May. 25th, 2006

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Via the news site of the Serbian Unity Congress, a diaspora organization, I've found this blog posting by Nebojsa Malic wherein he proved that I was right yesterday when I wrote that I expected "certain people to note that the strong support lent by ethnic Albanians in the south and Bosniaks in the Sandzak on the border and judge the referendum as invalid on these grounds."

I've got nothing against Croats, or Albanians, or Muslims (I won't call them "Bosniaks," that's just silly). But there is something wrong with their votes deciding the fate of Serbs in Montenegro. You see, "Montenegrin," like "Bosnian," is a territorial identity; until it was invented by the Communists, there was no "Montenegrin nation.


It is quite true that, in Montenegro this year as in Québec in 1995, "money and the ethnic vote" played a critical role in determining the outcome of the referendum. Granted that the ethnics of Montenegro acted differently from their counterparts in Québec--as the Journal of the Turkish Weekly reported, "91 percent of 'yes to independence' votes came from Rojaye, the capital of Montenegro where the majority of Bosnians reside, and 88 percent came form Ulcin, highly populated by Albanians"--it's probably accurate to say that the Orthodox Christian Slavs of Montenegro were divided. It's quite possible that a majority of Montenegro's Orthodox Christian Slavs voted against independence for, as Vesna Goldsworthy wrote at Open Democracy ("Au revoir, Montenegro?"), the development of the Montenegrins from a subgroup of Serbs to an emergent nation was, and to some extent is, of historically quite late vintage.

I was born and bred in Belgrade, as was my father, but--like so many in the Serbian capital--he has strong ancestral links with Montenegro. While my mother comes from one of those picturesque villages in the lush valley of the Morava river which are the closest Serbia has to the heartland region of southern England known as the "home counties", my father is half-Montenegrin, half-Herzegovinian. The meaning of such distinctions has been recast again and again by the flow of Balkan history, but both my paternal grandparents would have been as surprised to be told that they are not Serbian as a Yorkshireman or a Devonian woman would be at hearing that they might not be English.

My grandmother, who lived with us throughout my youth, was fiercely proud of her Montenegrin identity. She was named after Zorka, the eldest daughter of the first and the last king of Montenegro, Nicholas Petrovich, during whose reign she was born in a village on the slopes of the kingdom's Durmitor mountain in 1908. She used to kiss King Nicholas's picture if she happened to come across it in the newspapers or on the pages of the history books in our library.

[. . .]

"They rose to where their sovereign eagle sails,/ They kept their faith, their freedom, on the height,/ Chaste, frugal, savage, arm'd by day and night/Against the Turk" the sonnet began, to culminate in the invocation of "Great Tsernogora" with its invincible race of mountaineers mightier than any other highlander clan. No wonder granny concluded that Tennyson was a genius. She was in no doubt that Montenegrins were a superior sort of Serbs, probably descended from those remnants of the Serbian feudal nobility that survived the battle of Kosovo in 1389. To question her Serbianness would have been more than my life's worth. I grew up proud of my own Montenegrin blood and the sorts of highland legends that would put Rob Roy or Braveheart to shame.


Things changed, most notably the actions of Tito's Yugoslavia in establishing Montenegro as an autonomous republic with its own national structures inside Yugoslavia fully co-equal with Serbia. Montenegrin particularism, in this environment, deepened, and after the collapse of the SFRY created an unfortunate link with an unpopular Serbia, motivated a new nationalism. It's worthwhile to compare the history of the Montenegrins with that of the Macedonians, who graduated from a subdivision of the Balkan South Slavs--most frequently assigned to Bulgaria, but often to Serbia--to an autonomous nation.

The recency of the shift, mind, doesn't make Malic's contention that Montenegrins don't constitute a nation any the less ridiculous. It is true that Montenegro has a Serb history, but since when have ancestral traditions become binding contracts imposed on future generation? If Montenegrins say they constitute a separate nation, I'm inclined to believe them. Alas, I suspect that continuing conflict between Montenegrins and Serbs within Montenegro over that new country's identity will continue, distracting people from the more pressing issues of the country's economic viability, as John Horvath warned at Telepolis ("The Final Blow") and Renate Flatau wrote at Spiegel Online ("A Forced Marriage Heads for Divorce"). Unfortunately, this wouldn't be the first time that nationalist issues trumped economics, certainly not in that part of the world.
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Passing Nathan Phillips Square last evening, I saw two people standing at the City Hall's Speakers' Corner, a podium set aside on the southwestern corner of the City Hall grounds, in an area where the grass sods are being broken up by pedestrian traffic.

Speakers' Corner exists, I suppose, as a hommage to Hyde Park's own Speakers' Corner, perhaps also as a vague recognition of Anglo-Canadian links. Last night was the first time I'd seen a single person there. Instead, there were two people: one, a man, standing on the podium and singing nonsense ("Hey na na, na-na, na-na-na, na-na-na-nuh"), the other a woman who danced with a bored expression on her face.

"It's falling, it's falling, falling, falling," he sang as I walked out of earshot. I didn't think of stopping to ask him what was falling.
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