Air University Review / September-October 1980
Yugoslavia After TITO, powder keg of the Balkans
Lieutenant Colonel Dallace L. Meehan
YUGOSLAVIA has suddenly found itself in the transition stage that analysts have been speculating about for years. With the passing of the leadership of Josip Broz Tito, the new leaders face what is perhaps the greatest challenge to Balkan security since World War II.
Yugoslavia possesses geopolitical importance well beyond its geographic size and economic status. Her nonaligned position serves as a political claw at the throat of Soviet-dominated European socialism, and her relative economic self-sufficiency is the envy of less fortunate members of the Soviet-dominated Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA or COMECON). Yugoslavia plays an important role in United States national security interests as well. Certainly the balance of forces could only be tilted away from the West if the Soviets were to establish dominance in the Balkans and particularly on the strategically important Adriatic. A Soviet military presence in Yugoslavia would put severe pressure on Italy, enhance Moscow's strategic capability in the eastern Mediterranean, and pose a new threat to NATO's southern flank. Central among the many questions facing the new Yugoslav leadership--and for that matter, the West as well--is whether the Soviet Union will offer "fraternal assistance" after the manner of Afghanistan or Czechoslovakia in order to reestablish "regional stability."
In order to speculate meaningfully on the future of post-Tito Yugoslavia, however, it is absolutely necessary to understand at least the basics of that extremely complex multinational state.
Perhaps the most prominent characteristic of Yugoslavia is its ethnic and national diversity. The population of 22 million people is a hodgepodge of ethnic groups, nations, and national minorities. It has been accurately described as a country with two alphabets, three religions, four languages, five nationalities, and six constituent republics! In addition to the national minorities, which include Albanians, Hungarians, Turks, Slovaks, Bulgars, Romanians, Czechs, Italians, Germans, and Gypsies, the five official "nations" are the Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians, and Montenegrins. Together, these diverse peoples make up the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, governmentally organized into the six loosely bound republics of Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro, and two autonomous provinces (within Serbia), Vojvodina and Kosovo.
The political structure that binds Yugoslavia's ethnic cornucopia together is, therefore, understandably complex. The Yugoslav Experiment, 1948-1974* traces in analytical detail the evolution of that system since Yugoslavia in 1948 became the first Communist-ruled state to defy Soviet domination. The author, Dennison Rusinow, has studied and lived in Yugoslavia and Austria since 1963.
*Dennison Rusinow, The Yugoslav Experiment, 1948-1974 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978, $21.75 cloth, $5.95 paper), 410 pages.
Yugoslavia's ability to challenge Soviet domination successfully can be attributed in no small measure to the simple fact that Yugoslavia essentially liberated herself from fascist Germany without Soviet assistance. After 1948, Tito sought to maintain Yugoslavia's independence by pursuing a foreign policy that witnessed the development of ties with the United States and other Western countries, based largely on trade and military assistance. By the mid-1950s, Yugoslavia began to identify herself as a leader of nonaligned nations, thereby avoiding the condition of posing a "military threat" to the security of either bloc. Domestically, the Yugoslav leadership has pursued a pragmatic policy that has produced a relatively open and liberal society. It has, in many respects, moderated the harsher features of a Communist dictatorship, and while it refuses to tolerate serious opposition, the Tito regime decreased the power of the police, largely abandoned collectivization (85 percent of arable land is privately owned), and, perhaps more important, has decentralized the federal government, giving more power and prerogative to the republics, provinces, and local communities.
Also important in any discussion of post-Tito Yugoslavia is the innovative machinery of succession engineered largely by Tito himself. Designed to effect a system of collective leadership in both the government and party structures, it provides for rotating one-year terms for the leader of the nine-member state presidency, the highest governmental body, and for the 24-member Party Presidium. The machinery is intended to prevent anyone from rising to a dictatorial level, while giving each of the six republics and two autonomous provinces an equal voice in Yugoslavia's decision-making process.
Rusinow provides probably the best single-text description of yet another prominent feature of the Yugoslav experiment--the extraordinary concept of "worker self-management." Basically, Yugoslavia's self-management system says that power should be concentrated neither in the hands of a few capitalist bosses nor in those of party bureaucrats. Rather, the workers themselves should own the capital and make the major decisions. What this means in practice is that units within corporations (which the Yugoslavs call "basic associations of labor") are the centers of power, and they determine how their enterprises' profits are to be spent. The result is an economy guided mainly by market forces, stimulated by individual initiative within, of course, acceptable limits of socialism. It is Karl Marx sprinkled with liberal doses of Adam Smith--and pragmatic business sense mixed in. Yugoslavia thus enjoys a considerably higher standard of living than other Communist states. Nearly half of Yugoslavia's families own cars and more than half own TV sets. Yugoslavia is largely self-sufficient in agriculture and, in fact, exports substantial quantities of high-grade fresh and canned meats as well as other agricultural products.
Consequently, Yugoslavia's "experiment" has resulted in a relatively open and liberalized society of decentralized governmental power dedicated to a system of development based on the concept of workers' self-management. No wonder, then, that Lawrence Minard was able to quote a Yugoslavian taxi driver who said:
In Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Russia--people can hardly ever leave the country and even then not with their families. Here I can take my family out whenever I want--to Italy, America, even Hawaii if I have the money. We can buy what we want here. This car (he strokes his late-model Peugeot) is French. My pants are French. My shirt is Italian. I can own five cars at the same time if I want to. In Czechoslovakia you can own one car in your lifetime . . . . There is no possibility that the Russians can take this away from us.1
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