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On Law and Politics in the Federal Balance: Lessons from Yugoslavia

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For more content, see Review of Socialist Law.

In trying to build a supranational polity while paying heed to member states' autonomy concerns, modern supranational 'projects' such as the European Union find themselves where others have been before. This article explores a surprising but pertinent 'ancestor' that, albeit in sharply different societal arrangements, had grappled with the same challenges of balancing integration and autonomy: the former Yugoslavia.

The author starts by tracking the development of Yugoslav federalism through its several constitutional incarnations: from the meager federal features of the 1946 Constitution and the similarly centralistic constitutional developments in the 1950s and the 1960s to a stronger federalization of Yugoslavia that culminated with the 1974 Constitution. After a general outline of the constitutional development, the article focuses on the relationship between law and politics in maintaining the federal balance, highlighting the role of the federal Constitutional Court in achieving a proper balance between the centrifugal and the centripetal forces in the federation. Finally, the main theories on the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the role of the federal Constitutional Court are briefly analyzed.

In the conclusion, the author attempts to draw out the lessons that the Yugoslav experience may offer contemporary polities faced with the same challenges, focusing on the role of the judicature and the relationship between law and politics in safeguarding the federal bargain.


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