BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Parliament forced President Borisav Jovic to postpone a speech Wednesday on Yugoslavia's worst post-war constitutional crisis, but Communist-ruled Serbia circumvented the decision and had the speech read on state-controlled television.
The raw display of defiance by the largest Yugoslav republic came only minutes after the Federal Chamber of Parliament passed a Croatian motion to reschedule the speech to Friday and was certain to exacerbate already high political tensions.
Serbia opposed the delay, which was approved by a 125-46 vote, with deputies from Slovenia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Macedonia agreeing with Croatian colleagues that the speech should follow consideration of the nomination of former Croatian Prime Minister Stipe Mesic as a member of the eight-man Yugoslav presidency.
The nomination, which has lingered for almost two months, could not be considered Wednesday because of a procedural rule.
Apparently hoping to reverse its serious loss of face, the Serbian government had state-run Television One devote almost its entire evening news program to reading Jovic's 45-minute speech as his pictures were flashed on the screen.
In it, Jovic, Serbia's representative on the federal presidency, claimed that the collective head of state backed a Serbian-favored plan to maintain Yugoslavia as a multi-ethnic federation ofsix republics of 23 million people.
The federation concept, however, had been strenously opposed by Croatia and Slovenia, which fear domination by the 8.5 million-strong Serbian majority, and the two republics co-authored a plan for a confederation of independent states with separate foreign policies, currencies and militaries, but linked by a common market.
The presidency, composed of representatives of the republics and two provinces, Tuesday failed to reach a consensus on which plan would be recommended to Parliament by Jovic, the current holder of its annually rotating chairmanship.
'The Yugoslav federation should be safeguarded. It is impossible without serious conflicts to divide the Yugoslav people by borders,' Television One quoted Jovic's address as saying. 'National conflicts would lead to civil war.'
Jovic's recommendations are to be used as the basis for a new constitution that would embody Western-style political and economic reforms and replace a Marxist document enacted in 1974. It would be implemented after multi-party parliamentary elections due before the end of the year.
The Slovenian and Croatian governments, comprising nationalist parties that trounced Communists in April in Yugoslavia's first multi- party assembly elections since the end of World War II in 1945, have threatened to secede if the federation plan is adopted. Serbians vote in December in their first multi-party assembly elections since the war.
Serbia, the last remaining major bastion of Communist power in Yugoslavia, has refused to opt for confederation unless its borders are expanded to include Serbian-inhabited areas of other republics, a demand that could ignite civil strife.
The Communists' position is apparently designed to attract Serbian nationalist votes in the December elections.
Legislative and government leaders failed to resolve the dispute over Jovic's speech in daylong closed doors meetings, and the debate resumed when the Federal Chamber, one of Parliament's two houses, convened in the evening 40 minutes later than scheduled.
Serbian opposition to the Croatian demand follows deteriorating relations between the two republics fanned by politicians seeking to exploit long-standing frictions between Orthodox Serbs and Yugoslavia's 4.6 million Roman Catholic Croats.
The Serbian-Croatian tensions are the most serious of several ethnic disputes that many Yugoslavs fear could ignite civil war.