By Steve Painter
History is against the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav government in its attempt to hold the federation together by force of arms. While the federal army was able to roll through Slovenia and seize control of border posts and key positions last week, the political and economic costs of a long occupation will quickly begin to tell.
As the Soviet Union found in Czechoslovakia after its 1968 invasion, military occupation, and even widespread repression, cannot provide a long-term basis for government in the post-capitalist states of eastern Europe. Sullen non-cooperation became almost a way of life in post-occupation Czechoslovakia, contributing heavily to the economy's near-breakdown by the late 1980s.
It is likely a similar mood will develop in Slovenia and neighbouring Croatia even if the central government succeeds for the moment with its military crackdown. In recent referendums, Slovenes and Croats voted overwhelmingly for independence, though both republics have made it clear they would prefer a looser Yugoslav federation rather than complete break-up.
Slovenia is the most prosperous and economically advanced of the Yugoslav republics, heavily influenced historically by its proximity to Austria, which today has one of the highest living standards in Europe. But it is also one of the smallest republics in the federation, with Slovenes making up less than 10% of the country's 25 million people.
While the Slovenes are influenced by nearby Austria, prior to the formation of Yugoslavia in 1918 they were never comfortable with rule by the German-dominated Austrian empire. Their language and culture is Slavic.
If they pressed ahead to full independence, both Slovenia and Croatia would be very small states in Europe, and would struggle economically like other small, peripheral states such as Ireland and Greece. Their first option, expressed repeatedly, is a more democratic Yugoslav federation, and their main grievance is the domination of the Serbs over the federal institutions, particularly the army.
Meanwhile, the central government's use of the army has not been well received in some of the other republics. According to the Croatian news agency HINA, Macedonian Premier Nikola Kljusev has said his government is ready to declare independence as soon as internal discussions are completed in early July. While some elements in the government are urging a wait-and-see policy, the
majority VMRO-DPMNE bloc, which has 60% of the governing coalition, wants to proclaim independence straight away.
Bosnia-Hercegovina President Izetbegovic told parliament on June 27 that he supported the independence declarations in Slovenia and Croatia. To loud applause, he said he had no doubts about the legitimacy of the declarations and asked the parliament to finalise preparations for a similar declaration. If it could not do so, the matter should go to a referendum, he said. Bosnia-Hercegovina has a large Serbian population.
Meanwhile, the Croatian parliament in Zagreb has been meeting continuously, and has passed about 100 new laws, about 40 of which take Croatia out of the legal framework of Yugoslavia. Some of the laws relate to internal defence, justice, finances, transport and energy. The Croatian government also recognised the independence and sovereignty of the Republic of Slovenia.
According to HINA, the Serbian People's Party, a party of the Serbian minority in Croatia, is supporting the Croatian declaration of sovereignty and independence. The party has said the new laws guarantee the rights of all minorities and citizens.