Vol. 18 No. 5 (May, 2008) pp.420-422


CONSTITUTIONALIZING SECESSION IN FEDERALIZED STATES: A PROCEDURAL APPROACH, by Miodrag Jovanović. Utrecht, The Netherlands: Eleven International Publishing, 2007. 246pp. Hardback. €65.00/$114.00. ISBN: 9789077596272.


Reviewed by Lee P. Ruddin, (LL.B: Liverpool); (MRes: London) and (PgCert: Sheffield).  Email: leetherudster [at] aol.com.


The fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent break-up of the USSR were celebrated by many in the Western world. At long last, the UN, free from its Cold War shackles, could live up to its post-World War II billing of self-determination and democracy for all peoples. One commentator, Francis Fukuyama, even published a book entitled THE END OF HISTORY AND THE LAST MAN; such was the triumphant feeling of those early Nineties. Yet fifteen years on and already such thinking appears supremely naïve. But why?


Now there is talk of a new cold war. Edward Lucas, author of THE NEW COLD WAR: HOW THE KREMLIM MENACES BOTH RUSSIA AND THE WEST, tells of the resurgent rivalry between East and West. Georgia is a case in point. Will the former Soviet satellite and its breakaway province of Abkhazia become the new cold war frontline, between NATO and the Russian Federation? Even before Lucas’ book, Norman Podhoretz had introduced us to WORLD WAR IV: THE LONG STRUGGLE AGAINST ISLAMOFASCISM. The most recent development in secessionist politics appears to have only added to the long war theses on offer. As a result, a pertinent question needs to be asked: Is Kosovo Islamism’s New Beachhead?


If ever a title traversed law and politics so effortlessly – making it a more than suitable candidate for THE LAW AND POLITICS BOOK REVIEW – it is Miodrag Jovanović’s CONSTITUTIONALIZING SECESSION IN FEDERALIZED STATES: A PROCEDURAL APPROACH. The success of secession conflicts will be, in the main, determined by international politics, realpolitik in other words. Yet since international recognition is of fundamental importance to secessionist movements, the domain and philosophy of international law is never too far away (p.xii). Enter Jovanović. In view of that, CONSTITUTIONALIZING SECESSION IN FEDERALIZED STATES is required reading for law graduates just as much as it is for political science students.


Miodrag Jovanović is certainly no Fukuyama or Podhoretz, though he tackles the history, law and politics of secession in a similarly authoritative fashion. All the same his thesis remains that much more complex and less easy to generalize (not to mention less hyperbolic) than that of Messrs. Fukuyama or Podhoretz. 


“Instruments of federalism are often perceived as the only adequate substitutes for the full-statehood status [*421] of sub-state regions, but, paradoxically, prospects for a persistent and credible secessionist politics are much higher especially within the polities that have already adopted a federal structure” (pp.201-202).


This is where Jovanović comes in with his proposal that the constitutionalization of secession be introduced in federalized states.


Unlike his contemporaries, Jovanović is sympathetic to secession and secessionists, yet remains highly critical of the internationally brokered dissolution of federalized states (Chapter Three, “The Badinter Borders principle and the International Right to Secession”: pp.83-164). Indeed, it is through his sympathy for secession that he devotes himself unequivocally “to the task of defending the constitutionalized right to secession” (p.197) and ultimately, CONSTITUTIONALIZING SECESSION IN FEDERALIZED STATES.


But would an adequate constitutional response to secessionist politics prevent the triggering of interference of international actors, be they Eastern or Western? This is just one of the many questions posed by Jovanović. And the answer(s) make for an interesting read.


“To support the adoption of a constitutional institutional response to secession politics in states in which this politics has the potential to be most effective, might look like rubbing salt in a wound. However, leaving the exit option of federal units completely legally unregulated seriously increases the threat of the involvement of international actors in a potential secession crisis” (p.xvii).


This is Jovanović’s chief bugbear, given the absence of such a rule could lead to events similar to those witnessed in Yugoslavia, where a central state is not the sole master of its internal dynamics. This ought to be of great concern not only for today’s, but tomorrow’s, policymakers who inhabit a post-Badinter era, and the presiding impression “that the internationally recognized statehood of a federal state is somehow less solid than that of a unitary state” (p.202).


At the book’s end, the author acknowledges the rare occasion an academic study impacts the design of a legal or political institution, stressing that his study “certainly does not have that pretension” (p.203). This is unduly modest; in fact it digs far deeper and unearths far more than this recusatio would suggest. That there is arguably more yet to be uncovered (think power politics more so than case studies) is not a criticism of this book, but testimony to the comprehensiveness (historically, legally and politically) and complexity of the terrain its author has mapped out and made his own. Bravo.


Be sure, Jovanović’s volume is less general and more exhaustive than Marcelo G. Kohen’s (ed). SECESSION: INTERNATIONAL LAW PERSPESCTIVES, and arguably more specialised than Natalia Loukacheva’s THE ARTIC PROMISE: LEGAL AND POLITICAL AUTONOMY OF GREENLAND AND NUNAVUT. (SECESSION and THE ARCTIC PROMISE are two highly recommended texts in as many years.) [*422]


The hardback consists of five near enough equally-weighted chapters (as are the introduction and quasi conclusion) ranging from theory and uti possidetis to international practice and the ICJ decision in the Frontier Dispute case, to comparative case studies (from ‘First Generation Federations’: pp.49-64 to ‘Historic Examples of Constitutional Law on Secession’: pp.116-136 and ‘Present-Day Examples of Constitutional Law on Secession’: pp.136-148). Such case studies are fundamental in taking us closer to some standards and principles that in the future might serve as normative guidelines. A plausible procedural framework (as per the subtitle) rounds off a truly all-encompassing text (pp.183-195):


1.  Right to Initiate the Secession Procedure

2. Determining Conditions of the Campaign and the Exact Date of a Referendum

3.  Clarity of the Referendum Question

4.  Eligibility to Vote

5.  Threshold for Referendum Success

6.  Accurate Establishment of the Referendum Result

7.  The Waiting Period Between Two Secession Procedures


Approximately nine hundred footnotes together with a twenty-page bibliography complement Jovanović’s thesis tremendously, rendering CONSTITUTIONALIZING SECESSION IN FEDERALIZED STATES an incredible resource. (Even if, in parts, it reads like a rather elongated, over-quoted book review itself.) So much so, that no serious commentator of secession law and politics would be without a copy, especially when considering recent events in Abkhazia and Kosovo.



Fukuyama, Francis. 1993. THE END OF HISTORY AND THE LAST MAN. New York: Penguin Books.


Kohen, Marcelo (ed). 2006. SECESSION: INTERNATIONAL LAW PERSPECTIVES. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.


Loukacheva, Natalia. 2007. THE ARCTIC PROMISE: LEGAL AND POLITICAL AUTONOMY OF GREENLAND AND NUNAVUT. Toronto and London: University of Toronto Press.


Lucas, Edward. 2008. THE NEW COLD WAR: HOW THE KREMLIM MENACES BOTH RUSSIA AND THE WEST. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.


Podhoretz, Norman. 2007. WORLD WAR IV: THE LONG STRUGGLE AGAINST ISLAMOFASCISM. New York: Doubleday Books.


© Copyright 2008 by the author, Lee P. Ruddin.