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Mending long-broken Balkan fences

Three months after President Tito's passing there are signs that old hostilities on two of Yugoslavia's borders are abating. Albania, inveterate anti-Titoist for 30 years, and Bulgaria, Russia's most unflagging ally, are making friendlier gestures.

And Belgrade is responding, not because of changes in established Titoist policy vis-a-vis its neighbors, but because the late President's successors want to demonstrate that his policy continues. Ironically, the absence of Tito's personal prestige is implicit in the process.

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Yugoslavia's relations with its other neighbors are good. It has open, free borders with NATO member Italy and with neutral Austria. And there are no major disputes with Hungary and Romania, two of its three Warsaw Pact neighbors.

Bur relations with Bulgaria -- traditionally the Soviet Union's Balkan surrogate -- have been strained since 1947. Bulgaria's refusal to admit existence of a "Macedonian nation" as such, fuels Yugoslav suspicion that Sofia still harbors old dreams of a "greater Bulgaria," and that the Kremlin has encouraged it in this as means of keeping pressure on Belgrade amid the ups and downs of Moscow's own relations with Tito's Yugoslavia.

Last month, howevern, Bulgarian leader Todor Zhivkov declared: "We have absolutely no claims -- territorial of whatever -- on our neighbors." It was his most categoric statement to this effect in many years.

As much as anything, the Bulgarian pledge looks like an effort at reassurance at a time when Moscow needs to take the measure of the post-Tito leadership. Apparently Moscow hopes in this way to remove anxieties it might play on old issues of nationalities to divide the new collective leadership.

Even earlier, however, Yugoslavia was showing signs of wanting to "clean up" old disputes like this one with Bulgaria, if only for the sake of harmony in the Balkans generally. But it still will need convincing.

The 30-year rift with Albania, on the other hand, turned largely on personal antipathies.

Tito and Albania's Enver Hoxha had been bitter inter-party rivals since World War II, when Mr. Hoxha rightly suspected the Yugoslavs of wanting to "run" his infant party. Feelings worsened by the de-Stalinization period of the mid-1950 s.

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When Albania itself split with Moscow in 1960, it turned to China. Then five years ago, it broke with Peking, and had to look to middle and Western Europe for economic support.

Yugoslavia quickly became Mr. Hoxha's No. 1 trade partner. Last fall, in his last public speech, President Tito urged full normalization of relations.

Although Mr. Hoxha could concede common cause in security against any Soviet threat in the Balkans, as an uncompromising Stalinist he could not afford to appear to be "climbing down" to the man who had wanted to unseat him in 1956.

Now, with that strong personal element removed, Mr. Hoxha can be more pragmatic. Last month, his trade minister was in Belgrade -- the first Albanian official to visit there since just after World War II.

He negotiated a long-term trade agreement worth $720 million up till 1985. Even more significant was minister Metod Rotar's trip to the restless Kosovo autonomous province, where half of Yugoslavia's 2 million Albanian minority lives.

When in October Tito had called Kosovo a "bridge builder" in relations, Mr. Hoxha still scoffed and claimed Yugoslav Albanians were downtrodden, even in their own region. The polemics have since abated. The Yugoslavs have promised Kosovo still more autonomy via a direct role in developing further Albanian ties.

Albania is renewing long-neglected border roads. More traffic is flowing. So are exports of Albanian electricity for Kosovo to feed to other energy-short Yugoslav republics. By 1983 the first-ever rail link between the two countries will be in operation.

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