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Plunder and the Ecological State

Shelled house in Dubrovnik Bay of Kotor - Copyright © by Alan Grant
Shelled house in Dubrovnik - Bay of Kotor

On 23 January 1990 Momir Bulatović, the leader of the Montenegrin Communist Party presided over the last session of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia. It was a key moment in the story of the dissolution of the country. Slovenia and Croatia had walked out and Bulatović was left in a quandary. "He exercised his chairman's right to call a break for fifteen minutes, which, as he subsequently commented, 'lasted throughout history.'" As the country fell apart Montenegro was the only republic to side with Serbia, led by Slobodan Milosević, himself of Montenegrin parentage. On 1 March 1992 some 95.4% of those voting (albeit with a low turnout of 66.0%,) cast their ballots in favour of maintaining a union with Serbia, the subsequent Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. At the time Bulatović was president of Montenegro and Milo Djukanović, who was later to lead it to independence its premier. Montenegro's wartime role was inglorious.

At first the war focused on those parts of Croatia with Serb populations, a theatre at a good distance from Montenegro. But as the battle for Vukovar [in Croatia and ending in November 1991] raged, the Yugoslav army attacked Dubrovnik from Montenegro. JNA [Yugoslav People's Army] soldiers, supported by Montenegrin irregulars, earned a name for lawlessness and rapacity, which prompted a torrent of international outrage and disapproval. Dubrovnik had no military strategic value and was barely defended by the Croats. Nor were there more than a few Serbs living there. Rather the attack seemed to stem from pure vindictiveness or, according to some, from the Montenegrins' traditional appetite for plunder, and led to headlines in the Western press likening the Yugoslav army to barbarian hordes. Although Montenegro was officially detached from the war in Croatia and withdrew its reservists there in October 1991, Montenegrin soldiers from the positions in the hills above Dubrovnik destroyed hotels, yachts and other signs of sophistication or civilisation with a wantonness that caused more damage to Milosevic's interests and game plan than he could possibly have anticipated.

Only days before the attack on Dubrovnik, with no apparent sense of irony, the Parliament of Montenegro had declared the country to be an ecological state. Its rhetorical ballast rings particularly hollow in the light of events only days away: 'We are fully aware that dignity and blessedness of a human being are intrinsically connected with blessedness and purity of nature…being committed to the struggle for the dignity of man, we are also called upon to struggle for the dignity of nature.'

[pp: 437, 438-439]

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

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