by Robert Jeanlouie
May 29, 2011
One hour south of Dubrovnik lies the Croatian border with Montenegro. I crossed it yesterday.
The word Montenegro is a deformation of an Italian phrase that translates into black mountain. The small Balkan state seems to have gotten its name from Lovcen, the mountainous stronghold of the Montenegrin warriors in their century-long fight against the Ottoman Turks. It is also true that its Northern and Eastern regions are made of rough terrains of mountains and plateaus which, of all things, served as natural hideout for Tito and his communist Partisans.
The origin of Montenegro goes back to the 9th century AC. Small piece of land squeezed between the mountains and the Adriatic Sea, it has changed its shape too many times to count, it has switched allegiance too many times to care. In recent history, Montenegro became one of the six republics that made up the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Upon the breakup of the federation in 1991, it joined Serbia in a new version of Yugoslavia, later into a union called Serbia and Montenegro. Finally, in 2006, 55% of Montenegrins voted, in a referendum, to secede from Serbia. Montenegro since then has been an independent republic, member of the United Nations since 2007, candidate member to NATO and to the European Union.
Montenegro is a unicameral representative democracy headed by a President (head of state) and a Prime Minister (head of government).
With an area of 13,812 sq km, it is the size of Connecticut, half the size of Haiti. Its population is estimated at 661,300 inhabitants, two thirds of them see themselves as Serbs, the rest are Croats, Bosniaks, Albanians, etc., 61% of them live in urban areas. It must be stated that ethnically speaking, there is no such a thing as a Montenegrin (which is a nationality); Montenegrins are mostly Serbs. Their official language is the Montenegrin, very very close to Serbian.
Montenegro has successfully moved away from a communist system to a market-oriented economy based on services, 70% of it rely on tourism. “Half of the country is owned by the Russians” confides a local. Its GDP per capita is $9,900, which ranks 110th in the world. With 14.7% unemployment, it is not a rich country, it is not a poor one either. Because of a property boom that occured in the immediate aftermath of the independence, many a Montenegrin qualify for the title of millionaire. Montenegro has adopted the Euro as its national currency, 1 US dollar = 0.69 Euro.
Grade education is free and compulsory. The majority (74%) of Montenegrins are Orthodox Christians. Life expectancy at birth is 74.5%. Violent crime is not a problem, here.
The Italian cultural and commercial influence is omnipresent.
Montenegro, like all other member states of the former Yugoslav republics are strong in sport. In FIFA rankings, Montenegro, with is population of 661,300, comes 24th, right after the USA and Paraguay, ahead of Switzerland and Denmark.
Like Monte Carlo, Malta, or Liechtenstein, Montenegro is a place too small to ever be a country. It just cannot subsist by itself. It is as well an object of envy, dream, mystery, and legend, a retreat for stars and billionaires, a fanciful destination in the imagination of a little boy, a wonderland that morphs into a dream come true…