Yugoslav Republics Set to Secede but Slovenia and Croatia Remain Willing to Consider Loose Association of Sovereign States

Article excerpt

AFTER months of fruitless negotiations, the Yugoslav republics of Slovenia and Croatia appeared set to declare independence on June 26.

The neighboring republics seemed determined to take the steps, despite threats from the federal government of possible military intervention and warnings from the United States and Europe that the two republics will not be given diplomatic recognition if they act unilaterally.

Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and his Slovene counterpart, Milan Kucan, say Yugoslavia's most prosperous republics will recognize each other's independence and coordinate economic and defense policies.

Both republics, however, have kept important options open. Mr. Tudjman and Mr. Kucan, for example, say the newly independent republics will be willing to continue talks on making the Yugoslav federation a loose association of sovereign states.

Serbia, the largest republic, wants the country to remain a federation, with most power centralized in Belgrade, the Yugoslav and Serbian capital.

Secession will increase the urgency and acrimony in any future talks.

Yugoslav Prime Minister Ante Markovic, a Croat, has warned that secession could lead to national economic ruin and social upheaval "which will set us back years."

The turmoil has already set back ambitious Western-style economic reforms in Yugoslavia. Slovene and Croat economists also warn of a bumpy transition they say is certain to follow independence.

After meeting with Yugoslav leaders last week, US Secretary of State James Baker III said officials in Washington and Europe are concerned that "history will repeat itself" in the explosive region. Ethnic strife in the Balkans led to World War I.

With six republics, four official languages, at least 24 ethnic groups, and the Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox religions, Yugoslavia has been fragile and volatile since its creation in 1918.

Slovenia borders Italy, Austria, and Hungary, so its independence would alter Yugoslavia's external borders. But a break would be easier, because the republic has no significant minority populations.

Croatia also borders Hungary, but its independence would pose greater internal problems: The 600,000 ethnic Serbs on its territory have vowed to resist rule by a government they associate with the murderous Croatian Nazi puppet state of World War II. Serbia has pledged not to abandon ethnic Serbs in Croatia, which is ruled by a center-right government.

For decades, ethnic rivalries were held in check by the Communist federation forged by the late President Josip Broz Tito. Western support for Tito's defiance of Moscow also played a role. …


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