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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

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Blueprints for a House Divided: The Constitutional Logic of the Yugoslav Conflicts
Robert M. Hayden

Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2000
204 pp., Cloth $34.95, ISBN 0472110667



The argument of this clearly written book is that the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and the structure of the resulting conflicts can all be explained as the logical consequences of the adoption of certain constitutional concepts, beginning in the late 1980?s (p. 16). At first glance, Hayden?s treatise implies a legal reductionism that seems to sap the conflict of its politics, in particular the issue of responsibility for acts of violence. Instead, his project is to place that issue at the centre of his argument. Hayden makes a case which, at root, places the political fears, ambitions and motivations of all sides on an equal, ?rational?, footing, and sharply criticises the notion that they were motivated by chaos or irrationality.

The book is divided into two parts, the first dealing with the end of federal Yugoslavia. The heart of his critique is that all constitutional models, from the Croat-Slovene confederal proposal onwards, and therefore, all political arguments about the state, are based on principles of ?constitutional nationalism?, a legal and constitutional structure that privileges one (ethnic) nation over those of any other resident in a particular republic (p.68). His argues that this logic is not ?Balkan? or at all ?alien? to modern European thought, but rather is central to it.

The second part, the bulk of the book, deals with the dissolution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, covering the various forms of constitutional restructuring that has been attempted since 1990. His prognosis for Dayton?s Bosnia (two entities, each based on and manifesting constitutional nationalism) is bleak. He discounts the possibility of a joint state of equal nations and citizens as ?virtually nonexistent?.

The last two chapters of the book merit particular attention. Hayden writes powerfully about the linkages between self-determination and sovereignty. He argues that Bosnia is a manifestation of ?negative sovereignty?; that Dayton squares a vicious circle, accepting the fact of self-determination while pretending that the principle of inviolability of borders has been honoured (pp.151-3). Citing the electoral endorsement of the ethnic state, Hayden skewers the mostly American drafters of this constitution as ?ignoring the necessity of the consent of the governed while proclaiming that [they] are building democracy?(p.154). Here he repeats a theme present throughout his analysis: that the nationalists elected in 1990, and again in 1996, do accurately represent the views of the electorate. However, he ignores an oft-repeated criticism of the electoral process ? that while the choice made by voters in both those periods may have been ?rational? in the narrowest political sense (they chose those whom they felt best defended them in uncertain times), the consequences of the voters? choices were not equally endorsed. A key weakness in his argument, the legitimacy of the nationalist parties, remains unquestioned throughout the book.

The final chapter, ?Scholarship and Responsibility?, will irk some readers. Firmly in the role of ?Realist?, he outlines what was lacking in the decisions of Western policy makers in 1991-2: the international recognition of Slovenia, Croatia and especially Bosnia, without acknowledging what the logic that underlined ?constitutional nationalism? would mean (i.e. minorities revolt against the ethnic state, war and eventually ethnic cleansing), was a triumph of wishful thinking about Western liberal democracy and constitutionalism, rather than James Gow?s ?Triumph of the Lack of Will? (p. 164). The book also contains a brief epilogue on NATO?s intervention in Kosovo, placing it in the broader context of the dissolution of Yugoslavia and attacking the notion of humanitarian intervention.

Reading Hayden?s book is a valuable exercise. It is as much his argument on the role of the scholar as it is a constitutional analysis. It is worthwhile engaging with his understanding of that role: to provide the ?facts? that make possible decisions based on Weber?s ethics of responsibility. To do otherwise he claims, is at best na´ve. Readers who have engaged with the former Yugoslavia will challenge the narrowness of that notion, but welcome the sobriety of his assessment of democracy and constitutionality.


Ian Mitchell, University of Wales, Aberystwyth



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