Yugoslavia will be poorer if Slovenia secedes. So will Slovenia. The plebiscite in the richest and most Western of Yugoslavia's six "republics" went nearly 90 percent for independence. In fact, it triggered a six-month period for Slovenia's nationalist leaders to negotiate a looser federal arrangement in Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia's leaders should use it wisely.
There is no sign that they will. Final results in Serbia's run-off election give the Socialists (as the Communists are now called) 194 of the 250 seats in Yugoslavia's most populous republic. President Slobodan Milosevic was re-elected but, more ominously, confirmed in his worst instincts to get tough with the non-Serb nationalities and non-Communist governments.
Slovenia's population is quite purely Slovenian, small and nestled between Italy and Austria. Slovenia, at some cost, could go it alone. Serbia could let it go. But that would make Croatia, which is also Catholic and uncomfortable with Serbian hegemony, want to go next. A Serbia run by Mr. Milosevic could not stand by while Croatia, harboring a minority of one-half million Serbs, went independent. What his party has said is that under such circumstances, all the border questions would be reopened. Therein lies the road to war.
What Yugoslavia's weak central government, its two Communist-led and four non-Communist state regimes must do is design a flexible confederation that can contain their separate ethnic and ideological impulses with tolerance for all. The alternative would be endless strife in the worst Balkan tradition, with misery for all.