Serbs and Croats hit the streets Street protests: Leaders in war and peace seem to run out of followers.

November 28, 1996

UNREST IN BELGRADE, capital of Serbia, and Zagreb, capital of Croatia, undermines the strong men who brought wars to Yugoslavia. And since they agreed to the peace, it undermines that.

Franjo Tudjman, president of Croatia, is 74 and was rushed to Walter Reed Hospital with what authorities in Washington called stomach cancer and in Zagreb called digestive problems. Then he went home to witness strikes for wages and against government suppression of the last independent radio station.

Mr. Tudjman had quit as a general in Communist dictator Tito's Yugoslav army decades ago to pursue Croat nationalism and write revisionist history. When communism and Yugoslavia broke down, he emerged as the leader of Croatia. He is still a Tito wannabe, affecting grandiose uniforms resembling those Tito, a secret monarchist wannabe, designed for himself.

Slobodan Milosevic, the longtime Communist Party general secretary in Serbia, is a Titoist wannabe more in substance than form, consolidating power in his own hands. He headed the Yugoslav central bank when economic flexibility was the way to save communism. When even that didn't work he expropriated Serb nationalism from its literary authors. Where Mr. Tudjman had sacrificed his career for nationalism, Mr. Milosevic rescued his with it.

Mr. Milosevic just won national elections heading the Socialist Party in a coalition with his Communist wife, Mirjana Markovic, an old Titoist theoretician. Then a funny thing happened. Subsequent local elections went to their opponents, a coalition of people less and more nationalist than they. So the courts nullified the local vote. Crowds of up to 100,000 marched in protest. Another local election was held, almost universally boycotted.

Suddenly Serbia looks like its Eastern European neighbors in rTC 1989. The demonstrations in Belgrade appear more fundamentally aimed at overturning the regime than those in Zagreb. Mr. Milosevic in the past sent tanks for less.

All of which puts Washington in a quandary. At first it regarded these rulers as the problem. Then, in the Dayton accords, it saw them as the solution. That gives Washington a stake in their continued rule, but at what cost?

Washington is on record thinking that democracy was a good thing for Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and even Albania. It ought to think the same for Croatia and Serbia. Especially if it turns out that their peoples do, too.

Pub Date: 11/28/96

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