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Nikola's Own Country

Prince Nikola Prince Nikola
Prince Nikola

For more than half a century Montenegro was dominated by Nikola, prince from 1860 to 1910 and thenceforth king until his deposition in 1918. These were years that saw not only a vast increase in Montenegro's territory but its international recognition as a state in 1878 and ultimately its incorporation into the first Yugoslavia. In this extract Roberts discusses how life changed in the country in the earlier years of his reign.

Over these years Prince Nikola's youthful experience of a world beyond his country's confines led him to introduce a number of changes, intended to move the country in the direction of the modern world. Many schools offering elementary education were opened in different parts of the principality including, in Cetinje, the first school for girls, established with Russian help in 1869. Communications were improving. In 1869 Montenegro was for the first time connected to the outside world by telegraph, and two years later the first post office was established. In 1874 construction began on a proper road linking Cetinje and Kotor, funded by Austria-Hungary. But the prince's broad education, knowledge of languages, and experience of 'civilised' Europe were not shared by the mass of his subjects, over whom he ruled with autocratic powers, if not in the despotic manner, of his predecessor Prince Danilo. The evident contradiction implicit in such an approach was later at least partly the cause of Nikola's undoing, but at the time widespread acceptance of his style as one of paternalistic benevolence helped to earn him the respect of his people and the admiration of an increasing number of foreign visitors.

Later Roberts writes about the Montenegro of the turn of the century:

Montenegro…entered the twentieth century with the traditional system of government virtually intact. The ruler as an institution was connected with all the decisive events in public life, and Nikola treated the state as if it were his family domain. Foreigners often commented on the Ruritanian aspect of Cetinje - the miniature capital had its own theatre and reading room which, already in 1879, was stocked with newspapers from all parts of Europe, among them the Illustrated London News and, somewhat surprisingly in view of the country's poverty, a pamphlet entitled Die Private Spekulation an der Börse [sic]. There were no regular budgets till 1907. Russian subsidies supplemented by Austrian loans provided the bulk of the country's financial resources, which were insufficient to cover the basic requirements of the population. Grain and textiles had to be imported, although Nikola attempted to improve agriculture by creating an experimental farm at Danilovgrad and ordering every Montenegrin to plant a vine.

[pp: 234, 269]

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

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