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LOCATION: Montenegro
LANGUAGE : Montenegrin or Serbian
RELIGION: Orthodox Christian, some Catholics and Muslims


The name Montenegro is from the Italian phrase monte nero, or "black mountain." The native name Crna Gorahas the same meaning, an apt name for a small, rugged, entirely mountainous country. While it is one of the most recent countries to gain independence, the national identity has a long history. The land reaching up into the mountains from the steep east coast of the Adriatic Sea was part of the ancient Roman Empire. Slavic speakers, the linguistic forebears of the present Montenegrin population, arrived from the 6th century ad on. These early medieval newcomers settled in small villages forming a patchwork pattern with those of the Romance speakers and those of the Albanian speakers, all engaged in sheepherding and small-scale agriculture. This pattern persisted until a century ago with elements of it remaining to the present. In the medieval period the land was also dotted with small fortified towns, some of which were church centers.

In the early Middle Ages coastal cities, such as Ulcinj, Bar, and Kotor related to the culture of the Adriatic Sea and of Italy just across the sea, while they related politically to the inland, paying tribute to Serbian kings and feudal nobles there. Later, they were ruled by Venice.

From the late 10th through the 12th century the lands comprising much of Montenegro but extending farther south to include all of the environs of Lake Skadar was known as Doclea or Duklja. This was a period of swiftly shifting boundaries and allegiances.

The area then came to be known as Zeta and was ruled first by Serbian kings from the late 12th century until 1356. However, in the 14-15th centuries the larger shepherds' camps gave rise to tribes and clans that were the basis of society until a century ago. In 1356 Zeta became an independent entity under one of these clans or great families, the Balšić family. It was subsequently ruled by Serbian rulers called despots from 1421 to 1451. The Crnojević family took it over for the remainder of the 15th century.

In the 14th century mention of Crna Gora or Montenegro begins in historic sources, especially in reference to the area between Cetinje and Lake Skadar. The Turkish Ottoman Empire's conquest of Serbia in 1389 and Bosnia in 1463 was the defining moment for Montenegrin identity. Montenegro, for a time a smaller area than Duklja and Zeta, fell technically to the Turks in 1496 but was never fully conquered by them, although they took over the coastal cities of Ulcinj and Bar in 1571. From 1516 on the name Montenegro became official, and hereditary rule was consolidated in the bishops of Cetinje, who became the prince-bishops, gaining more power in the 17th century, consolidating it into an effective monarchy in the mid 19th century, and continuing until World War I. As the once seemingly unstoppable Ottoman Empire declined in the 19th century, neighboring Croatian Dalmatia, Herzegovina and Bosnia were taken over by Austria-Hungary; Serbia became an independent kingdom. Montenegro was not conquered except for a brief surrender to the doomed Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War I.

Throughout the five centuries of Ottoman rule over the Serbs, the Montenegrins prided themselves in being the only Serbs remaining independent. This was the essence of their identity. They might be impoverished, but their clan-dominated warrior culture of fighting and guns, united by the Orthodox Church, kept them free of outside domination. However, when Serbia gained full independence in 1878, the Montenegrins were faced by a contradiction. Which part of their identity was essential? The Serb aspect implied that they should unite with Serbia, de facto becoming subordinate to it. The independent aspect suggested that Montenegrins should stay apart, but that put them in opposition to the Serbs in Serbia.

After World War I, when the maps of Europe were redrawn and numerous nationalities became independent nations, Montenegro did not. It was swallowed up in the newly-created Yugoslavia, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (1918-1941).

During World War II, Italy, which had swiftly taken the length of the Croatian Adriatic coast to the northwest and Albania to the southeast, found separatist collaborators and took over inland Montenegro as well in 1941. The Communist Party of Yugoslavia led an uprising that left the Italians holding only the cities of Cetinje, Podgorica, and Nikšić, but in 1942 the Italian fascists took back the hinterland. Guerrilla partisans continued the struggle to drive them out. Italy surrendered in 1943 only to be replaced by German troops, and the resistance continued. After heavy fighting in late 1944, Montenegro was liberated on 6 January 1945.

Montenegro then became the smallest of the six republics of the Federal People's (later Socialist Federal) Republic of Yugoslavia. Typically called simply Yugoslavia, this was a maverick Communist country. Within three years it broke with the Soviet Union, soon opening its borders to the West and finding its place in the world as a leader among the non-aligned nations. While the government, dominated by the Communist Party, never allowed democracy, it did modify the economic system to one of worker self-management. It also granted the republics broad decentralized powers in economic affairs and administration, especially following the constitution of 1974.

In 1992, after Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia had broken away from the SFRY, the Republic of Montenegro joined together with the much larger Republic of Serbia to form the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In 2003 the state was reorganized and renamed Serbia and Montenegro.

In 2006 the Montenegrin population voted to declare independence from Serbia, and Montenegro became a separate country. It is now working hard to become a member of the European Union.

Montenegrins are very aware that their old royal capital was Cetinje. In 1946 Yugoslavia moved the capital of the newly-formed Republic of Montenegro to newly-named Titograd. In 1992 the old name of this city, Podgorica, was restored, but it has remained the capital.


Montenegro is a small country in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula . It is roughly diamond shaped, with the east coast of the Adriatic forming its southwestern edge, lying between Croatia in the north and Albania in the south. The border with Croatia extends northward from the sea for only about 20 km (12.4 mi); from there Bosnia and Herzegovina lie to the north and west of Montenegro. From the northernmost point of the Montenegrin diamond on, the land to the northeast of the border is Serbia. From the easternmost point, the land to the southeast for about 60 km (37 mi) is Kosovo, technically still a part of Serbia. Albania forms the southeastern border of Montenegro. The coastline is about 100 (60 mi) km long as the crow flies, but nearly 300 km (180 mi) if the deep indentations are counted.

Winters are harsh and snowy in the mountains, but the Mediterranean climate of the coast is very mild. Mimosas bloom in late January in Hercegnovi.

The country had a population of 620,000 according to the 2003 official census. There were an additional 50,000 people in the country, apparently refugee or immigrant Bosnians and Albanians. Among the population of citizens and permanent residents, self-declared Montenegrins are 43%, Serbs 32%, Bosniaks 8%, and Albanians 5%. However, Montenegrins havea long tradition of considering themselves Serbs, so these are not two clearly distinct groups.

Thus, earlier Montenegrin emigrants to the United States organized and identified themselves as Montenegrin-Serbs; only since the late 1990s have they called themselves specifically Montenegrin. There are perhaps 260,000 Montenegrins in Serbia. There are also self-identified Montenegrins in Croatia, Canada, Australia, Cyprus, Argentina and other Latin American countries. Such emigrant populations number in the thousands.

It has been estimated that a few thousand Montenegrins live in Albania, not as immigrants but remaining since medieval times.


Most of the inhabitants of Montenegro speak one or the other of two dialects out of the many that make up Serbo-Croatian, a South Slavic language. In terms of the oldest and deepest dialect divisions, both fall within the Štokavski group that forms the basis of all the standard languages, and both fall within the Ijekavski group that was favored by Vuk Karadžić, the 19th century pioneer in the standardization of Serbo-Croatian, but was adopted as the Croatian standard, not the Serbian one. The dialect of the northern half of Montenegro is in essence that of Vuk Karadžić, while the dialect of the southern half including the coast and the past and present capitals has various archaic and less usual sound features and shares some changes in the case system with the southern Serbian dialects. Publishing in the past used the same Cyrillic alphabet as the Serbs of Serbia, but unlike them, they used the Ijekavski spelling system. However, Montenegrins called their language Serbian.

At present both the Cyrillic and the Latin alphabet are used.

The constitution adopted after Montenegro declared independence in 2006 states that the official language of Montenegro is Montenegrin. Its standard has not yet been defined, but the Latin alphabet in the form used by Croatians seems to be favored. A few scholars call for a more radical break with Serbian and Croatian and want to add three new letters to each alphabet. Some citizens declare their languages to be the mutually intelligible Serbian, Bosnian, or Croatian. Some citizens speak Albanian, which is a very different language.

Montenegrins typically have a first (given) name and a surname. Many typical first names are Orthodox saints' names, such as Aleksandar, Petar, Jelena (Helen), and Marija. Others are meaningful Slavic names, such as male Predrag, "most dear," or female Milena, "beloved." Names that originally were nicknames like Stanko can also be used as given names. Surnames were frequently derived with the suffix - 'son or daughter of' added to the root of a personal name, although now these surnames are passed on through the generations. Other surnames go back to old clan names. Some are of Romance or Albanian origin.


Industry, mass communications, and even widespread literacy came relatively late to Montenegro. A rich orally-transmitted folk tradition has remained alive until the recent past. It is famous for the heroic, often bloody epic poems that are performed to the accompaniment of the gusle, a one-stringed instrument played with a bow. They are not memorized but improvised; the plot and the phrases are learned, but they are composed anew with each performance.

The small seaside town of Perast has a legend that in 1452 fishermen found a miraculous healing icon of the Virgin on a small offshore reef. A church was built on the spot. The "fašinada" is now held annually on July 22 . A procession of decorated boats row out to the church in the early evening bearing rocks that are dropped to shore up the church.


The coastal areas stretching inland to include Doclea (near today's Podgorica) were Christianized in Roman times, from Rome, not Byzantium, and Roman influence persisted into the Middle Ages. For centuries after the Great Schism divided Orthodox Christianity from Roman Catholicism, both coexisted in Montenegro or rather were not really distinguished from one another. Subsequently, the Orthodox Church, supported by Serbian princes, grew stronger, spread to the coast, and supplanted Roman Catholicism. In the era of the struggle against the Turks, and until recently, Montenegrins identified strongly with the Serbian Orthodox Church. With the impetus for national independence in recent years came the establishment of an independent Montenegrin Orthodox Church. It is controversial, for the Serbian Church still claims authority over all of Montenegro and discourages other Orthodox churches from recognizing that of Montenegro.


Public holidays are New Year's Day (January 1), Labor Day (May 1), Independence Day (May 21), and Statehood Day (July 13), each celebrated with two days off. Other important religious holidays are Christmas on January 7 and Good Friday, Easter, and Easter Monday, on whatever date they fall in the Orthodox Church calendar. The Montenegrin Church also honors the death of St. Peter of Cetinje, the prince-bishop credited with founding the modern state, on Lučindan, or St. Luke's Day,

There is also an important private holiday, the slava, or celebration of the family's patron saint. Relatives and friends are invited or drop in for a feast that includes a traditional cake slavski kolač.


The birth of a son was signaled with gunfire, while the birth of a daughter was not considered an occasion for rejoicing.

Marriage was a ritual reinforcing the patriarchal system. It was seen not as the union of the couple but rather the union of two families. Hitherto, the girl had been in the care of her paternal family; henceforth, she would be protected by her husband's family. On the wedding day a party consisting of the groom's brothers and a flag bearer and other males went from the groom's home to that of the bride. Lunch was at the bride's parents' home, with toasts, gifts and numerous rituals. Th en, the groom's party took the bride with them. Both families fired guns in celebration. Dinner was at the groom's home, the future home of the couple. The marriage was performed in a church in the groom's village. People danced the oro. The new family saw to it that at first the bride did not sleep with her new husband, but rather with other members of his family-even the brothers-in-law, who, however, remained fully clothed and did not touch her. Only when the family judged it to be time, the new wife began sleeping with her husband. While many aspects of marriage and weddings were similar among Orthodox Montenegrins, Slavic Muslims, Albanian Muslims, and Albanian Catholics, all of whom live in Montenegro, the unusual custom of first sleeping with the in-laws rather than the groom was practiced only by Orthodox Montenegrins. Already on its way out in the early 20th century, it was sometimes still done as late as World War II.

Funerals traditionally included laments that commented on the life of the deceased and called for revenge if he had died violently. While laments in surrounding areas were performed by women, in Montenegro there was a special kind sung by men.


When people meet for the first time, each person introduces himself or herself; as they shake hands in pairs, each repeats his or her own name.

Traditions of hospitality are strong. A host expects to treat a guest lavishly with food, coffee, and drink.

The two traditional virtues among Montenegrins are čojstvo and junaštvo. The second means "bravery" or "heroism" while the first, a local pronunciation of the word for "humanity," implies magnanimity and self-restraint towards others-protecting others from oneself.


Long known as one of the most impoverished and backward areas of Europe, Montenegro has made breathtaking progress in recent decades. Thus, an unimpressive infant mortality index of 11 per 1,000 in 2006 must be compared with the 84.7 infant mortality in 1951. Life expectancy is 72 years for men and 77 years for women. The number of physicians per 100,000 population reached 191 in 2003, comparable to that of the United States and increasing yearly.

The consumer goods that are standard elsewhere, including electric ranges, refrigerators, and televisions, are standard here too. Estimates of Internet access range from 20% to over 40% of the population. The number of cell phones in the country exceeds the population.


The traditional Montenegrin marriage was an arranged marriage. If the man and woman lived nearby, they might have known each other before, but in most cases they were strangers when they married. The groom's family scrutinized the bride's family more than the individual young woman for suitability. Then, the family asked the girl's father for her; if he agreed, the bride was asked for consent, but girls did not feel they had any option to refuse. A woman was taken from the family in which she grew up (rod) and brought to live with her husband's family (dom).

The household was an extended family in which all the brothers lived and brought in their wives.

It is only since World War II that people, particularly in urban areas, have begun to live as nuclear families. In the past half century household size has been decreasing, judging by figures in the Statistical Yearbook of Montenegro 2007.

The extended family still functions, even though they do not all live in the same household. People tend to know the names of even distant ancestors. They stay in touch with distant cousins and may ask them for help.

Many households in the countryside would move between the summer herding camp, or katun, and the winter home. In recent decades the katun has transformed seamlessly into the summer home, a popular feature of life throughout the countries of former Yugoslavia.


People dress as do any Europeans or Americans, whether it's suits for formal business, jeans, shorts, t-shirts, or sleeveless blouses on the street, or bikinis on the beach. The folk costumes are still an option for special occasions. Thus, a recent photo from a blueberry festival in Podgorica shows men in suits and ties but women in the long straight skirt, vest, and headscarf of the national costume.

The historic male costume had a characteristic cylindrical brimless cap with a flat top, white shirt, belt, blue pants down to the knees, sometimes baggy, white knee boots, and a red vest or jacket. The jacket might have a unique type of sleeves sewn on in the back but not the front, so that the arms could be withdrawn in warm weather while the vest was still on, leaving the sleeves to hang loose. Costumes were often surprisingly lavish considering the poverty of the people, adorned with gilded threads and silver plates called toke, themselves decorated with filigree work and gilt patches.


Traditional foods of Montenegro emphasize milk, buttermilk, cheese, kajmak (a rich soft cheese that has not aged), sheep cheese, meats, pršut or smoked dried ham, wheat, buckwheat, corn, potatoes, cabbage, and honey. These are the foods of a mountain region better suited to herding than extensive farming. There are regional wines and brandies, often made from grapes. In earlier times, especially in times of war, food was scarce. Now, the economy has improved to the point where there is plenty to eat. Still, Montenegro is a net importer of food.


A country that was 77% illiterate in 1900 now has only about 2.3% illiteracy in those aged 10 years or over. Primary education lasts from four to nine years. Secondary education may be in academic schools or in specialized vocational schools. The University of Montenegro, founded in 1974, now has 14 faculties and one higher school, most located in Podgorica, but some in Nikšić, Cetinje, Kotor and Hercegnovi. By 2009 all education at the university will be conducted in accord with the Bologna Declaration, the European standard. Nearly half of university students have their education financed by the government, but a swiftly growing number are financing it privately.


Aside from the rich traditions of epic folk poetry and folk music and dance, which are still alive there, one author stands out as the embodiment of the spirit of Montenegro. Petar II Petrović Njegoš was born in 1813 (possibly 1811; records are sparse) in a family nearly as impoverished and illiterate as all the others in the country at that time. His uncle, Bishop Petar, saw to it that several nephews were educated as potential successors, and upon the uncle's death in 1830 seventeen-year-old Njegoš became bishop. The duties of the bishop also included rule of the secular affairs of the country, primarily mediation among the rival tribes. Over the years he became ever less the mediator and more the absolute monarch. A lifelong poet, Njegoš's greatest work is The Mountain Wreath, an apocryphal account of how the Montenegrins rose against the Ottoman Empire in the late 17th century and slaughtered all those compatriots who had opportunistically converted to Islam. The poem is in the form of a drama in the ten-syllable style of folk epic poetry. Scenes of discussion and depictions of folk life lead to the poet's conclusion that the massacre was inevitable and necessary.

An important World War II Partisan fighter and later government official, Milovan Djilas, got into trouble for his political writings in the early 1950s. He later turned to writing memoirs and historical and literary works about Montenegro and was widely published outside Yugoslavia.


Out of 150,800 Montenegrins employed in 2008, nearly one fifth worked in retail and wholesale commerce, nearly as many in diverse manufacturing. Significant numbers also worked in transportation and communications as well as in hotels and restaurants.

There are bauxite mines and an aluminum plant, now in Russian hands, but the latter consumes half of the country's supply of electricity and may be closed down.

Tourism, especially on the coast, is a swiftly growing industry. Montenegro was one of Lonely Planet's seven Top-Pick countries to visit in 2008. Tourism was already well-developed in the Yugoslav years. Sveti Stefan, a tiny island city with traditional clustered red tile roofs, was renowned as a luxury resort. The tourist industry is now attracting extensive foreign investment.

Unemployment, which had reached a peak of 32.7% in 2000, has been steadily falling and was down to 10.81% as of the end of July 2008.

It is estimated that nearly 50,000 Montenegrins, mostly age 20 to 30, work illegally in the informal economy, especially in tourism and construction, which means that their employers do not pay into the social insurance system. Montenegro is inspecting workplaces and has been able to convert many such jobs into regular, legal ones.


Clearly football (soccer) is the leading sport for participation, followed by various martial arts (judo, karate, wrestling), basketball, and general fitness. Not only football but also water polo makes the headlines, thanks to a successful team. The women's handball team is on the front page when it is in an international match.

The old and dangerous economic activity of floating logs downriver to market has in recent decades been turned into a tourist attraction: rafting on the Tara.


Judging by the number of sports clubs and the specialized daily newspaper devoted to sports, both participation and watching are important parts of recreation. Television is in all households; many shows are from the U.S. or other countries. Young people follow the same movie and TV stars and popular music groups as elsewhere in Europe and North America.


The folk art belongs to the Dinaric Zone that encompasses not only Montenegro but also Bosnia, Herzegovina and the mountains of Croatia to the northwest and north, and western Serbia to the northeast. An isolated, mountainous region, it preserves forms rooted in Roman and even prehistoric times. Geometric motifs predominate in all media. Traditional unglazed pottery with simple patterns is archaic in style. Wool is woven, often in striped or geometric designs. Utilitarian wooden objects, such as chests, distaffs, water jugs, cradles, and one-stringed gusle may be elaborately carved and sometimes painted as well. Metal work was more highly developed, for daggers, swords and guns are prized possessions and can be lavishly decorated with beaten silver, filigree, and inset stones. Silver jewelry may be done in filigree shaped into balls for a necklace. A well-todo woman could have a belt decorated with large silver plates, either embossed or covered with extensive and surprisingly intricate filigree.


Montenegro has a murder rate that is more like that of the United States than the much lower rate of surrounding European nations. One-third of killings are by guns. Some appear to have political motives, e.g. the assassination of prominent newspaper editor Duško Jovanović in 2004.

Poverty remains a problem despite some vigorous recent development. Per capita Gross Domestic Product is similar to that of other Balkan countries but far behind neighboring Croatia and even Serbia.

Violence against women is a tradition and now a recognized problem.


Traditional Montenegro was a warrior clan society, a patriarchy in the purest sense of the word. A woman was subordinated, first to her parents and then to her husband and his family. Her purpose was to bear sons, not daughters. However, with men frequently away at war, be it five hundred years of fighting against the Turks, blood feuding among clans, or the four wars of the twentieth century, women were in fact responsible for much of the agricultural and herding work as well as all household work and child rearing. They carried supplies to the fighters, buried the dead, and in some cases bore arms and participated in the fighting. Such women were celebrated in song.

Nowadays women have jobs and can put their children in daycare while they work. Typically, they still have the double duty of household work. As their economic independence has increased, particularly in the past two decades, some have begun to keep their own surnames when they marry or use both maiden and husband's surname.


Alexander, Ronelle. Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, a Grammar: With Sociolinguistic Commentary. Madison, Wisc.: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2006.

Djilas, Milovan. Montenegro. Translated by Kenneth Johnstone. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1963.

———. Njegoš: Poet Prince Bishop. Translated by Michael B. Petrovich. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1966.

Milich, Zorka. A Stranger's Supper: An Oral History of Centenarian Women in Montenegro. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1995.

Montenegro. Statistical Office. Statistical Yearbook 2007. Podgorica, Montenegro: MONSTAT, 2007.

Pantelić, Nikola. Traditional Arts and Crafts in Yugoslavia. Photographs by Miodrag Djordjević. Belgrade, Yugoslavia: Jugoslovenska Revija, 1984.

Roberts, Elizabeth. Realm of the Black Mountain: A History of Montenegro. London: Hurst & Company, and Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007.

—By T. Alt and W. Browne