There, over there…beyond those hills
Lies there, they say, Miloš’s grave.
There my soul eternal peace shall gain,
When the Serb is no more a slave.
Onamo, ‘namo, by Nikola I of Montenegro
The Montenegrin state goes back some thousand years, but the incarnation that we know today didn’t come about until June 3, 2006, making it one of the youngest nations of the world.
Montenegro continues to celebrate its national day on July 13th, in accordance with legislation passed in 2004. July 13th is the anniversary of two major events in Montenegrin history.
Following the last Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878) the Treaty of San Stefano capitalized on Russian gains in the Balkans. The treaty guaranteed autonomy for an enlarged Bulgaria under Russian protection after 500 years of Ottoman control. (March 3 is still celebrated as Bulgaria’s National Day.) It also established the free states of Montenegro and its Balkan neighbors, which had also been under Ottoman control.
The rest of Europe got antsy watching the Russian bear cast its influence south-westward. Wanting to get in on the action, they persuaded Russia and the Ottoman Empire to take part in another map-altering treaty at the Congress of Berlin in June-July of 1878.
The Congress subdued Russian influence and pan-Slavic nationalism, in favor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Britain. It also recognized the independence of Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro.
The independence of Montenegro is recognized by the Sublime Porte and by all those of the High Contracting Parties who had not hitherto admitted it. — Treaty of Berlin of 1878
Some sixty-odd years later, July 13th played another pivotal role in Montenegrin history. On this day in 1941, Montenegrin partisans rose up in revolt against Italian forces occupying Yugoslavia during World War II.
“As a result of the collapse of the Yugoslav army in April 1941, the population in Montenegro had a plentiful supply of arms and ammunition, far more than any other area of Yugoslavaia. Montenegro also had many officers from the former Yugoslav army, men of Montenegrin birth who had been released from the prisoner-of-war camps and had returned to Montenegro. Most importantly, it had a strong Communist Party organization.”
Germany’s invasion of Russia Russia on June 22, 1941 (Operation Barbarossa) changed the resistance movement overnight. Italy attempted to emphasize its dynastic connections with Montenegro, but their choice for puppet regent—the grandson of Montenegro’s first and last king Nikola I (r: 1910-1918)—refused to cooperate.
On July 12th, Italy nullified Montenegro’s union with Serbia. The following day the Communists launched a hastily-planned revolt across Montenegro, approximately 30,000 strong. The Italians eventually put down the uprising, but not without having to allocate extensive resources and men to the tiny state. Instead of installing a regent, Italy declared martial law. The Montenegro Partisans continued fighting throughout the war, first against Italy and then against Germany when Italy surrendered in 1943.
Montenegro became part of a reunified Yugoslavia after World War II. It remained partnered with Serbia after the dissolution of Yugoslavia until 2006, when the population voted 55% to 45% in favor of separation.
The flag of Montenegro was also adopted on July 13th, 2004, based on the design of Nikola I.