A full measure of the crisis facing Yugoslavia might best be taken by glancing at the Soviet Union. President Mikhail Gorbachev seems to have won a very lukewarm vote of approval for his formula for preserving the union of 15 Soviet republics as a unitary state. His main opponent is Boris Yeltsin, president of the huge Russian Federation, who favors a much looser confederation with the right of secession underscored.
Now imagine Mr. Yeltsin as a Communist Party hardliner with close ties to the army and the KGB (though he is, in fact, quite the opposite -- a politician who has declared Communism dead and pushes for democracy and a capitalistic free market.) Imagine, too, that Mr. Yeltsin is a revanchist Russian nationalist intent on expanding his own republic and dominating other republics (though, in fact, he has championed the right of secession by all republics and has threatened none). Imagine, finally, that the central government in Moscow is a weak, non-ideological collective presidency (though, in fact, it is becoming increasingly hard-core Communist with the backing of the military).
Put all those imaginings together, and the result is post-Tito Yugoslavia, a country whose troubles are as deep as and perhaps even more urgent than the Soviet Union's. Yugoslavia, a federation of six republics and two autonomous provinces which form a mosaic of Balkan tribalism and ethnic rivalry, stands today at the brink of dismemberment or civil war.