REVIEW: Article

Montenegro: The Democratic Road to Independence

On June 3, 2006, Montenegro became the 192nd member state of the United Nations. Following almost a decade of negotiations, Montenegro, after the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1992, entered first into a loose state union of Serbia and Montenegro in 1993. The 13 years of transition to full independence in 2006 passed without any serious civil or political rights violations.

The move to independence was rooted in the history of the Montenegrin people, who were independent from the late Middle Ages until 1918. The culture of Montenegro has been in Europe for over five centuries.  Its status as an independent state was subsumed by the various incarnations of Yugoslavia starting in 1918. This was continued by the state union of Serbia and Montenegro in 1992. The 88 years when Montenegro was without its independence ended on May 21, 2006, when the Montenegrin people decided that they wanted independence once again. On June 3, 2006, the Parliament of Montenegro formally declared that Montenegro was an independent, sovereign state.

Diamond on the Adriatic

Located in the West Balkans, on the shores of the Adriatic, Montenegro has an area of 5,019 square miles (about the size of North Carolina) and a population of approximately 631,000. As a newly sovereign state, Montenegro is in the spotlight. The country is described as a diamond in Europe’s backyard.

The name “Montenegro” has been in existence since the 13th century. During the time of King Milutin in 1276, the name “Crna Gora” is mentioned for the first time. In one of my trips to Montenegro, I came by the road from Kosovo and passed through the beautiful forests.  The trees were tall and dense, and the traveler could feel that he was in the middle of the black mountains.

The history of the area goes back 1,000 years. The area around Lake Skada became independent in 1040 and was proclaimed a kingdom in 1077. This state, known as Zeta, was one of the first independent states in the Balkans.

Culture and History

Montenegrin prominence in European culture is also rooted in history. Centuries before Montenegrin literature became known throughout the world and a few years after the publication of the Gutenberg Bible in 1493, a printing shop came into existence in what is now Montenegro.

During this period of cultural development, the Turks ruled until the 17th century.  The Montenegrins, however, maintained considerable autonomy. Full independence was regained in the mid-17th century. This lasted until 1918 when the 88 years of dependence began. As pointed out previously, independence returned to Montenegro in June 2006.[1] 

Religious Pluralism and Ethnic Diversity

Given the sometimes uneasy relationship between various religious and ethnic communities in neighboring Balkan states, the world watched the political evolution in Montenegro with a certain apprehension.  The record, however, has been one of an orderly transition that should set an example for neighboring Kosovo.

Approximately 75 percent of the Montenegrin people are Eastern Orthodox—either Serbian Orthodox Church members or those affiliated with the Montenegrin Orthodox Church. Muslims represent the second largest religious group and constitute approximately 18 percent of the population. They are either of Albanian or Bosniak background.

Catholics number around four percent of the population, and they are mostly of Croat ethnic background. Albanian Catholics comprise the remainder of the Catholic population. The Bay of Kotor, a seaport area, traces its Catholic connections to the 10th century. In July 2006, 34 members of the American Association of the Order of Malta escorted by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, former Archbishop of Washington, visited Montenegro in order to pay homage to the icon of Our Lady of Philermo, a historic relic of the Order of Malta. During the Nazi occupation, the icon was protected in an Orthodox monastery in Cetinje. The Montenegrin government now houses the icon in a museum located in the ancient capital. The group attended Mass at the Catholic Cathedral in Kotor. On the same day, they were the guests of President Filip Vujanovic at his official residence in Cetinje. Several days after the Order of Malta pilgrimage, the Vatican and Montenegro established diplomatic relations.

The serious problems of alienation between Albanian Kosovars, who constitute almost 90 percent of Kosovo’s population, and the Serb-Orthodox minority caused some observers to worry that there would be similar problems in Montenegro.The Albanian minority, which is about five to six percent of the population, and other Muslim nationals in Montenegro developed well organized political movements and participated in the referendum and the elections of 2006. These events were monitored by international groups, who reported that the political process proceeded smoothly without any serious violations of civil and fundamental rights.

The Leadership

Montenegro has benefited from effective political leadership. These leaders have been able maintain stable relationships with Montenegro’s regional neighbors, Western Europe and with the United States.

Milo Dukanovic, a key leader, served as either Prime Minister or President until 2006. He made the decision in 1996 to sever ties with Belgrade. Dukanovic initiated an economic policy designed for Montenegro. This policy included the adoption of the German Mark as its currency. Montenegro subsequently adopted the Euro.

On my first visit to Montenegro in 2000, I met with Mr. Dukanovic. It was evident to me that he was intent on serving the best interests of the Montenegrin people. Milo Dukanovic worked closely with Filip Vujanovic, who held the roles of either Prime Minister or President in the critical 2002-2006 period. Other leaders included: Dr. Miomir Mugosa, Mayor of Podgorica, who played a major role in transforming the capital into one of the most attractive cities in the Balkans, and Zeljko Sturanovic, who currently serves as Prime Minister and Head of Government. An indication of the importance of the position of Ambassador to the United States is the appointment of Miodrag Vlahović, who had served as Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Transition Period, as their first Ambassador. The ruling coalition is made up of the Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Socialists. Montenegro is a democracy. The opposition is represented by the following parties: Movement for Changes (PZP), the Democratic Serbian Party and the People’s Party of Montenegro.

The final chapter of the political transition that took place in Montenegro occurred on May 21, 2006. A total of 419,240 votes were cast on the question of whether Montenegro should remain in the union with Serbia or if it should become independent. The number of votes cast represented over 86 percent of the electorate. The vote for independence was 55.5 percent.  The election process met the high standards established by the European Union.

Within days of the May 21, 2006 decision, the vote for independence was recognized by all members of the European Union and the Security Council of the United Nations. The United States recognized the independence of Montenegro on June 13, 2006.The Montenegrin path to independence is an example of how a democratic, consultative process can accomplish political goals. Montenegro’s independence, which had existed until 1918 and then was interrupted for 88 years, has been restored.

[1] See World Factbook, “Montenegro,” 2007.

Photo Credit: The World Factbook, 2007.

Issue Date