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The Eighteenth Century

Vladikas from the Petrović clan (1697-1851) - Copyright © by
Vladikas from the Petrović clan (1697-1851)

The eighteenth century was to see the development of the embryonic Montenegrin state based on a tiny territory centered on Cetinje. It was also to develop as a theocracy led by the 'Vladika', a man who was at the same time bishop and prince and who was to hail from the Petrović clan. These were also the years when Montenegro was to develop close relations with Russia, briefly accept as ruler ' Šćepan Mali' ('Stephen the Small'), an imposter claiming to be the murdered Russian tsar Peter III, and when Austria was to feature ever more prominently as an actor in Montenegrin politics. These were years of change but despite that, cautions Roberts, "the developments that had taken place during the eighteenth century" still left the country "an essentially conservative society in which the tribal chiefs played a predominant part."

Few ordinary Montenegrins knew much of the world beyond Kotor [Venetian from 1420 to 1797] and most lived in isolated hamlets. There were no schools. The extent of tribesmen's insularity and backwardness had been demonstrated by their readiness to accept the false tsar and, except during Šćepan's period of draconian rule, by the continued prevalence of the blood feud and raiding.

There was, however, some opening to the outside world compared to the two preceding centuries. The many letters written to the authorities in Russia, Austria and Venice and the journey's undertaken by [the Vladikas] Danilo, Vasilije and Sava and others acting on their behalf testify poignantly to the Montenegrins' attempt to develop links with the powers which they believed could protect them and engender a degree of prosperity. Also, the considerable number of émigrés, especially to Russia, offered them an additional though somewhat opaque window on the outside world.

Yet the end of the eighteenth century saw a weakening of the link with Russia, which had been one of the most important developments of the period. That a shared Orthodoxy lay at the root of this connection was ironic given the notorious vagueness of the Montenegrins, who had originally been so much admired in Russia as defenders of Orthodoxy against Islam, on the doctrinal basis of religion. An Austrian report of the time noted 'Except that they keep the fast, they have no religion.' Religious practice was heavily influenced by traditional beliefs and local superstitions. Priests were often poorly educated, more at ease bearing arms than discussing matters of doctrine.

[pp: 160-161]

Realm of the Black Mountain: A History of Montenegro. 2007. [C.Hurst & Co]

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