mirror the national ministries in Belgrade, often duplicating functions and responsibilities.
Even the army, long considered the single "all Yugoslav" force within Yugoslavia, has not been immune to such pressures. Two years ago, on Army Day, President Tito called attention to this conventional wisdom, praising the army for its unity and proclaiming its potential usefulness as a national cement in the post-Tito era. But a 1978 study by A. Ross Johnson of the Rand Corporation called attention to the "continued Serb-Montenegrin over-representation among field grade officers. The percentage of Croats and Slovenes, in particular, among the officer corps as a whole declined over the postwar period."2
All these factors have combined to produce enormous tensions through the years. Since the tough crackdowns and purges within the Croatian Communist Party that followed the 1971 riots in Zagreb by students demanding greater local autonomy for their republic, much of this enmity has been suppressed. But these emotions unquestionably remain on the most personal levels. And they are deeply feared at the highest level of the Yugoslav ruling hierarchy. Last year, when Milovan Djilas, the Yugoslav dissident who served as one of the country's ruling quadrumvirate until his fall from favor in 1954, sought to promote a condominium between Serb and Croat intellectuals, the secret police summoned him for a stern warning. Six months later, unchastened, he was arrested and fined for contributing to a new, underground literary publication, Casovnik.
Last September, after reports of student unrest at the University of Kosovo, President Tito personally went to the province to calm emotions. He was shown on Yugoslav television riding through the streets to tumultuous cheers from young and old alike. But there was the unspoken question: What would happen when Tito was no longer there?
There are other tensions that even Tito was unable fully to quell. Some, such as the age-old question of the place of the Macedonian people, are fanned by external pressures. The authorities in Sofia have long used the large Macedonian minority straddling the borders of Yugoslavia and Bulgaria as a pressure point on the Yugoslav leadership. Years ago, Macedonian was abolished as a recognized language of Bulgaria and there have been repeated demands from the Bulgarian leadership for the territory of Yugoslav Macedonia to be incorporated into the Bulgarian nation. Clearly, Yugoslav Macedonians as well as the central government in Belgrade have resisted any such demands. But it is a constant source of agitation and propaganda.
Similarly, in Kosovo, the large Albanian minority has proved a source of friction with neighboring Albania, still ruled by the neo-Stalinist Enver Hoxha. Since China's break with Albania in 1978, the leadership in Tirana has been somewhat more receptive to overtures from the Soviet Union while at the same time promoting its first openings to the Yugoslav government. A road link has already been established between Yugoslavia and Albania, and a protocol was signed last year designed to open a rail link as well through the Yugoslav coastal town of Bar. With his own Albanians eagerly watching the relative progress of the Albanian minority across the border in Kosovo, it is unlikely that Hoxha would promote any further friction. But the Kosovan Albanians, separated from their own countrymen in Albania, still flying the Black Eagle flag of their homeland on their national holidays, remain a potential source of agitation and unrest within Yugoslavia.
In the developed north and west, Slovenia and Croatia are torn by disagreements about how to deal with the less developed regions of the south and east. Many Slovenes and Croats still yearn for their own nation and an end to rule by what they perceive as a Serb-dominated government in Belgrade. They believe, with some justification, that their hard-earned profits and foreign-exchange reserves are being siphoned into the less developed but politically more explosive regions of Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The result is that emotions are riding high in both the rich and the poor regions during a critical period in Yugoslavia's short history.
All these forces make Yugoslavia ripe for foreign exploitation. Each major power grouping-the Soviet Union, China, the United States, its neighbors in Eastern and Western Europe, and the nonaligned world-is anxious to tilt Yugoslavia in one direction or another. And tilt is one attitude Tito strenuously resisted during his entire career.
There are those, including some within Yugoslavia, who still believe the Soviet Union is poised on the Hungarian puszta, or plain, prepared to hurl its tanks at Yugoslavia in a post-Tito period. Much of Yugoslavia's military preparation has been geared to meet such a possibility. Its concept of a people's army (called "total national defense") envisions millions of Partisan warriors retreating to the impenetrable mountains of the Yugoslav interior to fight a protracted guerrilla war of the type that carried Tito and his Partisans to victory against the Nazis.
Yugoslavia, in fact, maintains one of the largest standing military forces in Europe, with some 259,000 men under arms. Its 7.35 mm. attack rifle, manufactured at home, is of world quality; even China has been considering arming its troops with it. Yugoslav armories produce their own artillery up to medium-sized field pieces, as well as their own motorized vehicles. Its navy is equipped with a home-made fast patrol boat that is also unexcelled. Its air force is planning a joint production project with Romania of an excellent medium-capability jet fighter, powered with Rolls-Royce engines. But for its most sophisticated equipment Yugoslavia has still been forced to turn to foreign markets, with much of its heavy armor, its air superiority fighters, and more sophisticated electronics coming from the Soviet Union. The professional military has been seeking from the United States sophisticated antitank missiles and computer-assisted guidance equipment to fulfill its role as a rear-guard delaying action against any invasion force while the Partisan army deploys itself.
But the more realistic thinkers inside and outside Yugoslavia believe that the Soviet Union can accomplish all it desires without the diplomatic and military convulsions of an outright takeover. The Soviet leadership wants a few simple things from Yugoslavia, most of which have been disclosed publicly in recent years, though most of these disclosures have gone relatively unnoticed in the West.
In December 1976, during a visit to Belgrade, Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev asked Tito to permit the Soviet Mediterranean fleet to call for regular refitting and shore leave at Yugoslavia's Adriatic ports, saving the long and potentially hazardous trip back through the Bosporus to the Black Sea Coast. At the same time, Brezhnev requested regular access to Yugoslav airspace for Soviet military aircraft-the most direct routes from the Soviet Union to large parts of the Middle East and northern and southern Africa. And he asked that a Yugoslav officer be attached permanently to Warsaw Pact headquarters for the purposes of "liaison." Yugoslav diplomats disclosed that all these requests had been denied.
But Soviet ships do call from time to time at such Yugoslav ports as Tivat in the Bay of Kotor. And, during the 1967 and 1973 Middle East conflicts, the Yugoslav leadership did allow Soviet military aircraft to overfly Yugoslavia on a limited basis. The Soviet leadership would simply prefer that such access become routine.
During preparations for last year's summit conference of nonaligned states in Havana, Brezhnev told Tito, when he visited Moscow last May, that the Soviet Union wanted Yugoslavia to tone down its criticism of Cuban attempts to shift the nonaligned world toward Moscow. Fidel Castro made no secret of his distaste for Yugoslav attempts to forestall such actions, just as Brezhnev has made no secret over the years of his distaste for Yugoslav criticism of various Soviet adventures abroad. Early last year, when Yugoslavia failed to back Vietnam during the Chinese invasion, Pravda accused Yugoslav news media of printing "malicious" views of the conflict that made use of "anti-Soviet banalities." In January, Yugoslav diplomats played a prominent role in winning nonaligned votes in the U.N. General Assembly for the measure condemning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. A somewhat more pliant, and less strident, Yugoslav voice would suit the Soviet leadership. Clearly, it would prefer individuals in a position of authority in Belgrade who are more receptive to the arguments of Soviet officialdom whenever there is a point to be made.
Finally, the Soviet Union would prefer a far more centrally controlled economy within Yugoslavia, greater uniformity of domestic comment and more control over dissenting voices, tighter control over Yugoslav travel and communications with the West-in short, a better example for the Soviet Union's satellites in Eastern Europe. Among workers in other East European nations, there is considerable envy of the freedom and prosperity in Yugoslavia. For example, Hungary embarked last summer on an economic decentralization program not dissimilar to Yugoslav self-management. Described as the next step beyond the New Economic Mechanism first pioneered ten years ago, the new Hungarian system will make profit the principal criterion for success in any individual factory. And each enterprise will be accountable to its own workers for its own production. In short, it is an example, similar to Yugoslavia's, with which the Soviet Union could never be truly comfortable. Yet, for Hungarian and Czechoslovak workers, too, a Yugoslav holiday is charged off as the visit to the "West" to which they are entitled only once every three years.
Thus, many East European neighbors of the Soviet Union are sympathetic to Yugoslav methods of operation. No two East European leaders were closer than Tito of Yugoslavia and Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania, who met regularly at towns along their common border. Ceausescu has emulated his elder colleague in seeking to take Romania into the Nonaligned Movement (where it still has only observer status), maintaining close ties with China (the only Warsaw Pact country to do so), and breaking with various Soviet foreign policy positions. Any Soviet attempts to draw Romania back into tighter control within the bloc would be seen by Yugoslavia as very threatening. As a result, Yugoslav officials expressed concern when, after a sudden visit to Bucharest by Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in February 1980, the Romanian news media backed down from their opposition to the Soviet invasion, describing it as a call for help from the Afghan government.
It would seem that any changes Moscow might want could be accomplished by diplomatic and political manipulation in which, in any case, the Soviets have been most actively involved. Soviet KGB agents maintain an extensive operation throughout Yugoslavia, occasionally surfacing by virtue of some particularly heavy-handed blunder. And there are forces within Yugoslavia that are sympathetic to Soviet arguments and threats, although throughout Tito's lifetime they necessarily remained somewhat muted. The Bosnian Communist Party organization is believed by many Western diplomats in Belgrade to be very supportive of Soviet policies. Within the military, there is a small but important group of officers who have received advanced training in Soviet institutions, and who are believed to have acquired some sympathy for Soviet policies and methods along the way. While it is doubtful that even the most sympathetic could be relied upon to set up any sort of Quisling-style government in a post-Tito crisis, their views could nevertheless become a factor at some future date.
At the same time there are deep feelings, strongest in the eastern regions of the country, that are best described as "pan-Slavic." This is the sense that, fundamentally, all Slavs are alike; that Mother Russia has been the historic guarantor of the Orthodox faith; that culture, language and religion are more lasting than any political or ideological differences. This Slavic sentiment, a dark, irrational force, should not be underestimated on the most personal levels.
From the Yugoslav viewpoint, the Soviet Union, too, has its uses. It is, for example, a convenient scapegoat and a bogeyman often invoked to discourage disunity at home-the "foreign devil" which is more immediate for its geographical proximity and the still fresh memory of Stalin's cavalier expulsion of Yugoslavia from the Cominform in 1948. The U.S.S.R. is also a useful dumping ground for the substandard products of factories in some of the less developed regions of Yugoslavia, whose output would never be acceptable in the West.
Chinese and American concerns have been somewhat more passive and at the same time somewhat less irritating. Each would prefer simply to counter Soviet goals. China, however, has gone about this in a more direct and active manner in the past two years than has the United States.
Since its break with Albania in 1978, China has opened a large diplomatic establishment in Belgrade. In August 1978, it dispatched Chairman Hua Guofeng on a goodwill mission to Yugoslavia and followed this up with a succession of senior political, economic and military delegations. It has made known its intention of adopting, or at least testing, major elements of the Yugoslav socialist self-management system in China. In 1978, trade between China and Yugoslavia more than doubled over levels of the previous year-from $89 million to $200 million. But that is still far from the $1.3 billion last year in two-way trade between Yugoslavia and the United States or the $2.76 billion in two-way trade with the Soviet Union.3
The Serbo-Croatian service of Radio Beijing has become a popular curiosity in Yugoslavia. And Chinese students are spreading the gospel of Chairman Hua throughout the Yugoslav educational establishment. Chinese films, with Serbo-Croatian subtitles, have begun to appear on Belgrade television, and Yugoslav officials vie with each other for invitations to the packed receptions at the elegant prewar Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. The Chinese Ambassador has even promised to bring a chef from Beijing to open a Chinese restaurant in the Yugoslav capital.
All of these Chinese efforts are clearly disturbing to the Soviet Union, which has warned Yugoslavia repeatedly, particularly during the visit of Chairman Hua to Belgrade, of the dangers of flirtation with the Chinese. The Soviet Union clearly perceives Chinese moves toward Yugoslavia as part of an attempt to "encircle" the Soviet Union, as the Soviet Union has attempted encirclement of China by promoting its own contacts with Vietnam.
American activities have met with somewhat less success. The military sales program and the program to train Yugoslav officers in American military institutions have both stalled. Sales of American military equipment to Yugoslavia last year were twice the 1978 figure, but still totaled only $356,000, and State Department officials say that figure is not likely to rise substantially this year, despite a desire by Yugoslav military planners for sophisticated electronic communications equipment and surface-to-surface missiles. When the United States decided to charge Yugoslavia for the training some of its officers were receiving at such institutions as the Command and General Staff School, Yugoslavia pulled out of the program.
At the same time, American private bankers have expressed growing reluctance about doing business with the somewhat chaotic Yugoslav banking system; for example, through lack of internal communications, three major Eurodollar issues from three different republic banks appeared simultaneously on the London bond market last May. The swelling balance-of-payments deficit and domestic inflation are also not reassuring.
Even among most Yugoslav policy planners there is no question that Yugoslav ties with the West remain substantially stronger than those with the East. Yugoslavia has always considered itself an integral part of Europe, particularly Western Europe, and has for years sought closer links with the European Community. It regularly expressed dismay when talks on stronger trade and tariff links stalled due to West European intransigence or concern over the effects of yet another less developed "southern" member of the Community. Finally, after years of bargaining, a comprehensive trade and tariff agreement between the European Community and Yugoslavia was initialled in late February 1980. The agreement would lower tariff barriers for many Yugoslav products and would provide $250 million in low-interest loans over five years from the Community for Yugoslav development projects.
Greater economic cooperation with Western Europe, particularly the lowering of tariff barriers to Yugoslav goods, could certainly help to alleviate some of the economic problems at home caused by the forced return of the million or more Gastarbeiter from Western Europe. The Community as a whole is Yugoslavia's largest trading partner-the $5.1 billion in two-way trade is nearly twice the figure of trade with the Soviet Union.
Still, there is a schizophrenic concern in Belgrade, torn by its desire to tie itself economically closer to the West while at the same time maintaining its credibility as a founding member of the nonaligned bloc. Its economic planners believe it is time Yugoslavia assumed its already justified place in the developed world, while its politicians sense a closer ideological affinity with the Third World, most of whose members are still very much developing nations.
It was Kardelj and Tito, together with Nasser of Egypt, Nehru of India and Sukarno of Indonesia, who first developed the nonaligned concept nearly 25 years ago. Tito was the last survivor of this group. But, although the movement has expanded substantially and changed considerably in its orientation, nonalignment remains the ideological centerpiece of Yugoslav foreign policy, which holds that only by maintaining its distance from all major powers can Yugoslavia assure itself of its political independence during the many ups and downs of détente.
At the bitterly divisive summit conference of the nonaligned in Havana last fall, Yugoslavia firmly resisted Cuban efforts to tilt the movement toward the Soviet line. Many Yugoslav officials smarted under what they felt to be a degree of isolation during and after that conference that they had never before experienced in their dealings with the nonaligned world. Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, however, the situation has reversed itself yet again. The tough anti-Soviet reaction by a large number of the nonaligned nations that had tried to remain aloof in Havana and neutral in East-West affairs has suddenly made the Yugoslav conception of nonalignment more, not less, valid and assures a continuing, important role for Yugoslavia in the movement.
This is not to say that Yugoslavia's role in the nonaligned world may not change in the post-Tito era. On the contrary, the "distancing" Tito has historically practiced in his dealings with both East and West may even accelerate as his heirs try to establish their own nonaligned credentials-something Tito never had to prove.
All of this raises some serious challenges for American diplomacy. While in the past the United States and Yugoslavia have frequently been more at odds over nonaligned policies and goals than over any other issue, Tito also often proved valuable to the United States for his ability to convey American views and aims to Third World leaders. Should the post-Tito leadership of Yugoslavia feel compelled to show still more distance from all major powers, this value could diminish, at least momentarily. But patience is essential.
Meantime, Yugoslav officials fear that much of the restraint imposed on Soviet actions by the détente of the 1970s has been removed by its collapse at the end of the decade. Perceptions are very important in this part of the world. And, until recently, there has been no clear, focused statement by the Carter Administration with respect to its attitude toward a post-Tito Yugoslavia. In October 1976, during his presidential campaign, Mr. Carter said that he would not commit any American forces to the defense of Yugoslavia. Former Secretary of State Kissinger promptly condemned Carter's statement, holding that "a successful attack on either [China or Yugoslavia] would affect the world equilibrium." After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, however, Carter seemed to be moving toward a clarification of the American position when, at a news conference on February 13, 1980, the President declared:
If we are called upon to give any kind of aid to the Yugoslavian people in the future, we would seriously consider it and do what, in our opinion, would be best for them and for us. I've had frequent conversations with other major European leaders about the need to strengthen our ties with Yugoslavia and to protect them as a nonaligned country without being dominated or threatened successfully by the Soviet Union. We'll take whatever action is necessary to carry out those goals-but commensurate with actual need and commensurate with specific requests from Yugoslavia itself.4
The message was well received in Belgrade, broadcast throughout the nation, and replayed on national television in a rare gesture of approval. But the element that was particularly well received was the opinion the President also expressed during the same news conference, that Yugoslavia is "a strong, fiercely independent, courageous, well-equipped nation that can defend itself." This emphasis on Yugoslav self-reliance, on the American determination that Yugoslavia must be left to determine its own future course, should be central to any future American policy. In this case, at least for the present, action is likely to be substantially less important than words.
Clearly, an outright effort by any major power to co-opt Yugoslavia would immediately and directly affect the European equilibrium. Yugoslavia is the only major European country not bound either to the Eastern political or economic framework or to the Western. (Switzerland, for instance, though nominally neutral, is firmly a part of the Western economic framework.) Because of Yugoslavia's integral role in Europe, any change in Yugoslavia's status or attitudes in either direction could substantially alter the entire European dynamic.
Either tough American pledges of armed support for Yugoslavia, which any realistic Yugoslav leadership would unquestionably be forced to reject, or a hands-off policy would be counterproductive. Instead, the Soviet Union must be made to believe that the United States is sincere about removing Yugoslavia from East-West competition. If the Soviet leadership, through quiet, back-channel dialogue, can be convinced of this sincere American attitude, it might accept the muting of its drives in Yugoslavia. At the same time, a forthright explanation of this viewpoint by American officials to the Chinese leadership would be equally reassuring to the Soviet Union. Though Yugoslavia appears to have regained its equilibrium following the first shock of Tito's illness earlier this year, time is running out for both Yugoslavia and the United States. In the post-Tito era, some hard choices on political, economic and diplomatic issues will have to be made very soon in Belgrade. Actions and statements by American planners will be weighed heavily in all of these decisions.
Who succeeds Tito is perhaps less important at home and abroad than the fact that the process has now begun. The longer Tito remained firmly in control of every aspect of Yugoslav life and politics, the longer officials were reluctant to take the hard decisions that must be taken immediately.
Although Yugoslavia has established a "mechanism" for succession-a complex system of two "collective presidencies," one for the League of Communists (the Party), the other for the state-it is a cumbersome, patchwork arrangement that is not likely to withstand the pressure of any crisis. Both presidencies contain at least one member from each of the republics and autonomous regions. Under the concept, each year the leadership of these two groups revolves, placing a new individual in the nominal leadership position.
Yet no collective group with constantly revolving individuals and responsibilities will have the power or prestige to make and follow through on fundamental economic or diplomatic changes and priorities. Foreign countries, particularly those in the Third World who have relied on Yugoslavia for leadership and guidance in their battles against Soviet and Cuban expansionism, will be reluctant to follow a fundamentally leaderless country which is unable even to make a decision on a single, coherent individual for leadership.
As William Hyland wrote recently about the possibility of some collective succession to Brezhnev in the Soviet Union, such a leadership is "inherently unworkable in an authoritarian system with a strong tendency toward centralization. In any case, it is unlikely that this group will repudiate its own record and launch radically new policies."5 The repudiation in this case would be of Tito, an action that, until another strong individual emerges, will be as difficult in Yugoslavia as outright repudiation of Mao has been in China.
Because there is no single individual clearly on the horizon as a potential successor, the precise scenario for the transition must remain hazy for the present. Should no individual emerge within a reasonable length of time, there is the serious danger that Yugoslavia will simply be ground down by the weight of an amorphous mass of leadership at the top among whom the bureaucracy must necessarily divide its loyalties, energies and direction, and to none of whom the people of Yugoslavia will owe any allegiance or devote any affection. Indeed, most Yugoslavs, nearly a decade after the concept of a "collective presidency" was first broached, still profess bewilderment or apathy toward its composition and functioning. Few of the members of this presidency are well known outside their immediate home regions. Most are gray, undistinguished party bureaucrats, more successful than most in scrabbling their way to the top while at the same time avoiding the wrath or envy of Tito.
In many respects this will be a generational shift-Tito systematically succeeded in removing all of the "old Partisans" who led the revolution during its formative days in World War II. Some, such as Mose Pijade and Edvard Kardelj, have died. Others, such as Djilas and Alexander Rankovic, the draconian head of the secret police, have been purged. The last remaining few, such as Petar Stambolic and Vladimir Bakaric, will be gone within a very few years. The result is not a jump of one generation, but really of two-to a generation for whom the war and the Partisan struggle is a dimming memory-a generation, in short, with far more worldly ties. These are the technocrats, men such as Stane Dolanc, Secretary of the Party, or the foreign policy experts, Milos Minic, the former Foreign Minister, and Alexander Grlickov, who has dealt for years with foreign communist parties, Soviet and West European alike.
The age and experience of each of these individuals and several others is perhaps less important than their national origin. Dolanc, for instance, is a Slovene, as was Kardelj. And the Slovenes, curiously, have long been perceived as the single "neutral" nationality in Yugoslavia-the wealthiest, with the least to gain from any economic or political machinations. So, while Dolanc, a brilliant, liberal and, at 55, youthful technocrat was at one point considered the principal heir apparent to Tito, then suddenly "demoted," it would appear that that shift was merely tactical. Dolanc remains in the principal power position within Yugoslavia as a member of the presidium of the Party and longtime manipulator of the entire Party bureaucracy.
For years Tito hedged his bets on the succession issue, and the Belgrade version of Kremlinologists has long played guessing games on just who might be up or down. After one Army Day speech two years ago, when Tito appeared to designate the military as the principal guarantor of national unity after his passing, diplomatic speculation shifted to the powerful Minister of Defense, General Nikola Ljubicic, a close confidant of Tito, as the heir apparent. But shortly thereafter, Branko Mikulic, leader of the Bosnian Party organization and the most prominent conservative in the nation, assumed the one-year post as head of the Party presidium. Attention shifted to him. Last fall, in the annual rotation, Mikulic was replaced by Stevan Doronjski, a 61-year-old Serb from the autonomous region of Vojvodina, a man with no political following. Still more speculation. At one particularly parlous point in Tito's long illness, the two Party leaders called to Tito's bedside were Dolanc and Mikulic. The contrast could not have been more striking. Even on his deathbed, Tito was making no choice, giving no benediction.
Yet any new leadership will be substantially less experienced in foreign affairs than in most domestic matters. Tito never had much interest or expertise in economic affairs and tended to delegate responsibility, with the result that broader decision-making experience developed in these areas than in foreign affairs or relations between the republics, where all ultimate decisions were taken by Tito personally.
Unquestionably, in the near term, all Yugoslavs will cling together as they have already demonstrated during the period of Tito's illness, aware of the overriding necessity for unity or defeat. But a time of troubles can only be postponed. If neither the Soviet Union nor the United States-nor China, for that matter-overplays its hand by trying to upset the delicate balance in Yugoslavia, after several years the cracks may begin to open of their own accord. It is then, when the facade of unity may be challenged by fratricidal disputes between Serb and Croat over development projects or economic priorities, that riots may break out in the streets of Zagreb with no one to mediate as Tito did, countless times in the past.
1 Martin Schrenk, et al., Yugoslavia, A World Bank Country Economic Report, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979, p. 286.
2 A. Ross Johnson, The Role of the Military in Communist Yugoslavia: An Historical Sketch, Santa Monica, California: The Rand Corporation, January 1978, p. 18.
4 The New York Times, February 14, 1980, p. A16 (from the President's news conference on foreign and domestic matters).
5 William G. Hyland, "Brezhnev and Beyond," Foreign Affairs, Fall 1979, p. 62.