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Former French embassy, now a library
Former French embassy, now a library. Photo: flickr/Nictalopen

Cetinje was the capital of the independent state of Montenegro that existed from its international recognition at the Congress of Berlin in 1878 until 1918, when it was merged into Serbia and subsequently into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (renamed Yugoslavia in 1929).

Except for the old government buildings and embassies from the first Montenegrin state, this small, sleepy town of 15,000 inhabitants does not remind the visitor of a former capital city. Indeed, the same could have been said of the time when the Montenegrin rulers resided here and foreign officials of 13 consulates tried to intervene in the political life of the small Balkan state. Edith Durham, who travelled through the Balkans in the early 20th century, described Cetinje as a toy city "no one had played with yet".

A stroll though Cetinje today shows the former consulates that are reminders of this state tradition. There is the old hospital (fallen into decay), King Nikola's Palace, and the old government building.

However, despite Montenegro's statehood and its long tradition of resistance to Ottoman rule, the Montenegrin population had not developed a national consciousness in the modern sense. Like all his predecessors and most of his subjects, Nikola I (1841�1921), Montenegro's last ruler, considered himself Serb.

He pursued Serbia-friendly policies and the two entities were never at war. Already before World War One, the idea of union with Serbia enjoyed considerable support, but due to Austro-Hungarian opposition it was not a real option. Nicholas himself was also reluctant, but after World War I � with Nikola in exile in France � Montenegro was merged with Serbia and immediately incorporated into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. To this day the legality of this process remains hotly disputed.

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Cetinje – a royal tradition. © 2008 pre tv. All rights reserved.

Nevertheless, the concept of a Montenegrin nation, fostered during socialist times, is popular in Cetinje. Unsurprisingly it was a pro-independence stronghold ever since the debate about Montenegrin statehood resurfaced after the disintegration of socialist Yugoslavia.

Under socialism, Cetinje � like many other towns in Yugoslavia � experienced industrialisation, in particular driven by "Obod", a huge company producing white goods such as washing machines and refrigerators.

Today these companies have fallen into decay. Cetinje is once more, a city without industry. The recent economic boom in Montenegro has largely bypassed Cetinje. Except for the renovation of historical buildings, which attract some day-trip tourism from the coast, there is very little construction. People live by commuting to the coast, or to Podgorica, both not more than half an hour's drive away.

April 2008

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