For what it's worth, Yugoslav republic expected to OK independence today

December 23, 1990|By Laura Silber | Laura Silber,Special to The Sun

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Slovenia's imminent departure from Yugoslavia has been announced so often that it may go unnoticed when or if it really happens.

Today, nearly 2 million Slovenes vote in a referendum on independence and are expected to overwhelmingly support going their own way.

But whether the tiny republic actually leaves depends on whether it can achieve a consensus within the federal Parliament and with the leaders of Yugoslavia's other republics. It also hinges on the 12-nation European Community, which will accept any outcome as long as it does not endanger stability in the volatile Balkan region.

The federal Parliament cannot even agree when to discuss the referendum -- much less what to do about it. And the national army, which has stated that it will not stand by and watch Yugoslavia fall apart, is casting its own long shadow over Slovenia, where residents have a tradition of pacifism and would rather ski than fight.

One of Slovenia's main reasons for joining the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1918 and remaining part of Communist Yugoslavia after World War II was the desire for cultural autonomy, to escape being swallowed up by Austria or Italy.

But now the Slovenes want to escape the Balkans and seek understanding from their neighbors on the other side of the Alps. A center-right nationalist coalition swept Communists from power in Slovenia in April, and the republic is dissatisfied with the pace of democratic reforms in the rest of the country.

In Yugoslavia, now a federation of six republics and two provinces, the battle lines have been drawn between the western republics, Catholic Slovenia and Croatia, both former Austro-Hungarian territories, and Orthodox Serbia.

The western republics have called for the transformation of the Yugoslav Federation into a loose confederation of independent states. But any attempts by Croatia to secede would break out in civil war because of the republic's 600,000-strong Serbian minority.

Serbia's Socialist Party -- composed of former Communist Party members -- has refused to compromise over its vision: If Yugoslavia survives as a single state, it will be a federation.

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