Yugoslavia – the constitution of 1974 and some political results

Higher rates of Albanian participation in the political institutions of the 1970s federation would suggest that ethnic Albanians accepted the political system and that they enjoyed rights similar to those of other nations and national groups in Yugoslavia. This argument, however, ignores other factors like equality of employment, economic status, and the viability of cultural institutions. It also masks a crucial political factor: the will of the Albanians to form a republic of their own – a republic that might include the Albanian regions of Montenegro and Macedonia.

Suggested Reading

Conflict Background


By Momčilo Pavlović

The process of reorganizing the Yugoslav federation, which started in the late 1960s, reached its climax in the 1974 constitution. For the first time, republics and even the autonomous provinces of Vojvodina and Kosovo had their own constitutions. Many authors believe that the 1974 constitution gave to the republics and provinces prerogatives of the federal state and thus endangered that state. Some even want to trace the destruction of the country and the savage civil war to the crises that resulted from the constitutional changes.(18) In the 1974 constitution there are no articles concerning autonomous provinces per se (save Articles 1 and 4), but nevertheless the position of a province had always been treated in practice as equal to that of the republics. By this constitution, the provinces did in fact become independent of Serbia, whereas the republic of Serbia was at the same time dependent on its provinces. Serbia was a kind of federation within a federation.

Thus the Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo (SAP Kosovo), until 1968 known as Kosovo and Metohija, obtained a constitution in 1974 for the first time, according to which it had a right to regulate independently its social and economic affairs and its political bodies. The constitution defined the Kosovo Assembly as the highest institution of self-management and the highest authority of the province. The assembly was constituted by the Council of Associated Labor (ninety delegates), Council of Municipalities (fifty delegates), and the SocioPolitical Council (fifty delegates).

According to the constitution, the Assembly of SAP Kosovo had the power to change the constitution of SAP Kosovo, had a vote in the event of changes to the federal constitution or to the constitution of Serbia, and had the power to decide on other crucial questions regarding the political, social, and cultural development of the region.(19) It also had the power to issue laws and budgets, to appoint and recall the president and the members of the executive council of the SAP Kosovo Assembly, the judges of the Constitutional Court of Kosovo, the judges of the Supreme Court of Kosovo, secretaries of the region, and other officials in Kosovo institutions. It controlled the executive council and other administration bodies of the province.

The nine-member presidency of SAP Kosovo was another important institution of the region, constituted in 1974. The presidency was a representative of the province, and it had “a right and obligation to initiate debate on important questions for the social and political life of the province” in the SAP Kosovo Assembly and in other institutions. These important questions included, above all, those related to the “equality of the nations and national groups.” The presidency had to perform special tasks in the sphere of “national defense,” and in the event of war, it had to lead the “people’s resistance” in the region. Other institutions of the region (executive council of the SAP Kosovo Assembly, Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, and other judicial bodies) basically performed the same functions as their counterparts in Serbia and the Yugoslav federation.

The autonomous provinces had a special status in the Republic of Serbia. They had the right to independently issue laws and constitutions within their jurisdiction, provided they were not in opposition to the federal constitution and federal laws. On the other hand, the Republic of Serbia could only issue a constitution with the approval of provincial assemblies, and any laws it passed were only valid for the territory of Serbia outside the provinces. This territory was not defined either by the constitution or by the laws, although the term itself had been used since World War II. The provinces were represented in the federal institutions as equals, and their representatives often voted differently from those of the Republic of Serbia. Besides, it often happened that the representatives of Slovenia and Croatia seconded the position of their colleagues from the autonomous provinces.(20) However, when the votes of the provinces were in accordance with those of Serbia, other republics objected to what amounted to Serbia’s having three votes in federal institutions. Some politicians from Serbia responded by stressing that they had nothing against other republics’ forming autonomous provinces on their own territory in order to obtain more votes. Therefore, from 1974 onward, Kosovo had almost all the prerogatives of other federal units.

Until the early 1990s, the Kosovo Albanians participated in the institutions of the federation and the Republic of Serbia. From 1978 until 1988 they held, as representatives of SAP Kosovo, the following posts in federal institutions:

  • 1978 – Sinan Hasani, vice president of the SFRY assembly
  • 1979 – Fadilj Hoxha, vice president of the presidency of the SFRY
  • 1983 – Aslan Fazlija, president of the federal council of the SFRY assembly
  • 1984 – Ali Shukrija, president of the CK SKJ presidency
  • 1985 – Ilijaz Kurteshi, president of the SFRY assembly
  • 1985 – Sinan Hasani, vice president of the SFRY presidency
  • 1986 – Sinan Hasani, president of the SFRY presidency
  • 1986 – Hashim Redxepi, president of the presidium of the Union of Yugoslav Socialist Youth
  • 1988 – Kazazi Abaz, president of the council of republics and provinces of the SFRY assembly

Moreover, ethnic Albanians have represented Yugoslavia in fifteen countries as ambassadors. Three of them held the post of the assistant federal secretary for foreign affairs; three of them were general consuls; one of them was a director of a culture information center; and seven of them were heads of administration bodies and counselors in the federal foreign office. Moreover, they held important posts in defense: four of them were generals of the Yugoslav army; one of them was assistant federal secretary for defense; and two of them were commanders of the territorial defense of SAP Kosovo. They were also represented in the institutions of Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro, whereas in Kosovo they held the majority of posts.

In summary, from 1974 to 1988, we find ethnic Albanians holding a number of leadership positions in the federation, some republics, and SAP Kosovo. For the first two decades after the war, Communists of Serbian and Montenegrin ethnic origin prevailed in party leadership and in other institutions, in large measure because they had fought for the Communist resistance. By the late 1960s ethnic Albanians, already predominant in numbers, were steadily increasing their role in the politics and social life of the province but still not in direct proportion to their share of the population. Of the 47,791 Communists in Kosovo in 1973, 29,507 (61.7 percent) were ethnic Albanians, whereas 12,515 (26.2 percent) were Serbs and 3,824 (8.0 percent) Montenegrins. Ethnic Albanians still felt that they were being treated unequally because their representation in the League of Communists had not yet reached the percentage of Albanians in the total Kosovo population (73 percent in the 1971 census), whereas the Serbs constituted 26.2 percent of the League of Communists despite comprising only 18.3 percent of the total population

By the logic of Yugoslavia’s ideology of brotherhood and unity, higher rates of Albanian participation in the political institutions of the 1970s federation would suggest that ethnic Albanians accepted the political system and that they enjoyed rights similar to those of other nations and national groups in Yugoslavia. This argument, however, ignores other factors like equality of employment, economic status, and the viability of cultural institutions. It also masks a crucial political factor: the will of the Albanians to form a republic of their own—a republic that might include the Albanian regions of Montenegro and Macedonia. To some within the Serbian Communist Party, the federal government had neither the will nor the means to begin a dialogue for this eventuality.(21) Therefore, the Serbian Communist Party stepped into this vacuum and suggested an alternative to the 1974 de facto status of Kosovo.

An attempt to change the constitutional position of Serbia in 1977

On 16 January 1975, less than a year after the constitution was issued, the presidency of Serbia demanded its revision, explaining that it had brought disunity to the Republic of Serbia and that it was Serbia alone, among all other federal units, that had not obtained its “historic right to a national state within the Yugoslav federation.” This demand was aimed at recovering and reinforcing Serbia’s power over its autonomous provinces. It was formulated by a group of legal experts who were engaged for this task by the presidency of Serbia. Two years later, these experts published their analysis in a so-called blue book, a top-secret document on the malfunction of relations between Serbia and its provinces (appointment of officials, defense, planning, administration of justice, security, etc.). This publication caused a clash within the state and party leaderships of Serbia. The party leadership thought it unacceptable and censured it as “a centralist document.” The conflict was solved by the supreme arbiter, Tito, at a meeting with the representatives of the Central Committee of Serbia (T. Vlaškalić), Regional Committee of Vojvodina (D. Alimpić), and Regional Committee of Kosovo (M. Bakalli) held on 27 July 1977. Tito insisted on keeping the constitution intact regarding the position of the provinces, thus being consistent with his principle of ethnic balance and suppressing the power of the largest federal unit and its supposed aspiration for centralism and unitarism. Tito’s influence ended this dispute, but the problem, for both the Albanians and the Serbs, remained unsolved.

Kosovo under autonomy is a component of the larger Scholars’ Initiative ‘Confronting Yugoslav Controversies’ (Second Edition), the extracts of which will be published on TransConflict.com every Friday.


18) It may be misleading to focus on the 1974 Yugoslav constitution, which changed little in the constitutional structure of Yugoslavia (it made mostly symbolic changes). Most important were constitutional amendments introduced between 1967 and 1971 that had a decisive impact on Serb-Albanian relations. Also, although autonomous provinces
were strongly empowered in the long process of constitutional reform, Serbia was still officially designated as a unitary state like other Yugoslav republics. Other constitutional provisions also left much space for contrasting interpretations simply because Yugoslav leaders could not agree on the more specific and precise text. Therefore, the empowerment of autonomous provinces was only partly due to the constitutional provisions. Draža Marković said that Serbia’s high officials believed that it was not the constitution itself but its extreme interpretation resulting from informal power relations in the federation at the time that strongly disadvantaged Serbia’s central institutions.

19) Beginning in 1989, the Serbian assembly prepared amendments to Serbia’s constitution that would eradicate Kosovo’s autonomy. To do so, however, required the provincial assembly of Kosovo to vote and accept these amendments. Police intimidation and cohesion of Kosovo’s deputies on the eve of the vote resulted in the provincial assembly’s acceptance of the amendments. Sabrina Ramet, The Three Yugoslavias: State Building and Legitimation, 1918–2005 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), 353.

20) Voting differently was, it seems, much more frequent. Although no one has, as far as we know, looked into the voting records, our impression on the basis of interviews with high officials of Serbia (those in office before the rise of Milošević) is that provincial high officials voted differently not only because their interests at times diverged with those of Serbia but often because they wanted to demonstrate publicly their newly acquired power. If this is true (answers from Serbia’s high officials from different factions, generations, and institutional interests were very consistent in this respect), it is hardly a surprise that they came into conflict early, many years before the rise of Milošević.

21) The assumption behind this idea is that symmetrical relationships between territorial units in a decentralized state are the only possible way to fairly and successfully regulate ethnonational conflict. This may be misleading. Research on ethnonational conflict regulation provides ample evidence that there is a variety of strategies to deal with the problem: recognition of identity of relevant groups, various levels of collective rights, territorial and nonterritorial autonomy, and so forth. Asymmetric relationships between ethnonationally based territorial units in decentralized states are often stressed as highly successful (e.g., post-Franco Spain, Canada, Russia in the 1990s). It is clear that Kosovo Albanians had obtained a recognition of their identity, very high level of collective rights, and extensive territorial autonomy but not the official right to self-determination, which was granted only to republics and constituent nations. That Kosovo did not become a republic was not simply a consequence of Yugoslavia’s ideology of brotherhood and unity but perhaps had at least something to do with the comparative experience of dealing with similar phenomena. There is no reason to look at socialist Yugoslavia and its successor states as a special case—the comparative approach always brings a broader perspective on things.

What are the principles of conflict transformation?



11 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    Does anyone know if i can get online the full text of the 1974 yugoslavian constitution in english? it’s an emergency! thank you!

  2. Pingback : Partidos Completos Appreciation Society – Volumen 25: Estrella Roja (YUG) vs Colo Colo (CHI) – Copa Intercontinental (1991) – La hora Barba!!!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons