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1918-41: Neglect, Stagnation, Disillusion

Church in Kotor Old Town - Copyright © by Alan Grant
Church in Kotor Old Town

"The interwar period in Montenegro," says Roberts, "far from offering a new start, was characterised by neglect, stagnation and widespread disillusionment." And this she says was felt not just by former pro-independence Greens but Whites too, "who had naturally invested much hope in the new union, [and who] were forced to recognise that the new regime was failing to address the economic and social ills which had placed Montenegrins near the bottom of the heap in the new Yugoslav state."

Officially Montenegrins were considered Serbs, and while many of them at the time found this designation acceptable, others resented the sweeping away of state traditions and symbols and the way their people had been pushed aside and overruled on all issues of self-governance by influential Serbs from Serbia proper. It was not merely that Montenegrin officers were expected to join a national army which, despite incorporation of officers from the former Montenegrin and Habsburg armies, retained its old Serbian command structure. More wounding, given its long association with Montenegrin self-rule, was the blow dealt to … the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, which in September 1920 was formally subsumed into the union of Yugoslav Orthodox churches - an institution placed under the authority of the Serbian Patriarch with his see in Belgrade.

One response to grinding poverty, writes Roberts, had been emigration but in the 1920s this declined because of more restrictive US legislation. Thousands however were resettled:

…from the barren karst regions on land expropriated from estate-owners in Kosovo or Macedonia or in formerly Habsburg-ruled Vojvodina. The small plots, the different farming methods required to cultivate the marshy lowlands of Macedonia or the flat plains of Kosovo, and the lack of equipment needed to farm the new land meant that these emigrants often had a struggle to succeed.

"With most political attention…focused on Serb-Croat relations," notes Roberts, Montenegro became a "backwater, both politically and economically." She notes that in the 39 interwar governments with 819 ministerial mandates only four were from Montenegro.

Electoral support for the regime-sponsored coalition declined progressively as the population, largely on dwarf farms, were at the mercy of local middlemen. The unreasonable profit margins left them struggling to cope with unfavourable price differentials between what they received for the small amount of grain they could sell when the harvest had just come in, and the price they could pay as the crop year advanced and their own supplies were exhausted. Despite continuing poverty (in 1931 national income in Montenegro was only 31 per cent the Yugoslav average), almost no funds were allocated to economic development, nor was there any serious attempt to tackle the absence of any major infrastructure, apart from the development of military facilities in the Gulf of Kotor.

[pp: 337, 339, 342-343]

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

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