Malešević on Štiks, 'Nations and Citizens in Yugoslavia and the Post-Yugoslav States: One Hundred Years of Citizenship'

Igor Štiks
Siniša Malešević

Igor Štiks. Nations and Citizens in Yugoslavia and the Post-Yugoslav States: One Hundred Years of Citizenship. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015. 240 pp. $108.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4742-2152-8.

Reviewed by Siniša Malešević (University College Dublin)
Published on H-Nationalism (June, 2017)
Commissioned by Cristian Cercel

Citizenship is a concept ordinarily associated with one’s legal membership in a sovereign state. Having citizenship in a particular nation-state implies that one is entitled to a specific set of rights, from full participation in the political life to welfare protection. Being a citizen also entails particular obligations: from paying taxes at source to being conscripted to fight in times of war. Nevertheless, citizenship is much more than a legal category. Since it frames and institutionalizes sharp distinctions between those who are included and those who are excluded, it is also a potent mechanism for fashioning the social order. In this context, as Michael Mann demonstrated convincingly, the extension of citizenship rights was historically determined by changing geopolitics as well as the specific interests of the ruling groups focused on attaining internal cohesion and managing class conflicts. Hence, instead of establishing identical citizenship strategies, European nation-states, and then the rest of the world, developed quite diverse models of citizenship, from the constitutional models in the US and UK to the contested types in continental Europe to the merged versions in the Mediterranean states and the negotiated models in Scandinavia.[1] Bryan Turner has extended this analysis further by pointing to the different cultural traditions associated with the distinct citizenship regimes, examining the role Protestantism played in the development of state-suspicious and privately focused US citizenship in contrast to the French collectivist secularism that privileged the public over the private sphere.[2] 

Igor Štiks’s new book is, to some extent, written in a similar vein as its principal aim is to show the multifaceted and ever changing character of citizenship. More specifically, he analyzes how the transformation of citizenship models was crucial in the making and unmaking of different political communities in southeast Europe. By exploring the dynamics of changing conceptions and practices of citizenship over the past one hundred years, Štiks demonstrates how various citizenship regimes were instrumental in molding distinct ethno-national and civic identities. The book traces these organizational and ideological transformations from the first, monarchist, unitary Yugoslav state (1918-41) through its communist, federal, counterpart (1945-91) to the establishment of the new independent states on the ruins of the federal Yugoslavia (1992-99) and the reorganization of the new, post-Yugoslav states in the context of the actual, or aspirational, membership in the EU (2000-present). Thus Štiks shows how the rulers of the monarchist Yugoslavia introduced the first citizenship law only in 1928. This law established a single, unitary, state citizenship which corresponded with the then dominant idea that the new state consisted of a single nation composed of the three "tribes"--Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.

In sharp contrast, the citizenship regimes in the communist Yugoslavia were centered on recognizing and accommodating the ethno-cultural differences. After the Second World War, Yugoslav state citizenship was defined at two levels: the federal and the level of each individual republic. As Štiks argues, the parallel existence of these two layers of citizenship, where the relationship between the two was ill defined and constantly changing, generated continual tensions, leading towards what he terms a bifurcated citizenship. To deal with these polarizing tensions the Yugoslav communists introduced a series of constitutional changes aimed at accommodating competing interests of the leaders representing different federal units. Hence, from the 1960s until the mid-1970s Yugoslav federation was gradually decentralized, leading towards what Štiks calls "centrifugal federalism"--"a process of gradual but irreversible empowerment of the subunits at the expense of the centre" (p. 19). The enactment of the 1974 federal constitution was the ultimate sign of this process leading towards a confederal state structure in which republican citizenship would ultimately trump many of the federal laws. Štiks argues that the bifurcated citizenship regimes contributed significantly to the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia. In his own words, "competing visions of citizenship, I would argue, were one of the crucial factors that pushed the country towards disintegration and conflict" (p. 129). He goes on to argue that "the ethno-national conception of citizenship finally prevailed and fuelled conflicts over the redefinition of borders within which the ethno-national states were to be formed on the basis of absolute majorities of the core ethno-national groups" (p. 131). This legacy of ethno-nationalist citizenship was particularly pronounced in the 1990s, when the new post-Yugoslav states utilized their respective citizenship laws as the mechanism for ethnic engineering. Although the last fifteen years have witnessed less discrimination and various attempts to accommodate minority claims (in the context of the EU membership aspirations), Štiks insists that in southeast Europe citizenship still operates as a tool of ethnic nation building.

This is a very interesting and valuable book. By looking at the historical transformations of this region through the lens of shifting citizenship regimes, Štiks offers us an original and insightful analysis. The major strength of this work is its ability to successfully combine an in-depth, longue durée study of the legal history of southeast Europe with a nuanced, more generalized analysis of changing citizenship strategies. Štiks is particularly good at unraveling the sheer complexities and inconsistencies of socialist citizenship regimes. He is absolutely right that citizenship has been and remains a historically variable phenomenon that cannot be reduced to its singular, liberal incarnation. It is a pity that the book does not pursue this point further by linking it with the comparative historical sociology of citizenship in the manner of Mann, Turner, Miguel Centeno, and others.

One could also challenge several claims advanced in the book. For example, Štiks embraces the Gramscian perspective in his analysis (p. 188) but some of his key arguments, such as that the competing visions of citizenship were a crucial factor in the disintegration of Yugoslavia, seem closer to epistemological idealism than to neo-Marxist, Gramscian materialism. If the rival ethno-national conceptions of citizenship were ultimately responsible for war, then where is the place for the political and military organizations or the economic factors in this process? One could argue that the competing citizenship visions were less the cause for the conflict and more the consequence of dramatically changing geopolitical, economic, and ideological environments. In this context the focus is less on the rival conceptions of citizenship and much more on the power politics of competing social organizations (i.e., the republican branches of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, the military establishment, the higher echelons of bureaucracy, nationalist intellectuals, etc.). 

One could also question Štiks’s view that nationalism was weak in socialist Yugoslavia and that the Yugoslav idea was not built on shared Slavic roots but on the common interest in social progress (pp. 93, 113). As I have argued previously, while non-national, self-management socialism was a dominant normative ideology of the Yugoslav state, its operative ideology was always deeply rooted in a nationalist rhetoric and practice that drew heavily on shared Slavic roots and a peculiar amalgamation of ethnic and civic nationalist discourses.[3]

Leaving these criticisms aside, it is clear that Šiks has produced a novel and important contribution which allows us to rethink the political transformations of southeast Europe through the prism of citizenship regimes while also adding to the existing knowledge on the comparative historical dynamics of citizenship. The book is also well written and highly accessible and as such should appeal to a wide audience.


[1]. Michael Mann, States,War and Capitalism: Studies in Political Sociology (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988).

[2]. Bryan Turner, "Outline of a Theory of Citizenship," in Citizenship, ed. Bryan Turner and Peter Hamilton (London: Routledge, 1994).

[3]. Siniša Malešević, Identity as Ideology: Understanding Ethnicity and Nationalism (New York: Palgrave, 2006), 99-102; Siniša Malešević, Ideology, Legitimacy and the New State: Yugoslavia, Serbia and Croatia (London: Routledge), 123-171.

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Citation: Siniša Malešević. Review of Štiks, Igor, Nations and Citizens in Yugoslavia and the Post-Yugoslav States: One Hundred Years of Citizenship. H-Nationalism, H-Net Reviews. June, 2017.

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