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1941: Wartime

Yugoslavia 1000 Dinara Italian Occupation of Montenegro in World War II. Yugoslavia P 29 1931 note is over stamped by hand with the word 'Verificato' - Copyright © by intercol.co.uk.
Yugoslavia 'Verificato'

The beginning of the Second World War in Yugoslavia, on 6 April 1941 saw the occupation of Montenegro by the Italians. On 13 July an uprising began, triggered by the events of the day before, when a "group of Italian-backed separatists proclaimed Montenegro's independence, reading out a declaration that had been prepared in Rome."

Far from welcoming the idea of a protectorate, most Montenegrins were outraged at the affront to their independence. To compound their sense of injury the so-called state had already been divested by the Italians of significant chunks of its territory. Not only had they reassigned to a Greater Albania lands surrounding Peć and Dečani [in Kosovo] that Montenegro had gained after the First Balkan War and territory around Ulcinje and Tuzi that had been part of Montenegro since 1878: they had detached a strip of land running from the Gulf of Kotor to Budva for direct annexation to Italy as part of a separate Governatorato (military district) of Dalmatia. The Montenegrins' anger at the Italians' action was reinforced by their traditional belief in Mother Russia; the peasants were eager for a war that they believed would soon end in a decisive victory for the Red Army.

As everywhere in Yugoslavia the war was brutal and pitted neighbour against neighbour, brother against brother. Whilst the Italians and then the Germans cooperated at times with Chetnik, or Serbian-nationalist royalist forces and other Montenegrins, they were also able to enlist support from many Albanian and Slav Muslim irregulars. Yet, by one calculation, at one point some 23 per cent of the entire occupation force in Yugoslavia was tied down trying to control 3 per cent of its population. Roberts quotes from Milovan Djilas, one of the main communist and Partisan leaders in Montenegro whose book Wartime "must stand as one of the great memoirs of warfare of modern times." In it she says, Djilas "admits to ordering or acquiescing in both the burning of villages and the execution of individuals who were in no way collaborators but were deemed by virtue of their occupation or social position to be 'reactionaries' and class enemies."

It became increasingly clear to me that our imprudent, hasty executions, along with hunger and war weariness, were helping to strengthen the Chetniks. Even more horrible and inconceivable was the killing of kinsmen and hurling of their bodies into ravines - less for convenience than to avoid the funeral processions and the inconsolable and fearless mourners. In Hercegovina it was still more horrible and ugly: Communist sons confirmed their devotion by killing their own fathers, and there was dancing and singing around the bodies. How many were executed in Montenegro and Sandžak at that time? I don't know but several hundred doesn't seem exaggerated. All too lightly the Communists destroyed the inherited, primeval customs - as if they had new and immutable ones to replace them with. By retrieving the bodies from the ravines and giving them solemn burial, the Chetniks made impressive gains while pinning on the Communists the horrible nickname of 'pitmen'.

[pp: 348, 353, 354, 361-362]

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

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