It's Time For The West, Too, To Renounce Tito
by Stephen Schwartz
The dramatic victory of the Social Democrat and Social Liberal opposition in Monday's Croatian elections will have effects throughout the former Yugoslav countries. But whether its impact is generally positive or negative depends on a number of factors.
The best of all possibilities is an economic and political revolution that sets an example for other states in the region. Croatia is one of a number of post-communist countries, not exclusively Balkan, that have had considerable trouble adapting to a modern capitalist order. The 1991-95 war with Serb-dominated Yugoslavia, which is usually blamed for Croatia's problems in this area, is no longer a convincing explanation. Four-and-a-half years have gone by since the signing of the Dayton Agreement. Croatia has rebuilt, and its capital, Zagreb, sparkles. Yet the pace of economic reform, and especially privatization, has remained slow.
This despite Croatia's enormous social resources -- a high level of education, a real work ethic, and a tradition of commerce. If a new Croatian administration can embark on an effective program of privatization, tax cuts, job creation through entrepreneurship, and expansion of foreign trade, it will serve as a beacon for those countries that have lagged behind in the economic transition.
It can also provide a beneficial example for other problem states, most notably the rump Yugoslavia. An orderly transfer of power from a party that many in the former Yugoslavia associate with personalist presidentialism to authentic parliamentary democracy represents an enormous challenge to citizens of Serbia. Serbs must either get it together and follow the trend or fall even further into the darkness of political gangsterism, cultural decline, and economic deprivation.
But such a happy aftermath to Tudjmanism is by no means guaranteed, and the "big tent" tradition of Titoism is part of the problem. The coalition that has swept the Croatian vote brings together two very different forces: the Social Democrats under Ivica Racan -- that is, the former Communist bureaucrats who ruled Croatia before 1990 -- and the Social Liberals of Drazen Budisa.
Mr. Racan is likely to be prime minister, while Mr. Budisa aims at the presidency in elections due Jan. 24. Under the presidential system crafted by Franjo Tudjman, it is the president who will exercise real power -- at least until the new majority in parliament can muster the strength to amend the constitution.
Mr. Budisa, if he gains the presidency, is highly unlikely to use and abuse it in the manner of Tudjman. But Croatia would need a strong president in Mr. Budisa if he wins. The Social Liberal leader is genuinely dedicated to ridding his country of the legacy of communism. He is fully committed to free market solutions. The same cannot be said of Mr. Racan.
Mr. Racan's party is Social Democratic in name only, unlike the parties employing that label in Germany and Scandinavia, which have a long history of anti-communism. Nobody imagines Mr. Racan seizing dictatorial power in a revolutionary coup. But the problem with many Communists removed from power in the past decade is not in a temptation toward a new totalitarianism, but in the survival of certain atavistic habits. They include a belief in a state economy, social demagogy, a preference for political polarization rather than consensus, and a willingness, if not to monopolize media and the state, to at least steer them to narrow party goals. Mr. Racan has shown his unchanging colors in the occasional employment of ultra-radical rhetoric. He has also courted the unions that were traditional supporters of the Communist bureaucracy in the old Yugoslavia.
Perhaps the most alarming signal from Mr. Racan and his supporters is the argument advanced by some of them that privatizations accomplished under Tudjman's HDZ party should be reversed on grounds that they favored Tudjman followers. Any return to state ownership, no matter the excuses offered for it, will be a disaster for Croatia and for the Balkans as a whole.
The Tito heritage of a multi-culturalism, which plays well among Europeans and Americans addicted to forms of political correctness, remains a major obstacle to prosperity and peace in the entire ex-Yugoslav region. For many in the Balkans, the so-called Stability Pact crafted by the minions of U.S. President Bill Clinton and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder represents little more than an attempt to revive something like Titoite Yugoslavia.
But if Croatia may finally be on the right track, other Balkan countries are far from ready to be reliable partners in any kind of federation. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia's most vulnerable neighbor, centrist politics as represented by Mr. Budisa have yet to penetrate. In the Bosnian elections scheduled for April, voters in Sarajevo will face a risky choice between nationalists who, although moderate, have been tarred as corrupt, and former Communists whose evolution is even less advanced than that of their counterparts in Croatia.
It would be far better, for their citizens, their neighbors and the world at large, to ensure that the ex-Yugoslav successor states are allowed to develop on their own, not as part of some federation imposed from the outside. That development, moreover, should be accomplished through new, economically sound programs based on investment, rather than simple nostalgia for past Yugoslav wealth and civility. The old Yugoslavia, either as a multi-ethnic communion or as an experiment in so-called market socialism, should be left to the 20th century. Let us hope that Croatia's new rulers, as well as their monitors in Brussels and Washington, grasp this.