BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA — In relation to 1989 East European developments, Yugoslavia's experience suggests the biblical prophecy: "The first shall be last." In contrast to the postwar period, Yugoslavia seemed more on the periphery.
In the 1940s, it was the Yugoslavs who defied Josef Stalin and were excommunicated from the Comintern. Yugoslavia was the first communist country to receive Western aid in the postwar period. It was Milovan Djilas, a Yugoslav, who presented the world with the most powerful contemporary indictment of Stalinism in his book "The New Class." It was Yugoslavia that helped conceive the idea and create the reality of a "third" unaligned world. And in the 1960s and 1970s, it was councils of Yugoslav workers and self-management schemes that mesmerized Western students of Eastern Europe.
There is as much reason today as in the past to watch Yugoslavia. The issues shaping the future of all Eastern Europe, including the Soviet Union, are being played out with unusual intensity in Yugoslavia.
In Yugoslavia, a split is developing between the northern and southern republics that is perhaps a harbinger of a European-wide shift in political geography. Yugoslavia's northern republics are wealthier, more Catholic and more Western in orientation. Its southern areas are poorer, more Orthodox and less oriented to the West.
The map of Europe is being drawn along those lines as well: a North that includes Russia, Byelorussia, the Ukraine, the northern part of Eastern Europe, the northern part of Yugoslavia and Western Europe; and a South that includes Soviet Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Balkans including Greece, Turkey and the southern Yugoslav republics. It is premature to say what kind of political, ideological, military and economic developments would accompany this shift in Europe's political tectonic plates.
Like other nations in Eastern Europe, particularly the Soviet Union, the issue of national sovereignity in Yugoslavia is causing further division. The Slovenes and Croatians say Yugoslavia as we now know it will not survive, and have threatened to secede. The Serbs and the Yugoslav army were alarmed by and rejected the Slovenian-Croatian position.
Meanwhile, Serbian political leaders have internal problems. A demagogic communist populist, Slobodan Milosevic, dominates the political scene there in the midst of growing anti-communist demonstrations in Belgrade. Recently, in the autonomous province of Kosovo, the government dissolved the region's government, aggravating what has been a de facto civil war. Serbs consider Kosovo, with its largely Albanian population, an integral part of their heritage and, under Milosevic, have moved to strengthen their grip over the province.
The Yugoslav case is complex but not unintelligible. As in all of Eastern Europe--again, including the Soviet Union--one can identify two broad orientations to politics in Yugoslavia: "civic" and "ethnic." The distinction is neater than reality, but real nonetheless. The distinctions cut across communist and anti-communist lines.
In Yugoslavia, and other countries in Eastern Europe, "civics" emphasize a sober, articulate, procedural approach to political change. They also tend to have a more positive attitude toward Western culture.
"Ethnics" are more visceral. They are likely to emphasize the cultural history and identity of their group. They are less concerned with individual civil rights and more with the preservation of a culture seen as threatened by outsiders. "Ethnics" view the West with a combination of envy, frustration and anger.
Yugoslavia offers a vivid illustration of the civic-ethnic conflict. Some Yugoslav republics are predominantly "ethnic"--for example, Serbia and Croatia--while Slovenia's political leadership is predominantly "civic." However, civic and ethnic forces exist in each part of Yugoslavia, as they do throughout Eastern Europe.
Since the two groups are the veritable antithesis of one another, any government including both will be marked by tension. Political change in 1989 was dominated by the "civics." A response is inevitable on the part of the "ethnics," who were dormant last year.
Another factor in contemporary Yugoslav politics and that of other nations in Eastern Europe is the Roman Catholic Church. Catholicism is strong in Croatia and Slovenia, and politically significant even in an area such as Kosovo, where it is numerically weak. It would be wrong to confuse Catholicism's more "civic" expression in Slovenia, the Czech lands and Poland's Solidarity with its more "ethnic" expression in Slovakia and Croatia. But the impact of the faith makes Pope John Paul II critical.
The army, led by Partisans who fought during World War II to create a viable Yugoslavia, will play a critical role in determining the nation's future. Along with the central bureaucracy, the Yugoslav officer corps represents Prime Minister Ante Markovic's strongest support for a united Yugoslavia.
Changes in Yugoslavia point to something quite profound: the emergence of international politics on a broader scale and in a more multifaceted manner than during the Cold War era. The Cold War largely froze politics at both the West-East level and within Eastern European countries. But as the result of recent changes, we currently lack an accurate political map of Europe. It is prudent to be imaginative. Those countries and leaders who respond imaginatively to the emergence of a new European political geography will be best placed to help shape it.