ACTA SLAVICA IAPONICA
The Regional Problem and the Break-Up of the
The Case of Yugoslavia*
Copyright © 1998 by the Slavic Research Center.
) All rights reserved.
Multiethnicity has served to justify the establishment of
federalism in Yugoslavia. Federalism as a method of solving the
national question (in the Leninist model) was the reason for the
reconstruction of Yugoslavia on federal principles in 1943, which was
confirmed by constitution of January 31, 1946, after the Communist
Party of Yugoslavia took power by revolution in 1945. Such a
"solution"is also rooted in the Party's interwar conception of the
national question. The Comintern spirit based on the idea of
breaking-up Yugoslavia was to mark almost half a century of
Yugoslavia's history. This idea, following a systematic political,
legal, economic, cultural and media groundwork, would finally be
implemented through enormous violence.
After 1945, several federal projects were tested in Yugoslavia.
Yugoslav federalism was becoming increasingly formalized in procedure,
ever more complex, rigid and inconsistent, and thus less and less
practicable. In the final analysis, of all its potentially strong and
weak points, federalism in Yugoslavia displayed more of the latter.
In the Yugoslav case, federalism based solely on ethnic principles
(introduced in the 1960s) could have functioned only if the complex,
heterogenous Yugoslav reality was simplified to such a degree as to
equate ethnic and republican boundaries, despite the fact that they
rarely coincided. So simplified Yugoslav federal system -devised along
ethnic lines -fixed the borders, directed the communications system,
set the patterns of economic life, defined the limits and the
directions of population movements, established the parameters of
political life and political conflicts.
This type of federalism proved to be an inefficient mechanism for
resolving conflicts and managing crises. Federalism based on
regionalist principles was not given an opportunity to display its
qualities. It was constantly under ideological attacks as being a
disguised unitarism, hegemonism etc. Thus, for example, a proposal made
in the 1950s that Yugoslavia, according to the principles of economic
geography, should be divided into four macroregions did not stand a
chance of being seriously considered by the political factors. Any
subsequent hint at the possibility of introducing federalism based on
regional and developmental criteria was condemned as "an attempt at
restoring banovinas"(multiethnic administrative subdivisions of
Yugoslavia before 1941).
The 1974 constitutional model of federalism was implemented and
institutionalized on the basis of plural national sovereignty which,
"being confederally intact, sucked into its realm every issue raised at
the federal level. Thus, in Yugoslavia, all issues of development,
modernization, new technology, information systems, democratization
etc., by the sheer manner by which they were raised and resolved, were
turned into vital national questions and thereby into official
interethnic disputes"(Slobodan Samardzic24 ).
All things considered, federalism in Yugoslavia could not but fail:
sham democracy in a (withering) state without the rule of law, with a
seminatural inefficient economy, an absolute "ethnicization"of all
relationships and the negative politicization of each and every
question could only result in a "fa�ade federalism." Consequently, what
failed was not "real"but distorted federalism. It did fail, but was the
federalist idea, the idea of democratic federalism defeated in
Yugoslavia? If all the preconditions for constitutional and democratic
federalism had been satisfied, would Yugoslav federalism have been able
to resolve the question of "plural national sovereignty,"which, indeed
under extremely unfavourable conditions, it has thus far failed to do?