Ante Markovic
Ante Markovic; drawing by David Levine


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 Milošević.

Milošević 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 Milošević’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 Milošević 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. Milošević 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, poor housing, and inadequate scholarships were dispersed by police with clubs and tear gas. A large protest movement then spread to other parts of Kosovo, involving not only students but workers, peasants, and housewives as well. Their demands grew to include higher wages, more freedom of expression, the release of political prisoners jailed after earlier demonstrations in 1968, and privileges equal to those of other national groups, including the designation of Kosovo as one of the Yugoslav republics.

The Serbian authorities accused the demonstrators of advocating separatism and reunion with Albania, and put down the demonstrations by force. At least eleven people were killed and 257 injured (unofficial estimates put the numbers much higher). Although the leaders of the ethnic Albanians denied any wish to reunite with the fiercely repressive Albanian Communist regime, mass arrests continued, followed by a thorough purge of the Party, administrative institutions, press, and schools in Kosovo, and a new Party organization was installed, led by Azem Vllasi, an ethnic Albanian specially selected by the Serbian Party for his political loyalty. The trials dragged on for years, causing relations between Serbs and Albanians to deteriorate even further.

Ethnic Albanians and Serbs lived side by side in Kosovo (and elsewhere in south Serbia and what is today Macedonia) for generations without bloodshed, although the religious and cultural differences between the Orthodox Serbs and the Muslim Albanians have long been a source of tension. However, Kosovo was by far the poorest region of Yugoslavia, with unemployment running at 54 percent by 1986, and this led to increasingly severe competition between Serbs and ethnic Albanians. Further-more, the ethnic Albanian birthrate of thirty-two per thousand was three times the rate for Yugoslavia and the highest anywhere in Europe,1 whereas large numbers of Serbs were emigrating, both for economic reasons and because they felt more at home in Serbia. As a result, by the mid-Eighties Kosovo had a population of 1.7 million Albanians and only 200,000 Serbs, 30,000 Serbs having emigrated within the previous six years.


One might think that, in a country in which ethnic origins are so important, the Serbs would hesitate to assert strong claims to control a region in which they make up only 8 percent of the population and in which ethnic Albanians clearly predominate. But the Serbs do not see things that way, for at least three reasons. First, Kosovo was the ancient heartland of the medieval Serbian state, from which modern Serbia derives its legitimacy. Kosovo also contained the town of Peć, home of the Serbian patriarch, headquarters of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and one of the holiest sites in Serbian history. Third, to lose Kosovo would be to lose about a sixth of Serbia’s territory, which, for a people with a long martial tradition and a strong spirit of machismo, is regarded as tantamount to emasculation.

Milošević therefore staked his reputation on abolishing the autonomous status of Kosovo; and since Vojvodina happened to have the same legal status, he wanted to abolilsh its autonomy as well. Milošević maintained that no other republic had had two autonomous regions carved out of it, therefore Serbia was being discriminated against. Worse still, Kosovo and Vojvodina had been given the power of veto over any legislation in the Serbian parliament that they judged detrimental to their interests, whereas the Serbs in Belgrade had no power to interfere with legislation on the local level in Kosovo and the Vojvodina.

Soon after coming to power Milošević accused the Albanians of deliberately driving the Serbs out of Kosovo by force and conducting a policy of “genocide.” The Albanians, he claimed, were intimidating Serbs to the point where they were selling their houses and property, and he vowed to reverse this trend. He sponsored the formation of a Committee for Organizing Protest Meetings of Kosovo Serbs and Montenegrins, whose members were mostly agitators determined to promote Serbian nationalism at any price. They were sent by bus throughout Serbia to organize angry popular demonstrations, while the Serbs in Kosovo itself were encouraged to arm themselves and set up vigilante squads to resist alleged Albanian “terrorists.”

In August 1988 violent demonstrations took place in Novi Sad, the capital of Vojvodina, and in Titograd, capital of the ethnically Serbian republic of Montenegro, which adjoins Kosovo, demanding the current Party leaders be replaced by Communists who were loyal to Milošević. Some of the placards read “Death to Albanians” and “Kill Azem Vllasi” (although Vllasi had been installed by the Communists themselves). In October the Vojvodina Party leaders were expelled, and the demonstrations were carried into Kosovo itself, where ethnic Albanians for five days held counterdemonstrations. Although Albanian demonstrations were entirely peaceful, they were condemned as “counterrevolutionary” and “separatist” by the Serbian Communist party, and a ban was placed on further public meetings.

Milošević got his way in March 1989, when the amendments to the constitution abolishing Kosovo’s autonomy were bulldozed through the federal and Serbian assemblies. Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians erupted during six days of rioting and were violently suppressed by armed paramilitary police backed by the army and the air force. When tanks, helicopters, and automatic rifles were used to oppose the stone-throwing demonstrators, twenty-four people died and hundreds were injured. Azem Vllasi and a dozen Albanian Communist party leaders, who had taken the side of the demonstrators, were arrested and eventually tried on charges of counterrevolutionary activities and plotting separatism. Over two hundred Albanian intellectuals were also detained.

After months of investigation the prosecution dropped the charge of counterrevolution and accused Vllasi and his colleagues of terrorism instead. In fact, accusations of “terrorism” had been featured for months in the Serbian press and television controlled by Milošević, but apart from a handful of ancient pistols and rifles (which are commonly owned by Serbs and Albanians alike in Yugoslavia), no hard evidence was ever produced to support the charge. Those I talked with who have close knowledge of the region completely discount these allegations and instead charge the authorities with armed violence. Rajko Danilović, a prominent Serbian lawyer engaged to defend Vllasi, told me that the Kosovo Committee to Defend Human Rights had collected evidence on the violence in Kosovo showing that none of the injured had carried arms, and that 90 percent of them had been shot in the back by the police while running away.

Eventually, most of the Albanian intellectuals were quietly released, and in May the charges against Vllasi and his colleagues were dropped for lack of evidence. Not only was there no evidence of terrorism, there was even less of separatism: the inward-looking Albanian government had made no claims whatever to Kosovo. Indeed, there were signs that Milošević had gone too far. Witnesses at the trial accused both the Party and the secret police of blackmail in trying to stage a show trial, and Albanians have been leaving the Party in large numbers. A popular joke is going the rounds in Belgrade that every Albanian house now has two portraits on the wall: one of President Tito for granting them autonomy in 1974 and one of Milošević for uniting them as never before.


The effect of these events on the human rights movement in Serbia, and on the fledgling opposition it had spawned (which appeared to be following the same path to multiparty democracy as the oppositions in Slovenia and Croatia), turned out to be disastrous. Until the bloody repression in Kosovo, the advocates of democratic rights in Serbia were the strongest and most influential dissident groups in Yugoslavia, and had been in the vanguard of protest against the Party’s authoritarianism. But the conflict in Kosovo seems to have unnerved the leaders of the human rights groups, with the result that the opposition has been badly divided and initiative has remained with Milošević and the party he dominates. This is one reason why the political situation in Serbia and in the south, which is largely dominated by Serbia, is so different from that in the north.


The current impasse can best be understood by recalling the history of the dissident movement in Yugoslavia, and its transformation into a political opposition. The activities of the Yugoslav dissidents can be compared to the efforts of Solidarity in Poland to establish a “civil society” parallel to the official one, and of Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia to establish ethical and legal standards that would challenge the legitimacy of state-sponsored collectivism. As in Poland and Czechoslovakia, progress was slow at first, and the dissidents concentrated almost exclusively on gaining support for such basic human rights as free expression. Only much later were their efforts translated into a political program.

While both Nora Beloff and Stevan Pavlowitch, whose books I have discussed in an earlier article,2 devoted some attention to the Yugoslav dissident movement, neither gives sufficient weight to its importance as a political pressure group (Beloff, it is true, was writing in 1985, before many of the human rights groups had emerged). By contrast, Human Rights in Yugoslavia, edited by Dr. Oskar Gruenwald, is an excellent account of the activities and writings of dissidents in all parts of Yugoslavia, written for the most part by native specialists. The book has five sections. The first describes Yugoslavia’s penal system and conditions in its little-known labor camps and jails for political prisoners; the second covers the problem of nationalities; part three is concerned with workers’ self-management and the labor situation; part four describes the dissident movement; and part five contains manifestoes, speeches, and other documents covering the period from 1956 to 1984. Taken as a whole, it provides a comprehensive picture of the rise of dissent in Yugoslavia over the past thirty years, while useful supplementary information can be found in Amnesty International’s more limited but authoritative report, Yugoslavia: Prisoners of Conscience published in 1985.3

The pattern of dissent that emerges from these publications seems to me to fall into three phases. The first was entirely connected with the name of Milovan Djilas, the high Communist official and longtime ally of Tito’s, who was troubled by the Party’s monopoly of power, wrote articles that turned Tito against him, and thus pioneered the very idea that opposition to the Communist party was possible. His resignation from the Party in 1954, his call for a social-democratic opposition, and above all the publication abroad of his famous book The New Class, in 1959, had effects that have lasted to the present day. So has the memory of the nine years he spent in prison and the thirty years his work was banned from publication in Yugoslavia.4

The second period coincided with the Sixties, when Yugoslavia came out of its isolation, encouraged a mass tourist trade, allowed nearly a million workers to move to Western Europe, and began to be affected by Western ideas. In 1963 a group of Marxist philosophers in Belgrade and Zagreb, influenced by the writing of the reformers in the Italian and French Communist parties—then called Eurocommunists—founded the journal Praxis, while in Ljubljana a number of young Slovenian writers with liberal convictions started a literary magazine called Perspektive (“Perspectives”). Both magazines published articles criticizing the Party bureaucracy for its selfishness and intellectual rigidity. Articles in Praxis questioned the logic and ethics of Communist thought, while Perspektive called for the creation of a loyal opposition. Both groups were harshly attacked for “Djilasism” and in 1965 Perspektive was closed down.

That same year Mihajlo Mihajlov, the Yugoslavian-born son of Russian émigrés, in articles published in Belgrade mentioned the Soviet labor camps when discussing the literature of the “thaw.”5 For this he was given a nine-month suspended sentence for “insulting a foreign power.” Mihajlov retaliated by reviving the idea of an opposition party that would have its own magazine, but the group of sympathizers he gathered in the Dalmatian town of Zadar were arrested and interrogated, and Mihajlov himself was sentenced to prison for five and a half years for publicizing his story in the West.

The most important challenges of the Sixties, however, came at the very end of the decade. In 1968, influenced by events in Paris, Berlin, and other Western cities, the Belgrade students took to the streets in mass demonstrations. Most of them were members of the Party’s student organization but borrowed their slogans from the Praxis group: “Down with Dinar [i.e. corrupt] Socialism,” “More Power to the Workers (and Students),” “Sack the Socialist Bourgeoisie” (Djilas’s “new class” in Marxist terminology). Smaller demonstrations occurred in Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo, but the workers failed to heed the appeals for support and the students were bloodily suppressed by the riot police.

The most serious protests of all took place in late 1968 and 1969. As the Yugoslav economy began to falter, with growing inflation and shortages of consumer goods (much of the student unrest had been set off by bad food and living quarters), a revisionist movement began to appear within the Communist parties in the Slovenian, Croatian, and Serbian republics, which advocated political and economic decentralization. In some ways the criticisms of the revisionists echoed those of both Djilas and the Praxis group, and were given added impetus by parallel events in Czechoslovakia. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in the fall of 1968 sent shock waves throughout Yugoslavia—300,000 people attended a protest meeting in Belgrade and government officials sent protests to the USSR and offered asylum to refugees. But within a year Tito changed the Party line to one of rapprochement with Moscow, and the protests were officially forgotten by the federal bureaucracy in Belgrade.

Not in the republics, however, and especially not in Croatia. Frightened by the Soviet invasion, the leaders of the Croatian party, led by the “Croatian Dubcek,” Mika Tripalo, pushed for federal and economic reforms that would give greater power to the republics. They were supported by both the Slovene and Serbian Party leaders. In 1970 the federal Communist party accepted the principle that the Yugoslav federation was the outcome of “an institutionalized agreement to cooperate among the republics,” and that it needed to be reconstructed “as a function of the statehood and sovereignty of each republic.”

The Croatian leaders were jubilant at this promise of decentralization. Like Dubcek in Czechoslovakia, they were expressing a deep current of local patriotic feeling, making them the first genuinely popular Communist leaders since just after the war. For two years they rode a wave of national sentiment, supported by Croatian intellectuals in the Hrvatska Matica, a revived cultural club that had first been organized in the 1880s. In November 1971, the leaders of Matica published a set of proposals for amending the Croatian constitution. They recommended that the Croatian government control all revenues collected in Croatia, that it establish an independent Croatian bank and a Croatian territorial army subordinated to the federal army, and they claimed the right to self-determination “up to and including secession.”

For Tito this was too much. He had already received offers of “help” from Brezhnev and the promise from Nixon that the US would not object if he took measures to shore up his power. In December 1971 he accused the Croatians of fostering nationalism, separatism, and counterrevolution, and pandering to pro-Western ideas. In the purge that followed, Tripalo and thousands of others were expelled from the Party. Marko Veselica, an economics professor and vice-president of the Croatian trade union, was sentenced to seven years in prison for “counterrevolutionary activities”; Franjo Tudjman, then director of the Historical Institute of the Croatian Workers’ Movement, was sentenced to two years on similar charges; and the poet Vlado Gotovac, editor of the Matica’s newspaper Hrvatski tjednik (“Croatian Weekly”), got four years for “counterrevolutionary propaganda.” (Tudjman frequently mentioned his years in prison during his recent victorious campaign as leader of the Croatian Democratic Alliance in the Croation elections.)

The leaders of the other republics then made the crucial mistake of ignoring the purge in Croatia. The next year their own turn came. During the fall of 1972 Tito dismissed the leaders of the Serbian Party, and, the following spring, the Slovenian Party, all in the name of “democratic centralism.” In 1974 he pushed through a new constitution that seemed to curb republican autonomy for good. He insisted, almost incidentally, on making Kosovo and Vojvodina—which had been part of Serbia until then—autonomous regions, with a lavish investment program for Kosovo (including 30 percent of the country’s entire fund for underdeveloped regions). This was designed to buy off the ethnic Albanians who made up most of the population of Kosovo and who had long chafed under Serbian rule.


The “Croatian Spring” and similar movements in the other republics, it now seems clear, were Communism’s last chance in Yugoslavia. From the moment the movements for more autonomy were seen to have failed, and their leaders expelled or turned into dissidents, the Party was lost, and the search for new forms of government began in earnest. The third and final phase of dissent in Yugoslavia started around the time of Tito’s death in 1980, and culminated in the formation of the independent parties that won in the recent elections in Slovenia and Croatia.

The broad outlines of this movement can be traced in the pages of Human Rights in Yugoslavia. One important element was the continuing activities of the Praxis group. The magazine itself had been banned in 1975, and the group of philosophers suspended from teaching, and in 1981 they were fired from their research posts as well; but they had enough prestige internationally and enough support within the regime that a new Institute for Social Research was established to accommodate most of them, and this became an influential think tank and forum for proposals for genuinely democratic forms of socialism. Many of these ideas were also expounded in an international edition of Praxis that was founded in London in 1981.

Two other attempts were made to publish independent journals in Belgrade—one by Djilas himself, then in his seventies, and some of his friends, and another by the Praxis philosopher Ljubomir Tadíć, with the help of the Serbian novelist Dobrica Cosić. In the early days of the Croatian Spring Cosić had criticized the Croatians for excessive nationalism, but he did so too soon and was kicked out of the Party for “Serbian chauvinism.” By 1980 he had moved into open opposition, and was to become a key figure in the Serbian dissident movement. He and Tadić sent an open letter to five hundred Yugoslav intellectuals seeking support for a magazine to be called Javnost (“Public Life”). They were no more successful than Djilas had been, and one of Djilas’s collaborators, Momcilo Selić, was sentenced to seven years in prison for an essay published in samizdat criticizing the government, while the poet Gojko Djogo was sentenced to prison for publishing poems alleged to be “offensive to the memory of President Tito and the symbols of the Yugoslav revolution.” Just at this time three of the leading intellectuals of the Croatian Spring, who had earlier been released on bail, were re-arrested for giving interviews to foreign journalists. Vlado Gotovac was sentenced to two years in prison, Franjo Tudjman to three, and Marko Veselica to eleven.

The government officials in Belgrade were becoming sensitive to international public opinion, particularly in the post-Helsinki climate of growing support for human rights. They could not prevent the formation in 1980 of a Committee to Aid Democratic Dissidents in Yugoslavia, headed by Mihajlo Mihajlov, who had by now left Yugoslavia for the US, with Djilas and Tudjman as its two cochairmen. This organization started to issue a bulletin, which, after a shaky start, became the best informed and most authoritative source available on dissent in Yugoslavia. Indeed, it is still essential reading for anyone interested in Yugoslav affairs.6

The turning point for the dissidents was the “Trial of the Six,” which started in Belgrade in November 1984 and dragged on for nearly two years. Six intellectuals were accused of “associating for the purpose of committing hostile acts,” and “endangering the social order” after attending a private meeting addressed by Djilas.7 By showing how the Communist bureaucracy was suppressing independent thought that had obvious claims to be heard, some of Serbia’s best lawyers transformed the trial of the dissidents into a trial of the government; and in an atmosphere of growing antigovernment criticism they helped to create a number of unofficial organizations and committees. By far the most influential was the Committee for the Defense of Freedom of Thought and Expression, which was founded by Dobrica Cosić and soon attracted dozens of members from the Serbian intelligentsia, and especially from the Serbian Academy.

At first Cosić’s committee concentrated on the notorious Article 133 of the Yugoslav criminal code, a catchall for “hostile propaganda.” But in 1986 Cosić launched a Solidarity Fund to provide financial support for anyone convicted of a “crime of opinion.” His committee then sent proposals to the federal assembly calling for free elections, for political offenses to be eliminated from the criminal code, and for the rule of law. Meanwhile the Writers’ Union formed a Committee for Artistic Freedom and a Committee for the Protection of Man and his Environment, while yet another group started Action against Abuses of Medicine and Psychiatry.

The Trial of the Six also had repercussions outside Serbia. In Croatia, 140 intellectuals signed Cosić’s original letter of protest. Cosić wanted to exploit this solidarity by making his committee a national one, but the Croatians drew back. Although Gotovac and Tudjman had just been released on parole, the political climate in Croatia was grim. The party had just compiled a White Book on alleged intellectual subversion throughout Yugoslavia,8 and was urging a wave of preventive arrests. In such circumstances, only one Croatian intellectual was ready to join the committee.

In Slovenia the situation was very different. Slovenian intellectuals had been growing restive over attempts to delay or suppress a Festschrift in honor of their greatest writer of the twentieth century, Edvard Kocbek.9 They followed closely the “Trial of the Six,” and willingly signed Cosić’s petition of protest. However, they too declined to join the Cosić committee on the tenuous—but very Slovene—grounds that since the Croatians didn’t dare join, they didn’t want to appear to be anti-Croatian. However, they established their own organization, the Committee for the Defense of Creative Freedom within the Writers’ Union, which after 1985 became increasingly active and outspoken, and in 1988 followed the Cosić committee’s example by publishing a set of proposals for constitutional reform. Coming two years after the Serbian proposals, they were correspondingly more radical.


In retrospect, the failure of the three main opposition movements to unite in a common cause was a symptom of the widening gap between their respective republics. Each was tugged in a different direction by local political developments, and these were dictated by historical forces beyond their control.

From 1988 onward Slovenia took the lead. In May 1988, two issues of the Slovenian Magazine Mladina (“Youth”) were banned for leaking details of an army plan to arrest two hundred Slovene intellectuals in the event of trouble. Three young journalists (Janez Janša, David Tasic, Franci Zavrl) and the source of the leak, Sergeant Ivan Borstner, were arrested, and in July they were sentenced to up to eighteen months in prison. (In the end, only Janša and Borstner went to jail, and Janša only had to spend his nights there.) A hastily formed defense committee quickly grew into the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, a coalition of liberal intellectuals from the unions of artists and writers, the press, the universities, and the Church. Within months the committee had received over 100,000 letters of support, and transformed itself into a democratic forum, whose authority was acknowledged by the Slovene Party and government.

The committee successfully demanded that a government commission investigate the army’s actions. It then called for the formation of independent political parties, which the government resisted, saying that all social and political organizations had to register with the Socialist Alliance. In the fall of 1988 some of the committee’s members defied the government and formed four new political parties anyway (the Slovene Farmers’ Union, the Social Democratic Union, the Slovene Democratic Union, and the Slovene Social Christian Movement), saying that they would contest the 1990 elections. Meanwhile the Union of Socialist Youth announced that it too would form its own party, which in time became the Liberal party.

The Slovene government’s hand had been forced, and in May 1989 the opposition parties embarrassed the government even more by organizing an informal nationwide referendum on Slovenia’s constitutional status. Called the May Declaration, it demanded sovereignty for Slovenia, including the right to secession, respect for human rights and private property, and free multiparty elections in 1990. In October the Slovene parliament passed amendments to the constitution giving itself the right to vote to secede from Yugoslavia and to veto the use of armed forces in the republic. It also deleted from the constitution the clause referring to the “leading role” of the Party. There was an immediate jump in the Party’s popularity, as there also was this January when Party leaders walked out of an extraordinary congress of the federal Party in Belgrade after failing to persuade the other parties, except the Croats, to do likewise. When they returned to Slovenia, the Party chief, Milan Kucan, was treated as a national hero.

The Croatians were initially far behind the Slovenes. When the first organized opposition groups began to appear in 1982, they behaved more timidly, and were treated far more harshly, than their Slovenian counterparts. Nevertheless, by mid-1989 two significant organizations had been founded, the Croatian Democratic Union, led by Tudjman, Veselica, and Vladimir Seks (one of the defense lawyers in the Trial of the Six), and the Croatian Social Liberal Union, led by Gotovac, Slavko Goldstein, and Franjo Zenko (a former member of Mihajlov’s group). They were followed by several others: Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, Croatian Democrats (formed when Veselica broke with Tudjman), but it wasn’t until the very end of 1989, when some bold younger members of the Croatian Communist party asserted themselves, that harassment of the new parties was stopped and multiparty elections in 1990 were approved.


What happened to prevent similar developments in Serbia, where the opposition was just as strong as in Slovenia, and was far stronger than in Croatia until about a year ago? It is hard to be sure, but clearly the dispute over Kosovo made a huge difference. Whereas the Slovenian and Croatian opposition movements managed to associate nationalism with democratic reforms and thus undermine the authority of the Party and the center, in Serbia the Party seized the initiative by directing nationalist sentiment against the Albanians. The Serbian dissidents were thus upstaged and outflanked by Milošević, who exploited the issue in order to strengthen the Party at the expense of the opposition.

He was able to do this in part because he appeared on the political scene in 1984 at the same time as the upheaval over the Trial of the Six, and because his attacks on the Party’s old guard seemed to be in tune with opposition demands for more democracy. Even Milovan Djilas at first approved of Milošević because, as he told me last summer, Milošević had smashed the old Titoist myths of brotherhood and unity that were holding Yugoslavia back. He had “liberated the consciousness of the Serbian people,” and was quite right to make Kosovo and Vojvodina subservient to Belgrade once more, even though it meant sending in the troops.

Dobrica Cosić, who is known for his Serbian patriotic feelings, agreed with much of this analysis, saying that before Milošević’s arrival, the Serbs had been discriminated against and “deprived of their sovereignty.” Even more surprising were the views of Cosić’s colleague, Kosta Cavoski, coauthor of a classic study of the Communist takeover after World War II and a leading advocate of more democracy in Yugoslavia.10 “Milošević is righting a national wrong” he said. “Communists everywhere, and especially Yugoslavia’s Communists, have exploited national questions for their own ends, and have crushed national interests. The Serbs suffered under this policy more than any other people in Yugoslavia.”

According to Cavoski, the dispute with the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo represents a last flare-up of the “Eastern problem,” by which he means the conflict between Christianity and Islam. Because of its connections with the Serbian Church and Serbian history, Kosovo is holy ground for many Serbs, and Cavoski, in common with other Serbs, likens it to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem for the Jews. Indeed, “Palestine” is the analogy that springs most readily to Serb lips, and Kosovo is frequently compared to the West Bank (as well as to Northern Ireland). In such analogies the Serbs are the Jews and Albanians the Arabs.

Djilas and Cavoski concede that Milošević’s style is authoritarian and his tactics unduly rough. They also disapprove of the arrests of the ethnic Albanian Communist leader Vllasi and the two hundred Albanian intellectuals, although neither had much sympathy for any of them. But Djilas, who was at school with Milošević’s father, denies Milošević is a neo-Stalinist or neofascist. No arrests of dissenters are being made in Serbia itself, and although he controls 90 percent of the press, the press is more outspoken than it was. “The intellectual atmosphere in Serbia is freer than it has ever been,” Djilas told me. “Philosophers, sociologists and writers are freer now than they were even before the war.”

Staying in an apartment overlooking Milošević’s building while in Belgrade, I was able to see for myself that he is indeed no Tito. Apart from a handful of young bodyguards lounging by the main entrance, there were no signs of special precautions or that Milošević was living in luxury. Indeed, anyone with a rifle and a telescopic sight could have picked him off from any of a couple of hundred windows. I also watched on television last June the six-hundredth anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Kosovo, that were held in Kosovo. When the time came for Milošević to make a speech celebrating the resurrection of Serbia and swearing to reverse the “exodus” from Kosovo, the huge crowd chanted his name much as they had done Tito’s in the past: “Slo-bo! Slo-bo! Slobodo!” (Milošević’s first name, Slobodan, also means “free” in Serbian. Slobodo means “liberty,” in the vocative case.) However, I sensed none of the fanatical devotion that I had observed in. Tito’s day; nor did Milošević work the crowd as Tito had done. The former economist is a boring speaker, sounding more like a banker than a demagogue, His audience seemed subdued and serious. At his concluding words: “Long Live Serbia!” there was sustained applause, but no expression of popular feeling.


The question of questions for Yugoslavia remains whether the sharp division between north and south can ever end. To some extent the answer will depend on the current federal prime minister Ante Marković, a Croatian economist who took control of the government about eighteen months ago. Marković inherited an inflation rate of nearly 1,000 percent, and saw it climb to almost 2,000 percent by the end of last year, by far the worst in Europe. Early this year, however, he achieved what has been widely called a “miracle” when he made the dinar convertible and tied it to the West German mark Inflation virtually disappeared overnight, and a grateful population was ready to hail him as an economic savior.

Marković also imposed a wage freeze, put through new bankruptcy laws, and moved to accelerate privatization of the economy in order to consolidate his gains. However, these moves were much less welcome, particularly since they threaten mass unemployment if they are faithfully carried out. Already they are being sabotaged in Serbia, Bosnia, and other southern republics, while the north complains that Marković is undercutting his own measures by buying off the military leaders, particularly by promising them a supersonic aircraft of their own. The Croatian and Slovenian leaders are also suspicious of Marković’s successes, for they serve to strengthen the central government at the expense of the republics. Recently, Marković vowed to take “all necessary measures to preserve the integrity of Yugoslavia’s borders,” which Croatia and Slovenia interpret as a veiled threat of military action against the claims of independence asserted in their recent elections. They have replied by insisting that negotiations must take place to decide Yugoslavia’s future.11

The contest is now between the new model of democratic development in Slovenia and Croatia, which gives “sovereignty” to the individual republics, and Serbia’s model of “democratic centralism,” which appears to be a form of Leninism or Titoism, shorn of Marxist ideology but designed to keep power for the Communist party. One of the reasons for the extreme hostility between the two sides is suspicion of each other’s motives. Whereas the Serbs view the “pacification” of Kosovo as a legitimate assertion of their national interest, the Slovenes and Croats see it as a possible rehearsal for the “pacification” of themselves. And when the Slovenes and Croats speak of the right to secession, the Serbs see them as encouraging the ethnic Albanians to secede. Moreover, when the northerners claim that their defense of the Kosovo Albanians is a defense of human rights, the Serbs reply that they are hypocrites who really want to reduce Serbian power.

Whichever way one looks at it, the Kosovo question looms ever larger as the principal obstacle to progress. The Serbs cannot hold the province down forever on their own, and the other republics (including Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina) will soon start refusing to pay their share of the costs of the repression. Nor can the Serbs reverse history. Even the most fanatical nationalists are not proposing to move the Albanians by force. Milošević’s quixotic project to resettle 100,000 Serbs in Kosovo is regarded by all but his most fanatical supporters as ridiculous. Kosovo is not the West Bank. Few Serbs will risk their lives to settle in the most economically backward region of the country, and Serbia has nothing like the economic resources of Israel. Finally, the ethnic Albanians themselves have been lost to Serbia. In April the Serbian-appointed prime minister of Kosovo, together with six of his ministers, resigned, and the government of the province is again in crisis. When asked if they are “separatists,” Albanians no longer deny it. But they must separate, they say, not from Yugoslavia—to which they insist they are loyal—but from Serbia. As the popular former foreign minister of Yugoslavia, Koca Popović (himself a Serb), commented recently, the Albanians can easily be good Yugoslavs, but they will never be good Serbs.

Yet it is Serbia that will decide the future. As the largest, strongest, and most influential republic, with a large number of Serbians scattered through several of the other republics, it has a vested interest in holding Yugoslavia together in some form or other. It is true that, as Milošević likes to bluster, Serbia could more easily go it alone than any of the other republics, but because of the Serbian diaspora in the other republics, it is not likely to want to do so. Another possible solution being talked about is an agreement between the two northern republics and the four republics in the south, dividing the country into two main parts, along the lines of Czechoslovakia. However, Croatia would not be willing to leave the whole of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Serbia’s sphere of influence, nor would Serbia allow it to be in Croatia’s. Yet another possibility, and perhaps the most attractive to the parties concerned, would be a confederal arrangement under which Serbia could keep its democratic centralism, with a strong leader and party, while the northern republics would elect their own democratic regimes. The other republics might then choose which form they preferred (possibly a variation of their own).

Such an arrangement, however, would be inherently unstable, with conflicts of interest threatening the confederation every step of the way. Furthermore, it would do nothing to solve the Kosovo question. The best hope lies in Serbia being willing to follow the northern republics in making its political system more democratic. Already there are a number of embryo political parties in Serbia led in many cases by former dissidents. Cavoski and Koštunica have formed a Democratic party. Imširović and Olujić, two of the “Belgrade Six,” are leading a Social Democratic party. Nebojša Popov, together with some of the other Praxis philosophers, is active in the pan-Yugoslav Association for a Yugoslav Democratic Initiative, which also has a branch in Kosovo.12 None of these opposition leaders, with the exception of Cavoski, has much sympathy for Milošević’s Kosovo policy, and most of them would back more autonomy for the Albanians. Some of the leaders I spoke to would even favor Kosovo having the status of a separate republic.

The parties are still new in Serbia and they are still being harassed by Milošević’s Communist party. The Serbian parties are six months to a year behind their counterparts in Croatia and Slovenia. However, events in Eastern Europe have a way of accelerating. Furthermore, the coup de grâce may be delivered to Milošević by a new right-wing group called the Serbian Renewal Party, led by the dissident writer Vuk Drašković. Drašković is plus royaliste que le roi, a Serbian nationalist who makes no secret of his sympathy for Tito’s (and the Party’s) arch enemy, Draza Mihailovć, the Chetnik leader who was executed in 1945. Chetnik beards have begun to sprout all over Serbia, and it looks as though Serbian Renewal will take much of the wind out of Milošević’s chauvinist sails.

Of course there is always a danger that with Tudjman, a right-wing nationalist, the winner of the elections in Croatia, and with the possibility of Drašković as the winner in Serbia, nationalist tensions might lead to armed conflict. I don’t believe that Tudjman or Drašković would allow this to happen, just as I don’t believe the federal army will intervene—except to forestall such a conflict. Nor will there be an army coup, for that would break up the country more quickly than anything else. Finally, to judge by my conversations in Croatia and Slovenia, I do not believe that either republic intends to secede. They want the entire structure of the Yugoslav federal state to be reconstructed and the terms on which the republics take part in it renegotiated. As Dmitrij Rupel, the Slovenian leader of the Democratic United Opposition, put it: “We need to be completely free, even if only symbolically and for five minutes. We will secede and immediately offer negotiations on a confederal Yugoslavia. Any final agreement must be a free contract between sovereign nations.”

Whether or not the northern republics get their way, it seems inevitable that the federal basis of Yugoslavia will be reexamined and renegotiated in some form or other. At the same time, the Communist party, no matter how demoralized, will continue to have an important part in national life, perhaps under a new name. The federal government, police, armed forces, treasury, and much of the country’s industry remain in Communist hands. It is true that the recent elections in Slovenia and Croatia have badly shaken the political establishment to the core, setting off a chain reaction that will almost certainly affect the rest of the country sooner or later. But for the moment they affect only about a third of Yugoslavia, and even there, parliamentary assemblies contain many Communists. If the democratic revolution is to go forward, it will best be carried out by democratically elected representatives of democratically organized republics who have been given a mandate to create a new Yugoslavia.

June 21, 1990
This is the second of two articles.

This Issue

July 19, 1990