Vesna is a Yugoslav lawyer in her early twenties. In January, when President Tito first fell ill, she discovered just how much her outlook on life differs from that of her parents.

In common with the rest of her family, Vesna felt emotionally involved when it became clear that the aged Yugoslav leader was fighting for his life. After all, she has known no other ruler but Tito. But she initially found it difficult to understand her parents' expressions of fear and concern for the future.

"For my parents, Tito has meant first stability -- and now a comfortable, prosperous life," she explained. "His illness immediately made them think of the dreadful days of the last war, an experience they never want to repeat. Most of us younger people take security and prosperity for granted -- and naturally we expect it to continue, whether Tito is alive or not."

The contrasting reactions between young and old help explain the distance Yugoslavia has come since Tito took over a hodgepodge of backward and feuding Balkan nations after World War II. They also provide some clues to the attitudes of the next generation of Yugoslav rulers.

For the last 35 years, Yugoslavia has been run by members of what is known here as "The 41 Club." These are the Communist Party veterans who responded to Tito's call in July 1941 for a partisan uprising against the German and Italian occupation. They spent four years of enormous hardship in the mountains and then, when the war ended in 1945, they came down to the cities on the plains as the new rulers of Yugoslavia.

It was these same men who defied the late Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, in 1948.

Put simply, the Yugoslav revolution is the story of how a generation of heroic warriors transformed themselves into politicians, factory managers, government officials and senior Army officers.Similarly, the post-Tito era will be the story of how this generation's children -- with vastly different attitudes and upbringing -- take over the task of running the country.

One of the paradoxes of modern Yugoslavia is that the society Tito has done so much to create has turned out very different from the one that molded his own character and personality. In Tito's own youth, Yugoslavia was a largely rural-based society of peasants and shepherds. Now it is predominantly an urban-based consumer society.

This has been reflected in the attitudes of ordinary people. As a prominent Yugoslav historian remarked: "The old generation was made up of battle-proven warriors -- self-made, stubborn, and idealistic. The new generation is more educated, more pragmatic, and less concerned with communist ideology."

The same point was made rather differently by a disgruntled ex-partisan who recalled that during the war his unit used to sing: "All for one and one for all." He complained about a popular television advertisement jingle that goes, "One mayonnaise for all, all for one mayonnaise."

"Has a generation of heroes really be replaced by a generation of mayonnaise-eaters?" he asked.

The transfer of power from one generation to the next was delayed in part by the extreme youth of the partisans when they took control. At the end of the war, Tito was 53 -- and already called -- stari -- "the old man" -- by his followers who were mostly in their twenties or early thirties. Thirty-five years later, the partisan generation is only now reaching retirement age.

In the late 1960s, during the heyday of Yugoslavia's economic reform, attempts were made to replace ex-partisans in key posts with technocrats. But the process was reversed in the early 1970s when Tito ordered purges of alleged "nationalists" in Croatia and "liberals" in the republics of Serbia, Slovenia, and Macedonia. The influence of the young experts, which has been steadily growing, was sharply curtailed.

A former Serbian politician, among those purged in 1972, described the generation gap this way: "Until now, the most important political quality has been loyalty to the chief. In the future, it will be competence."

There have already been signs that a deepening economic crisis may force Tito's successors to push through major reforms. Inflation runs at around 30 percent, 800,000 or 15 percent of the labor force is unemployed, and last year Yugoslavia ran a foreign trade deficit of about $6 billion. The reformers are advocating economic discipline, an even greater reliance on market mechanisms, and a freer political atmosphere to permit serious discussion of the economic shortcomings.

Such reforms inevitably would be accompanied by a shift in the political balance of power away from the old generation of ex-partisans to the much-maligned technocrats waiting in the wings.

To reduce political conflict in Yugoslavia to the generation gap is, of course, an over-simplification. Personal animosities, national interests, and ideological outlook also play important roles. But it remains true that the generation that reached adulthood after World War II -- and this includes about 70 percent of all Yugoslavs -- differs enormously in outlook from its parents.

Public opinion polls have revealed an astounding degree of ignorance among young people about their country's stormy past. A few years ago, young Yugoslavs were asked the meaning of ibeopci, Serbo-Croat jargon for the Yugoslav Communists who supported Stalin rather than Tito in 1948. More than 88 percent of those polled gave the wrong answer, and some responded it was the name of an African tribe.

Since then, political education of youth has been stepped up. But, while proud of Yugoslavia's independence from the Soviet Bloc, many young Yugoslavs are indifferent to the incessant attempts at indoctrination in schools and colleges.

Another common characteristic of young people here is the degree to which they compare themselves with the West rather than with the Soviet bloc. w

When they travel abroad, it is overwhelmingly to Western countries. They listen to Western pop music and dress in Western fashions. Last week at least a dozen Western films were being shown in Belgrade -- and not a single one from Eastern Europe.

Politically, the Soviet Union is important for Yugoslavia; socially, it is all but irrevelant.

The materialsim of young Yugoslavs has both positive and negative aspects. By channeling energies elsewhere, it has helped dilute the destructive national hatreds from which Yugoslavia suffered during the last war.

A former Croatian nationalist leader active in the Croat "euphoria" of 1971 complained: "Nobody is interested in the nation any more -- just themselves."

The danger is that unsolved economic problems could lead to a resurgence of nationalism. A large majority of the 800,000 unemployed are young people waiting for their first job.