Towards Post-Territorial Citizenship?

Francesco Ragazzi

“The [June] elections were historical because Macedonians living abroad were given a chance to vote for a candidate to represent them, and also because they were conducted without one incident,” said Pavle Sazdov, who was elected in June and appointed as MP to represent Macedonia’s diaspora, in an interview with the Southeast European Times. He went on to say that, “Having members of parliament from the diaspora who view legislation through the prism of the diaspora’s needs is definitely beneficial to all Macedonians living abroad.” Indeed, more than a decade after the bloody conflict that divided the states of the former Yugoslavia, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia continue to reform and implement new policies towards their diaspora, in an attempt to further include the diaspora in daily governance (although critics may argue that many of these policies are purely ‘political’), as well as to draw foreign investment.

Today citizenship is largely distributed amongst the ‘diaspora’, ministries and governmental agencies are dedicated to relations with co-ethnics abroad (who are often their citizens) and citizens abroad are increasingly included in votes for parliamentary and presidential elections. But this has not always been the case. The conception of the nation has greatly evolved in the region – and distinctly from one state to the other – after fighting one of the most brutal contemporary civil wars on European soil. The war was focused on the acquisition and ethnic cleansing of territories, but the recent policies of former Yugoslav states suggest a move towards new modes of demarcation.

Soon after the independence of Croatia, and during the past decade in the cases of Serbia and Macedonia, these states began building a conception of national belonging that is increasingly disconnected from people’s presence on the national territory. But these changes should not be interpreted as a progressive implementation of less nationalist politics. Nationalism is just changing form. Here is a look at some of the recent debates revolving around diaspora inclusion and citizenship policies in Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia, as well as a brief account of how these policies have evolved over the last two decades.

Citizenship beyond territory?

As was common among Communist states, Yugoslavia’s conception of citizenship was closely tied to an ethnic conception of the nation. Citizenship of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia was first defined by belonging to a particular republic, which itself belonged to the federation. National groups themselves were territorialized as constitutive peoples of the republics inside the Federation, all except Bosnia-Herzegovina. But today, post-territorial, rather than post-national, citizenship is a concept that best exemplifies the contemporary forms of national belonging displayed in Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia.

Why would nationalist movements of the post-Yugoslav states be so keen to promote a diasporic, de-territorialized conception of the nation, which grants rights and privileges to ‘nationals’ abroad? Isn’t the rhetoric of such parties still centred around the necessity of fighting for homelands as ethnically homogeneous territories? This is only an apparent contradiction. On the one hand there is the traditional understanding of the coexistence of multiple ethnic communities in a shared territory, which could be found in the former Yugoslavia, and which is promoted by international organizations. On the other hand there is a relatively new form of ethnic nationalism that could be defined as ‘post-territorial nationalism’, in which the nation is conceived of as a “global” ethnic nation, irrespective of actual presence on the state territory.

Diasporic formations have been traditionally described in opposition to nationalist understandings of community. They are often understood as an alternative, emancipatory model to exclusionary forms of nationalism, due to the processes of hybridisation and mélange. But diaspora policies in the former Yugoslav territories are in fact directly opposed to cosmopolitanism. This is because policies can be both transnationaland exclusive, as is shown in the case of Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia.

Croatia’s “historical debt”

Croatia provides one of the most striking examples of a radical shift towards post-territorial nationalism, with the development of unprecedented policies towards its ‘diaspora’ during the 1990s. However, the debate over diaspora inclusion remains heated within Croatia. The left-wing parties did not present candidates at the diaspora voting list and asked for the abolishment of this electoral unit, which was seen as an electoral tool of the nationalist parties. In 2010, the dispute over the diaspora vote (concerning Croats living in Bosnia-Herzegovina particularly) escalated to the point that Croatian President Ivo Josipovic offered to mediate between parties. The dispute was finally settled with the constitutional changes in June 2010 that will keep the diaspora seats in the Parliament, but reduce their number to three.

During the preparation of this article, the Croatian Parliament adopted a new law on Croats outside Croatia that will greatly increase the rights and privileges of the diaspora. For example, Croats living abroad who do not possess Croatian citizenship will have an even easier time obtaining passports. Other policies include the creation of a “status of Croat without Croatian citizenship” for Croats living abroad in countries that do not allow dual citizenship. This status would grant them privileges such as easier enrolment in Croatian schools and universities, the right to purchase property, as well as to apply for jobs and scholarships.

“This is an obligation that we have according to the Croatian Constitution,” the Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor said, as reported by the Croatian Times. By some estimations there could be up to 3.75 million Croats and their descendants living outside of the country’s borders. However, one must not be fooled by the motivations for these policies. As a journalist of the Croatian Times rightly remarked: “The leading coalition is headed by the conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), which has in previous elections found significant support in the Croatian diaspora.” As is often the case, the inclusion of the diaspora is also economically motivated, as reported by the Times earlier in 2011: “Deputy PM for Investments Domagoj Ivan Milosevic said that forum will feature panel discussions on accelerating economic growth through investments, diaspora's contributions and government expectations for greenfield investments especially in energy, infrastructure, tourism and high technology sectors.” However, a brief look at the evolution of these policies illustrates how much the situation has changed since the early 1990s – as well as the flipside of the inclusive process reserved for the diaspora.

The Croatian Declaration of Independence of 25 June 1991 led to a new citizenship law and changed the relation between nation and territory. All possessors of the former Croatian republican citizenship became citizens of the new state, making all other residents aliens overnight. While the new law included previously ostracized Croats abroad, it suddenly excluded from citizenship all citizens of other Yugoslav republics. Citizens who had lived in Croatia since childhood but had not been entered in the official registry of the Republic of Croatia were automatically excluded; many were ethnic Serbs.

Institutionally, due to the central role of the Croatian diaspora, both in the foundation of Franjo Tudjman’s Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and through humanitarian and military support during the 1991-1995 conflict, the Tudjman government gave the diaspora a particularly prominent position. In terms of political representation, the Constitution of 1990 guaranteed the right to vote for all Croatian citizens regardless of residential status. In 1995 a new law included, for the first time, the right to vote for Croats residing outside of the borders of Croatia. The system was criticized, on the basis that the mandate on the ‘diaspora’ list represented fewer people than the average seat. In 1999, after intense debates, the electoral system was changed to propose proportional representation based on voter turnout. Political representation of the diaspora greatly impacted the elections on several occasions. In 2000, for example, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) received all six diaspora seats in parliament, thus preventing the opposing SDP-HSLS coalition from obtaining the majority. In the presidential campaign of 2005, votes from the diaspora sent the HDZ candidate to the second round instead of one of his opponents.

On the other hand, institutional arrangements were also used to exclude non-ethnic Croats in various aspects of everyday life, despite the adoption of a return policy for Croatian Serbs who had fled during the war. In 2005 Blitz wrote: “Of the 90,000 people who had been displaced from the Danube region prior to 1995, only a handful of Serb returns were facilitated by the two-way return mechanism. The majority of Serbs displaced from the Danube region left for third countries as a consequence of harassment and psychological pressure”. Another mechanism of institutional ethnic exclusion is illustrated by a housing and reconstruction policy that actively discriminated against ethnic minorities while favouring Croats, especially those willing to re-settle from abroad. Another law revoked rights for citizens absent more than three months, and coincided with the outbreak of the war, thus targeting Serbs who had fled during the conflict.

Clearly, Croatia’s ‘diasporic’ citizenship policy is part of a process of ever-growing inclusion of ethnic Croats. However, this post-territorial citizenship policy is far from the post-national ideals advocated by some, because it used to work in parallel with the exclusion from citizenship of non-Croats present on the territory.

Serbia’s recent turn to its diaspora

In September 2011, the Serbian Minister of Health Zoran Stankovic acknowledged that the estimated 10,000 “Serbian doctors in the diaspora are the ambassadors of our medicine in the world and pride for their home country,” reported But such public pride in the Serbian diaspora is a recent phenomenon.

Serbia has followed a different path than Croatia in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Yugoslavia. In fact, from 1991 up until 2000, and especially after the 1996 Law on Citizenship, Belgrade continued in the footsteps of the Yugoslav tradition of a territorial conception of political belonging. Legal provisions were strict for all citizens not included in the new citizenship laws, including Yugoslavs/Serbs abroad, ethnic Serbian refugees from other post-Yugoslav republics, as well as national minorities present on the territory controlled by Belgrade. The strict criteria of inclusion loosened up only gradually for the diaspora and for minorities and ethnic Serbian refugees.

Yet while the laws broadened the requirements for citizenship for both co-ethnics and minorities in theory, a strong push towards the ethnicisation of the state took place in practice, evolving over two distinct periods: the 1990s and 2000s. The first period, running from the dissolution of the SFRY up until the ousting of Milosevic in 2000, is characterized by a two-fold exclusionary logic, which resulted in the exclusion of ethnic Serbian refugees and expellees, as well as the more violent exclusion of non-Serbian ethnic minorities (Albanians primarily, and to a lesser degree Hungarians from Vojvodina, Muslims from Sandzak and other smaller groups). Kosovo Albanians were deprived of their basic human rights and citizenship in practice. While they were legally citizens of the FRY, they were de facto stateless. By the end of the 1990s, more than 850,000 Kosovar Albanians had fled or been deported, which led to the NATO intervention in 1999. Serbia lost control over Kosovo, which in 2008 declared independence and created its own citizenship regime.Holding on.jpg

The removal of Milosevic from power in 2000 marked a sharp change in the politics of citizenship and belonging in Serbia, both for the diaspora and ethnic minorities. In 2000, the 1996 Laws on Citizenship were slightly amended to allow dual citizenship, thus encouraging the return of the diaspora for the reconstruction of the country. The law adopted in 2004 and amended in 2007 basically opens the doors for Serbs abroad to acquire Serbian citizenship without actual residence. Serbia today has a Ministry for Diaspora that drafted a strategy, distinguishing between “the Serbs in the region” and those overseas.

In terms of political representation, Serb citizens abroad have been allowed to vote for parliamentary and presidential elections since 2004. But the turnout so far has been very low. Press articles indicate that of the tens of thousands Serbian immigrants in Chicago, only 258 were registered on the voter’s list for the 2008 presidential election. So far the vote of Serbs abroad has therefore not significantly impacted Serbia’s party politics. However, the progressive inclusion of the ethnic diaspora in the electoral system has yet to provide for the formal representation of minorities in the parliament. The 1990 Constitution and the 2000 electoral law actually established a republic-wide electoral unit with a 5% threshold, disadvantaging smaller ethnic groups. In the post-Milosevic era, we can therefore witness two tendencies: post-territorial nationalism appeared through the extension of citizenship rights for the diaspora, alongside the attempts at inclusion of minorities in political life.

Macedonia: combining two logics of inclusion

Pavle Sazdov, the recently appointed Macedonian diaspora MP said: “I will work closely with government officials from all ministries to improve administrative procedures; create a one-stop-shop system for foreign investors; a better environment to return to Macedonia; partnerships with other parliaments and officials from countries where there are Macedonian communities; and co-ordinate our Macedonian diaspora organisations to act unified in matters of national interest.” In the aftermath of the ethnic conflict in Macedonia, the post-territorial, ethnic conception of ‘Macedonian people’ has moved towards more inclusive criteria, under the pressure of ethnic Albanian political actors and the international community. This has given birth to a both post-territorial and inclusive definition of the nation and citizenship. In sharp contrast with the situation in Croatia and Serbia, the ‘Macedonian diaspora’ as defined by the state includes, in theory, both ethnic Macedonians and other minorities from the Republic of Macedonia residing abroad, as well as ethnic Macedonian minorities in neighbouring countries. However, the Macedonian diaspora is still predominantly conceived of in ethnic terms in practice.

New citizenship laws passed in 2004 opened the definition of the diaspora, irrespective of ethnicity (although it did make it harder for some ethnicities to obtain citizenship): “An emigrant, in the sense of this law, shall be considered a citizen of the Republic of Macedonia who has emigrated from the Republic of Macedonia to another state, exclusive of his mother country, regardless of the sex, race, colour of skin, national and social origin, political and religious belief, property and social status.” This, for instance, would affect certain groups.Today, more than 60,000 Macedonia-born members of the diaspora in Turkey still seek Macedonian citizenship and Macedonian passports, according to the Makfax news agency. “We were born in Macedonia and we are entitled to Macedonia's citizenship,” said Association of Macedonian Diaspora representatives. Yet the diaspora only acquired the right to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections in 2008. The diaspora now has a specific constituency in parliament, composed of three MPs out of a total of 123, including Sazdov. Despite prolonged debates, agreement by political parties both ethnic Albanian and ethnic Macedonian shows the shared perception that a closer political involvement of the diaspora is both necessary and legitimate.

Electoral alliances have in fact gone beyond ethnic divides: in 1998, the VMRO-DPMNE, an ethnic Macedonian nationalist party, formed a coalition with the Albanian nationalist party DPA, with the latter holding prominent positions in government. While ethnic Albanian participation in Macedonia’s political life has undisputedly increased, a number of issues currently remain unresolved, such as the use of the Albanian language in parliamentary procedures or the proper functioning of the Committee for Interethnic Relations. In addition, in terms of the relations of the state with its emigrants, ethnic Albanians are sparsely represented. Despite the official discourse of inclusiveness, state relations are in practice still somewhat ethnicised. Culturally for example, this is seen through the financing of visits of ethnic Macedonian folklore groups and musicians, Macedonian language summer schools, etc. The satellite channel of the state-funded Macedonian radio and television is described as “an ethnic channel for all Macedonians living outside of their home country.”

Yet the political situation of Macedonia has resulted in the development of a hybrid form of post-territorial understanding of citizenship. The Macedonian regime does not allow for ethnic Macedonians to automatically acquire citizenship. The legal definition of the ‘diaspora’ is rather restrictive (one generation maximum and excluding ethnic Macedonians from outside of the Republic of Macedonia) and includes all ethnic groups from the Macedonian territory. Only the provision excluding minorities who reside in their kin-state (Albanians in Albania, Turks in Turkey) still shows a form of discrimination on an ethnic basis.

A look at the future: citizenship for all?

For Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia, the policies of inclusion of the diaspora members have often gone hand in hand with the marginalisation or even exclusion of minorities. Far from the progressive logic promised by postnational theorists, diasporic citizenship has in practice often promoted othering and exclusion; it has been used to govern alterity and difference. Of course, these policies have not gone uncontested, as the partial concessions to more inclusiveness or more sensitivity towards minority members, often required by the European Union, show. But generally speaking, they exemplify a logic by which the dispersion of populations is celebrated.

Is this phenomenon a passing fad, or is it a symptom of the transformations that globalisation is imposing on the territorially defined nation-state? The answer to this question largely depends on the forms of resistance that post-territorial, nationalist politics will encounter.

There is a first position, generally of those on the left, who would like to abolish diaspora policies altogether. As the SDP in Croatia, they would like to go back to a situation in which transnational communities are excluded from national politics. This position might have some good arguments, but it risks falling into a rear-guard sovereignist position that is somewhat at odds with the character of contemporary reality.

And so it might be worthwhile looking at another, maybe less visible struggle that is currently taking place, which does not question the legitimacy of transnational politics. It is the struggle of those who, like in Macedonia and elsewhere, do not reject the role of the diaspora in national politics, but want to make diaspora an inclusive, multi-ethnic notion. If the debate on diaspora politics moves from a discussion over its very legitimacy, to a discussion over the criteria for inclusion in these politics, than the current post-territorial policies of Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia might be the laboratory of citizenship policies of the coming years. In sum, the genie of nationalism has long left the bottle of territorial politics and is increasingly operating at a transnational level. What remains to be seen is whether those who oppose it will decide that instead of trying to put it back in, they must fight it on its new turf.


This article is based on a larger study, Diaspora Politics and Post-Territorial Citizenship in Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia written by Francesco Ragazzi and Kristina Balalovska, which is available for free download as a CITSEE working paper here. Francesco Ragazzi would like to thank Jean-Yves Chainon for his crucial help in writing this article.