Human Rights in Yugoslavia
The recent elections in Slovenia and Croatia demonstrated that, at least in the north of Yugoslavia, Tito’s system of government has become obsolete. In both places (as I reported in the June 28 issue) the newly elected leaders called for a pluralist political system, a market economy, and a greater degree of independence for their republics. Many people in the south of Yugoslavia—in Serbia, Bosnia, and Montenegro—would support this view, but there are not enough of them to create a consensus that the rule of the Communist party must end and a new system must replace it. Viewed from Belgrade, the capital of Serbia as well as of the federal republic, the political landscape looks very different from the landscape seen from Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, or Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.
This difference in itself is not new, except that the gap between north and south is now wider than at any other time since before World War II. On the surface the cause seems simple: the enormous growth of nationalism throughout the country, which is certainly as strong in Serbia as it is in Slovenia and Croatia. But there is an important distinction between them. In the north, the forces of nationalism have been harnessed by the democratic opposition, so that national self-determination has become synonymous with political and economic reform, whereas in Serbia nationalism has been exploited by the Party and its charismatic leader, Slobodan Miloević.
Miloević was an economist and the president of the Belgrade Bank before he became head of the Belgrade Party organization in 1984. Two years later he was elected chairman of the Serbian Politburo, and in 1987 he organized a coup among his fellow Party members to dismiss the liberal Party chief, Ivan Stambolić, who had been Miloević’s own patron. This was followed by a purge of the Party in the old Titoist manner—people who were close to Stambolić or of doubtful loyalty to Miloević were expelled. He then proceeded to fire editors and writers of the Serbian newspapers, television, and radio stations, particularly those who might be critical of him, and he took control of almost the entire public life of Serbia.
The true meaning of these moves was not apparent at first. Miloević presented himself as a reformer drawn to the free market; but in the summer of 1988 he began to call for an abrogation of those parts of Yugoslavia’s 1974 constitution that conferred the status of autonomous regions on the two Serbian provinces of Kosovo (on the Albanian border) and Vojvodina (on the Hungarian border), and proposed that they be ruled directly from Belgrade again, as they were before 1974.
The problem was not Vojvodina, where 90 percent of the population was Serbian, but Kosovo, where 85 percent of the population was of Albanian origin and the Serbs accounted for only 10 percent. There had been trouble in Kosovo since 1981, when students demonstrating over bad food …