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As Yugoslavia entered the 1990s, four major political problems remained unsolved: (1) achieving meaningful, nationwide economic reform to save the country from the economic decay that had occurred in the 1980s; (2) finding and institutionalizing procedures for compromise among regions with increasingly diverse political and economic interests; (3) forging useful political relations with Western nations willing to provide economic aid, and making foreign policy adjustments to harmonize with new political conditions in Europe; and (4) negating the divisive influence of the rotation system to ensure selection of national leaders competent to focus attention on solving all-Yugoslav issues. Ultimately, resolution of all those problems depended on restructuring the national political system to allow for multiple parties and accurate representation of current economic interest groups; such representation required a breakdown of the traditional regional fiefdoms of party and enterprise groupings.
Because "self-managed socialism" was the foundation of both economic and political institutions in Yugoslavia, economic and political issues were inseparable in the post-Tito period. For that reason, formation of economic policy was the main driving force of political decision making in the late 1980s and early 1990s. An important aspect of the economic reform issue was the desperate need for an all-Yugoslav program for equitable division of the natural resources distributed so unevenly among the six republics. Without unanimous backing for such a program by all six republics, only the richer republics could function in the market economy specified in reform programs; on the other hand, without sufficient motivation to continue their financial contributions to the federation, Slovenia and Croatia would declare economic independence and demolish the national economy.
Because most members of the intelligentsia belonged to the party, criticism and reform proposals from that important quarter were frequently cautious in the 1980s. Although new political energy and diversity in several republics promised the eventual reversal of this tendency and the uprooting of old-line centers of political power, such change had not yet altered the paths of political power in 1990. Historically, the shape of Yugoslav regional political interests has only changed in times of common threat (such as invasion or economic disaster), or if a strong leader were skillful and determined enough to focus the attention of all factions on survival of the federation. In 1990 all regions continued to declare their commitment to Tito's federal goal as a matter of common survival. The less wealthy republics -- Montenegro, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina -- adhered most strongly to this line because they obviously could not survive outside the federal structure. Meanwhile, the most powerful republics -- Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia -- took advantage of the vacuum in the national leadership to alternate between defending the federation and asserting local sovereignty, depending on political conditions.
But while politicians were swearing allegiance to the Yugoslav nation, the updating and restating of historical conflicts continued into the 1990s, always threatening to overcome constructive political approaches. Longstanding animosities remained between Serbia and Croatia.
In 1990 the Serbian-Slovenian split in the LCY severely limited the unifying role of that organization and its policy input to the government. Because the party had played the role of national synthesizer of interests, the LCY split also was the final blow for Tito's concept of mandatory consensus among factions in national decision making. Only the Yugoslav government institutions themselves remained in an all-Yugoslav power role, but those institutions had never been tested on their own merits as the final arbitrators of conflicting interests on behalf of the federation as a whole.
Besides the task of wholly remaking the Yugoslav economic structure, the government faced an escalating crisis in Kosovo. In 1990 Kosovo was the most critical of many domestic problems unresolved since the 1980s because of the struggle between the Serbian and the Slovenian factions of the party.
As the 1990s began, the political culture of Yugoslavia was in an unprecedented state of flux. To reach his goal of separating his government completely from communist domination, Prime Minister Markovic pushed new laws that would allow national, multiparty elections in 1990. Substantial opposition met his proposals in the Federal Assembly and the Presidency, however -- especially because at the time of the proposed changes only Slovenia and Croatia had committed themselves to a multiparty system at the republic level.
Each side in the Serbian-Slovenian conflict had goals that, if reached, would threaten and enhance the health of that culture. On one side, a reasonable case was made for a strong, Serbian-dominated state, with a reinvigorated League of Communists, as the most efficient way to achieve any truly national program; but that scenario promised little progress toward political reform or pluralism, and it threatened the independence of other republics. Diametrically opposed was the position of Croatia and Slovenia, which included political movements promising a highly diversified political culture, with free input from all parts of society. But the efficacy of such a culture in achieving short-range, drastic national reform was very doubtful. Meanwhile, the new East European spirit of democracy infected all the republics of Yugoslavia through intellectual and media channels long available for such communication. Republican communist parties, many with young, energetic leadership, liberalized their approach to dissent from within, and dozens of noncommunist political groups challenged every orthodox belief of the old order. Many feared that these events would mean total fragmentation of the political structure, and a return to the instability that preceded World War II. But the long, slow process of liberalization that Tito began in 1948 was clearly accelerating as the 1990s began.
A number of useful monographs on the Yugoslav political system appeared in the 1980s. The Politics of Ethnicity in Eastern Europe, edited by George Klein and Milan J. Reban, contains a chapter summarizing the ethnic dynamics behind contemporary political institutions. Yugoslavia: Politics, Economics and Society, by Bruce J. McFarlane, is a multidimensional account that provides historical background as well as contemporary analysis, stressing the linkage of economic and political issues. Harold Lydall's Yugoslavia in Crisis also emphasizes economics as a vital component of the contemporary political crisis, with an in-depth description of economic and political institutions. The Yugoslavs, by Dusko Doder, is an informal cultural description providing much insight to the behavior of Yugoslav groups and institutions. Yugoslavia in the 1980s, edited by Pedro Ramet, is a collection of essays on political institutions, domestic issues, foreign policy, and Yugoslav political philosophy. Finally, the essay collection entitled Yugoslavia: A Fractured Federalism, edited by Dennison Rusinow, covers official and unofficial political power centers and their roles in the decision making process at all levels of government. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)
Data as of December 1990
Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.
Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Yugoslavia was first published in 1990. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.
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