History - a short overview

Montenegro's history is mainly dominated by the fact, that the interior of the country is very rugged, making it difficult to built settlements and the appropriate infrastructure. Additionally, large areas are characterized by karst phenomena, which means that the underground is not capable of keeping much water near the surface - as soon as the rain falls, the water is gone. This means that the history of Montenegro is basically the history of the Montenegrin coast only.

In early times, Montenegro very much shared the →History of Croatia or at least of the Dalmatian coast: Conquered by the Romans, becoming part of the Illyrian province of the West Roman empire, later hit by massive migration waves and finally conquered by the huge Ottoman empire but later on also by the Slavs. After the collapse of the Serbian empire in the 13th century, the Principality of Zeta was founded on now Montenegrin soil. Zeta was never completely conquered by the Ottoman Empire - the latter as only interested in controlling the coast and two valleys.

Since 1528, orthodox bishops ruled the country, so Montenegro became something like a clerical state, although it was rather a loose union of several tribes and groups then an organized country. And it didn't include the coastal area - at that time important towns such as →Kotor or →Bar were controlled by the Ottomans and later by the Venetians. Later on, parts of the coast fell to the Austrian monarchy - with Kotor for example remaining in Austrian hand until the defeat in 1918.

During the 19th century, Montenegro's rulers decided to form strong ties with Tsarist Russia. Thanks to that policy, Montenegro could declare its independence from the Ottoman empire after the Russish-Turkish war in 1878. As a result of the Congress of Berlin, Montenegro won the territory around →Bar, giving it access to the Adriatic Sea for the first time.

Within the next decades, Montenegro managed to gain more territory from the Ottoman empire, so the size of the country almost doubled until World War I. At that time, Montenegro was a monarchy with strong ties to its stronger neighbour Serbia and stuck between two super powers - Austria-Hungary in the north and the Ottoman empire in the south. Montenegro got under pressure - and tried to free itself from the pressure by attacking the vast Ottoman empire. Montenegro therefore conquered →Shkoder and the area around it, but they had to leave the present-day Albanian territory soon. Technically one of the winners of the World War I, Montenegro didn't really win - in 1918 they became one of many provinces of the newly created South Slavic kingdom, aka Yugoslavia. This also marked the end of the Montenegrin monarchy - the king died in exile in 1921.

For more information on the time between 1918 and 1992, see →History of Serbia. While →Croatia, →Slovenia and later →Bosnia and Macedonia separated from Yugoslavia, Montenegro remained in what was left of Tito's Yugoslavia. This meant that Montenegro was hit hard by the war in the 1990ies as well - no fightings took place on Montenegrin soils, but together with Serbia the small country became isolated and suffered the embargo (and the fact that visitors stopped visiting). The war with Croatia didn't help the situation: The Yugoslav army partially advanced from Montenegro - when I talked to some Croatians in and around Dubrovnik, I sometimes was told "Those Montenegrins are as bad as the Serbs".

Montenegro still formed a union with Serbia, when the conflict in the →Kosovo developed into a full-scale war. Montenegro tried to stay neutral, and so it didn't suffer heavy air strikes as much as Serbia. Around 2002, Montenegro showed interest in dividing from Serbia - but the EU and other countries were not too excited about it. Montenegro remained - with a high level of autonomy - with Serbia. Montenegro was asked to stay at least for four years with Serbia. And so, it tried again to separate on 21 May 2006. The result of the Montenegrin independence referendum was very tight (which is no surprise when looking at Montenegros ethnic groups: Serbians are almost a majority). The turnout was higher then 85%. According to Serbian and Montenegrin law, 55% were necessary for the winner. Eventually, 55.5% of Montenegrins voted for independence - the southwest almost entirely pro-independence, almost the entire northeast (near Serbia) contra.

And so, as of 2008, Montenegro is the newest independent country in the world. Since it was Montenegro that opted for the split, all memberships etc. fell to Serbia, which means that Montenegro had to apply for membership in the UN and hundreds of other councils first. Happily, the separation was peaceful and acknowledged by everyone. It will be interesting to see, how Montenegro will develop in future - but this future will never be entirely without Serbia - ties between Montenegro and Serbia are simply too strong.




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