bosnia report
New Series No. 5 August - 1998
The Yugoslav Federation and itsRepublics and Provinces
by Vojislav Seselj (1985)

The form of federal arrangement evolved throughout the post-war building of the political system, but in 1974 a radical turn was made, in that classic elements of confederalism were introduced into the Yugoslav Federation, with a tendency to predominate; as a result it has been made dependent on the cooperation of increasingly independent socialist Republics and Autonomous Provinces, with special emphasis on idealistically understood principle of consensus.1[...]

This has led naturally and inevitably to restrictions in the functioning of the Federal state, evident in the desire of the individual administrations to participate on an equal basis in the execution of its crucial tasks; evident in the control exercised by the Republics and Autonomous Provinces over the work of the Federal organs via their representatives, who are responsible to the Republican and Provincial leaderships [Assemblies]; evident in the fact that the Federal organs act on the basis of decisions made by consensus, or through direct 'negotiations', between the Republics and Autonomous Provinces. [...]

At the same time the 1974 Constitution equalizes de facto the legal and political status of the Socialist Republics and Autonomous Provinces. Formally, the Provinces are part of the Republic of Serbia, but they are also constituent elements of the Federation in a way that makes the relationship between them and Serbia purely nominal. It would be logical that they, being part of the Republic, should realize their rights and duties at the Federal level through the Republic, which would then appear at the Federal level as an indivisible whole. As things are, however, they realize these rights and duties in a dual fashion - through the Republic, and independently as well - which is unprecedented in legal-political theory and practice.

In Article 2 of the Constitution, the Republics are named and then the Au- tonomous Provinces, which - in a mere repetition of the formulation in Article 1 - are described as 'part' of the Socialist Republic of Serbia. It is true that Article 3 states unambiguously that a Republic is a state and then, in Article 4, that an Autonomous Province is an 'autonomous socialist, self-managing, democratic social-political community, based on the rule and self-management of the working class and all working people, within which the working people and citizens, nations and nationalities realize their sovereign rights - while, when this is in the interest of the working people and citizens, nations and nationalities of the Republic as a whole, [they do so] also in the Republic,ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ as determined by the constitution of the Socialist Republic of Serbia.'

It follows from this provision that the primary realization of sovereign rights, i.e. of the sovereignty of the working people and citizens, takes place within the Autonomous Province - and in the Republic only to the extent that this does not contradict the former. The Constitution nowhere specifies that Autonomous Provinces are states, but neither does it deny this, except that it says that they are part of the Republic of Serbia, which, therefore - since this is nowhere and in no way excluded - could theoretically be considered as a kind of sub-federal republic, or a state which, while federative in its internal structure, is part of a wider, quasi-federal state formation. This raises the question also of whether there is any essential difference between the concept of '[Republic or] state' and that of an 'autonomous, socialist, self-managing, democratic social-political community, in which working people and citizens, nations and nationalities realize their sovereign rights'.

This determination of the status of the Autonomous Provinces is in evident collision with Article 5, the first paragraph of which states: 'The territory of the Federated Republic of Yugoslavia [SFRJ] is a single whole made up of the territories of the Socialist Republics.' This means that the Autonomous Provinces do not appear as constituent elements of the Federal state, since otherwise it would say that their territories too form the SFRJ. For this reason the eventual establishment and suspension of Autonomous Provinces should both be prerogatives of the Republic in which they find themselves. It is necessary to remove these contradictions from the [Federal] Constitution as soon as possible, and we believe that the only right way forward is to deny to the Autonomous Provinces their character as constituent elements of the Federation [...]. Related to this we consider it unnecessary for the Autonomous Provinces to be constantly named or described as part of Serbia, because one should leave open the possibility that new ones could be formed within another Republic [or the existing ones in the Republic of Serbia dissolved], and that for this to happen it should not be necessary [as it is now] first to change the Federal constitution, but only the constitution of the given Republic. [...]

If Republics are sovereign states within the SFRJ, then the status of [the Republic of] Serbia, which alone contains Autonomous Provinces, is de facto unequal, given that the SFRJ Constitution imposes limits upon its exercise of sovereign rights to the extent that it establishes the constitutional status of the Autonomous Provinces, i.e. in that it prevents it from independently altering that status, while similar restrictions do not apply to the other Republics. [...]

Subsequent articles of the Constitution, which de facto equalize the original and inalienable rights and duties of the Republics with the rights and duties of the Autonomous Provinces, are also essentially contrary to the provision according to which the Autonomous Provinces are part of the Socialist Republic of Serbia. It is, therefore, not at all accidental that in the current political terminology Republics and Autonomous Provinces appear as equal subjects differing only by name. To begin with, the structure of the governmental and 'self-management' organs in the Autonomous Provinces is identical to that of the Republics, while in the Federal organs - Presidency, Assembly, Executive Council [government], etc. - there is an equal or proportional representation of the Republics and the Autonomous Provinces ('proportional' refers only to the unequal number of delegates in certain bodies, but this has no particular legal or political effect).

The fact that the Federal Council is made up of thirty delegates from each Republic and twenty from each Autonomous Province, while the Council of Republics and Autonomous Provinces is made up of ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ twelve delegates from each Republic and eight from each Autonomous Province, is of no practical significance, especially where the Council of Republics and Provinces is concerned, since decisions are made there by consensus of all the delegations. Since the Assembly of the Socialist Republic [SR] of Serbia includes also delegates from the Autonomous Provinces, and since the interests which its delegates represent at the Federal level are joint interests of 'all the nations and nationalities' living on its territory (i.e. within and outside the Autonomous Provinces), this dual link [to the Federation] is unnecessary, since it denies to the SR of Serbia the [exclusive] right to represent the Republic as a whole and reduces it de facto to the delegates of so-called 'narrower Serbia'.

Direct representation of Autonomous Provinces at the Federal level would be logical and justified only in the event that the territory of a Socialist Autonomous Province lay outside all Republics, i.e. if it were truly independent. Just how absurd the present day constitutional arrangement is can be illustrated by the fact that, hypothetically speaking, the Assembly of SR Serbia, respecting the principle of 'democratic' procedure, could reach a general political position 'based on the interests of the Republic as a whole' and take this to the Federal level, only to find there delegates or delegations from the Autonomous Provinces defending an opposite stance, confronting in this artificial manner the interests of the Republic with those of Autonomous Provinces that are a part of it. Regardless of the fact that the Republican Assembly is practically unable to decide on any matter that refers to the Republican territory as a whole without gaining first the consent of the Autonomous Provinces, its delegates at the Federal level are in a position to represent only the interests of 'Serbia without the Provinces' or 'narrower Serbia', as it has become customary to call it, despite the fact that from a legal point of view such an entity does not exist.

If the Assembly of [the Republic of] Serbia is indeed the highest organ of government and self-management in regard to the rights and duties of the Republic as a social-political community, i.e. state, on the territory of [the Republic of] Serbia as a whole, then the provision that specifies equal or appropriate representation of the Autonomous Provinces at the Federal level is untenable, since it provides the Autonomous Provinces with basic state attributes that should belong only to the Republics that make up the Federation. This formulation in particular has been used to derive other attributes of the Autonomous Provinces which makes it possible to define them also as 'nascent republics'; and it is probable that, if subsequent constitutional changes were to follow the pattern established in 1971 and 1974, the Autonomous Provinces could formally acquire the status of Republics, which is in any case only a step away from their present-day status. That this could indeed happen is fully confirmed by the fact that in 1974 the Autonomous Provinces have acquired their own constitutions and that their Assemblies make laws, so that the recent seemingly naive demands for provincial flags and anthems should be seen as part of their planned transformation, 'when social conditions become ripe', into independent Republics. [. . .]

It seems to me that [Yugoslav] contemporary political theory and practice purposefully neglect a datum of great historical significance, which is that the Autonomous Provinces were not established by a Federal legal act but, on the contrary, by a separate law of 1945 brought in by the People's Assembly of Serbia, and subsequently only confirmed by the 1946 constitution of the Federative People's Republic of Yugoslavia, which guaranteed their autonomous rights and determined the basic principles of their organization, as it did for all socio- political communities from the global to the local, which is no longer the case today.2 The 1963 constitution gave the Provincial assemblies the right to send their representatives to the Peoples' Council of the Federal Assembly, but only as part of the Republican delegation. That constitution unambiguously stated that internal organization of the Provinces was the exclusive right of the Republic, and that the Republican constitution decided their rights and duties and the basic principle of their administration. The Federal constitution regulated only their formation or dissolution. It was only in 1968 that constitutional amendments introduced the notion of a 'free association of the Autonomous Provinces within SR Serbia', as if they had existed before or regardless of SR Serbia.3 In this way, by way of the 1968 and 1971 amendments and the Constitution of 1974, a concept of so-called twin-level federalism was developed, with the Autonomous Provinces becoming increasingly independent and acquiring the essential characteristics of the Republics.

The current counter-revolutionary demands, including that one of them [Kosovo] be proclaimed a Republic, can thus be seen as a direct consequence of a broader political direction forged over a long time within the narrowest political cen- tre. Hence, although one cannot quite say that the 1974 Constitution makes the Autonomous Provinces fully equal to the Republics, one can reasonably state that they have been made almost equal, since in everyday practice the differences that exist between them are unimportant and secondary. All the rights and duties which a Republic exercises on its territory the Autonomous Provinces exercise on theirs (thereby encroaching upon [the Republic of] Serbia's rights and sovereignty). They are limited only to the extent that the Republics too are limited: i.e. they cannot take over Federal or local municipal competencies, or alter the constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms of men and citizens. As a result, restriction of the Provinces' rights in matters of interest for the Republic as a whole has become a mere formality, in practice never exercised. In this way conditions are being created for the final withering of the remaining links between the Provinces and the Republic of Serbia.

For a long time the constitutional norms in our country did not have the consti- tutional significance provided by international theory and practice. They were changed in line with the will, wishes and not infrequently whims of the most powerful leaders of the bureaucratic apparatus. Today, however, this is no longer possible, and we are now in a position to uncover the consequences of the indisputable fact that our constitutions were written by extremely uneducated, irresponsible and incompetent people who subjected legal norms to the most banal political manipulations.4

1. All italics in the extracts translated here were present in the original.

2. This is an inaccurate rendering of the past. At the time in question, Serbia was unable autonomously to decide anything. Moreover, it was not at all obvious that the newly established Republic of Serbia should include Kosovo and Vojvodina. The fact that in the event it did so was due to a Yugoslav, not a Serbian, decision. It is indeed doubtful that Serbia, which in 1945 found itself with no army of its own (the great bulk of the Partisan Army having been recruited in other republics, mainly in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia), could ever have held on to Kosovo without Yugoslav help, in view of the population's overwhelming desire - expressed in a series of armed revolts - to join Albania.

3. See note 4 above.

4. The truth is that during this period the Republic of Serbia had an exceptionally well educated, responsible and able leadership, represented by Marko NikÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ ezic and Latinka Perovic, which in 1971 was purged on the grounds of 'excessive liberalism'. Nikezic unfortunately died in January 1991, just before PeroviÒ published her book Closing the Circle: the Outcome of the 1971-2 Split (Belgrade 1991), which discusses the constitutional changes of that period in the context of a more general effort to democratize the Yugoslav system. It is unfortunate that her book has not been translated into English, not least because it makes clear that the decision to give the two Autonomous Provinces direct representation at the Federal level was taken with Serbia's consent and for the sake of its own development.


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