The Yugoslav authorities have been forced to cancel all army leave
in the face of growing student and worker unrest in the southern
republic of Montenegro. In the Montenegrin capital of Titograd,
police used clubs and tear gas to disperse demonstrators calling
for the resignation of local leaders. A wave of unrest has swept
the country over the past year, but the latest events threaten
to tear the country's federal Communist Party apart.
As the Central Committee prepared for a crucial meeting in Belgade
this week, leaders of the republics of Serbia and Slovenia were
rowing in public. Politika, the Belgrade party newspaper which backs Serbian leader Slobodan
Milosevic, attacked the Slovene party for supporting the police
action in Titograd. The Slovene party accused the Serbian party
of manipulating demonstrators by fomenting Serbian nationalism.
The tensions within the leadership largely result from an upsurge
of working class resistance, after years of relative peace.
Marshal Tito's achievement after coming to power in 1945 was to
reconcile the country's 16 nationalities, by suppressing all opposition
and introducing economic reforms. For a while Tito's 'self-management
socialism' allowed for relative prosperity. Since the Stalinist
party monopolised political power, however, reform was strictly
limited. Without genuine workers' democracy, self-management degenerated
into bureaucratic farce. When Tito died in 1980, economic decay
was well-advanced, and the political cracks were beginning to
Today Yugoslavia is an economic disaster: last year the republics
of Macedonia and Montenegro and the autonomous province of Kosovo
declared themselves bankrupt. All are in the most backward southern
part of the country. Inflation is running at 215 per cent, the
foreign debt is $21 billion and more than a million are unemployed.
As journalist Cedo Zik explained in the Zagreb publication, Start: ' The effects of collapse may not look too dramatic, since we do
not have a stock exchange and people are not throwing themselves
out of windows, but everybody knows that we have become the sick
man of Europe.'
In May the government agreed a harsh austerity package with the
International Monetary Fund. This fuelled runaway inflation, slashed
living standards and provoked widespread unrest. More than 1000
strikes have broken out this year, with workers taking their protests
on to the streets, invading government buildings and demanding
the resignation of corrupt officials.
Economic decay follows a rough north-south divide, along which
opposing nationalist camps in the Yugoslav bureaucracy now align
The more prosperous northern republics of Slovenia and Croatia,
and the autonomous province of Vojvodina, enjoy living standards
akin to those of Western Europe. In the poorest southern republics
of Montenegro and Macedonia, and the autonomous province of Kosovo,
many earn a third of the average northern wage. Here eight million
Serbs, the largest group in a population of 23m, harbour long-standing
resentments at being denied their pre-war dominance.
Differences between north and south have also crystallised around
economic reform. In common with the Soviet Union and much of Eastern
Europe, the Yugoslav bureaucracy is set on restructuring the economy.
There are few disagreements about the nature of the reforms needed:
an end to government subsidies of consumer goods, an overhaul
in the management of enterprises and an effort to attract foreign
and domestic investment. The debate is about how the reforms should
Northerners want more political and economic decentralisation,
while southerners led by Milosevic favour more centralised planning.
The north fears that Milosevic's plans would damage prosperous
areas by forcing them to subsidise the south. The south is concerned
that decentralisation would mean more subsidy cuts and result
in increased unemployment, ruin and upheaval.
Lacking an economic solution which does not threaten their own
position, bureaucrats north and south have channelled working
class resistance in a nationalist direction.
Milosevic has tried to harness nationalist sentiment to strengthen
Serbia's position in the federation as well as his own challenge
for the national leadership. He has encouraged Serbian resentment
against Albanian separatists in Kosovo and led giant nationalist
demonstrations. Tens of thousands of Serbs and Montenegrins now
travel the country demanding Serbian control over Kosovo as well
as the other autonomous Serbian province of Vojvodina.
Slovenian nationalism has taken a different form. Disgruntled
at having to subsidise Yugoslavia's poorer regions, Slovenians
have become vocal in their criticism of the Serbian-dominated
national army. A campaign against the military led by the Slovene
Communist youth paper, Mladina, culminated in the trial of three journalists and a soldier earlier
How long can the bureaucrats ride on the wave of nationalist revolt
before it sinks them? While he has become the figurehead of the
movement, even Milosevic cannot be certain of staying in control.
Although they have been derailed by chauvinist demagogy, Yugoslav
workers remain a mortal threat to the Stalinist bureaucracy which
has monopolised power for 40 years.
back to The Defendants' List of Documents