Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans
Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans
Report 20 / Europe & Central Asia

State Succession

With the ongoing reconstruction efforts in Bosnia and Herzegovina and plans for the imminent privatisation of a number of industrial enterprises, the question has arisen as to whether the Bosnia and Herzegovina central government or the sub-state entities – Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina – properly succeed to the immovable assets of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia located on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This memorandum seeks to answer this question.

Executive Summary

With the ongoing reconstruction efforts in Bosnia and Herzegovina and plans for the imminent privatisation of a number of industrial enterprises, the question has arisen as to whether the Bosnia and Herzegovina central government or the sub-state entities -- Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina -- properly succeed to the immovable assets of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia located on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  This memorandum seeks to answer this question.

After reviewing and evaluating the specific facts relating to the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, the establishment of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the creation of Bosnia’s internal political units, and the modification of those units by the Dayton Peace Accords in light of the public international law of state succession, including the law as represented by the traditional past practice of states, the 1983 Vienna Convention on Succession of States in Respect of State Property, Archives and Debts (1983 Vienna Convention), and recent state practice, this memorandum reaches the following conclusions:

  • Traditional state practice, the 1983 Vienna Convention, and the opinion of the Legal Advisers of the Council of Europe indicate only state entities possess the necessary capacity to succeed to the rights and obligations of the predecessor state.
     
  • Recent state practice in the case of the former Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia confirms that only state entities are considered to possess the necessary capacity to succeed to the rights and obligations of the predecessor state.
     
  • Throughout the course of the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the sub-state entities of the Republika Srpska, the Republic of Krajina, and the Bosnian Federation attempted without success to participate in public forums and diplomatic conferences addressing state succession issues.
     
  • The decisions of the European Union Arbitration Commission relating to matters of state succession support the assumption of territorial assets by states and not sub-state entities.
  • World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other lender institution practice supports the assumption of territorial assets by states and not sub-state entities.
     
  • The constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina adopted as an annex to the Dayton Accords did not express sufficient specific intent to cause the transfer of ownership of territorial assets from the central government to the sub-state entities.

From 1992 until 1995/96 the Republic of Bosnia therefore may be considered to have held title to the territorial assets of the former Yugoslavia located on Bosnian territory.  Given the absence of the articulation of an express transfer of this title from the state of Bosnia to its sub-state entities in the Dayton Accords, title may properly be considered to continue to rest with the central government of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker talks to Crisis Group expert Marko Prelec about the precarious situation in the Western Balkans, as Serb separatism in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the frozen Kosovo-Serbia dispute continue to stoke regional instability.

The Western Balkans, a region defined in part by not being in the European Union, also contains several countries that were devastated by war in the 1990s. Now it faces new troubles, driven in part by the legacies of the old. Bosnia and Herzegovina is confronted with calls for secession in the autonomous Serb-dominated region, Republika Srpska, as well as the ongoing electoral grievances of its Croat minority. Meanwhile, efforts to resolve Kosovo’s dispute with Serbia over its independence have come to a standstill, leaving minority communities on both sides of the border vulnerable.

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker talks to Marko Prelec, Crisis Group’s Consulting Senior Analyst for the Balkans, about why ethnic tensions persist in the region and whether there is any risk of a return to conflict. They discuss the prospects for European integration, asking whether the promise of EU membership remains an effective incentive for resolving these longstanding disputes. They also consider what impact Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had for stability in the Western Balkans, a region where painful memories of war are still very salient today.



Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more of Crisis Group’s analysis, make sure to check out our Balkans regional page and keep an eye out for our upcoming report on the risk of instability in the Western Balkans.

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.