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History and culture

Montenegro – known in its own vernacular as Crna Gora, meaning “Black Mountain” – started out as a mountaintop holdout against the Ottoman Turks rule in the fifteenth century and has never forgotten its origins.

The national flag, deep red with a variant of the Byzanztine double-headed eagle in gold, recalls the glory days of the Orthodox Christian statelet, ruled independently by a succession of princely bishops. Since bishops were meant to be celibate, power began passing from uncle to nephew, as the foundations for modern statehood began to take shape.

Initially, the tiny statelet was probably a minor irritant, hardly worth the attention of the surrounding empire.  But in later centuries, as the Ottoman grip on the Balkans weakened, the domain of the prince-bishops started expanding. Montenegro, fighting as a Russian ally, even took Herceg Novi in the Napoleonic wars, only to lose the prized coastal town in the grand European peace treaty afterwards.

Yet the period that followed brought stability and centralisation, as Petar II Petrovic Njegos created a parliament, judiciary, police force and tax regime. Njegos, as he is called, was also a notable poet. His successors converted the ecclesiastical state into a conventional monarchy

Montenegro’s connection with the sea began, properly, with the taking of Ulcinj and Bar from the Turks in 1878. Yet Dalmatia – including the strategic Boka Kotorska (Gulf of Kotor) – remained Austrian-ruled until the end of the First World War.

The Montenegrin monarchy, meanwhile, proved short-lived. Serbia – a wartime ally with a closely related ruling family – absorbed the smaller kingdom amid the formation of what would later be called Yugoslavia. The events of 1918-1919 – Serbian liberation/occupation, an allegedly rigged vote by local representatives to depose their king, and the Christmas Uprising by Montenegrin patriots – have been revisited in national debate since independence in 2006. In the meantime, the Yugoslav kingdom gave way to Italian and German occupation during the Second World War, and then nearly 40 years of communism.

Montenegrins were prominent in both the Partisan resistance and the subsequent regime of Josip Broz Tito. Thanks to Tito’s non-alignment policy and the relative openness of Yugoslav communism, tourism flourished along the Adriatic coast. (Kotor, admittedly, lagged behind its Croatian counterpart, Dubrovnik; some Montenegrins suggest this was due to centralised economic planning that promoted one, and only one, medieval walled city as a tourist attraction.)

Recent History

Montenegro slipped away from Serbian control during the 1990s Yugoslav break-up.  Montenegro stayed temporarily in a loose union with Serbia, but the foundations were laid for sovereignty. Long term Montenegro leader Milo Djukanovic achieved independence through a peaceful referendum in 2006. His successor as prime minister, Igor Luksic, has pursued economic and judicial reforms with the goal of joining the European Union.