Toward the end of his life, Marshal Tito liked to boast: "I can go at any time -- and nothing will change in Yugoslavia after I am gone."
A year has passed since the World War II guerrilla leader underwent two operations and started a slow decline toward death. It was not until May 4 that he finally died, a few days before his 88th birthday, but power was effectively transferred to a collective leadership when he was admitted to the hospital last January.
In the past 12 months, modern Yugoslavia has finally emerged from under the protective shadow of its founding father. Without Tito's guiding influence, the new leaders have had to grapple with economic crisis and national rivalries and the preliminary results have been encouraging.
Reviewing the events of 1980, a prominent Yugoslav commentator, Najdan Pasic, wrote: "With Tito and after Tito, Yugoslavia has been characterized by enviable political stability. There are no bombs in the streets, no struggle for power among the political leaders. Fears and ominous speculation that Tito's death would signify the beginning of a struggle for Tito's inheritance haven't been confirmed."
As in other communist countries, the political process in Yugoslavia is largely hidden from public view. It is difficult, therefore, to check Pasic's assertion that the new collective leadership is functioning totally smoothly. But certainly, on the surface, all seems calm.
Whatever their other differences, Tito's successors seem determined to preserve his three great achievements: Yugoslavia's nonaligned status, unity between the different Yugoslav nationalities, and the unique political system based on the idea of workers' self-management. Here Tito has been proved right. Nothing has changed since his death.
But there have been changes in other areas that are evidence of the direction Yugoslavia is going.
Over the last year, more power has been delegated to the six republics and two autonomous regions that make up the Yugoslav federation. These regional groupings rotate the federal and party presidencies.
After years of enjoying the global limelight, Yugoslavia is slowly coming to terms with the harsh fact that it is a small country -- 22 million people -- of limited importance. Recognizing the inevitable, Yugoslav officials have recently attempted to scale down the protocol to normal proportions.
In contrast to the retinue of up to a hundred people, including valets and chefs, that used to accompany Tito on his trips around the world, Yugoslav delegations abroad are now restricted to the most essential functionaries. Expenditure on foreign guests has also been cut. Heads of state will no longer be granted full military honors on arrival, will see no more than 10 of their national flags on display, and will be given presents worth no more than $100.
According to the new regulations, "organized welcomes for foreign visitors" -- a euphemism for what foreign journalists usually describe as "a rent-a-crowd" -- are also banned.
Coinciding with attacks on wasteful foreign representation has been a campaign against corruption at home. Several important local officials, including the mayor of the town of Kragujevac, have been relieved from their posts following allegations that they used their positions to amass private wealth.
The allegations were triggered by revelations of fraud and embezzlement at a Belgrade engineering firm. The firm is said to have built houses and weekend cottages for officials in return for political favors.
At the height of the scandal, the popular mayor of Belgrade was forced to go on television to explain his own dealings with the firm, reveal details of his income and formally deny that he had been the recipient of "women, music, or bacchanalia."
So far no senior Yugoslav leader has been implicated. Even so, public discussion of such scandals marks a refreshing change for Yugoslavia where, until recently, officials were almost immune from individual criticism.
As a Yugoslav diplomat said: "When Tito was alive, it was always difficult to attack officials for their lavish lifestyle or their sting of villas. They were after all only little Titos. Now, however, high living has become a legitimate target."
Ordinary Yugoslavs are also getting a taste of austerity. Last year the real living standards of most families fell and there were shortages of essential consumer items such as coffee, tea, butter, soap powder, and medicines. Inflation is officially estimated at 30 percent, unofficially at 40 percent.
The reasons for these economic difficulties lie primarily in past mistakes and have nothing to do with Tito's death. Even so, because of the coincidence in timing, many Yugoslavs draw the conclusion that -- without Tito -- the good life is threatened.
In fact, there is no evidence that Tito's absence has made tackling economic problems any more difficult. In some areas, notably the devaluation of the dinar by 30 percent last year, the new collective leadership has shown itself more decisive than Tito.
Tito the ruler has been transformed into Tito the symbol of Yugoslav unity. His tomb overlooking Belgrade has become a place of pilgrimage for people from all over the country.
Last year a rush of publications and trinkets appeared cashing in on Tito's name. There were books or articles with titles like "Tito and the Beekeepers" or "I Was Tito's Violinist;" Tito T-shirts and badges bearing his signature also sold well. Recently, however, a drive has been launched against the commercialization of Tito's heritage. One result is that his name now crops up much less either in print or in conversation.