Political Systems of the Former Yugoslavia

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia

by Tomasz Bichta (Volume editor)
©2017 Edited Collection 294 Pages


This collection of essays offers a comprehensive analysis of the political systems of post-Yugoslav states. The first three chapters constitute a necessary introduction to subsequent analyses of individual states, reflecting on the specificity of the Balkan region, its political history, and the character of political transformations that are still taking place. In their analyses of the political systems of individual nation-states, the authors follow a similar pattern, focusing on the following aspects: the evolution of the political system, the constitution and basic principles of the political system, the parliament, the head of state, the government, the judiciary, and the system of political parties.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of contents
  • Introduction
  • The Historical Context of the Political Concentration and Competition of the Balkan States (Waldemar Paruch)
  • The Western Balkans in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Mirosław Dymarski)
  • Transformations of Political Systems in Post-Yugoslav States: Determinants and Limitations (Jacek Wojnicki)
  • The Political System of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Jakub Olchowski)
  • The Political System of Croatia (Małgorzata Podolak)
  • The Political System of Kosovo (Agata Domachowska)
  • The Political System of Macedonia (Tomasz Bichta)
  • The Political System of Montenegro (Tomasz Bichta / Marcin Wichmanowski)
  • The Political System of Serbia (Małgorzata Podolak)
  • The Political System of Slovenia (Wojciech Sokół)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Series index


The turn of the 1980s and 1990s was a period of substantial transformations of political systems in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. An indirect result of the revolutions of 1989 was the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, followed by ethnic bloodshed rampant within its boundaries for the next few years. It was caused primarily by the specific national/ethnic constitution of the Balkan Peninsula, which generated social divisions between the inhabitants on the basis of their ethnicity and culture. During the 20th century ethnicity turned out to be the most significant and the most politicized criterion of division, pushing to the background other factors: political (the right – the center – the left), ideological (conservatives, liberals, socialists, agrarians, nationalists), social (employers vs. employees), economic (the wealthy – the middle class – the poor) or occupational divisions (entrepreneurs vs. farmers). Individuals made political choices on the basis of their ethnicity/nationality. The only exception were the communists, who questioned the politico-territorial order established in the wake of World War I, including the formation of nation-states. It was the Communist Party that initiated national and state regulations after World War II that affected a large part of the Balkans. For this reason, the crisis of the Communist Party was particularly insidious for the state.

Since 1953 Yugoslavia was ruled by the leader of the Communist Party, Marshal Josip Broz Tito. On account of his personal charisma and the ability to level national differences, he managed to keep the country in peace. His death in May 1980 plunged the country into a serious national, political and economic crisis. The president’s followers proved unable to tackle mounting nationalist and ethnic tension.

What is more, the Serbian dominance felt by Slovenes, Croatians and Albanians was drawing to a close. In April 1991 the leaders of the Slovenian and Croatian republics reached an agreement to organize referenda to decide whether they should remain part of the federation. Such decisions were opposed by the (later infamous) Serbian President Slobodan Milošević, who strove to prevent secession, but the separation process had already gained momentum. On 25 June 1991 Slovenia and Croatia proclaimed their independence. The federal government in Belgrade, however, considered the decision to be illegal, and the Yugoslav People’s Army began its military intervention to maintain the federation’s unity. Thus the war began. ← 7 | 8 →

In 1991 three out of six republics comprising Yugoslavia one-sidedly proclaimed their independence in the wake of referenda (the Republic of Croatia, the Republic of Slovenia, and the Republic of Macedonia). In 1992 the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina followed in their footsteps, and the dissolution of Yugoslavia became a fact. On 28 April 1992 the two remaining republics (Serbia and Montenegro) formally terminated the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, establishing in its stead the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia with the capital in Belgrade. On 4 February 2003, Yugoslavia was superseded by a new country – Serbia and Montenegro – that continued to exist until 3 June 2006, when it was divided into two separate countries (Montenegro and Serbia). Furthermore, without Serbian acceptance, Kosovo proclaimed its independence from Serbia in 2008.

The present book offers a comprehensive analysis of the political systems of post-Yugoslav countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and ← 8 | 9 → Slovenia). The book syntactically presents the results of research conducted on an unprecedented scale by outstanding specialists in the field into the political systems of the countries comprising former Yugoslavia.

The concept of the political system has for a long time attracted attention of political scientists. The analysis of contemporary political systems is becoming one of the basic tasks of empirical political science, which focuses, among others, on the struggle for power within state institutions, on the ways in which political power is exercised and circumscribed, and on methods of enforcing responsibility of those in whom power is vested. The comparative analysis of political systems of contemporary states likewise generates a lot of scholarly interest. Political science scholars pay most attention to contemporary democracies, especially those that have recently appeared on the world’s map. The group definitely includes the states that came into being in the wake of Yugoslavia’s dissolution.

Apart from characterizing the political systems of the nation-states generated by the breakup of Yugoslavia, the authors of the articles included in the book reflect on the specificity of the region (Chapter One), its political history (Chapter Two), and the character of political transformations that are still taking place there (Chapter Three). In their analyses of the political systems of given nationstates, the authors follow a similar pattern while characterizing the institutions and subjects functioning on the political scene. All of the articles focus on the following aspects: the evolution of the political system, the Constitution and basic principles of the political system, the Parliament, the head of state, the government, the judiciary, and the system of political parties. Subsequent chapters of the book describe in this way the political systems of the following countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. The book presents the state of research as of 2016/2017, and makes use of the secondary materials available in a variety of languages.1

Both scholarly and popular interest in the Balkan region is catered to by publications of various authorship, mostly focused on the history of the region or the conflicts there. So far, however, there has been no comprehensive analysis of the post-Yugoslav countries authored by political science scholars. The present book is thus a unique publication exploring the political transformations of the post-Yugoslav countries, filling the gap in the existing scholarship. The book includes articles by specialists from various universities, interested in various aspects of the problem and deploying various methodologies. We hope that the multiplicity of issues analyzed and methodologies used here contributes to the presentation of the specificity of the political systems in the states that were created after the dissolution of Yugoslavia. The book is directed primarily to political scientists, lawyers, historians, and all those interested in the Balkan region, especially in the post-Yugoslav problematics. We hope that the book will prove a useful didactic source for those who teach courses on the transformations of the political systems in the Balkans as well as on mechanisms of political power in contemporary democracies. ← 9 | 10 → ← 10 | 11 →

1       Note from the translator: the translations of the Polish titles of secondary sources into English are given in brackets in Works Cited and in footnotes whenever a given source is used for the first time in a chapter.

Waldemar Paruch

The Historical Context of the Political Concentration and Competition of the Balkan States

Geopolitical determinants of the region’s identity

The identity of the Balkan region is rooted in the history of Central Europe. Attempts at defining this part of the European continent, however, have sparked numerous political disputes and scholarly controversies. The latter have centered on such general questions as the usefulness of the concept of Central Europe for humanities and social sciences, but also on more detailed aspects, such as the Balkans’ outer northern, southern, eastern and western borders; the distinction between Central-Eastern, Southeastern and Northern Europe; or the geopolitical, historical and cultural integrity of the region.1 Three strands of thought can be distinguished within the existing scholarship on the Balkans. ← 11 | 12 →

For the first group of scholars, the dichotomous division of Europe into its eastern and western parts is sufficient as both a political and cognitive idea. Central Europe has, in a way, been “parceled out” between the East and the West as a result of historical, economic and civilizational processes taking place in early modern and modern times. Proponents of this viewpoint emphasize four primary aspects: late Christianization, the dominance of feudal economy, Slavic identity of the majority of the inhabitants, and the introduction of the communist system in the 20th century. If one negates the validity of the concept of Central Europe, then the Balkan lands may not be treated as a Central-European sub-region, but only as a geographical area where there clashed various civilizations belonging to two different spheres – the East and the West. The powers representing the two spheres established within the Balkans shifting boundaries between alternative models of development.

For the second group of scholars, the dualistic perspective is misguided in that it does not do justice to the complexity of European history nor to the continent’s cultural and ethnic multiplicity. They thus employ a variety of terms, dividing Europe into diverse small sections: Western (Romance-speaking Europe and Germany), Eastern (Russia), Southeastern (the Balkans), Northern (Scandinavia) and Central Europe (Slavic countries and Germany). In this context, Central Europe seems to have lost its coherence for the sake of diversity, especially political one. The complex division of the continent is a result of the nation-formation processes under way during the Middle Ages within the lands of both parts of the Roman Empire, or of the impact that Rome and Constantinople exerted on their neighbors. It was at that time that German and Slavic tribal nations came into being, as well as other ethnic communities traversing Europe between the 5th and 11th centuries CE. Within such a framework, the Balkan region can be identified with Southeastern Europe. It is also one of several regions within the continent – of an insubstantial political potential – characterized by the domination of the Slavic population, at least in numerical terms.

The essence of the third way of thinking is the conviction that due to the complexity of European history, the continent got divided into three parts: Western, Eastern, and Central. Within this viewpoint, Central Europe is posited as a separate part of the continent in geopolitical, strategic, cultural, historical and economic terms. It was these factors that gave Central Europe the status of a region with its own identity. Its most characteristic features are: 1) the relative temporality of political structures within the region, which stands in contrast to a higher political concentration and stability of the political structures at both edges of Europe; 2) the overlapping of differences that generated pluralism (in a ← 12 | 13 → positive sense) or chaos (in the negative); 3) the strengthening of the perception of these distinctions through the uneven topography of the land – the great open lowlands of the northern part of Central Europe, inviting of massive migrations, versus the valleys, rivers and mountain ranges of the southern part, suitable for more isolated settlement.2 The Balkan lands constitute a sub-region of thus defined Central Europe, situated between the East and the West.

The Balkan region was distinguished in the 19th century on the basis of geographical criteria, first in scholarly analysis and then in political thinking. The significance of geographical factors is confirmed by the fact that the name of the region derives from the Turkish expression Balkanar, meaning “Forest Mountains.” Scholarly attention was first drawn to the geographical features of the Balkan Peninsula, especially to the existence of clear natural boundaries: the Bulgarian mountain range; the seas: the Aegean, Marmara, Ionian, Mediterranean, Adriatic and Black Sea; the Turkish straits of Bosphorus and Dardanelles; and the rivers: Sava, Danube and Kupa.3 Subsequently, social effects of these geographical features were noticed. Even though the three rivers constituted the region’s natural northern border with a high military potential, they did not block settlement or migration, which contributed to the influx of German-speaking, Italian and Hungarian people from the north. From the Middle Ages there has formed within the Balkans a social mosaic of multiple ethnicities, cultures, and religions. The prevalence of valleys situated between mountain ranges made intercultural communication work in three ways. First, small local communities for centuries maintained their distinct character, contrasted with modernization resultant from ← 13 | 14 → the influence of major European civilizational trends. Secondly, the existence within a relatively small area of closed communities which differed with respect to lifestyle and organization of public space petrified the “self vs. other” way of thinking and made acculturation and assimilation impossible. Finally, the rejection at the microsocial level of modern European ideas of state organization (federal, constitutional, liberal, democratic) led to the creation of political units encompassing the lands inhabited by people determined to cultivate their distinctness vis-à-vis their neighbors.

According to Barbara Jelavić, it is relatively easy to notice the overlapping Roman, Hellenic, Hellenistic, Byzantine, Ottoman and Habsburg legacy in the Balkan part of Central Europe.4 These cultural codes were more pronounced in the southern part of the region and weaker in the north, where they gradually became mere vestiges replaced by Scandinavian, Romanian, Prusso-German and Mongol-Russian influences. The popularity of the term “Balkan” did not stem from geographical or historical connotations harking back to the Middle Ages and antiquity, but from political connotations typical of the beginning of the 20th century. The phenomenon of “Balkanization” was at that time written about in major European capitals of both politico-military blocs to refer to the character, complexity and intensity of political conflicts.5

Among secondary factors determining the identity of the Balkans one may mention the priority of the North-South influences over the East-West ones. This had a strategic significance, making the Balkan region distinct from other Central European areas. What was most important for the weak, conflicted Balkan nations was direct political and military Ottoman and Habsburg threat. In light of Austrian and Turkish expansion, both Germany and Russia could be treated as potential allies. The Balkans’ dependence on Germany and Russia, as well as on France and Great Britain, was thus viewed as acceptable.6 Among the Balkan political elites there was quite a lot of sympathy for the German concept of Mitteleuropa or for Russian pan-Slavic projects. Such sentiments made it easier for Germany and Russia to peacefully penetrate the region and gradually take control of its resources essential in the context of preparation for or involvement in the war. The Balkans’ potential, especially geopolitical and demographic, determined ← 14 | 15 → the region’s involvement in the most important military conflicts of early modern and modern history. In both of these historical periods, however, the inhabitants of the Balkans were objectified, and the region did not experience political concentration that would lead to the creation of a stable configuration of strong states realizing their own political interests in the international context.

In the early modern and modern period, the Balkan region did not constitute the core of Central Europe, which was considered to be the lands of Reich, the Republic of Both Nations, the Crown of Saint Stephen, and the Crown of Saint Wenceslas. This stood in contrast to the antiquity and the Middle Ages, when the Balkans were a part of Europe to first and most strongly experience Greek, Roman, Byzantine and, consequently, Christian influences. This loss of primacy stemmed from the fact that within the Balkans there did not emerge multiethnic and multicultural estate monarchies, like the ones that surfaced at the turn of the Middle Ages and the modern period in Poland, Germany, Hungary, and Bohemia. Granted, the Balkan region was multiethnic and multicultural, but the Balkan states were at the early stages of their development subjugated by their stronger neighbors: Turkey, Hungary, and Austria.

The disruption of the process of society- and state-formation between the 14th and 16th century had significant consequences for the nation-building processes of the 19th and 20th centuries. During the Great War and the ensuing transformations in Europe in the fall of 1918 the Poles, Hungarians and Bohemians started to restore their old, but very real, power, which they were trying to implant in the mentality of the contemporary society. In the case of the Balkans, by contrast, such attempts were merely an expression of romantic fantasies rooted in folk culture and myth-making. In the 20th century, an internal border was constituted within the Balkans as a result of the creation of the Yugoslav federation. It was an attempt to construe a new political order as an alternative to Habsburg or Ottoman concepts, which could become a stable center of power and resources for a large part of the Balkans. After both world wars, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, First Yugoslavia, and then Second Yugoslavia were an alternative to the region’s division by outer powers (the Kingdom of Hungary, Habsburg states, Austro-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire) or to temporary occupations during local or world wars (by Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania). The division of the western Balkan lands into nation-states was not an option considered at the international conferences held in the wake of both world wars. The winners of the wars (the Triple Entente and Axis Powers, respectively) were for various reasons uninterested in the realization of such a scenario, while at the same time supporting the Yugoslav experiment. ← 15 | 16 →

The development of ethno-cultural nations in the region

The Balkans borrowed from Western Europe the idea of a nation as a state/political community. Indeed, the beginning of the development of Balkan states proceeded in this direction. The Balkan monarchs were trying to politicize the ethnos so that all of the state’s inhabitants – freed from the Ottoman and Habsburg despotism – could identify with the new state’s interests. All the citizens were also to benefit from the modernization of state institutions and public space, from the liberalization of economy and from the establishment of new social relations freed from the residues of the feudal past. However, the political decisions made in the Balkan capitals were influenced, on the one hand, by historical and geographical determinism and, on the other, by real needs and expectations of local plebeian strata concerning their own small areas of residence. For this reason, the principle of nationality as articulated by the French politician Émile Ollivier, the minister of Emperor Napoleon III, was not understood by the Balkan peoples in liberal terms as a call for the citizens’ broader and deeper participation in governing the country and exercising freedom, but as a permission to have one’s proprietary, religious and social needs fulfilled.7 This was a premonition of the ethno-cultural reinterpretation in the Balkans of the concept of national community and the idea of nation-state. The politicization of the ethnos was being replaced in the Balkans by the process of the ethnicization of the demos. The process first took place in the eastern and southern Balkans (Romania, Bulgaria, Greece), and later – in the western and northern Balkans (Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro). Within the former area, the decisive role was played by the Turkish wars in the second half of the 19th century, while in the latter – by the political transformations of the fall of 1918. During these events people achieved subjecthood while the ethnic divisions between the inhabitants of a given area were retained. The land, understood in political terms, gained the same ethno-cultural features as the majority of its inhabitants; the remaining ones, in turn, began to feel discriminated against and blamed the state for the situation. This notwithstanding, during the interwar period there were still areas with huge populations of uncrystalized political subjecthood, such as Macedonia and Epirus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and ← 16 | 17 → Kosovo-Metohija. These became objects of the re-vindication attempts made by the Balkan nation-states and the subject of political thought of regional irredentist and revolutionary movements.

The concept of great countries was being reworked gradually but clearly. While in the first stage of their idea-making, irredentist movements wished to politicize the ethnos to sever its ties with imperial powers and to decompose the politicoterritorial order and socio-economic relations, the second phase – when the nation-states had already been created – was characterized by a rapid ethnicization of the demos, to which the state attributed clear ethno-cultural features.

Having overtaken power in Turkey after the Great War, Mustafa Kemal Attatürk rejected not only pan-Islamism, as reformers in the past had done, but also Ottomanism and the tradition of the Ottoman statehood. He began to form the Turkish nation following his own criteria, whereby breach took precedence over continuation. Modernization was severed from the history of the sultanate, Islam and from the size of the Ottoman Empire. Atatürk’s policies had a bearing on further transformation of the Hellenic Megali Idea. The original aims articulated by the social elite that had managed to rebuild the Greek state and wished to continue both ancient and medieval history turned out to be unrealistic. For this reason, Konstantinos Paparrigopoulos in History of the Hellenic Nation, written between 1860 and 1877, made a claim that the Greek nation that had existed for centuries needed to be identified with the people.8 Modern Greece began to “gather” Greeks in an ethno-cultural sense, creating their identity through language, religion and culture, while treating the Hellenic past in an instrumental way only.9 In this context, the Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizeloz’s manifesto of building the Greek state of “two continents and five seas” should be read as a project of defining Greeks as an ethno-cultural community.10

When in 1928 Serbian politicians in the Skupština of the Kingdom of SHS called for the unification of “all Serbian lands,” they meant not only the lands that in the distant past had belonged to forms of states considered Serbian, but also the areas that were settled during the Habsburg-Ottoman rivalry by inhabitants considered to be Serbs on account of religion, culture, and language.11 The areas ← 17 | 18 → included the Military Frontier, and first and foremost Krajina, eastern Slavonia, western Srem, Baranja, and western Bosnia. The wish to unify all Serbian lands was a response to the Croatian celebrations in 1925 of a thousandth anniversary of their statehood, started by the coronation of King Tomislav. Thus, there was also an alternative history that negated the existence of one national community. During the interwar period a political organization of the so-called Greens (Zelenaši) was born in Montenegro, demanding the recognition within Yugoslavia of a separate status of their historical kingdom, overlooked when the Kingdom of SHS was created. The Greens justified their demands with the existence of a separate nation of Montenegrins, thereby rejecting the idea that Montenegrins were a regional component of the Serbian nation.12

During World War II, in 1939, the leader of the Albanian national committee Bedri Pejani unhesitatingly claimed that Great Albania was to be a Muslim country of all Albanians. The evolution of the identity of the Albanian state thus proceeded to the next stage.13 The same had earlier happened in Bulgaria. In 1916 the National Assembly of Bulgaria justified the decision to participate in the Great War with a reference to “the unification of Bulgaria’s people within its historical and ethnic boundaries.”14


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (January)
The Balkans The dissolution of Yugoslavia Transformations of the political system Post-Yugoslav countries Bosnia and Herzegovina Montenegro
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 294 p., 4 b/w ill., 17 b/w tables.

Biographical notes

Tomasz Bichta (Volume editor)

Tomasz Bichta is Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Political Science at Maria Curie Sklodowska University in Lublin, Poland. His research interests center on political systems, political parties and party systems, and politico-cultural transformations in African countries.


Title: Political Systems of the Former Yugoslavia
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296 pages