WASHINGTON — Washington.
Before the completion of the first democratic elections in all of the Yugoslav republics, it was difficult to argue against the preservation of federal unity. Most observers anticipated, following the trend in Eastern Europe, that the Communists would be voted out of power, hence creating conditions for a democratic country.
Now that we know that the Communists not only prevailed in Serbia -- Yugoslavia's largest republic -- but were able to fortify their position by obtaining an overwhelming electoral support, it is indeed difficult to argue against Slovenia's proposition for sovereignty (mandated by the December 23 referendum).
One cannot conceive of a situation less conducive to peace than having an evolving democratic power center in one corner of the country, while a totalitarian system is still in place in the other -- which is the current situation in Yugoslavia.
It is also illusory to think a country's policy can be wisely conducted with two opposing political systems nullifying the work of each other. Such a reality calls for a split, or, as the Slovenian political leadership under Prime Minister Lojze Peterle convincingly claims, for establishing a union of independent republics.
There is no code of law that would require any nation attempting to free itself from an oppressive system to accept prolonged hardship in the name of ''federal unity.'' Why do foreign policy makers -- especially in the U.S. -- require that Yugoslavia be preserved as one federal entity at virtually any cost, if this position conflicts with the basic notion of democracy?
Two reasons are often cited. One is that Yugoslavia likes to be perceived and therefore retained as one common market where foreign goods and services can be sold unimpaired by differing trade laws. The other argument goes that a breakup of the country into smaller sovereign states would render the region geopolitically unstable. For in the event of a recurring East-West conflict, a number of states in that part of Europe would have to be dealt with on an individual basis.
Both arguments are unconvincing. The Yugoslav market will still be there, regardless of any political rearrangement. There will be no economic problems if the republics manage to draw up bilateral as well as multilateral agreements laying down identical trade terms for foreign investors and businesses in the entire region.
As to the question of instability, one should recall that despite the various conflicts we are witnessing on a global scale, both superpowers have already begun to implement the first steps to a new world order. A part of that new order is the drive to European integration which is to culminate in 1992. Yugoslavia's cold-war role as a buffer against the Iron Curtain has become obsolete.
Recent unconstitutional steps undertaken by the Serbian parliament highlight the farsightedness of the Slovenian government that the republics should, asserting self-responsibility, set their own course.
The Serbian legislature passed two secret laws requiring the National Bank to issue $1.2 billion worth of new money without the approval of the federal government, whose leadership was notified about this illegal act by mail. The intent of this scheme, as partially explained in both laws, is clear: to pay for ''contaminated loans'' given to factories and enterprises in Serbia before the December 9 election (an instrument used by Communist hard liners to secure their ballot-victory), and to provide money for depleted pension funds, farm subsidies and other expenditures.
This action presents an attack on the Yugoslav monetary system and is essentially a theft from the other republics. The currency has been forcibly devalued by 22 percent -- a debt now payable by every single citizen of Yugoslavia.
If we consider all that Serbia has done up to now (discontinue tax contributions to the federal budget -- an act the federal government did not notice until recently confronted -- erect comprehensive trade barriers against democratic northern republics and be completely careless about the survival of federal market reforms), then there should be no doubt that Yugoslavia will fall apart. Having done so, it must then be reconstructed on terms compatible with the standards of sovereign nations.
For those who find the thought of a military takeover appealing, Yugoslavia Vice President Stipe Mesic has the most eloquent answer. He explains that if the Yugoslav nations decide to go to war, a great many people would be killed. After the fighting, everyone would realize that villages are still at their old places, rivers still flow in the same directions and conflicts which led to warfare still need to be resolved.
Why not find a resolution now? A resolution at some point would have to be found anyway -- thereby sparing the country the terrible costs of a bloody war. These are the thoughts of reason. The problem is that not many men of reason seem to be around these days.
Peter Millonig is head of the Bureau of the Government of the Republic of Slovenia in Washington.