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How Yugoslav villagers would defend their country

This wooded, hilly region rising to 1,500 feet was an almost inviolate partisan "island" and always a hazardous "no go" area for the Germans during World War II.

Thirty-five later you can still see some of the old hide-outs.

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The area provided perfect cover for the "Tito trail" over which food supplies from the Yugoslav "granary" of Voivodina (of which it is part) were ferried across the Danube and carried through one German position after another to beleaguered partisan forces down in Bosnia.

Old partisans, "fighters from '41," recalled those difficult days and the gain "train's stealthy passage by night as we sat in the tiny office of a village commune talking about the "all peoples' defense" instituted by President Tito after the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Over the years since, every able-bodied Yugoslav man and woman -- and almost evwide plan of resistance in case the Russians should one day elect to try a repeat performance here.

If, a decade later, the danger seemed to have receded and the need to prepare to be less urgent, the invasion of Afghanistan provided a harsh new spur making Yugoslavia again a nation very much "at the ready" for any contingency.

Zojan Kosic, manager of the big, automated oil refinery at Novi Sad, the voivodina capital, says: "We are preparing for something we like to think will never come, but that may nonetheless happen any time."

He was echoing something President Tito said in one of his last speeches before his hospitalization. "W must work as if there never will be another war, but that one could break out tomorrow," he said.

The autonomous region of Voivodina inevitably would be a front line again -- bound to be overrun in the first wave of attack -- as it was in 1941.

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People of all its 24 nationalities -- from majority Serbs and Hungarians, to Ruthenians and Russians, and to pockets of Poles and Greeks -- fought with the partisans then.

"all peoples' defense" starts with the major cities and urban units and spreads out all over the countryside, taking in every industrial enterprise and village commune. It embraces local government, schools, and all other social institutions.

All told, it is estimated it would mobilize up to 8 million people -- one in four of them combatants with gun in hand -- in support of the regular armed forces against any aggressor.

Its combat units will not be like the first partisan detachments that answered Tito's call in the summer of 1941 -- armed first with weapons from World War I and hunting rifles. and later, with weapons captured from the enemy. Many partisans could arm themselves only when a comrade fell.

People allotted to territorial defense are being trained and equipped with modern weapons from Yugoslavia's own fast-growing and increasingly sophistacated arms industries. Major units have anti-aircraft batteries and rockets.

civilian services are being trained in the latest field medical and hospital techniques and in using the latest equipment for firefighting and decontaminating areas affected by gas of nuclear weapons.

Another advantage over the past is that the men -- mainly from the generation born after World War II -- have all been through military service.

The novi Sad refinery, for example, counts 800 employees with an average age of 26 years (incidentally, 120 have univeristy degrees and another 400 have secondary education), mostly men who all have while production continued.

Cities, countryside, and industrial establishments have a common training proram. Everyone puts in 90 hours of "classroom" instruction and practical exercises annually.

Novi Sad, with a population 300,000, has no fewer than 11,000 partisan veterans. Almost all are re-enlisted into "Opsta, Narodna Obrana" (ONO, or the all peoples' defense). Many are form the 38,000 families moved as "colonizers" to viovodina after the war had devastated large areas of central Yugoslavia and the south.

Everyone over 16 years of age is enrolled in ONO. Younger children are involved through their pioneer, scout, and other youth organizations.

"The last war showed that everyone can contribute something to resistance," said Novi Sad's ONO chief, Bosko Maletin "The smallest of little children became daring, heroic messengers. And -- if need be -- it will be the same again."


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