Serbs constitute 32 per cent of the population of Montenegro (198,414 people in the 2003 census). They speak Serbian and are mainly Christian Orthodox.
Serbs have traditionally lived in Montenegro, and Montenegro has traditionally been an ally of Serbia. However, many in Montenegro have believed that Belgrade was exercising undue influence over them since Montenegro’s incorporation into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croat and Slovenes, throughout the communist regime, and during the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and joint state of Serbia and Montenegro.
Serbs are represented in parliament, with pro-Serbian parties, including ethnic Serb parties, having 23 out of 81 seats in parliament.
In September 2007, it was still not clear what formal status Serbs would have in newly independent Montenegro: whether in the Yugoslav constitutional tradition they would gain collective rights as ‘constituent people’ alongside Montenegrins, or the lesser status of ‘minority’. One of the most contentious issues in negotiations of the new constitution has proved to be the name of the country’s official language. Most Serbs strongly object to the moniker ‘Montenegrin’ for their joint language, which has recently come into usage. In August 2007 the ruling party was floating the idea of allowing it to go by three names: Montenegrin, Serbian, and Bosnian.
Tensions with Serbia have made it difficult to overcome societal divisions sharpened during the campaign leading up to the independence referendum. In the summer of 2007, Montenegro blocked entry of a radical nationalist Serbian Orthodox bishop whose name appears on an EU travel ban list for alleged support of fugitive war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Nationalist politicians in Belgrade reacted sharply, with a senior advisor to Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica repeatedly referring to Montenegro as a ‘quasi-state’. The foreign ministries worked with the EU to allow the bishop’s supervised entry for services only. Further riling nationalists in Belgrade, Montenegro has signalled a willingness to recognize Kosovo’s independence, should such a proclamation be forthcoming.
Updated June 2015