'Yugoslav dream' faces up to reality of weak economy
It is not the end of the ''Yugoslav dream.''
But for some time to come, most Yugoslavs will have to forgo the trips abroad and driving at home that have long set them apart from their communist neighbors. They will also be buying fewer consumer goods.
The reason: A recent crop of austerity measures and a major devaluation of the currency (dinar) have shattered Yugoslav complacency about the country's economy.
''The time has come to tighten belts,'' a member of the government said recently in a warning that domestic consumption will be curbed at all levels.
''The government has no other choice,'' said Yugoslavia's hard-headed prime minister, Milka Planinc. ''We have reached the point where we have to act.''
Mrs. Planinc, formerly the leader of the Yugoslav Communist Party in Croatia, was appointed prime minister only a few months ago. She appears to be a practical administrator with a bold sense of responsibility that had seemed to be lacking in the federal leadership since the passing of President Tito 21/2 years ago.
For more than 30 years, the nation skated cheerfully along in its independence from the Soviet bloc. But as their economic problems pile up, Yugoslavs are losing some of that self-assurance. Among the problems: a chronic balance-of-payments deficit, foreign debts that are almost as formidable as Poland's, inflation near 30 percent, almost a million unemployed, and declines both in industrial production and in the ability of Yugoslav goods to compete in international markets.
Already building in the last Tito years, the situation has become serious enough for parliament to give Mrs. Planinc and the federal government unprecedented powers, overriding the regional autonomy traditionally granted the various republics that make up the Yugoslav federation.
She has done some tough economic pruning and introduced austerity measures that are also unprecedented. Prices have been frozen and bank credit reduced. There are hard-currency restrictions on private and official travel, and curbs on withdrawals from private savings accounts, which total some $8 billion in Yugoslav banks.
Other measures include:
* Reducing consumer imports and limiting commodities brought in by individuals returning from trips abroad.
* Limiting car owners to about nine gallons of gasoline a month. Some 21/2 million Yugoslavs own their own cars.
* Making drastic cuts in domestic and public heating and lighting. Radio and TV will go off the air earlier five days a week.
(For some years, Yugoslavia ''lived'' on short-term international credit for imports of crude oil, which has fueled its heating and power plants. These plants were built when oil was relatively cheap. A decade ago, oil imports cost about $700 million; by 1979 it was five times that. Despite sharp economies since, the cost has remained beyond the country's means.)
* Devaluing the dinar by 20 percent. In an effort to increase exports and stimulate the economy, the dinar was devalued for the second time in two years. It had been the communist world's one almost-convertible currency.
The devaluation should give tourism, which has been flagging recently, a boost. At present tourism brings in $1 billion annually.
Foreign debts stand near $20 billion, some 95 percent of which is owed to the West. Principal and interest will cost about $5 billion this year, probably more in 1983.
The debts, which are bigger than Romania's, are uncomfortably close to the Poles' $26-$27 billion figure. But comparisons end there because, while Poland and Romania have both been forced to seek rescheduling of their debts to avert bankruptcy, the Yugoslavs still have their foreign obligations within a manageable situation.
''Ever since World War II we have met our obligations on time and we shall do so in the future,'' Finance Minister Joze Florijancic asserted recently.
The crisis has brought the Yugoslavs face to face with economic reality, making academic a long-running debate over whether the country needed more self-management.
Some leading party figures have opposed the new austerity program. But, the predictable public grumbling apart, Mrs. Planinc seems to have the backing of an independent and therefore resilient society.