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  • Can Yugoslavia Survive?
  • Mihajlo Mihajlov (bio)

The year 1990 will be remembered for ushering in the downfall of communist Yugoslavia. In January of that year, the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (LCY)—as the party calls itself—held an Extraordinary Congress and then immediately fell apart. From April to December, multiparty elections were held under the various electoral laws of all six of Yugoslavia's constituent republics.1 Power had begun to change hands.

To call these elections truly democratic would be an overstatement. While opposition parties were allowed to function for a couple of months before the polling, all the major television and radio stations, as well as the biggest newspapers, remained in the hands of the Communists (now mostly operating under new party names). Yet dozens of parties did participate, forming coalitions and campaigning publicly for votes.

The Communists, not surprisingly, were the big losers. They suffered their first defeat on April 8 in Slovenia, the most Westernized republic, where a coalition of five democratic parties called DEMOS won 55 percent of the vote and a like proportion of seats in the Slovene Assembly. Yet at the same time, Communist Party leader Milan Ku6an became president, winning 44 percent of the vote in the first round and beating Jože Pučnik of DEMOS in the April 22 runoff.

Next came the Croatian elections of April 22 and May 6, where a [End Page 79] first-past-the-post electoral system gave the nationalist center-right Croatian Democratic Union (CDU) 69 percent of the seats in parliament on the strength of a 41.5-percent plurality of the popular vote. The parliament then elected CDU leader Franjo Tudjman to the presidency of the republic. A Tito-era general and one-time Communist, Tudjman had more recently made a name for himself as a nationalist dissident.

In Macedonia beginning on November 11, several rounds of runoffs under a proportional-representation system produced no single-party majority. The party with the largest share of legislative seats was the nationalist VMRO, which portrayed itself as the heir of Macedonia's nineteenth-century revolutionary nationalist movement. The Communists held the second-largest share of seats, and parliament elected a former Communist named Kiro Gligorov as president,

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, parties representing each of the republic's three major groups—Serbs, Croats, and Muslims—led the voting, which began on November 18 and concluded with runoffs on December 2. Each party received a percentage of the vote roughly equal to its group's share of the republic's general population, which is 32 percent Serb, 18 percent Croat, and 40 percent Muslim. The leader of the Muslim party, Alia Izetbegović, a former political prisoner, became president.

Thus, until December, the pattern of events in Yugoslavia followed the prevailing trend in most of Eastern Europe, where communists lost power. This was the case in spite of the opposition's comparative lack of mass media access and the communists' organizational advantages, especially their continuing control over key institutions of the state and the economy.

Then came the elections in Serbia and its tiny neighbor, Montenegro. The balloting there was highly important for the continuation of the union, since Montenegro and Serbia (which includes the autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina) together contain nearly half of Yugoslavia's 24 million people. In pro-Serbian Montenegro, the Communists (they did not bother to change their name) gained control of two-thirds of the seats in the republic's parliament, and their leader Momir Bulatović became president with 47 percent of the vote in the first round.

Serbia's Communists (now officially known as the Serbian Socialist Party) won 48 percent of the vote and a full 78 percent of the seats in the December 9 election and the December 23 runoffs. Communist leader Slobodan Milošević was directly elected to the presidency with 65 percent of the vote.

While the charges of fraud that surrounded the Serbian elections were not enough to cast doubt on Milošević's victory, they did raise questions about the triumph of his party. The Socialists won only 87 out of 250 legislative seats in the first round, but Milošević's...


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