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Socialist Yugoslavia - 1991 - Final Days

Already seriously undermined by the constitutional power of the republics, the Yugoslav federal government apparatus was completely overshadowed in 1991. In December 1990, the Markovic cabinet had drafted an eleven-point emergency program of basic legislation to keep the federation running until the State Presidency could agree on political reform. Four months later, however, the Federal Assembly was still debating some of those laws. Markovic faced a delicate balance between using federal authority to hold the country together and heeding the demands of the economically vital Slovenes and Croats to loosen the federation. In early 1991, Markovic criticized those republics for arming separate paramilitary forces and passing resolutions of separation from Yugoslavia. By April 1991, a substantial movement in the Federal Assembly sought to unseat Markovic as prime minister. But the economic ties he had formed with the West were correctly seen by many politicians as the best way to save the Yugoslav economy, and Markovic remained because his ouster would likely end the prospect for such aid.

Unlike most countries of Eastern Europe, Yugoslavia had begun major economic reform before making any changes in government structure. A round of constitutional amendments in 1990 dealt only with economic matters, leaving political power relationships untouched. Although Markovic had planned to call elections for a Federal Assembly to begin work on a new constitution in 1990, he achieved no consensus on the timing or form of those elections. Among other changes, the new constitution presumably would have revamped Tito's unworkable system of rotating chief executives. In March 1991, special "professional working groups," including members from each republic, began drafting for the State Presidency proposals on political and economic issues for possible use as constitutional amendments. The first proposal outlined a new federal structure; the second proposed a new procedure for a republic to secede from the federation--two of the most volatile issues of the "transformation period."

The weakness of the national executive structure was revealed by the Belgrade demonstrations, when the eight-member State Presidency was essentially obliterated by walkouts and resignations orchestrated by Milosevic. After the full membership was reestablished, fruitless constitutional discussions and "summit meetings" further damaged confidence in the State Presidency. By July 1991, unauthorized YPA actions in Slovenia and Croatia had removed de facto command of the military from the State Presidency, and national executive authority had virtually disappeared.

The events of 1991 forced all the republics to adjust their positions and defend their own interests first, lessening the probability of reversing regionalization and reestablishing a credible federal government backed by a reframed constitution. The diametrically opposed political blueprints of the centralist republics (Serbia and Montenegro) and the autonomist republics (Slovenia and Croatia, later joined by Macedonia and Bosnia and Hercegovina) meant that any attempt to redistribute power was very likely to be deadlocked.

While Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia occupied center stage in 1991, the other three republics -- Montenegro, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Hercegovina -- divided their attention between local economic and social problems and the transformation crisis of the federation. After moving gradually toward supporting republic sovereignty, Macedonia and Bosnia and Hercegovina were forced by circumstances in the fall of 1991 to declare their own independence. Montenegro remained allied with Serbia in support of a strong central government. Unlike Slovenia and Croatia, those republics had little hope of surviving independently, and all contained precariously balanced ethnic mixtures (the Montenegrin population included a total of 20 percent Albanians and Muslim Slavs).

No agency of the federal government asserted influence over the struggle in Croatia at the end of 1991. The State Presidency, nominally in command of the YPA, lost its last vestige of ethnic balance when Croat Stipe Mesic resigned his position as president of the State Presidency in December, leaving the national executive in the hands of pro-Serbian delegates. In November one chamber of the Federal Assembly voted no confidence in Prime Minister Markovic, and the second chamber threatened to force his resignation by following suit. Markovic resigned in December to protest the proposed 1992 "war budget," over 80 percent of which was designated for the military.

Thus, control of events moved even further from the center to the republics, which showed no inclination to cede autonomy for the sake of reestablishing a credible central government. Instead, distrust and mutual hostility grew as each jurisdiction protected its own interests in the new power vacuum. Slovenia and Croatia entered 1992 anticipating recognition of their independence by the EC. To avoid being absorbed in the new Serbian federation, Macedonia and Bosnia and Hercegovina reaffirmed their 1991 declarations of sovereignty by requesting recognition by the EC. At the beginning of 1992, most of Yugoslavia's major political and economic questions remained unanswered.

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Page last modified: 21-09-2013 15:09:06 ZULU