Crises in the Balkans: Views from the Participants

By Constantine P. Danopoulos; Kostas G. Messas | Go to book overview
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6 Montenegro: Beyond the Myth

Andrei Simic

Montengero's stance in the current Balkan conflict has been shaped largely by the ambivalence of its relationship to its more powerful ally, Serbia, an ambivalence dating from the founding of Yugoslavia. After more than seventy years, this remains the single most divisive issue in Montenegrin politics. Moreover, this controversy regarding ethnic identity and political allegiance has been rekindled by the hardships engendered by the current civil war.

Largely unknown to the outside world, Montenegro, does not fit the paradigms characterizing the other Balkan Slavs. Its identity, like Montenegro's political loyalties, remains shifting and unresolved. It is the product of a unique history that has contributed to the formation of a national psyche where past and present merge in an often boastful and self congratulatory melange of fact and mythology. Centuries of dogged resistance to Ottoman domination have given birth to a culture permeated by a heroic ethos constructed from the sometimes fictionalized, and frequently embellished, accounts of a prolonged struggle for autonomy, a struggle immortalized in the epic poetry with which every Montenegrin is familiar. On a more intimate level, each clan has passed down from father to son tales of the daring exploits of long dead, but not forgotten, ancestors. 1 Nor has this idealization been confined simply to prideful natives. Nineteenth-century Europe was much taken by the image of gallant mountaineers fiercely resisting Turkish oppression. Among those captivated by this romantic picture was Lord Alfred Tennyson. He was inspired to pen his sonnet Montenegro. 2 Czech composer, Franz Lehar, is said to have taken Montenegro as the setting for The Merry Widow. 3 However, what such stereotypes largely ignored was the reality of abject poverty, brutality,


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