Desktop version

Home arrow Political science

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Power-sharing Institutions in Yugoslavia

Beyond the fundamental principles of sovereignty and self-determination, Yugoslav communism left significant institutional legacies in Bosnia through its ethnic power-sharing structure. Since 1974 the Yugoslav Federal Parliament and government had followed an ethnic power-sharing logic – with equal group representation and consensus voting. Under the 1974 Constitution Yugoslavia had a bicameral federal parliament, composed of the lower chamber – the Federal Parliament, where each republic was represented by thirty deputies, indirectly elected from lower republican level parliaments; and the House of Republics and Provinces, where each republic was represented by a delegation of twelve deputies delegated from the republican parliaments (articles 291, 292). Equal collective representation (parity) was a basic governing principle and was ensured and protected at all levels of federal institutions. Similarly, the presidency included one representative from each republic and autonomous province in Yugoslavia, with individual members chairing the presidency on an annual rotational basis.

3 Audrey Helfant Budding, 'People/Nation/Republic', in State Collapse in SEE,

ed. L. Cohen and J.D. Soso (Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 2007).

4 There was sizeable Serbian population in the Croatia and Bosnian and Herzegovina, and many Serbs including Serbian political leaders feared that Serbs would become a minority if Yugoslavia dissolved along republican borders.

5 J. Higley, J. Pakulski and W. Wesolowski, Elite Change and Democratic Regimes in Eastern Europe (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998). Each deputy in the lower chamber and each delegation in the upper chamber could initiate legislation (article 293), but the independent policy realm of the federal parliament was limited to the areas of federal budget under extraordinary circumstances, and to managing its own affairs. On all other areas, such as budget and monetary policy, regional development, foreign policy and the ratification of international documents, it could only act 'in accordance' with the republican parliaments (article 286). The legislative and policy-making powers of the federal parliament, significantly constrained by the narrow policy realm, were further diluted by consensus and collective voting rules. Voting in the lower federal chamber was by simple majority, but the Constitution allowed a change in the voting procedure on the demand of the majority of one republic's deputies, whenever an issue considered in the general interest of a republic was on the agenda, or when addressing questions regarding the equal rights of nations in the federation (article 294). This procedure, much like invoking a veto for a national interest, was further amplified in the upper chamber proceedings, where voting was not individual but by delegations, where each delegation needed an internal consensus (among its members) before it could cast a vote (article 295). Thus, in the upper federal chamber, collective voting and republican (national) vetoes were the rule rather than the exception. This made the federal legislature dependent on the republican delegations, and progress in the parliament's work was often hostage to inter-republican disputes and bargaining.6 Furthermore, the weak federal structures prevented the rise of a federal political elite that could counter-balance the centrifugal tendencies of republican elites and contribute to their greater unity.

From an institutional perspective, Yugoslavia between 1974 and 1990 displayed many features of power-sharing arrangements as discussed by Lijphart and scholars of consociationalism.7 It was a state union of federal units, each of which had one or more titular nations, and had substantial powers to create and pursue their policies at a republican level. Moreover, federal units were ethnic in nature, even though for ideological reasons this was only an implicit understanding. The only exception was Bosnia, which did not 'belong' to a single titular nation. Yugoslavia's extensive territorial autonomy was combined with the possibility of blocking legislation and applying qualified majority voting in the lower chamber and collective vote and consensus voting in the upper chamber of parliament. These closely resembled veto mechanisms designed to give each group the right to protect its interests and not be outvoted. The federal cabinet resembled

6 Vojin Dimitrijević, 'The 1974 Constitution and Constitutional Process as a Factor

in the Collapse of Yugoslavia', in Yugoslavia: the Former and Future, ed. P. Akhavan and

R. Howse (Washington DC: The Brookings Institution, 1995).

7 Arend Lijphart, The Politics of Accommodation: Pluralism and Democracy in the Netherlands (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968). Arend Lijphart, Democracies. Patterns of Majoritarian and Consensus Government in 21 Countries (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1984). an executive coalition, in that it included members from each republic. Finally, the principle of proportionality and equitable representation in executive branches also followed the proportionality principle of power-sharing institutions, even if it fell short of full proportional representation because of the non-competitive and closed nature of communist elections.

Despite the power-sharing outlook of its political system, there were suppressed inter-ethnic tensions which eventually burst onto the political scene. In addition to burgeoning nationalism, there were two other major reasons why Yugoslavia did not function as a power-sharing state. First, power-sharing was limited to federal institutions, which had narrow and steadily decreasing powers, and was more of a façade than a real sharing of power between nations and their representatives. At the republican level, politics was majoritarian and concentrated in the hands of the party elites. Politicians in each republic, rather than sharing power, sought ways to strengthen their grip on it and engaged in nationalist mobilisation of the population. Although most executive power was vested in republican institutions, republics lacked the institutional infrastructure to deal with issues concerning the equal rights and representation of all ethnic groups and the citizens. Thus citizens, who largely exercised their rights and duties within their republics, felt little benefi from federal power-sharing. Second, regardless of the institutional set up of republican institutions, the real political power resided outside the formal institutional realm, with the Communist Party and its political bureau. There, a small circle of political leaders were making decisions with no wider consultation or debate. Federal and republican institutions, majoritarian or power-sharing as they were, still served only to rubber-stamp and to implement the Party's decisions.

The overview of power-sharing in Yugoslavia shows that late communism, as embodied in the 1974 Constitution, displayed many distinct features of ethnic power-sharing. These constitutional solutions were not imposed, but arrived at through negotiations by the domestic political elites, within the framework of the Yugoslav Communist Party (SKJ). There was virtually no external input to the Yugoslav constitutional reforms during the 1970s, given the break with Soviet communism and the independent ideological path Yugoslavia followed. Nonetheless, actual power-sharing before 1991 was limited and it did not offer the Yugoslav political elites sufficient experience concerning how to successfully share power across republican and national lines, nor did it provide them with an unambiguous interpretation of sovereignty, nations and people. It did acquaint them with how and when such institutions could work, but also provided them with insights on how to block and bypass institutional structures. In 1990, fifteen years after the adoption of the 1974 Constitution, deep divisions and even antagonism between republican elites still persisted.

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Related topics