Things are getting better
by Živko Andrijaševic
We know the date when the Montenegrins for the first time fell for a big lie: 12 July 1711. On that St Peter’s day, a message from the Russian Tsar was read out to the assembly in which the Montenegrins were invited to attack the Turks. After praising their ‘ancient kings and dukes’, who had ‘earned all Europe’s respect, including by their valour’, the Tsar promised to reward them with grants and privileges if they would help him in his battle against the Turks. These were not some undefined privileges, but privileges ‘in accordance with your service and wishes’. The Montenegrins, in other words, were themselves to choose the gift. The Tsar, in return, expected their armed aid in his war. ‘And so, finally, if we join our efforts in accordance with our abilities and fight for the faith, it will invest Christ’s name with ever greater glory, while the pagan Mohammed’s progeny will be exiled to their old homeland, the sand and steppes of Arabia.’ In other words, if you help us now, the Turks will be gone forever back whence they came.
The Montenegrins, of course, responded to the call of their great protector. During July and August 1711 they mounted crazy attacks on the fortified Turkish cities. Given that they had only old guns and sabres, it is not necessary to tell you how successful they were. The Montenegrins knew, of course, that they could do no harm to the cities; but there was no other way to help the Tsar and Protector. Their only concern was that St Petersburg should ‘take note’ that they had obeyed the Tsar. They did not mind the fact that the envoys of Peter the Great thought them mad. Why mad? Because no one of normal mind would use sabres against walls that were impervious even to cannonfire. You can imagine the smile on the face of the Turkish commander when he saw a company of barefoot Montenegrins leaping around his city and firing off. He must have told his men: ‘Today we shall have some target practice.’
Once the action of aiding the Russian Tsar was over, the Montenegrins realized that they had been tricked. The Turks were not driven back to the Arabian deserts, and the Russians did not become neighbours. Instead of the Russians it was Ahmed-Pasha who paid them a visit and made them pay in blood for every single bullet they had fired at Nikšić. Ahmed-Pasha was followed by Numan-Pasha Ćuprilić.
This suffering caused by political light-mindedness did not make the Montenegrins any wiser. They continued to fall for all kinds of political promises. Indeed, the greater the lie the more readily they believed it. The speed with which they would forget a big lie was also quite unbelievable. It is small lies, such as the unfulfilled promise of a gift or medal, which they remember to the end of their lives.
The proof that Montenegrins quickly forget a big lie was their second attack on Nikšić, in 1806. It was the Russians, once again, who took them practically unarmed to breach the fortified city. The Russian lieutenant-colonel stood on Mt Budoš and watched them being massacred through his field glass. He sent them next to seize Klobuk. After Klobuk the Montenegrins were supposed to take Konavle and Dubrovnik for the Russians. In case you did not know, our sainted prince-bishop Petar I wished with Russian aid to create a Slavo-Serb empire, the capital of which was to be Dubrovnik. This seemed perfectly possible to him, despite the fact that the French and the Austrians were also then fighting for the Boka [Kotorska] and Dubrovnik. Such was the wisdom of the ruler we regard as our greatest political visionary.
After the end of Montenegro’s ‘heroic period’ (1878), the content of the political messages serving to entrap and confuse the Montenegrins changed abruptly. Instead of talking of great martial triumphs and the creation of an Orthodox empire, their government started to tell them that the era of economic prosperity was at hand, and that their country was rapidly advancing in all directions. The last Montenegrin king spent forty years telling his subjects that their standard of life was constantly improving; that his government was working very hard at making Montenegro into another Switzerland; and that soon an even greater wealth would be theirs. Those few who - naively - remarked that things were, in fact, not changing at all were condemned as impatient and ill-intentioned. Patience was treated as the best form of support for Montenegrin economic reforms. The idea was that if you listened to the king and his hard-working government, we should all soon be lying about, our pockets stuffed with perpers [old Montenegrin currency]. That was the basic political message of an incompetent Montenegrin government.
If we list all the ruler’s promises during those thirty-odd years of ‘peace’, this is what we get:
- ‘We are advancing rapidly. Without leaps, naturally, step by step. Thanking God for its unique character, its hospitality, its order and beauty, Montenegro will be soon in a position to compete with the famous Switzerland, since it too is a beautiful mountain cradle of free men, heroes and hard-working citizens. It will quickly attract rich merchants, travellers and lovers of natural beauty, who will spread the news of our hospitality, order, freedom and security all over the world. Montenegro must become a magnet for investments.’
- ‘We are ready for war, but we love peace: we are determined to develop and advance peacefully. The world shows trust in us. Although the smallest country in the Balkans, Montenegro is trying to become the largest business area in the region. The Montenegrin house has long ago been built, but we are obliged to adapt it to the new European architecture. My government is greatly concerned with the need to create more economic and industrial enterprises, so that my Montenegrins may be able to find work and earn their living at home. My government will do all in its powers to stop people leaving and to attract back those who have already left. The only way to achieve this, however, is through business and enterprise. But in order to ensure proper financial foundations, we must have a true balance between income and expenditure, which means serious savings in all branches of the state administration, the strengthening of economic resources, and administrative reorganisation.’
- ‘The government is unreservedly dedicated to reforms. Our aim is to adopt the standards of the developed part of the world. Our permanent task is to remove all barriers to the free movement of labour, goods, services and capital. We have taken many steps to create an attractive ambience for foreign investment. My government is at the same time striving, and will make the most serious efforts in future, to establish economic schools and to develop all branches of national production and trade, since the financial strength of a country depends on its people’s economic performance. We wish through economic reforms to secure a greater social product and employment. Despite many problems, which are difficult but not insurmountable, we may speak of a bright future for the Montenegrin economy. We can already point to the country’s macro-economic stability. Since communications are of key importance for the advance of production and trade, the government is paying great attention to the creation of a free port at Bar, to the construction of the Bar-Vir railroad, to navigation on Lake Skadar, and to the building of an already planned network of new roads and other useful works upon which my government has spent a considerable amount of money.’
- ‘Montenegro will soon have a road network of the first order. We cannot speak of a European Montenegro until life in Andrijevica, and in the north generally, changes and people there too feel the breath of that easy European life. Our secondary and vocational schools will be organized in line with contemporary scientific standards, so that they can produce healthy and capable youths for entry to the higher schools, which will turn them into good and expert state officials. The present state of our elementary schools will be greatly improved with adoption of the law on popular education that my government will pass during its term. We want a rational approach to education, which will secure the knowledge indispensable for Montenegro’s European development. Our beautiful country is flowering. I believe that all these efforts give us the right to say that we have done our duty by our citizens.’
This lengthy speech about our ‘bright future’ and the government’s great efforts to create a modern and wealthy Montenegro is not just a contribution to the study of Montenegrin political thought, but also a test for Monitor’s readers. I have, you see, inserted into the speech given by King Nikola declarations and promises made by another, equally skilled, Montenegrin politician. They refer to the same set of problems: reform, modernization and economic prosperity. Your task is to underlie those statements and promises that do not belong to King Nikola. It will be easier then for you to understand the nature of our problem.
This article has been translated from Monitor (Podgorica), 16 January 2004