Self-determination or the will of the people? Declarations of independence and the paradox of 'alien-determined self-determination'

Aleksandar Pavković*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Declarations of independence are, among other things, rhetorical instruments for legitimising the rejection of sovereignty of an existing state and replacing it with the sovereignty of a new state. In many such declarations, the phrases ‘self-determination’ (as in ‘the right to self-determination’) and ‘the will of the people’ are used as rhetorical devices legitimising this change of sovereignty. If the independence of a state is a result of ‘alien determination’ – military intervention of an outside state – there arises ‘paradox of alien-determined self-determination’. Bulgaria’s declaration of 1908, for example, resolves the paradox by acknowledging with thanks the ‘alien’ military intervention and invoking only ‘the will of the people’. The declarations of independence of Bangladesh (1971), East Timor (1975, 2002), Northern Cyprus (1983), South Ossetia (1991, 1992) and Kosovo (1990, 1991, 2008) avoid the paradox by divorcing self-determination from the actual achievement of independence (which is not mentioned) and, in some cases, replacing ‘self-determination’ by ‘the will of the people’; unlike the former, the latter phrase does not presuppose any specific action by the people in question.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNationalism, referendums and democracy
Subtitle of host publicationvoting on ethnic issues and independence
EditorsMatt Qvortrup
Place of PublicationLondon ; New York
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor and Francis Group
Number of pages20
Edition2nd ed.
ISBN (Electronic)9780429277382
ISBN (Print)9780367228828, 9780367228835
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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