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Comisso: Federalism and nationalism in post-socialist eastern Europe

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Comisso. 1993. Federalism and nationalism in post-socialist eastern Europe. New Europe Law Review 1 (spring): 489-503.

In Brief

Of the former Communist bloc, the only states that experienced partition as part of transition were the three federal states: Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and the USSR. Partition occurred less along ethnic boundaries than along the former federal boundaries. "Thus, even though there is a great deal of reason to believe that federalism ought to provide a means through which a multinational society can be accommodated within a single state, the actual experience of both Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union suggests that the practical effect of federalism in states and societies undergoing a transition from socialism is to facilitate the creation of new sovereignties without necessarily coming to grips with underlying national tensions."

In communist times, the central government in these federations held the federations together through political (party) leadership more than through legal (constitutional) leadership. It also held them together through force. As USSR, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia lost their abilities to hold their federations together through force, the central government lost its ability to force a bargain. So regional leaders needed a regional base, not support from the center. Leaders, seeing that their regions had an ethnic majority, played the nationalist card to build a regional base. And this led directly to disintegration of the federation.