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The Yugoslav Dissidents

In response to:

What Should Be Fought For from the February 22, 1979 issue

To the Editors:

In a recent interview in the NYR (February 22) I suggested that people in democratic countries could help Yugoslav dissidents by making it possible for them to cooperate with universities, scientific institutions, and periodicals in the West. A surprising number of people have shown interest in this idea and in its possible advantages for both sides, and I would like to elaborate on it here.

The situation of Yugoslav dissidents is quite different from that of dissidents in other Communist countries. In the centralized regimes such as the Soviet Union and many of the Eastern European nations, political control and the government’s reputation are more important than economic success. Unemployment officially does not exist and remains effectively hidden, since ten men often share what would be the work and the salary of one man in a more efficient economy. To be unemployed for more than three months in the USSR makes one liable to punishment by the so-called “anti-parasite law.”

Conditions are different in Yugoslavia. While the Communist Party dominates economic affairs, it does so through a market economy. At the moment, according to the latest information, there is 12 percent unemployment, and nearly a million Yugoslav “guest workers” in Western European countries. When he comes out of prison or loses his job, the dissident Yugoslav scientist or writer cannot get other work, not even as a manual laborer—as Soviet dissidents often do. Furthermore, since in many cases Yugoslav dissidents are denied passports, they cannot go abroad.

The Yugoslav dissident movement is very powerful, but Western public opinion knows considerably less about it than about the dissident movement in other countries. Several dozen former university professors, writers, scientists, and priests from Belgrade, Zagreb, and Ljubljana have recently lost their jobs because of their political and ideological beliefs. Lacking support from the West, they have little hope either of getting any kind of work in Yugoslavia or of going abroad. My own freedom to travel is the exception, not the rule, in Yugoslavia.

Can Yugoslavia continue the progress toward democracy that began in 1948 when Tito showed that it was possible for a Communist state to exist independently of the Soviet Union? Yugoslav dissidents are now preparing—consciously and unconsciously—for a “new 1948”: they hope to shatter the one-party monopoly and transform the country into a pluralistic society. My personal conviction is that events in Yugoslavia will heavily influence the future of both Western and Eastern Europe, including the USSR, largely determining whether they move in the direction of democracy or totalitarianism.

That is why it is so important that Westerners begin to support and cooperate legally with Yugoslav dissidents; whether through scientific research projects, for example, or programs for writers-in-residence. Invitations for Yugoslav intellectuals to come to the West will be of enormous benefit for the future of democracy in my country, and throughout the world. At the same time, contact with Yugoslav science and scholarship and with our traditional values could be of great interest to the West.

I propose that American citizens form a committee to organize and coordinate such cooperation. Of course, such a committee would probably be accused of interfering in the internal affairs of Yugoslavia. But such activities would be no worse a violation than the economic and military aid that pragmatic democratic states have given to nondemocratic governments and leaders, such as the Shah of Iran. Can one really argue that material and spiritual support by Western intellectuals for their unemployed brothers and sisters in undemocratic countries constitutes unacceptable interference?

What I propose here is not help for a minority government but to support scientists and writers whose political and ideological |beliefs have put them in a hopeless position, one quite different from that of dissidents in other Communist countries. It is a question of intervening on behalf of a group of people whose survival could possibly decide the political fate of Europe.

Mihajlo Mihajlov

Arlington, Virginia

P.S. Since this was written, a committee to help Yugoslav dissidents was formed by members of The Democracy International, a new, independent organization that assists people who seek democracy in dictatorships throughout the world. The Democracy International Committee to Aid Yugoslav Democratic Dissidents is compiling a list of academic departments and institutions as well as foundations and professional organizations which may be interested in publishing writings by Yugoslav democratic dissidents or otherwise helping them. The Committee will try to provide such groups with information and other help. Anyone interested in joining or assisting should write to: The Democracy International Committee to Aid Yugoslav Democratic Dissidents, c/o Willkie Memorial of Freedom House, 20 West 40 Street, New York, NY 10018.

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