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