BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — Authorities in Yugoslavia have started a public campaign against a fledgling Solidarity-like movement whose leaders have called on citizens to organize against what they see as repressive tactics by the government.
In a series of speeches widely published in the national press, leaders of the ruling League of Communists described the group, known as the Solidarity Fund, as a budding opposition party that has no place in the country's complex political structure.
Journalists at leading newspapers have been told that unless they renounce their support for the group they may be forced to leave the league and give up their status as members of the ruling elite.
No Political Ambition
Organizers of the Solidarity Fund--patterned in some respects after the outlawed Polish free labor union movement--said they have no political ambition, though some of them said that they favor greater democratization to go along with economic reforms intended to deal with Yugoslavia's economic problems.
Instead of organizing an opposition, the organizers said in a public letter, they seek to provide "moral and material assistance to all people whose existence is endangered because of critical opinions and social activities."
They said more than 600 people, most of them journalists, writers and professors, have signed statements of support for the group, which was formed last May to raise money for Dusan Bogavac, an editor at the weekly magazine Komunist, who was fired after accepting articles that were critical of government policies.
The group was left virtually alone until a few weeks ago, when the draft of a proposal seeking legal recognition for the group began to circulate in Belgrade and other cities. The draft spoke of setting up branches throughout the country in an effort to coordinate the activities of those "who want to involve themselves in eliminating ideological, political, economic and any other kind of repression."
Alarm Bells Set Off
This set off alarm bells at the glass-walled skyscraper on Lenin Boulevard that houses the League of Communists. The league presides over a unique decentralized regime acknowledged by Western diplomats to be one of the least restrictive of the socialist state.
A statement by the party leadership last week lashed out at "bourgeois and dogmatic enemies, the bourgeois right and other forces defeated in World War II and our socialist revolution," and a speaker denounced "alternative movements, imitations of foreign models inappropriate to the Yugoslav system."
It was not clear whether the attacks would be followed by arrests, although one party leader spoke of unspecified "administrative measures."
"The idea in Yugoslavia is not to be oppressive," said Vladimir Stambuk, executive secretary of the League of Communists of Serbia, the largest of the six republics that make up Yugoslavia.
The Serbian league, which is headquartered in Belgrade, has been one of the most outspoken organizations in criticizing the Solidarity Fund, most of whose supporters live in Belgrade.
"The idea is to be as tolerant as possible, because we are trying to build a very broad base of support," Stambuk said in an interview. "But no society in the world would accept that a number of people should try to undermine an existing political system which is accepted by a majority of the people. So if any of them goes a step further and organizes political activity, they might be confronted with legal procedures."
He said this does not mean arrest. He suggested that the league would act instead to deny the fund the legal recognition it seeks.
As for the dozens of journalists who have expressed their support, some may be motivated by humanitarian motives, he said, and added:
"But if some people turn out to be supporting the fund because they want to make an alternate political organization, then the dear lady or gentleman will have to choose which role he or she is going to play. You can't sit on two chairs at one time."
A leading Solidarity Fund activist said he is concerned about the public outcry, but he suggested that the real reason for it is not so much any real government fear of opposition as government frustration over Yugoslavia's economic problems.
"We are 650 people--such a small number," he said. "When the government is nervous it makes a lot of mistakes, including this one."
Yugoslavia is saddled with nearly $20 billion in foreign debt and an inflation rate of nearly 100% a year. Government economists say their plans for reform have been stymied by "socio-political" problems.
These include regional resistance to the closing of outdated factories, individual resistance to a further drop in the standard of living needed to fight inflation and a general attitude summed up by one member of the League of Communists as "the mentality of rich people living in a temporarily poor country."