yugoslavs seem to have cast aside for the first time the belief that President Tito's death would produce a chain of cataclymic events that would ultimately lead to the collapse of this multinational state.
In what seemed like a dress rehearsal for succession, Yugoslavs confronted the long-dreaded moment of Tito's departure this month and discovered that they can manage without him.
With the 87-year-old Tito immobilized and fighting for his life, a new leadership team took control. Its members openly discussed subjects that had been taboo during the president's 36-year rule and took decisions without consulting Tito. All of them this week publicly talked about "pluralistic interests" in Yugoslav society and the need to adjust political institutions to them.
After a panicky emergency meeting of the entire governing elite two weeks ago, Tito's heirs quickly gained confidence and moved smoothly from the rule of a charismatic leader toward the rule of institutions.
There was relief and joy here that the president had survived two operations in seven days, including amputation of a gangrenous leg. But, just how the government will run the country with a debilitated Tito will depend on the extend of his recovery. Key political figures this week spoke about "consulting" with him in the future and the prevailing view is that the ond marshal will largely withdraw from state affairs.
The new team in charge here is composed of Tito's close aides. Yet, in contrast to the poorly educated and doctrinaire communists who helped Tito run Yugoslavia in the first decades of his rule, the new leader are lawyers with long governmental experience and extensive knowledge of the outside world.
Vladimir Bakaric, 68, is the only surviving member of Tito's wartime leadership and thus provides a sense of continuity. An urbane lawyer with a talent for conciliation, he is generally viewed as a moderate. He has spent his entire political life running his native Croatia, which is the second largest republic.
Milos Minic, 62, is also a lawyer and a somewhat ascetic figure with a strong sense of self-discipline. He has held a variety of government posts in Serbia (which is the largest republic) and served as Yugoslavia's foreign minister for six years until 1978. Yugoslav diplomats say he is the only man who came close to actually being foreign minister, given the fact that this was Tito's personal field.
Stane Dolanc, 55, is a lawyer who did postgraduate work that focused on comparative study of social and political systems in Sweden, France, the Soviet Union and West Germany. He spent 17 years in Yugoslav's military intelligence before he was picked by Tito to become executive secretary of the Communist Party. An effective executive, he has a solid base in his native Slovenia, which is the third largest federal republic.
All three men are members of the collective presidency of the party, which consists of 24 persons, and they all hold key positions in the party apparatus. Bakaric is also a member of the nine-man collective federal presidency. Both mechanisms of transition, party and state, seemed to have functioned very smoothly.
One thing that defines these men -- as well as a few other politicians in the ruling elite such as Alexander Grlickov, a Macedonian leader, and Veselin Dujuranovic of Montenegro -- is the fact that they are far better educated that the old guard. This gives them a pragmatic approach to problems.
The new leader's open discussions of sensitive subjects, such as the need to adjust the country's political institutions to reflect the pluralistic nature of Yugoslav society, reflect their practical views.
One of the group argued that contemporary Marxism does not envisage an egalitarian society and that "those who work harder and better should get richer." He also said he favored the creation of joint ventures by private and public capital.
The new leaders also voiced deep distrust of long-term Soviet intentions in the Balkans, privately suggesting that Moscow could resort to subversion to create dissention among various republics and install a more pliable regime in Belgrade.
In these concersations they noted that there was no fear of an imminent Soviet invasion, although public anxities here were heightened by the Soviets invasion of Afghanistan.
They are committed to Tito's policies of nonalignment. But Minic, who is chief foreign policy planner, said: "The Soviet Union is not a natural ally of the nonaligned movement nor is the United States its natural enemy."
Western diplomats believe that a harder anti-Soviet stance reflects a genuine Yugoslav conviction that they are going to face Soviet subversion in the coming months here. They said that this was used only partly as a means to mobilize the public at a difficult time.
Just how the new government will face six months from now is open to question. Tito's personal rule is now being transformed into rule by consensus under the supervision of Bakaric, Dolanc and Minic. It involves a relatively large number of people representing six republics and two autonomous regions whose interests will become more difficult to square in the future.
Until now, Tito has let local leaders deal with local situations, but he never instituted a clearly defined decisin-making process at the federal level. His rule has been almost absolute and he has acted as a broker between regional and corporate interests. If there was a deadlock to be resolved, Tito had the final word.
Yugoslav officials this week said that Tito's sytle of government is an anachronism and that it could not be applied anymore in a country with such diverse groups as Yugoslavia. They said privately that democratization of party life is long overdue and that the prospect of disintegration is remote.
If there are problems, they argued, the Yugoslav Army stands poised to keep the country together. In this context, the defense minister, Gen. Nikola Ljubicic is also a key part of the transition team. There is no tradition of army rule here and the military is clearly to be used as the last resort in a crisis.
So far, the government has responded to pressures for political liberalization and freer expression with tactical moves. This, perhaps, could be understood by the as yet undefined future tole of Tito.
While the old marshal is unlikely to actually seize controls that had been in his hands until recently, he could use his great prestige to block fundamental reforms.
His willingness to experiment and loosen up the reins has wrought changes here that improved the quality of life and that brought the political system to the edge of pluralism. But Tito has resisted additional changes, adhering to the current Marxist mold regardless of how much it has constrained natural development.