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    Bato Tomasevic on Spotlight on Montenegro

    4th March 2012

    The picture was taken from stalkERR's Photostream on Flickr

    Bato Tomasevic is the author of a dozen books published internationally. The latest, 'Life and Death in the Balkans', has appeared in 14 countries. Since 2010 Montenegro is an official EU candidate country.

       Post Yugoslavia 

    In November 1945 Yugoslavia was proclaimed a federal state, in which each of the six republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia – Herzegovina, Serbia with two autonomous provinces: (Kosovo and Vojvodina), Macedonia and Montenegro, had its own parliament and government. Their representatives were elected to the Federal Assembly and formed the Federal Government. Josip Broz Tito subsequently became President of Yugoslavia and held that office until his death in l980. From then on, until the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the country was headed by a collective body, known as the Presidency, composed of the representative of each republic and autonomous province, who took it in turn to serve as head of state for one year.

    The republics and provinces enjoyed a high level of autonomy, legislating on all fields of public life, except defence, foreign policy and overall economic affairs, which they controlled indirectly, through their representatives in the Federal Assembly, Presidency and Government.Yugoslavia’s 24 million inhabitants were mostly South Slavs speaking closely related languages, all in official use.

    Besides the Christian South Slavs, there were some two million Moslems, the majority in Bosnia-Herzegovina, who enjoyed the status of a separate nation. The multi-national mosaic also included two million Moslem Albanians (mostly living in Kosovo), four hundred thousand Hungarians (in Vojvodina) and many other smaller ethnic groups: Slovaks, Czechs, Italians (in Istria), Turks, Romanians, Bulgarians, Ukrainians….

    The wealth and beauty of the Yugoslavia Federation, it was constantly asserted, lay precisely in its diversity of peoples, languages, faiths and cultures. In post-war Yugoslavia any expression of national intolerance was punished by law.

    It looked as if this historic experiment had succeeded, that the stability of Yugoslavia would ensure lasting peace in the Balkans. But the death of Tito, a strong, charismatic leader, and the subsequent dissolution of the Party, resulted in power vacuum that had to be filled. Nationalism, incited by religious leaders and irresponsible, power – hungry individuals, particularly among the Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats, the most numerous of the South Slav nations. To consolidate or increase their power, Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman, took up the Chetnik cause of Greater Serbia and Ustasha cause of Greater Croatia respectively, each aiming to expand their territory at the expense of other Yugoslav nations. The division of Bosnia-Herzegovina, lying between these republics, seemed to offer the easiest option. They did not count on the resistance of the Bosnian Moslems, who saw such a division as a disaster for themselves.

    Originally keen to preserve Yugoslavia, the western powers, in the euphoria that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the eastern bloc, threw out the Yugoslav baby together with the bath water. Yugoslavia was consigned to the same heap as the states of the Soviet bloc, to which it did not belong. It was a state that appeared capable of further reform and democratisation that would bring it closer to the West.

    What about Montenegro?

    The Republic of Montenegro lies on the southern Adriatic coast, surrounded by the republics of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Albania and Kosova. As its name Montenegro (Crna Gora, Black Mountain) suggests, it is a mountainous land, with more than 50 peaks over 2000 metres. It has a very beautiful coastline, which stretches from the northern side of the Bay of Kotor to the mouth of the river Bojana in the south.  The largest Balkan lake, Skadar, divided by the Montenegrin – Albanian border, lies in the south of the country.

    The history of Montenegro is a tale of legendary heroism in which it takes much pride. It was the region of former Yugoslavia least subject to foreign occupation from the time of the Slav settlement in the 7th century to the present day. The country owed its freedom partly to its geographical position and configuration, but more to the courage of its people, who waged countless bloody wars for centuries against would- be conquerors – from Byzantium, Turkey and Venice, down to Austria, Germany and Italy.

    Montenegro is a small country, covering  13,812 km, with around 600,000 inhabitants. Since it has very little arable land, throughout their history the Montenegrins have had to struggle to wrest a meagre living from the soil and from livestock breeding. Since there have never been possibilities for properly developing agriculture, with the exception of viticulture in the Zeta region, the post-war Communist government of Montenegro tried to introduce some industry, most notably a large iron and steel works in the northern town of Niksic and a large aluminium plant in Podgorica. Both factories from the very first day turned out to be millstone burdening all successive governments to this day.  

    This is a multi-national, multi-faith and culturally diverse state in which Montenegrins form the majority, followed by Serbs, Albanians and a number of other minorities. They are all represented in Parliament according the number of seats their parties won in a free democratic election.

    In l991 Slovenia and Croatia seceded from the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, followed later by Macedonia. The Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia were encouraged by Serbian President Milosevic to start a war and ethnic cleansing that resulted in years of bloodshed and destruction. Montenegro somehow managed to avoid being dragged into war, with the exception of some loose, criminal volunteers from the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina. In l999 NATO bombing of Serbia in response to Milosevic’s policy towards the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo Province caused his downfall, imprisonment and extradition to face the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

    In 2003, the rump state which was still named Yugoslavia was replaced by a loose union named ‘Serbia and Montenegro’. The slow and painful process of extricating itself from the embrace of Serbia was coming to an end. Montenegro became a sovereign state following a referendum in 2006, the last of the former Yugoslav republics to do so. The long and turbulent life of Yugoslavia was ended.

    The political life of modern, democratic, multi-party Montenegro is focussed on Parliament and its policy is strongly oriented towards NATO and the European Union, which it has good prospects of joining in the forseeable future.

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