The 1974 Yugoslav Constitution was the fourth and final constitution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It came into effect on 21 February 1974.
With 406 original articles, the 1974 constitution was one of the longest constitutions in the world. It added elaborate language protecting the self-management system from state interference and expanding representation of republics and provinces in all electoral and policy forums. The Constitution called the restructured Federal Assembly the highest expression of the self-management system. Accordingly, it prescribed a complex electoral procedure for that body, beginning with the local labor and political organizations. Those bodies were to elect commune-level assemblies, which then would elect assemblies at province and republic level; finally, the latter groups would elect the members of the two equal components of the Federal Assembly, the Federal Chamber and the Chamber of Republics and Provinces.
Although the new constitution dealt with the codification of the socio-economic system towards the achievements of the theory of self-management socialism to a greater extent, the most controversial and historical consequences arose from the regulations of the Constitution about the state organization of Yugoslavia, which were later used as the legal basis for the breakup of Yugoslavia and differently interpreted by the warring parties during the armed conflict in the former Yugoslavia.
The new Constitution also reduced the Federal Presidency from twenty-three to nine members, with equal representation for each republic and province and an ex-officio position for the president of the League of Communists. The 1974 Constitution also expanded protection of individual rights and court procedures, with the all-purpose caveat that no citizen could use those freedoms to disrupt the prescribed social system. Finally, Kosovo and Vojvodina, the two constituent provinces of Serbia, received substantially increased autonomy, including de facto veto power in the Serbian parliament.
The Yugoslav Federal Constitution of 1974 confirmed and strengthened the principles of the Yugoslav Federal Constitution Amendments of 1971, which introduced a concept that sovereign rights were exercised by the federal units, and that the federation had only the authority specifically transferred to it by the constitution.
The constitution also proclaimed Josip Broz Tito president for life.
Adoption of the Constitution was preceded by significant political events that occurred several years earlier, and that marked the beginning of the federalization of the country. First, in the summer of 1966, Aleksandar Ranković was removed from all functions, one of the closest associates of Josip Broz Tito, who was an opponent of federalization. The ideas made by Edvard Kardelj won, and thus began a gradual federalization. In 1968 and 1971 amendments were adopted to the Federal Constitution, through which Yugoslav Presidency as a collective leadership body was introduced (1971). Later that year, the republican leadership of SR Croatia was completely dismissed, which propagated their nationalistic politics. And in the autumn of next year (1972), a purge was carried out in the leadership of the SR Serbia. After all that, everything was ready for the adoption of the new Federal Constitution.
By the words of the Constitution, all power belongs to the "working class and working people". In terms of governmental structure, the provinces within the SR Serbia (SAP Vojvodina and SAP Kosovo) have received even greater rights than they had before. Provinces had their state and party Presidencies. Their territory could not be altered without the decision of the Provincial Assembly, provincial governments even got the right to veto decisions of the authorities in Serbia.
Josip Broz Tito, president of Yugoslavia, was named President for Life of Yugoslavia, and his name was entered in the text of the Constitution. He was also the President of the Republic and President of the Presidency of Yugoslavia. After his death, all his functions would be transferred to the Presidency of Yugoslavia.
During the public discussion on the proposed changes to the Constitution, Professor of the Belgrade Law School, Dr. Mihailo Đurić was sentenced to prison after the publication of the speech in which he opposed the implementation of the planned constitutional changes. Pointing out that Yugoslavia was becoming just a geographical term, on whose soil under the disguise of consistent development of equality between nations, several independent, even conflicting national states were being established, prof. Đurić warned that the proposed constitutional changes not only fundamentally change the character of the former state union of the Yugoslav nations, but rejects the very idea of such a state community. Stressing that if something would be left from the state, it is only because in the next phase of changes we had something to bring to an end.
The introductory part of the 1974 Constitution presents 10 basic principles:
Previous constitutions had granted the republics the constitutional right to self-determination, including a right to secede. In the 1974 Constitution, these rights belonged to the "nations of Yugoslavia." At the same time, the constitution included a number of provisions that could deny the right to secede. Article 5 required the consent of all republics and provinces before the borders of Yugoslavia could be altered. Article 283 gave the Yugoslav Assembly the power to determine alterations in the state's boundaries. It was not clearly defined whether unilateral secession was possible or whether this could only be done if the federal government and all of the republics and provinces agreed to it.
Out of all constituencies, the SR Serbia had the most comments on the state organization under the 1974 Constitution, which was natural given its territorial structure. Initially, it requested the federal government to convince the province to properly interpret the Constitution, according to which Serbia was still a sovereign republic with an appropriate degree of autonomy for its provinces. However, after Kardelj's (1979) and Tito's death (1980) it was more and more difficult to arbitrate in disputes between the republics and provinces. In the mid-1980s, the Serbian leadership was requesting amendments to the Constitution, no longer only correct interpretation. In early 1987, thanks to the efforts of the Serbian leadership, the Presidency of Yugoslavia initiated the adoption of more than 130 amendments. However, some time later, there was a conflict within the Serbian leadership. At the eighth session of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Serbia in September 1987, the ideas of Slobodan Milošević won, who energetically and strongly demanded the repeal of the Constitution of 1974. At the end of 1988 there was a shift of complete leadership in both provinces, and in the spring of 1989 amendments to the Constitution of Serbia were adopted, which significantly narrowed the powers and rights of the provinces. The final repeal of the constitutional provisions of 1974 in Serbia took place in September 1990, when it adopted a brand new constitution.
In the meantime, the other Yugoslav republics had started removing the 1974 constitution. Slovenia first removed the prefix "socialist" from the name of the republic in March 1990, and at the same time adopted a series of amendments that removed the socialist arrangement. In Croatia, after the victory of the HDZ (Franjo Tuđman), adopted amendments in 1990 which also removed the prefix "socialist" and changed the republic symbols as well. In December 1990 Croatia adopted a brand new constitution. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia followed in the autumn of 1990, when the anti-communist forces removed the socialist system as well, and in Montenegro the removal was formally marked by the adoption of the new republic constitution in the autumn of 1992.
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