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Montenegro

History

A potted history of Montenegro

For a small and little-known country, Montenegro has a long, convoluted and eventful history. Its rugged terrain and shoreline have witnessed movements of peoples, momentous events and idiosyncratic characters aplenty.

THE ILLYRIANS & THE ROMANS
The Illyrians were the first known people to inhabit the region, arriving during the late Iron Age. By 1000 BC a common Illyrian language and culture had spread across much of the Balkans. Interaction amongst groups was not always friendly – hill forts were the most common form of settlement – but distinctive Illyrian art forms such as amber and bronze jewellery evolved. In time the Illyrians established a loose federation of tribes centred in what is now Macedonia and northern Albania. Maritime Greeks created coastal colonies on the sites of some Illyrian settlements around 400 BC. Thereafter Hellenic culture gradually spread out from Greek centres, particularly from Bouthoe (Budva). The Romans eventually followed. The initial impetus for the Roman incursion came when, in 228 BC, the Greeks asked for Roman protection from an Illyrian, Queen Teuta. The feisty sovereign tempted fate when she murdered two Roman envoys. She fled to Risan, forced from her stronghold by the Romans who determined to stay in the region, attracted by its natural resources. The Illyrians continued to resist the Romans until 168 BC, when the last Illyrian king, Gentius, was defeated. The Romans capitalised on this entrée to fully absorb the Balkans into their provinces by 100 BC. They established networks of forts, roads and trade routes from the Danube to the Aegean, which further accelerated the process of Romanisation. However, outside the towns Illyrian culture remained dominant.

ROME IN DECLINE
The Romans established the province of Dalmatia, which included what is now Montenegro. The most important Roman town in this region was Doclea, founded around AD 100. Archaeological finds from Doclea (eg jewels and artwork) indicate that it was a hub in a lively and extended trade network. Even with its extensive trade networks, Rome was in decline by the early 4th century, when Emperor Diocletian split the empire into two administrative halves. Invaders from north and west were encroaching on Roman territory and in 395 the Roman Empire was formally split, the western half retaining Rome as capital and the eastern half, which eventually became the Byzantine Empire, centred on Constantinople. Modern Montenegro lay on the fault line between these two entities. After the Ostrogoths rolled through the Balkans and took the previously Roman-controlled parts of the region, Emperor Justinian re-established Byzantine control of the Balkans after 537 and brought with him Christianity.

THE SLAVS ARRIVE
Some time earlier a new group, the Slavs, had begun moving south from the broad plains north of the Danube. It is thought that they moved in the wake of a nomadic Central Asian people, the Avars, who were noted for their ferocity. The Avars tangled with the Byzantines, razing Doclea while roaring through the Balkans. They had too much momentum, however, rolling on and besieging the mighty Byzantine capital at Constantinople in 626. The Byzantines duly crushed them and the Avars faded into history.

Controversy remains as to the role the Slavs played in the demise of the Avars. Some claim that Byzantium called on the Slavs to help stave off the Avar onslaught, while others think that the Slavs merely filled the void left when the Avars disappeared. Whatever the case, the Slavs spread rapidly through the Balkans, reaching the Adriatic by the early 7th century.

Two main Slavic groups settled in the Balkans, the Croats along the Adriatic coast and the Serbs around Hercegovina and Doclea, which came to be known as Duklja. Byzantine culture lingered on in the towns of the interior, thus fostering the spread of Christianity amongst the Slavs.

FIRST SLAVIC KINGDOMS
Meanwhile, the Bulgarians created the first Slavic state in the Balkans. By the 9th century, the Bulgarian Prince Boris was advocating that the Slavonic language be used for the church liturgy. The subsequent spread of the Cyrillic script allowed various other Slavic kingdoms to grow as entities separate from Byzantium.

One such polity was the Raška, a group of Serbian tribes that came together near Novi Pazar (in modern Serbia) to shake off Bulgarian control. This kingdom was short-lived, being snuffed out by Bulgarian Tsar Simeon around 927, but not before Raška recognised the Byzantine emperor as sovereign, further speeding the spread of Christianity in the region.

Soon another Serbian state, Duklja, sprang up on the site of the Roman town of Doclea. Under its leader, Vladimir, Duklja swiftly expanded its territory to take in Dubrovnik and what remained of Raška. By 1040, Duklja (under a new princeling, Vojislav) was confident enough to rebel against Byzantine control and expand its territory along the Dalmatian coast and establish a capital at Skadar (modern Shkodra in Albania).

Around 1080, under Bodin, Duklja achieved its greatest extent, absorbing Raška and present-day Bosnia, while simultaneously becoming known as Zeta. This zenith was temporary, however, as civil wars and various intrigues led to its downfall and power shifted back to Raška during the 12th century.

THE NEMANJIĆI & THE GOLDEN AGE
Stefan Nemanja, born in Zeta, was to establish the dynasty that saw Serbia reach its greatest territorial extent. After first leading the Serbs to victory over the Byzantines, he was captured and taken to Constantinople. He later formed an alliance with Hungarian King Bela III and by 1190 had regained Raška’s independence from Byzantium, also claiming Zeta and present-day Kosovo and Macedonia for his kingdom.

Nemanja later retired as a monk to Mt Athos in Greece, while his sons conquered further territory. After his death Nemanja was canonised by the Orthodox church. Meanwhile, the Fourth Crusade in 1204 had hobbled the Byzantines and Venetian influence began spreading through the Adriatic.

In 1219, Sava, one of Nemanja’s sons, made an agreement with a weakened Byzantium that the Serbian church should be autocephalous (self-ruling), and appointed himself its first archbishop. Later, Uroš I made first mention of Serbia as a political entity, declaring himself ‘king of all Serbian lands, and the coast’. However, this era was marked by power shifting between the Bulgarians and Byzantines.

Around 1331 Dušan, who had earlier distinguished himself fighting the Bulgarians, was proclaimed the ‘young king’. He was to prove a towering figure in Serbian history, both physically (he was around 2m tall) and historically. He swiftly confirmed he was in control by chasing the Bulgarians out of Macedonia and capturing territory from the Byzantines. In expanding so rapidly under Dušan, Serbia became an ‘empire’, its territory doubled taking in Serbs, Albanians, Bulgarians and Greeks. More than just an aggressive campaigner, Dušan also codified the Serbian law (known as the Zakonik) and established the Serbian Patriarchate. In linking the Orthodox church with the Serbian royal line, Dušan also created a sense of cohesion amongst previously fractious Serbian tribes.

Nonetheless, throughout this period Zeta, the more forbidding coastal realm that was to become the kernel of the Montenegrin state, remained distinct from Serbia. Zetan nobles displayed a reluctance to submit to the Raškan rulers of Serbia, while the Raškan rulers themselves generally appointed their sons to oversee Zeta, further indicating the separation of the two entities.

When Dušan died in 1355 he was succeeded by his son Uroš who singularly lacked the leadership qualities of his father and was derided as ‘the Weak’. Wanting for charisma, Uroš was unable to stem infighting amongst Serbian nobles and saw Greeks, Albanians and Hungary capturing lands that Dušan had brought within the realm.

THE ARRIVAL OF THE TURKS
During Uroš’s reign various factions tussled for power and the Balšić family rose to prominence. The Balšići established a base near Skadar and began claiming territory along the Adriatic coast. In the north the Venetians reappeared. By the time Uroš died Serbian barons were busy squabbling amongst themselves, oblivious to a greater threat that was steadily advancing through the Balkans: the Ottoman Turks.

At their first meeting, in 1371, the Turks smashed the Serbs in the battle of Marica. Meanwhile the Balšići were distracted struggling with other noble families, and the Albanians were encroaching. Uroš’s successor Lazar Hrebeljanović, a Serbian noble, avoided the entanglement at Marica and began taking the fight to the previously invincible Ottomans. Despite some success, Lazar was distracted by scheming among the Balšići and neighbouring Bosnian nobles. Disaster was in the offing: the Turks were poised to take Serbia.

Of those who survived the Turkish onslaught, the Crnojević family rose to the fore. As the Ottomans continued to expand their territory, they established Skadar as their regional capital, forcing out the Crnojevići. In the early years of the 15th century the Ottoman tide receded temporarily, due to entanglements in Turkey, and the persistent Venetians began encroaching on the Adriatic coast again. Thus ensued another era where different groups tussled for power and parts of Montenegro alternated between Ottoman vassalage and Venetian control, while Stefan Lazarević (Lazar’s successor and Turkish vassal in Serbia) also made attempts to claim Zeta. However, by 1441 the Ottomans had fully regained control and had rolled through Serbia. In the late 1470s they lunged at the previously unbowed region of Zeta. At that point Zeta as a political entity came to an end. Ivan Crnojević, the leader of the Crnojevići clan, led a beleaguered group to the easily defendable and inaccessible heights near Mt Lovćen and in 1482 established a court and a monastery at what was to become Cetinje. In so doing he established the future Montenegrin capital.

Ivan died in 1490 and was succeeded by his son Đurađ. It was during this time that Venetian sailors began calling Mt Lovćen the Monte Negro (meaning ‘black mountain’), which lends its name to the modern state. Under Đurađ, Montenegro enjoyed a brief golden age. Đurađ was noted as a lover of books, and aside from being an inspiring military leader he was responsible for establishing the first printing press in the Balkans and overseeing the first publication of printed matter by any of the southern Slavs. Meanwhile, the Ottomans continued assailing Cetinje and succeeded in overrunning it in 1514.

OTTOMAN CONTROL OF THE BALKANS
Despite taking Cetinje the Ottomans withdrew. This remote corner was inhospitable and barren; in any case the Turks were more intent on controlling the Adriatic. Under Süleyman the Magnificent, the Turks took Belgrade in 1521, putting beyond doubt their dominance of the Balkans. That one rocky eyrie, Mt Lovćen and environs – later referred to as Old Montenegro – became the last redoubt of Serbian Orthodox culture holding out against the Ottomans.

Indeed, the Montenegrins retained a degree of autonomy. Innately warlike and uncontrollable, their behaviour was such that the Ottomans opted for pragmatism and largely left them to their own devices – the territory was too rugged and people too unruly. The Turks merely collected taxes and allowed the Montenegrins concessions that were not extended to other subjugated peoples.

At the same time, with the Venetians extending their control in the Adriatic, taking Kotor and Budva, the Montenegrins found themselves at the fault line between the Turkish and Venetian empires. In 1571 an alliance of European powers destroyed the Ottoman navy at the battle of Lepanto. This was not a happy outcome for Montenegro, however, as some elements of the Ottoman navy escaped to Ulcinj, where they established a pirate base from which they harassed the rest of the Adriatic coast for several centuries.

Through the 17th century a series of wars in Europe exposed weaknesses in the previously invincible Ottoman war machine. At one stage, the Ottomans determined to remove the concessions which the Montenegrins had long enjoyed and which they now considered rightfully theirs. Montenegrin resistance to the Turkish attempt to enforce a tax regime was violent and the Turkish retribution horrific. As Turkish reactions grew more violent, the bonds between previously unruly Montenegrin clans became stronger.

During the 1690s the Ottomans took Cetinje several times – in 1692 they destroyed the monastery that Ivan Crnojević had built – but each time they were forced to retreat due to persistent harrying from Montenegrin tribesmen. At the conclusion of the Morean War in 1699 the Ottomans sued for peace for the first time ever, ceding territory at Risan and Herceg Novi. The Montenegrins’ enthusiastic and effective participation in the war had brought them – and their martial virtues – to the attention of the Habsburgs and the Russians while also furthering a sense of common purpose amongst the previously squabbling tribes.

It was then that the Ottomans finally realised they would not be able to control Old Montenegro; nonetheless they were clearly reluctant to give up their claim. To encircle it, they built a string of fort towns that attracted the Muslim population of the region. In the countryside remained the Orthodox tribes and peasants, who developed a sense of solidarity and separateness from the relatively well-off town populations.

For the locals, identity was tied to the notion of tribe and the Serbian Orthodox Church, rather than Serbia or Montenegro. Nonetheless, distinct Serbian and Montenegrin identities were evolving: the Serbs were directly ruled by the Ottomans, while the Montenegrins retained a degree of autonomy in their mountain fastness and had managed to avoid being entirely weighed down by the Ottoman ‘yoke’.

THE VLADIKAS
In 1697 Danilo was elected vladika, previously the position of metropolitan within the Orthodox church hierarchy. Danilo, however, had more than ecclesiastical matters on his mind. Ambitious and warlike, he declared himself ‘Vladika of Cetinje and Warlord of all the Serb lands’. In so doing, Danilo presumed a role as the leader of the Serbs, perhaps a reflection of Montenegrins dubbing themselves ‘the best of the Serbs’ during years of battles against the Turks. Beyond this, Danilo succeeded in elevating the role of church leader into that of a hereditary ‘prince-bishop’ – a political (and military) leader as well. Under the Ottoman imperial administration to which the Montenegrins were nominally beholden such a development was possible, because the millet system allowed subject peoples to elect religious but not civil leaders.

Under Danilo’s leadership, interactions with the Ottomans remained on the antagonistic course previously set. In 1711 the Ottomans rumbled through Cetinje yet again, but were forced to withdraw. The following year at the battle of Carev Laz a vastly outnumbered Montenegrin force commanded by Danilo engaged and inflicted heavy losses on an Ottoman army. The reputation of the Montenegrins as fearsome fighters was only heightened.

Danilo died in 1735 after declaring that he alone would choose his successor. As his position determined that he must be celibate, he decreed that he would be succeeded by his cousin Sava, another monk. Sava was pensive and indecisive where Danilo had been impetuous and resolute. In 1750 Danilo’s nephew Vasilije manoeuvred himself into a position whereby he could gently assume the role of co-vladika. Vasilije promptly decamped to St Petersburg to seek further Russian support for the struggle against the Ottomans. While in Russia, Vasilije wrote the first-ever history of the Montenegrins.

In 1766 the Ottomans established the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople responsible for all of the Orthodox churches in the Ottoman domain, and the Serbs later set up their own patriarchate in Habsburg territory, beyond the reach of Ottoman authorities. These moves effectively led to the creation of separate Montenegrin and Serbian Orthodox churches, and while the Montenegrins retained some sense of community with the Serbs this was another factor in the divergent experience and evolution of separate national consciousness of the Montenegrins.

One of the more bizarre characters in Montenegrin history is Šćepan Mali, who emerged in 1767 claiming to be the Russian Tsar Peter III. In fact, Tsar Peter had been murdered years earlier, but Šćepan hoodwinked the Montenegrins and succeeded in getting himself voted in to lead the zbor (council). Despite his dubious claim, Šćepan, also known to be brutal and erratic, had some success in quelling the chronic infighting that bedevilled the Montenegrin tribes, while also creating the first population register, regulating markets and instituting road-building. His luck run out in 1773 when he was murdered by a Montenegrin and Sava was able to retain control.

Sava was succeeded in 1784 by Petar I Petrović who promptly decamped to Russia to curry favour. No sooner had he left than Kara Mahmud, an Ottoman maverick, sacked Cetinje in an attempt to carve out a personal fiefdom in Montenegro and Albania. Petar subsequently took on Kara Mahmud, winning two significant victories despite being at a distinct disadvantage. Petar’s final victory over Kara Mahmud resulted in the beheading of the Ottoman renegade and won international recognition of the Montenegrins for their fearlessness in battle. At the same time the Montenegrins were able to expand into the mountains, thus for the first time spreading out of their last redoubt of Old Montenegro. This victory fostered a sense of unity amongst the tribes, and Petar instituted his legal code, the Zakonik, and increased the power of his role as vladika. Now, while Serbia remained firmly under Ottoman control, the Montenegrins were on the offensive.

NAPOLEON & FOREIGN INTERESTS
Meanwhile, Napoleon appeared in 1797 claiming Venice’s Adriatic territories, thus removing Montenegro’s main rival for power in the Adriatic. The years to come saw Napoleon tangling with the Montenegrins, British and Austrians in the Adriatic. The Montenegrins operated with military support from the Russians and briefly captured Herceg Novi, a long hoped-for Adriatic coastal town, but in the washup they were forced to abandon it due to diplomatic horse-trading. After the Napoleonic Wars international observers remarked that the Montenegrins were ‘born warriors’, a reputation only enhanced after the defeat of an Ottoman force at Morača in 1820.

Petar I lived to a ripe old age and was succeeded by his nephew Petar II Petrović Njegoš. Two meters tall, Njegoš fulfilled the requirement that the vladika be striking, handsome and dashing, and while not as successful a military leader as his predecessors he abandoned the monk’s robes traditionally associated with the role of vladika and got about in the regalia of the mountain chief. Njegoš made further unsuccessful attempts to gain access to the sea. In other aspects of nation-building he was more successful. He increased the role of government and developed a system of taxation for Montenegro. He also canonised his predecessor Petar I, thus bringing a saintly aspect to the role of vladika, in emulation of the saintly kings of medieval Serbia.

Njegoš made the now traditional trip to St Petersburg in search of military and monetary support from the Russian tsars and set about modernising his nation, which by all accounts was primitive and undeveloped. He introduced the first printed periodical and built the first official residence in Cetinje, replacing the previous earthen-floored home with a 25-room edifice that became known as the Biljarda in honour of the billiard table that it contained.

Succeeding Petrović rulers continued the process of modernisation, albeit gradually. Danilo came to power in 1851 and promptly declared himself prince, thus bringing an end to the ecclesiastical position of vladika as leader of the Montenegrins. In 1855 he won a great victory over the Ottomans at Grahovo and he skilfully steered a course between the interests of the Great Powers – Austria-Hungary, Russia, France and Britain – all of whom had designs on Montenegro and the broader Balkan region.

Nikola, who became prince after Danilo, pressed on with a road-building program and introduced the telegraph to Montenegro. He was also responsible for founding a school for girls in Cetinje, the first-ever such institution in Montenegro. During the 1860s Nikola established contact with Mihailo Obrenović, ruler of the Serbian principality (by then de facto independent from the Ottoman rule). The two leaders signed an agreement to liberate their peoples and create a single state. Most significantly, Nikola reorganised the Montenegrin army into a modern fighting force.

FREEDOM FROM THE OTTOMANS
A rebellion against Ottoman control broke out in Bosnia and Hercegovina in 1875. Both Serbs and Montenegrins joined the insurgency, Montenegrins (under Nikola) again excelling themselves and making significant territorial gains. In the wake of the struggle for Bosnia, the Congress of Berlin in 1878 saw Montenegro and Serbia achieve independence from the Ottomans. Montenegro won control of upland territories in Nikšić, Podgorica and Žabljak and territory around Lake Skadar and the port of Bar, effectively tripling in size.

The Serbs, meanwhile, were suspicious of Montenegrin intentions and the expansionist Austrians annexed Bosnia and Hercegovina, thus stymying any further Montenegrin expansion to the north. In fact, the Austrians were the main strategic interest in the region at the time, claiming Skadar (Shkodra, in modern Albania) and parts of the Sandžak region of Serbia. The Montenegrins, however, managed to take control of the Ulcinj region of the Adriatic coast, which had a significant Albanian population.

After 1878 Montenegro enjoyed a period of ongoing peace. The process of modernisation continued with the program of road-building and the construction of a railway. Nikola’s rule, however, became increasingly autocratic. His most popular move during these years was marrying off several of his daughters to European royalty. In 1910, on his 50th jubilee, he raised himself from the role of prince to king.

In the early years of the 20th century there were increasing calls for union with Serbia and rising political opposition to Nikola’s rule. The Serbian King Petar Karađorđević in fact made an attempt to overthrow King Nikola and Montenegrin-Serbian relations reached their historical low point.

The Balkan Wars of 1912–13 saw the Montenegrins patching things up with the Serbs to join the Greeks and Bulgarians in an effort to throw the Ottoman Turks out of Europe. During the wars, the Montenegrins gained Bijelo Polje, Berane and Plav and in so doing joined their territory with that of Serbia for the first time in over 500 years. The idea of a Serbian-Montenegrin union gained more currency. In the elections of 1914 many voters opted for union. King Nikola pragmatically supported the idea on the stipulation that both the Serbian and Montenegrin royal houses be retained.

WWI & THE FIRST YUGOSLAVIA
Before the union could be realised WWI intervened. The Serbs, keen to fend off the Austrians, entered the war on the side of the Great Powers and the Montenegrins followed in their footsteps. Austria-Hungary invaded shortly afterwards and swiftly captured Cetinje, sending King Nikola into exile in France. In 1918 the Serbian army reclaimed Montenegro and the French, keen to implement the Serbian-Montenegrin union, refused to allow Nikola to leave France, formally bringing an end to the Petrović dynasty. The same year Montenegro was incorporated in the newly created Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes – the first Yugoslavia.

Throughout the 1920s some Montenegrins, peeved at their ‘little-brother’ to Serbia status, as well as the loss of their sovereignty and distinct identity, put up spirited resistance to the union with Serbia. This resentment increased after the abolition of the Montenegrin church, which was subsumed into the Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate in Belgrade. Taking advantage of fears of a Serb-Croat civil war, on 6 January 1929 King Aleksandar in Belgrade proclaimed a royal dictatorship, abolished political parties and suspended parliamentary government, thus ending any hope of democratic change. In 1934, while on a state visit in Marseilles, King Aleksandar was assassinated by the fascist-inspired Croatian Ustaše.

Meanwhile, during the mid-1920s the Yugoslav Communist Party arose; Josip Broz Tito was to become leader in 1937. The high level of membership of the Communist Party amongst Montenegrins was perhaps a reflection of their displeasure with the status of Montenegro within Yugoslavia.

WWII & THE SECOND YUGOSLAVIA
During WWII Hitler invaded Yugoslavia on multiple fronts. The Italians followed on their coat-tails. After routing the Yugoslav army, Germany and Italy divided the country into a patchwork of areas of control. The Italians controlled Montenegro and parts of neighbouring Dalmatia. Some anti-union Montenegrins collaborated with the Italians in the hope that the Petrovic dynasty would be reinstated. Meanwhile, Tito’s Partisans and the Serbian Četniks (royalists) engaged the Italians, sometimes lapsing into fighting each other. The most effective antifascist struggle was conducted by National Liberation Army Partisan units led by Tito. With their roots in the outlawed Yugoslav Communist Party, the Partisans attracted long-suffering Yugoslav intellectuals, groups of Montenegrins and Serbs, and antifascists of all kinds. They gained wide popular support with an early manifesto which, although vague, appeared to envision a postwar Yugoslavia based on a loose federation.

Although the Allies initially backed the Serbian Četniks, it became apparent that the Partisans were waging a far more focused and determined fight against the Nazis. With the diplomatic and military support of Churchill and other Allied powers, the Partisans controlled much of Yugoslavia by 1943. The Partisans established functioning local governments in the territory they seized, which later eased their transition to power. Hitler made several concerted attempts to kill Tito and wipe out the Partisans, but was unsuccessful. As the tide of the war turned, the Italians surrendered to the Allies and, with the Partisans harassing them, the Germans withdrew. On 20 October 1944 Tito entered Belgrade with the Red Army and was made prime minister.

The communist federation of Yugoslavia was established. Tito was determined to create a state in which no ethnic group dominated the political landscape. Montenegro became one of six republics – along with Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, and Slovenia – in a tightly configured union. Tito effected this delicate balance by creating a one-party state and rigorously stamping out all opposition whether nationalist, royalist or religious. He decreed that Montenegro have full republic status. The border of the modern state was set too: Montenegro won Kotor, but lost some areas of Kosovo in the horse-trading that Tito used in order to establish a balance between the various Yugoslav republics.

In 1948 Tito fell out with Stalin and broke off contacts with Russia. This caused some consternation in Montenegro given its historical links with Russia. Of all the Yugoslav republics, Montenegro had the highest per capita membership of the Communist Party, and it was highly represented in the army.

During the 1960s, the concentration of power in Belgrade became an increasingly testy issue as it became apparent that money from the more prosperous republics of Slovenia and Croatia was being distributed to the poorer republics of Montenegro and Bosnia and Hercegovina. Unrest reached a crescendo in 1971 when reformers within the Communist Party, intellectuals and students called for greater economic autonomy and constitutional reform to loosen ties within the Yugoslav federation, but nationalistic elements manifested themselves as well. Tito fought back, clamping down on the liberalisation that had previously been gaining momentum in Yugoslavia. The stage was set for the rise of nationalism and the wars of the 1990s, even though Tito’s 1974 constitution afforded the republics more autonomy.

Tito left a shaky Yugoslavia upon his death in May 1980. The economy was in a parlous state and a presidency rotating amongst the six republics could not compensate for the loss of his steadying hand at the helm. The authority of the central government sank with the economy, and long-suppressed mistrust among Yugoslavia’s ethnic groups resurfaced.

UNION WITH SERBIA, THEN INDEPENDENCE
With the collapse of communism, Slobodan Milošević used the issue of Kosovo to whip up a nationalist storm and ride to power on a wave of Serbian nationalism. The Montenegrins largely supported their Orthodox coreligionists. In 1991 Montenegrin paramilitary groups, in conjunction with the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army, were responsible for the shelling of Dubrovnik and parts of the Dalmatian littoral. These acts appeared to serve no strategic purpose and were roundly criticised in the international press, and in fact were a particular propaganda disaster for Milošević and the Yugoslav army. In 1992, by which point Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina and Macedonia had opted for independence, the Montenegrins voted overwhelmingly to remain in the rump Yugoslav state with Serbia. Admittedly there was some Montenegrin edginess about their place within ‘Greater Serbia’, and Montenegrins raised the issue of the Montenegrin autocephalous church in 1993.

As the war in Bosnia that Milošević had largely instigated wound down with the signing of the Dayton accords in 1995, Milo Đukanović began distancing himself from Milošević. Previously a Milošević ally, Đukanović had been elected Montenegrin prime minister in 1991, but he now realised that Montenegrin living standards were low and discontent was rising. He decided that Montenegro would fare better if it adopted a more pro-Western course. In doing so he became the darling of Western leaders, who were trying to isolate and bring down Milošević. As the Serbian regime became an international pariah, the Montenegrins increasingly moved to re-establish their distinct identity. Relations with Serbia rapidly cooled, with Đukanović winning further elections in Montenegro despite spirited interference from Belgrade.

In 2000 Milošević lost the election and Koštunica came to power in Serbia. With Milošević toppled, Montenegro was pressured to vote for a union of Serbia and Montenegro. In theory the union was based on equality between the two members, but in practice Serbia was such a dominant partner that the union proved unfeasible from the outset. Again, this rankled given the Montenegrins’ historic self-opinion as the ‘best of the Serbs’. In May 2006 the Montenegrins voted for independence. Since then the divorce of Serbia and Montenegro has proceeded relatively smoothly. Montenegro has rapidly opened up to the West and instituted economic, legal and environmental reforms with a view to becoming a member of the EU. In late 2006 Montenegro was admitted to NATO’s Partnership for Peace program and in early 2007 made steps towards EU membership by signing a ‘stabilisation and association’ agreement.