Two years have gone by since Tito's political heirs gathered by his graveside on a brilliant May afternoon and pledged "never to swerve from your path." Yugoslavia has changed a lot since then, but the essential elements of Titoism have survived the death of the man who founded the Communist Yugoslav state and ruled it for four decades.
The press has become more lively. What Communist officials describe as an "attempted counterrevolution" among the Albanian minority has been suppressed. Ordinary people have gotten poorer. Political power is flowing away from Belgrade to the country's republics.
The changes that have taken place in Yugoslavia since Tito's death have not been as dramatic as those in China after Mao or Spain after Franco. And they have been overshadowed by the upheavals in Poland. But they are important nonetheless, particularly in view of Yugoslavia's position as the first Communist-ruled country to break away from the Soviet Bloc.
Foreign and Yugoslav observers agree that the political scene here is more alive now than at any time in the past 10 years. A Western diplomat remarked: "It's as if a lid on a pressure cooker had been lifted. Compared to other communist countries, or Yugoslavia as it was under Tito, this place is humming."
The crucial issue, of course, is whether all the controversy is healthy evidence of greater democracy or a danger signal of emerging political forces and passions that may one day run out of control.
Yugoslavia has made a smoother transition from rule by charisma to rule by institutions than most other countries suddenly deprived of their founding father. The new collective leadership has demonstrated its commitment to Tito's policies: strict nonalignment abroad and a freewheeling, decentralized brand of socialism at home.
The Tito myth gradually is being scaled down to more human proportions. His name is mentioned less frequently, and his palatial residences around the country, including the island of Brioni in the Adriatic, are being opened to the public. But the political vacuum left by his death has not been filled entirely.
A history professor at Belgrade University said: "If all these arguments that are now bubbling to the surface really could be settled within the system, that would be fine. What I and many of my friends fear is that they could mean that nobody is really in charge any more.
"In the old days, Tito would have summoned the squabbling politicians to his hunting lodge at Karadjordjevo. Perhaps he would have demanded a resignation or two and that would be that. Now decisions just get postponed."
The professor may have exaggerated the extent to which Tito intervened in day-to-day political disputes while he was alive--and underestimated the fact that many of Yugoslavia's present economic problems stem from mistakes made during Tito's rule. But his opinion is one many Yugoslavs share.
Perhaps the best indication of what is happening here is to be found in the press. Magazines and newspapers have become more varied and interesting. This reflects in part the strivings of journalists for greater freedom, but it also partly shows a power play between different political factions.
In the absence of centralized censorship, control over the press rests with the political groups that run each of Yugoslavia's six republics and two autonomous regions. In a country made up of many nationalities at widely differing stages of development, their interests are frequently at odds. Each republic uses its own mass media to push its case.
A Belgrade journalist commented: "A couple of years ago, it was enough to read just one or two newspapers and magazines. Now, if you want to know what's really going on, you have to follow the press not only here in Serbia but also in Bosnia, Slovenia and the other republics."
Many journalists trace the relaxation of press controls back to last year's riots in the ethnic Albanian-inhabited autonomous region of Kosovo. The scale of the disturbances came as a major shock to Yugoslav leaders and the public, particularly since there had been virtually no previous public discussion of the growing nationalist unrest in Kosovo or the forced migration of Serbs from the province.
This news blackout, imposed at the request of the former Kosovo leadership, is widely acknowledged to have been a mistake. By fostering the illusion that all was well, it prevented the formulation of realistic remedies.
Newspaper editors have used the Kosovo affair to insist on more open debate and to tackle other taboo subjects. They have received tacit encouragement, particularly in Serbia, from politicians with personal and political interests in the airing of controversial issues.
The resulting free-for-all has led to incidents unimaginable a few years ago. Official television news teams from Serbia have been arrested and harassed by police in Kosovo for attempting to report on Albanian demonstrations. When Sime Kronja, the head of the information department in the Communist Party Central Committee, attempted to downplay the significance of Serbs migrating from Kosovo, he became a target of ridicule in the Belgrade press. Several newspapers even demanded his resignation.
Perhaps the juiciest controversy, however, has been waged between Vladimir Dedijer, Tito's chosen biographer, and Vladimir Bakaric, the late president's closest living political associate and now grand old man of Yugoslav politics. The dispute goes back to an obscure episode in World War II when both occupied high positions in Tito's partisan army that ultimately freed Yugoslavia from German occupation.
A series of heated charges and countercharges between the two has resulted in Dedijer threatening to sue Bakaric for libel. Dedijer contends that Bakaric, a Croatian leader, is behind a campaign to denigrate his new book about Tito.
Dedijer has hinted, none too subtly, that he has some dirt on the role Bakaric played during the early stages of the war. Bakaric in turn has defended his war record and accused Dedijer of "dirty tricks."
The devolution of power since Tito's death has been accelerated by growing economic strains. Faced with a competition for funds, each republic has reacted by building trade barriers and shutting out products from other parts of Yugoslavia.
A Belgrade housewife complained that it is no longer possible to buy milk from Slovenia in the Yugoslav capital. Mineral water from Serbia is not for sale on trains originating in Croatia. There are many more examples.
Each republic boasts its own railway system, its own oil refineries, and, in some cases, its own airline. Even the Communist Party, while ostensibly monolithic, is divided into eight different parties, one for each republic and autonomous region.
A Central Committee meeting last month developed into a series of squabbles among the representatives of different republics. A politician from Slovenia, Joze Smole, said a proposed new law centralizing the allocation of foreign exchange would undermine "workers' self-management"--the sacred grail of Yugoslav communism. He in turn was attacked by officials from Bosnia and Croatia who would like to pry some of Slovenia's hard-currency earnings away from it.
A Yugoslav journalist said, "It would be much healthier if the arguments that are raging here were along straightforward political lines, as you understand them in the West. Unfortunately, the rows we have always develop along economic or republican lines, and that can be dangerous."
The federal government has attempted to impose order in the economy by curtailing investments, cutting imports and severely limiting the amount of goods Yugoslav tourists can bring in from abroad. It has succeeded in lowering inflation from above 40 percent to below 30 percent. Real incomes were cut by 4.7 percent last year and 7 percent the year before.
The stabilization efforts, however, have been complicated by a huge foreign debt--$18.5 billion, according to official figures--and the Polish crisis. Despite its nonaligned status, Yugoslavia has been affected seriously by bankers' attempts to cut their exposure in Eastern Europe. Unable to get new credits for imports, some factories are being forced to cut production.
The specter of a vicious economic cycle--lower imports, lower production, lower exports--has spawned a bitter joke. What's the difference between Yugoslavia and Poland? Answer: one year.
The comparison, however, is not quite fair. For all its shortcomings, the system of collective leadership that Tito bequeathed to his successors has remained intact. When set against its more rigid Eastern European neigbors, Yugoslavia is an open, dynamic country that confronts its problems in a pragmatic way.
As a senior Yugoslav official remarked: "We don't hide our political contradictions. We argue the point in the open and then reach a decision by consensus. Of course, it was much easier when Tito was alive, but I think that even without him this country has shown that it still has the will and resilience to hang together."