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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 27:135–144.


The Formation of States and the Division of Administrative Regions within the Balkans after 1990


Historically one may distinguish a number of periods characterised by the formation of states (nation creating) both globally and within Europe, and as such on the territory of the Balkan Peninsula, too. According to different research studies in the period about the outbreak of the French revolution (1789) some 23–25 states came into being, 49 between 1790 and 1945, and between 1946 and 1990 the formation of 99 independent states can be counted. The 20th century saw this nation-creating process further broadening. A substantial majority of the states formed came into being in multi-ethnic, multi-faith, multi-lingual regions of multiple settlement structure, with one part of the new states previously having a political or central administrative regional character of some kind. The process of establishing such states in every case threw up a number of questions.

States not only came into being but also ceased to exist. The reasons for this are extremely complex, with all at once both international and domestic processes manifesting themselves. Once a particular state ceased to exist, this raised questions regarding its legal, economic and territorial successor.

In the settlement area of the Eastern Mediterranean relations between state and nation, state and religion, and between state and language presented an almost unbroken string of problems in the period following WWII. (It is sufficient just to cite the Israel–Palestine issue). An abundance of national, cultural, religious, language, economic interests, etc., provide the backdrop to Cyprus’ internal problems, and the Turkish military invasion in 1974, as a consequence of which the northern part of the country became an independent state which Turkey alone recognises. (The Cyprus situation serves well to demonstrate that even at the time of EU accession they had not managed to resolve all the aspects of this question.)

From the end of the 1980s in Europe the unfolding processes may also be considered colourful. An ethnic element appeared, stated or not, beside many historical, economic and political factors within the union of certain states (the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic) and in the division of others (the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia). Apparently the ethnic principle has taken on a greater importance in the state-forming process. At the same time we have to realise that the vast majority of some 200 states of the world are not national settlement areas but rather serve to integrate a number of nations, minorities and settlement areas. (The state-creating process may therefore accelerate remarkably in the 21st century.) In the period of globalisation certain confederations, multi-cultural federations, territorial autonomies have become unstable.

The political-central administrative partitioning of the land is unique to every state and always expresses a social or political wish of some kind, bearing, in a restricted sense, components and intentions beyond the central administrative activity. In the majority of cases, the central administrative-political division, besides political factors and national characteristics, is also driven by historical determining factors.

The Balkan Peninsula, both at the time of the Cold War and at the time of the later co-existence of the bi-polar world, “represented the whole of Europe in miniature”. Prior to the transition in 1989–1991, the Socialist world system and the system of alliances (COMECON, the Warsaw Pact) and the capitalist system with its own organisations (NATO, European Community) existed on a relatively small territory, besides the presence of non-aligned Yugoslavia and communist Albania, which shut itself off from everyone.

Within the states of the Balkan Peninsula – first and foremost in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – the unfolding processes existed, resulting partly from external and partly from internal determining factors. It was a separate question how the former political-central administrative units, the member republics as well as the autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina would settle their own ambitions within this process.

The second question within the separation process was: “Who has the right to self-determination?” Within the complicated political situation the ambition manifested itself that the ’peoples’, the ’nations’, the ’majority settlement areas’ have their right to and opportunity for self-determination (including the right to break away and the right to secession). Others considered that such ambitions only related to those areas which had previously also had their own constitutional mandate (member republic level).

The collapse of the State of Yugoslavia and the formation of the new states not only affected the Southern Slavic peoples but also every state on the Balkan Peninsula. It is no accident that Greece had serious concerns over the establishment of the Republic of Macedonia since it saw the latter’s mere existence as a historical, political and national security threat. Macedonia constituted one of Greece’s own territorial central administrative regions and beyond that saw its national unity potentially jeopardised through the existence of such a new formation.

The breakup of Yugoslavia also fundamentally affected Albania and the Albanians, given that everywhere in the Yugoslav successor states the significant proportion of Albanian inhabitants and their economic and political importance grew. This manifested itself particularly in Kosovo and Macedonia. The Albanian settlement area – in part in its homogenous coverage – embraced a number of national border regions.


Yugoslavia Ceases to Exist: Dissolution on the Basis of Individual Member Republics

The question of Yugoslavia’s federal state-territory arrangement dates back to November 1943 when, amidst the anti-fascist struggle, a political decision was taken to the effect that after the war six equal states (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia) would form the new federal republic. The decision regarding the names of the states betrayed a historical, political and ethnic element from the outset. (At the time of determining the concrete territory of the Member States there were already disputes, with the protagonists clashing on territorial interests).

From November 1945 Yugoslavia became a federal people’s republic, the constitution of 1946 setting out in detail the most important decisions. The state founders proceeded according to the resolution of November 1943. The 1963 constitution established the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, giving two autonomous regions within Serbia the constitutional legal status of provinces. The new constitutional structure created by Tito in 1974 served the interests of creating stability but – as it turned out later – following Tito’s death it rather contributed to the escalation of internal uncertainty.

The territory of the republics could only be modified by agreement; the territory of the autonomous provinces rather just with their own assent. The new constitution granted the member republics broader rights than anything which had gone before, and these gradually broadened the scope of their independence.

The member republics possessed the right to secede from Yugoslavia, the state incorporating this right in a desire to emphasise the ’democratic’ nature of the system. (Stalin also guaranteed this right when the Soviet constitution was being worked out.) However, they did not seriously consider the possibility of separation either in Yugoslavia, and as such they did not regulate the separation procedure.

As the crisis within domestic policy deepened (1989–1990), part of the staff within the central apparatus and an increasing number of representatives and players from the ruling elite of the member republics gradually became interested in separation. The potential new states created for many people “first rate political-central administrative status”. All at once the majority of the Serb leadership were interested in maintaining state unity and centralisation.

The disintegration of the federal state began at constitutional level, at the level of the political territorial units (member republics), but gradually ambitions towards an independent statehood emerged also at the level of settlement areas. This study will not describe the process of separation but rather how the essence of the administrative content of the existing system appeared within the territorial rearrangements and experiments; and what kind of secession ambitions developed ’below the level of republic’ within the particular republics, and how those problems pertaining to the settlement areas may be handled.


Slovenia was the westernmost, economically most-developed, and the most homogeneous of the Yugoslav countries in terms of ethnicity, language and faith. The Slovene proportion of the population exceeded 80% while that of the Slovenian speakers exceeded 90%. It already possessed wide-ranging economic and intellectual links with the West even in the Yugoslav period.

93.2% of the electorate participated in the referendum held on 23 December 1990, 95.6% of which supported the proclamation of the country’s independence, corresponding to 88.2% of the total citizens eligible to vote.

Slovenia declared its independence on 25 June 1991, with the country’s new democratic constitution coming into existence at the end of December 1991. Slovenia did not possess a significant Serb minority, and only a small number of Hungarian inhabitants and a higher number of Italian inhabitants were registered as native minorities. The ten-day war did not throw Slovenia into disorder; the losses both in human and in material terms were small.

In Slovenia no real secession movement appeared within either of these Hungarian and Italian settlement areas. Thus, without any internal struggle in the country, an independent state was set up on the territory of the former member republic. The new constitution granted far-ranging rights to the native minorities, ensuring their entitlement to parliamentary representation.

Slovenia did have border disputes with Croatia over smaller territories and sea access, but these disputes threatened neither then nor now to escalate into any serious conflict. At the same time we have to acknowledge that among the states of the Balkan Peninsula border disputes have always tended to be of a more long-term nature.


In the course of the referendum on Croatian independence held on 19 May 1991, the Serb minority announced a boycott. 84.2% of all the citizens eligible to vote participated in the referendum, 94.3% of the electorate voting in favour of independence, representing some 79.4% of the enfranchised citizens.

On 25 June 1991 the Croatian parliament announced the country’s independence, (and parallel to it accepted a document entitled “Charter on the Rights of Serbs and other Nationalities in the Republic of Croatia”) which, following the three-month moratorium demanded by the EU, the parliament again confirmed with a large majority on 8 October. The government of the Federal Republic of Germany was the first to recognise the state, after which international recognition for the new Croatia followed gradually.

At the beginning of July 1991 Serb forces occupied the Baranya triangle, with intense fighting taking place in Western Slavonia, too. The Baranya, Western Syrmia and Slavonia autonomous region was established on the occupied territories, which in turn set up its own government (under the leadership of Goran Hadzić). The autonomous region formally belonged to the Republic of Serbian Krajina, with the western regional outlook referring to it as the “Eastern Sector”. From the summer of 1991 to 1998 a form of uncertainty prevailed both regarding the ruling state structure and state territory, and also on the territory inhabited by Hungarians.

The new country’s constitution was accepted at the end of December 1991. The constitution awarded autonomous self-determination status to all those communities and regions where the proportion of the particular ethnic minority within the population exceeded 50%. Thus the 11 Serb-majority Krajina districts could have adapted themselves to the new Croatian state with the possible right to self-determination.

According to the 1991 census Croatia possessed a considerable number and proportion of Serb inhabitants. The political leadership of the Serb population thought – following Croatia’s declaration of independence and the international recognition thereof – that for them the existence of an independent state could mean protection against Croat excesses. As such they proclaimed, and in part organised, the Republic of Serbian Krajina which expanded to comprise the majority Serb settlement areas. Milan Babić, a qualified dentist, became the Prime Minister of a state which considered itself independent.

The new ’state’ comprised a great part of the historical Krajina region which at the time of its foundation constituted the equivalent of some one-third of the territory of the new Croatia, and exercised its authority here. Knin became its ’capital city’, and its political and central administrative centre. On the territory of the ’republic’ neither human nor ethnic minority rights were really respected. (Babić was taken to The Hague as a war criminal where he committed suicide.)

In February 1992, on the basis of a UN Security Council (SC) resolution, the international community sent troops to the conflict zones of the former Yugoslavia, among them to the territory of the Baranya triangle.

In a bloody and drawn-out war Croatia gained its existence as an independent state covering the major part of the territory it had occupied as a former member republic, later restoring its sovereignty in the second period of the ”Patriotic War”. The Croatian state liquidated the unilaterally proclaimed political entity comprising the majority Serb settlement area with brute force (Military Operation Storm in August 1995). Croatia did not wish to see any kind of formation possessing meaningful regional autonomy on its territory at the time of its victory. (General Gotovina, in part due to the expulsion of some 150,000 – 200,000 and murder of 150 civilian Serb inhabitants was taken to The Hague). The Eastern Slavonian territory of the Republic of Serbian Krajina could be returned to full Croatian sovereignty in 1998.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

At the time of the 1991 census Bosnia-Herzegovina was the most multi-ethnic (43.7% Bosnian, 31.3% Serb, 17.3% Croat and 5.5% Yugoslav), multi-faith member republic of the then Yugoslavia. In addition, the ethnic minorities lived side by side partly in settlement area majority and partly in an intensely mixed mosaic configuration.

On October 1991 Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its sovereignty. On 24 October 1991, in response, the Bosnian Serbs established the Bosnian Serb assembly to represent their own settlement area. They held a referendum in November on their own settlement territory as to whether they wished to remain within the framework of Yugoslavia. (The central government regarded the settlement area referendum as illegitimate.) The majority of the voters were in favour of remaining within the framework of Yugoslavia. On 9 January 1992 the Bosnian Serb assembly declared the establishment of the Serb Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina in addition to which they attempted unilaterally to determine their own territory. They accepted an independent constitution.

After the referendum on independence organised over the entire territory of the republic (29 February–2 March 1992) – which the Serbs living within the territory boycotted – the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina announced its independence on 3 March. The EU recognised the independence of the new state on 6 April.

Following the decision of the central authority (which they regarded as unconstitutional), the Bosnian Serbs announced the independence of the Serb Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina on 7 April. As an independent state they made decisions concerning themselves, but not a single international player recognised their independent statehood.

In the bloody Bosnian war triggered by these events the Serbs fought for accession to Serbia and the most complete territorial union of the Serb settlement area possible, adopting ethnic cleansing in the case of interpolated communities and territories.

Bloody military conflict also developed between Croats and Bosnians particularly in the area of Mostar (where these were almost no Serb inhabitants). The Croats also aspired to the announcement of the Herzegbosnian Croat Republic and partial establishment thereof in Bosnia-Herzegovina (which the Croat political leadership tacitly supported), so that the independent political regional formation comprising a comparatively homogeneous and closed settlement area be transformed into a state.

In the end the Croat and Bosnian political elements also bowed to pressure from the international community (March 1994) to establish a Croat-Bosnian Federation as one of the political entities of a virtually unified Bosnia-Herzegovina, but this did not completely resolve the existing tensions between them.

In the area of Bihac a power rivalry broke out also among the Bosnians, in the background of which were not ambitions enforced by ethnic and religious interests but rather by political and individual interests. Fikret Abdić attempted to build up regional power but in the end fell into Croatian captivity.

In the area of Sarajevo, the NATO air force intervened in the bloody war in defence of the Bosnian population. The intervention of international forces restricted, and later essentially settled, armed battle between the many players.

With the Dayton Peace Accords of November 1995 and the December Paris peace treaty a virtually unified Bosnia and Herzegovina came into being, but in reality power remained with the two political-central administrative entities. The greater part of the Bosnian Serb Republic came into being on the basis of ethnic homogeneity and with limited recognition of the results of battle. As such, the ethnic principle in this case “won through” as the basic principle of political-territorial organisation; on the territory of the Croat-Bosnian Federation the entity was multicultural but at lower levels the ethnic principle clearly appeared in the division of central administration.

According to the peace treaty Bosnia and Herzegovina came under international supervision; foreign peacekeeping troops were stationed in the region; the chief decision-makers were representatives of the international community who could quash every decision and law.

The complicated settlement of the strategically important position of the “Brčko area” was a separate matter.

Unity within the area bears unavoidable significance for both parties. As such, dual sovereignty or dual subordination was accepted temporarily in the interests of all parties concerned.


Macedonia – compared to the other member republics – split with Yugoslavia entirely peacefully, celebrating 8 September 1991 as its Independence Day. First of all the Bulgarians recognised the new country but its existence, indeed even its very name, meant concern for Greece. In 1995 Greece announced an embargo against its northern neighbour.

The country is ethnically divided; beside some 65% Macedonians, the Albanians constitute a significant 25% minority, settled territorially homogeneously. Tensions between the two communities heightened in 2001 – in part in connection with the Kososvan processes. For Macedonia the administration of the Albanian settlement area unit appeared as a necessity as well as a potential challenge for the long run.


Serbia and Montenegro:
The Remains of Yugoslavia or the Next Chapter in the Balkanisation Process

In April 1992 it became clear for the former Yugoslav and Serb political elite that the Yugoslavia created by Tito would come to an end. At the same time, they wanted to consciously maintain the existence of ”Yugoslavia”, and the two ”republics that remained together” (Serbia and Montenegro) created the ”Yugoslav Federal Republic”. From this point on the separation of the ’real’ Yugoslavia (small-, remaining, etc.) from the former Yugoslavia started to cause concern for the world at large. The ’Yugoslav’, which meant primarily, the Serb elite was active almost continuously in regaining possession (by war) of at least part of the former territories.

Until 1995 the Croatian and Bosnian conflict and the 1998–1999 Kosovo conflict stood in the foreground. Within these clashes, the relationship to the Serb ethnic rank and file and, in the context of Kosovo, the anxieties connected with the Albanians and the brutalities committed towards them manifested themselves.

The new Yugoslavia – besides its deepening internal conflicts – escaped from each conflict defeated both militarily and in part morally, too. It came face to face with key factors within the international community; in the spring of 1999 NATO bombed the country’s strategic institutions, thereby throwing the workings of the state partly into disarray. International military forces entered Kosovo, with the province coming under international, i.e. UN control and protectorate.

Following Milošević’s political downfall in October 2000 the pressure and opportunity to restart and reorganise manifested themselves. Serbia and the Serb society did not accept the establishment of the new confederation defined in the 2003 constitution easily even in spite of the political rearrangements, neither the right for Montenegro to decide on its separation by referendum after three years had elapsed. The referendum took place on 21 May 2006, and with the peculiar validity threshold of 55% defined by the European Union, the Montenegrins expressed their lack of any real interest in a quick split.

Talks have begun on the future fate of Kosovo both at bilateral level, between Serbia and Albania, and international level. The Albanian majority, both it ethnical terms and in the proportion of the settlement area, considers the full independence of the province to be the only goal and acceptable solution; while the Serb half of the country is capable of and prepared to grant all forms of provincial autonomy but does not wish to accept full independence as yet.

The Kosovo question is fascinating not just within the context of the Balkan Peninsula but also from the point of view that the final solution to this question, its method and result will set an example for all regions of a similar nature and in a similar situation, not to mention the fact that it may set processes in motion for the creation of a new state.

Vojvodina has for the most part had the territorial autonomy restored which Milošević had suspended. This is significant politically and historically; and has fewer implications for ethnic minorities as a consequence of fundamental changes in demographic relations in Vojvodina. The number of Hungarian inhabitants in Vojvodina has declined to such an extent that the community by itself is no longer capable of ’obtaining’ territorial autonomy for its entire area ’by force’, and for the most part can only consider the strengthening of territorial, cultural and central administrative autonomy for the majority of its own settlement area.

In conjunction with this, territorial autonomy may even gain strength if the Serb majority would demand the growth of their own sphere of movement from the central government, with particular regard to strengthening opportunities for accession to the European Union.


The national and geographic structure of the Balkan Peninsula has been fundamentally altered during the past period of more than a decade and a half. “Previously acquired rights and status” prevailed in shaping the states and state borders, but in the case of the internal division of Bosnia and Herzegovina as an entity the process of institutionalising the ”political and central administrative unit which had not previously existed” (Bosnian Serb Republic) also emerged.

As it can be seen the new national geographical ’line-up’ has neither its external nor its full internal legitimacy. Only this may serve to explain the fact that international troops and police forces are stationed on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Kosovo acting as an international protectorate.

The results of the Montenegrin referendum were accepted unconditionally by all interested parties, and the fact that the arrangement of the Kosovo situation was by and large acceptable to all the parties involved may clarify the situation in the whole region, and accession to the European Union and NATO may indeed serve to handle the historically unresolved questions in a new light.

The political and central administrative ’treatment’ of the ethnic settlement area does not only constitute a fundamental concern on the Balkan Peninsula for the future, too, but inevitably – in different ways and under different circumstances – it would appear in the future development of the European Union, as well. In the ’union of minorities’ (in comparison with the whole everyone in the EU may be considered a minority) the questions regarding national majorities–minorities; the settlement area majority – the settlement area minority will remain a sensitive issue.