Montenegro lies on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. It borders Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Hercegovina, and Croatia. Its terrain is very mountainous.
Slavs arrived in the Balkans in the sixth century. The Slavic state of Dolcea was formed on the territory where Podgorica, the Montenegrin capital, exists today. Dolcea became the territorial basis for all different stages in the state organization of the Montenegrin people. Montenegro became independent in the eleventh century, then was taken over by the Byzantine Empire and became independent again in the fourteenth century. The Ottomans conquered the country in 1496. In 1796 Montenegro de facto became an independent autonomous state, and was officially recognised in 1858. Montenegro proclaimed itself a kingdom in 1910 and expanded to its present borders during the First Balkan War in 1912. It sided with Serbia during WWI and the Podgorica Assembly voted for uniting Montenegro with the Kingdom of Serbia in 1918. However, pro-independence forces in Montenegro revolted on Christmas Day 1919; the revolt was finally brutally suppressed in 1924, and the Montenegrin Orthodox Church was subsequently incorporated into the Serbian Orthodox Church. All independence forces within Montenegro were suppressed. After World War II, Montenegro became a part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) and Montenegrins were given the status of a nation, its territory the Socialist Republic of Montenegro.
In 1992, Montenegro was the only of six SFRY republics (apart from Serbia) that did not declare independence. With Milosevic allies at the helm, Montenegro joined Serbia in formation of a new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia under the dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic. As part of the rump Yugoslav National Army, Montenegrins participated in the Slovenian, Croatian and Bosnian wars of the 1990s, notoriously including the shelling of the Croatian city of Dubrovnik. In 1997, Montenegro’s new leadership fell out with Milosevic. The anti-Milosevic government in Podgorica, backed strongly by Montenegrin nationalists who favoured independence, and many in the public who were fed up with international isolation, proved sympathetic to NATO forces intervening in neighbouring Kosovo in 1999. In 2000, popular protests ousted Milosevic and Serbia and Montenegro formally embarked on a process of transformation into a democratic state with a market economy. Under pressure from the European Union, a three year agreement was concluded in 2003 establishing the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro-known derisively by pro-independence Montenegrins as Solanaland, after then European Foreign Affairs Commissioner Javier Solana. With about half of the population favouring independence, the government of Montenegro largely ignored federal laws during this time.
Main languages: in late 2006 a debate was underway about the name of the language of Montenegro. The language is very similar to Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian, all of which were considered a common language before the wars of the 1990s. Some Montenegrins have taken to calling their language ‘Montenegrin’.
Main religions: Orthodox Christianity (Serbian and Montenegrin Orthodox Churches), Islam, Roman Catholicism
Main ethnic groups, according to the 2003 census, are Montenegrins 267,669 (43.16%), Serbs 198,414 (31.99%), Bosniaks 48,184 (7.77%), Albanians 31,163 (5.03%), Muslims 24,625 (3.97%), Croats 6,811 and Roma 2,601. Other estimates, for example by OSCE, put the Roma population at 20,000.
No single ethnic group in Montenegro forms an absolute numerical majority. Montenegrins, Serbs, Bosniaks, and Croats are Slavic. Most Montenegrins and Serbs are Christian Orthodox, most Bosniaks and Albanians are Muslim, and most Croats are Roman Catholic.
The 2003 census recorded nearly 7,000 Croats in Montenegro. Croats speak Croatian and are predominately Roman Catholics. They are concentrated in southern Montenegro, near the border with Croatia, at the Bay of Boka Kotorska, with highest percentage in municipality of Tivat. This part of Montenegro was previously part of Dalmatia, but has been part of Montenegro since 1918.
With 86.5 per cent voter turnout in a May 2006 referendum,55.5 per cent of the electorate voted for independence. The debate on the future of Montenegro had dominated the political scene and divided the society. Generally, Montenegrins and all minorities were pro-independence, whilst most Serbs were opposed. The Montenegrin Parliament declared independence on 3 June 2006, which was almost immediately recognized by the EU, US and members of UN Security Council, and subsequently by the Republic of Serbia. Whilst Serbia is the legal successor of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, the Republic of Montenegro expressed its readiness to adhere to the international treaties ratified by the State Union, and to participate in the same international organizations. It is a member of the UN and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and is the newest member of the Council of Europe. In late 2006 the EU and Montenegro entered into a Stabilization and Association Agreement, representing Montenegrin progress on the path to EU membership ahead of Serbia.
Montenegro adopted its existing constitution in 1992. The constitution includes the principle of equality before the law, provides for official use of minority languages in municipalities where minorities form a substantial proportion of the population, freedom to practice one’s own religion, equality of religions, and a provision on mother-tongue education. With the exception of Roma, minorities have generally been well represented in government at all levels. At the local level, minorities other than Roma are frequently represented in municipal councils, governments and administrations. The electoral law provides for special procedures to ensure five seats in areas where the Albanian community lives; election observation missions from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODHIR) have repeatedly criticized this law, as it benefits only one minority.
The economic situation in Montenegro has long been difficult. Internationally isolated together with Serbia for years, GDP fell dramatically from levels in the early 1990s; unemployment rates rose, whilst salaries and pensions decreased. Corruption and organized crime, including human trafficking, have has been major problems, aggravated by opaque decision-making processes. The rural population, which is disproportionately a minority population, remains poorer than the urban, majority Montenegrin population, and poverty is highest amongst vulnerable groups such as Roma, refugees, internally displaced, and the disabled. However, Montenegro’s weak economy appears to be undergoing a turn-around since independence.
Minority based and advocacy organisations
Tel: +381 67 250 018
Forum Muslimana – Bošnjaka
Tel: +381 67 522 686
Tel: +381 872 21 732
Hrvatsko Kulturno Društvo Napredak
Tel: +381 67 582 050
Tel: +381 85 401 080
Helsinki Committee of Montenegro
Tel: +381 381 86 44 225
Centre for Development of Non-Governmental Organizations
Tel: +381 81 264 211
Roma and Ashkali Documentation Office
Tel: +381 38 246 299, +377 44 360 901, +381 63 767 6558
Sources and further reading
Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. Opinion on Serbia and Montenegro 2004, retrieved 28 March 2007.
Briza, J., Minority Rights in Yugoslavia, MRG Report, London, 2000.
EU Enlargement : http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/index_en.htm
European Roma Rights Centre (Theme – ‘Roma and the Kosovo Conflict’): http://www.errc.org/
International Monetary Fund, Serbia and Montenegro: Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper – Progress Reports, April 2006, IMF Country Report No. 06/141IMF Country Report No. 06/141, retrieved 28 March 2007, http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2006/cr06141.pdf
International Monetary Fund, Serbia and Montenegro: Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, May 2004, IMF Country Report No. 04/120, retrieved 28 March 2007, http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2004/cr04120.pdf
Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights: http://www.osce.org/
OSCE Mission to Montenegro: http://www.osce.org/montenegro
Poulton, H., The Balkans: Minorities and States in Conflict, 2nd edn, London, Minority Rights Publications, 1993.
Sindik, N., Minority Access to Employment in Montenegro, London, MRG Micro study, May 2006.