LOOK AT WHAT there is of a bright side in Yugoslavia, where disintegration appears even likelier after the overwhelming pro-independence vote in Slovenia. Each of the struggling federation's republics now has, through a multiparty election, a government that speaks for its people: no small feat in a previously one-party Communist state. Compared to all other East European states, this one has progressed in economic reform and in economic ties with the West: this gives Yugoslavs a real incentive not to kill the golden goose by splitting up. An optimist would say the stage is well set for talks among the republics on replacing the present system of unified rule from Belgrade by a looser confederal structure. On this the future of Yugoslavia depends.
Can the Yugoslavs do it? Westerners come more easily to sympathy for the country's more Westernized parts, Slovenia and Croatia. But wiser heads even in these republics recognize the tremendous risks in trying to go it alone. Their economies, advanced by Yugoslav standards, are retarded by the West's. Protection of fellow ethnics residing in other Yugoslav republics would be a miserable problem. But Slovenia and Croatia can hardly be expected to abide by Serbia's bullying ways. The Serb leadership is pursuing a reckless course of challenge to the republics to its west, repression of the majority-Albanian region of Kosovo and disdain for the imperatives of economic reform. Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic has yet to take advantage of a historic opportunity to serve Yugoslavia as a whole.
Yugoslavs who relish the idea of redrawing internal frontiers should recall that six of the country's seven neighbors harbor dormant territorial claims against it. Some of these claims, including Greece's and Bulgaria's on Macedonia and Albania's on Kosovo, could get serious.
The West sits by, reluctant to offer hand or word. This is not enough. Yugoslavia has starchily dismissed the suggestion of consultation on crisis prevention with the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The CSCE should quietly be urging Belgrade to think again. At every turn Europeans should be making Yugoslavia aware that they are prepared to welcome the country into continental institutions but that they can offer no comfort at all to prospective shards. The burden is on Yugoslavs to save their country.