Montenegro is the world's newest independent nation and the last of the old Yugoslav states to split from Belgrade.
Brokered by the EU, the Union of Serbia and Montenegro was born in 2003. The aim was to settle Montenegrin independence demands and stabilise Balkan borders. The union deal also contained the seeds of its dissolution. After three years the two republics could hold referendums on whether to keep or scrap it. And so, on May 22, 2006 Montenegro narrowly voted for independence from the union with Serbia. 55.4% of the voters had voted to secede, just above the 55% required for victory. The turnout in the May 21 poll was 86.3%.
The issue of independence divided Montenegro, with opponents arguing that Montenegro had too much to lose with its broad economic, family and political ties with Serbia. The opposition movement was a loose coalition of Serb politicians, Orthodox Church leaders and Montenegrins from the mountainous inland regions near the Serbian border. The move to secede was supported by long-standing Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic who believes that independence will strengthen his country’s chance of joining the EU. He was supported by ethnic Montenegrins and Albanians from the coastal area who feared Serbian dominance of the union.
A Serbian Government press release on June 5 confirmed the decision to transfer jurisdiction. According to the release, the decision obliges Serbia to take the necessary measures within 45 days to make Serbia the international legal successor of Serbia-Montenegro. It affirmed also that association with the EU was Serbia’s ‘strategic and national goal.’
Montenegro’s position on the Adriatic Sea means that Serbia is now a landlocked country. This fact strengthens Montenegro’s position in negotiations with Serbia. It leaves Serbia in a similar position to Ethiopia who lost its coast in the 1990s to newly created Eritrea.
The last time Montenegro was independent was 90 years ago at the end of World War I, when it was absorbed into the newly formed Yugoslavia. Podgorica will become the world’s newest capital city. In 1946 Podgorica was renamed Titograd in honour of the post-war communist leader of the country. The name of Podgorica was reinstated on April 2, 1992.
Montenegro has a population of 700,000 people. The name Montenegro means “black mountain” in Venetian language. The Montenegrin word for their country "Crna Gora" also means black mountain. It is named for the dark forests that covered the slopes of the Dinaric Alps. The earliest known independent ruler of the area was the 11th century dukedom of Dukjla. They paid tribute to the Byzantine Empire and were replaced by the Zetans in the 14th century. The Ottoman Empire was now on the march but never fully conquered mountainous Zeta. From then on, the country was ruled by a series of "vladika," prince-bishops, who formed a theocratic state. It was transformed into a secular principality in 1852 and in 1910, Prince Nikola I became King of Montenegro. Nikola declared war on the Turks and precipitated the two Balkan Wars. Montenegro doubled in size as a result of these wars. It was allied with Serbia in World War I and was occupied by the Austrian Empire.
After the war, parliament voted for a union with Serbia which was finally ratified in 1924 after a bitter civil war against anti-unionists. It became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes which renamed itself to Yugoslavia in 1929. During World War II, it was occupied by Italian and then German troops. It became a separate state of Yugoslavia after the war ended. War resistance leader Josip Broz Tito kept the federation together until he died in 1980. His death brought on a slow unravelling of the six states. When Yugoslavia finally broke up in 1992, Montenegro held a bitterly fought election which voted for federation with Serbia. The election was boycotted by pro-independence factions. Relations steadily soured with its major partner as Montenegro became more independent. In 1996, Djukanovic’s government severed de facto ties and adopted the Deutsche Mark as currency (since replaced by the Euro.) In 2003, the two sides agreed to replace the Yugoslav federation in favour of a looser state union named Serbia and Montenegro. The path was finally cleared for the independence referendum.
Though Montenegro is the last state to break free from Yugoslavia, it does not necessarily mean the end of the Balkan conflicts. The prime minister of Kosovo, Agim Çeku, has signalled that they would be next in the quest for independence, saying "This is the last act of the historic liquidation of Yugoslavia…this year Kosovo will follow in Montenegro's footsteps." Kosovo is currently administered by the UN, but is seen by Serbs as the historical and spiritual heart of Serbia. The status of Republica Srpska, the Serb-controlled enclave in Bosnia also remains on knife-edge, with ethnic Serbs looking for a referendum of their own to rejoin Serbia. Such a move could start another war in Bosnia as it has provoked widespread condemnation from the Muslim majority and the West. Permanent peace still eludes this beautiful but complex part of the world.
Although the future is likely to rain on its parade, right now Montenegro justly celebrates its new nationhood.