More than eighty years have elapsed since the constitutional history of Serbia was the topic of one comprehensive volume in Serbian language. As evidenced by the title of his book, Jaša Prodanović used the approach consisting of researching constitutional developments in the light of political events.1 His method of displaying the subject was purely chronological. Prodanović’s book on the constitutional history of Serbia in one volume remained an exception, for the sake of two reasons. Firstly, because of the enormous intellectual influence of the work of Slobodan Jovanović, and secondly due to the university curricula.
Between the two world wars, Slobodan Jovanović, the greatest Serbian legal scholar of all time, wrote a constitutional history of Serbia in a series of volumes, but his books went far beyond that topic. Jovanović’s work is unique and goes far beyond the framework of constitutional history as a discipline. Several books of his Completed Works published in 1990 concerned different historical periods, containing an overwhelming amount of information which marvellously merged constitutional history with topics concerning political, economic and social issues.2 Jovanović had a brilliant style which made him a champion of Serbian scholarship and academic writing. He nevertheless did not produce a work on the constitutional history of Serbia in one comprehensive volume.
Constitutional history has never been an independent and separate subject in the university curricula of Serbian and former Yugoslav law schools. It has been treated within the framework of the discipline called History of State and Law, or more recently Legal History. It therefore was a part of courses that were wider in scope and not solely focused on constitutional developments.
Constitutional history also found a place in university courses on positive constitutional law. The authors of scholarly manuals included certain passages on constitutional history within these. However, they only partly dealt with national constitutional history, preferring to cover constitutional developments in comparative law.
Despite the unfavourable treatment of constitutional history in university curricula, Serbian academics from various universities have published numerous studies on different topics in the constitutional history of Serbia. For their valuable contributions they deserve to be mentioned, taking into account those belonging to the generation of the author of this volume, and those younger than this: M. Stefanovski, O. Popović-Obradović, Z. Mirković, Lj. Krkljuš, S. Šarkić, S. Stojčić, D. Nikolić, N. Ranđelović and M. Pavlović.
Turning to the publications in English on Serbian constitutional history, the situation seems comparable, at least as regards treating the subject in a single volume. The leading publication is more than forty years old. It is a small, elegantly presented book by Alex Dragnich, a Vanderbilt scholar, who displayed the constitutional history of Serbia en grandes lignes, as a process of striving for parliamentary government.3 Dragnich’s book contained less than 140 pages. As for the method, it was very much like Prodanović’s, which was written in Serbian. Dragnich described his approach as ‘largely chronological’, but nevertheless stated that the main theme of his book was ‘the struggle for democracy, and particularly the drive to secure parliamentary government’.4 What appears to be lacking in the works of both Prodanović and Dragnich is an approach that encompasses a thorough study of constitutionalism as a concept.
Many new endeavours have occurred, and new publications come to light, in the last couple of years. This was in great part owing to a project conducted within the scope of the research of the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt am Main. Professors Stolleis and Simon were in charge of a huge project concerning the whole region of South-East Europe. Professor Simon was the editor in chief of the second volume of the book encompassing the legal and constitutional developments of Serbia.5 Serbian contributors were, in order of appearance in the volume, D. Popović, S. Šarkić, U. Stanković, Z. Mirković, S. Avramović, D. Nikolić and Ž. Bujuklić.
Some other valuable recent contributions to the study of the constitutional history of Serbia deserve to be mentioned. M. Stefanovski published a book in Serbian, researching the emergence of the 1869 Constitution.6 On the other hand, T. Marinković largely treated historical topics in his book on Serbian constitutional law published in English.7
Owing to the publications mentioned, one might say that the state of scholarly research has become ripe for a new synthesis. There is the need for a fresh approach to the constitutional history of Serbia which is both chronological and subject oriented, one that makes an effort to study the evolution of constitutionalism as well as narrating events chronologically. At the same time, publishing on the constitutional history of Serbia in English reaches out to a wider range of academics and offers the possibility of discussion on a broader basis.
This book is a case study of the constitutional developments of a small nation, which like many others has adopted foreign cultural concepts and political institutions. It consists of three parts. Part One deals with mainstream developments, taking into account events and the evolution of institutions. Part Two displays the evolution of two fundamental concepts – human rights and the rule of law. A chapter on teaching constitutional law in Serbia, indispensable for a proper understanding of Serbian constitutional history, concludes that part. Part Three deals with mutual relations between Serbia and Yugoslavia, from the standpoint of constitutional developments. It was necessary to do this to complete the case study of a country that had been an independent state and then a part of Yugoslavia, before returning to the form of nation-state.
J. Prodanović, Ustavni razvitak i ustavne borbe u Srbiji [Constitutional developments and constitutional struggles in Serbia], Belgrade 1936.
Cf. S. Jovanović, Sabrana dela 3 [Collected works 3], Belgrade 1990, which consists of two books devoted to the respective periods of 1842–58 and 1859–68, followed by Sabrana dela 4–7, which treat the period between 1869 and 1903.
A. Dragnich, The Development of Parliamentary Government in Serbia, New York 1978.
A. Dragnich, The Development, 9.
Th. Simon (ed.), Konflikt und Koexistenz. Die Rechtsordnungen Südosteuropas im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, Band II [Conflict and coexistence: The legal systems of Southeast Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, Volume II], Frankfurt am Main 2017. Most of the contributions were in English; some, however, were in German.
M. Stefanovski, Postanak Namesničkog ustava [The emergence of the Regency Constitution], Belgrade 2016.
T. Marinković, ‘Serbia’, in: International Encyclopedia of Laws: Constitutional Law, Alphen aan den Rijn 2019.