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SLOVENIA NEEDS HELP TO WIN DEMOCRACY

In 1918, Yugoslavia emerged from the ashes of the Hapsburg and the Ottoman Empires.

After 1945 it continued to exist as a result of the victorious Communist Party, which, claiming to have killed the German Fascist dragon, usurped absolute power within its territory, only to become a monster itself.The Slovenian legislature's declaration this week of an independent and sovereign state is, from the perspective of global history, not necessarily dramatic and certainly precedented elsewhere in the world.

It is, however, a cause for celebration for the Slovenian people because it marks the end of a long and remarkable journey toward statehood.

Slovenes have inhabited their lands for more than 1,400 years. Most of the time - from 1278 until 1918 - they lived under Hapsburg rule.

For this tiny nation, gaining political power under these conditions has been all but impossible.

When, after the fall of the Austrian Empire, the Slovenes entered into a royal union with Croatia and Serbia, it became quickly apparent that they had traded subjugation for exploitation.

King Alexander of Serbia fought for his interests and those of his people, spending little time and energy contemplating how to improve the Slovenes' destiny.

The Communist Party accentuated this difference by letting Yugoslavia's prosperous northern republics, Slovenia and Croatia, disproportionately support Serbia and the other poor southern republics.

But it also tried to minimize the split by trying to homogenize the language, culture and identities of very distinct and different nationalities.

Thus, for the Slovenes, life in Yugoslavia has been a frustrating experience. After democratic elections in all republics in 1990 it became intolerable: Slovenia, possessed of a piece of freedom, found itself frustrated by the communist national government as it sought more.

With the founding of Slovenia and Croatia as independent states this week, Yugoslavia ceased to exist as a full federal entity of six republics and two autonomous provinces. Now further thought has to be given to the aftermath of that decision.

How can Slovenia's communist bureaucracy be dissolved? How can Slovenia survive economically and how can Slovenia and Croatia remain economically unified with the rest of Yugoslavia?

How can the entire region be kept politically stable? How can peace be preserved in a volatile transitional period?

How can democracy be expanded into areas where it has never been known?

Slovenia needs U.S. support. But Secretary of State James Baker said in Belgrade on Friday that the United States would not recognize the new republics because it feared the instability the breakup of Yugoslavia would precipitate.

Surely President Bush's "new world order" envisions democracy for all of Yugoslavia even as it supports democracy in formerly communist East Europe.

(Peter Millonig registered in March as a foreign agent representing the republic of Slovenia.)