The largest and most powerful countries in the world are mostly arranged as a federal systems, and they represent a real identity cocktail – a combination of different peoples and ethnic groups, historically often strongly opposed.
Nevertheless, they have found the right path for the establishment of the basic degree of social unity, and thus for the peaceful functioning of the state, which in itself guarantees the development of the country in all fields. However, when we talk about small Montenegro, the path to the establishment of social unity, even after fifteen years of existence, has no end in sight. There are several opposing political poles, with a tendency to deepen divisions and the emergence of new ones. Currently, the three most prominent poles are pro-Serbian, pro-Montenegrin and moderate.
After the long rule of the pro-Montenegrin bloc, the primacy of the moderate came on the scene, although at first it was thought that the pro-Serbian government would take over. Last year, the importance of the census for the future of the Serbian people in Montenegro has been talked about more and more often. During these discussions, it is impossible not to notice one tendency – the actualization of the so-called issue of dual identity among Montenegrin Serbs.
However, what is the so-called dual identity? Recently, this term is primarily used when analyzing the 2011 census and its potential negative impact on the development of the Serbian people in Montenegro. Namely, the 2011 census introduced the option of dual identity, embodied in the ability of citizens to opt for the categories >> Serb-Montenegrin << and >> Montenegrin-Serb <<. However, dual identity does not begin with this list, nor does it end with it. It is much deeper and more complex than that and does not represent a strictly formal element, although it partly refers to it as well. Generally speaking, the dual identity among the Serbs of Montenegro appears in two directions – the first consists of integral Serbs or Serbs who have fully formed themselves as Serbs (absolute belonging to the Serbian nation – acceptance of Serbian tradition and culture; great sympathy for the state of Serbia; rare emphasis on their uniqueness and “elitism” in relation to Serbs from Serbia and surrounding countries; a certain degree of respect for the Serbian authorities). The other part of Serbs are “dual” Serbs. They often consider the terms “Serb” and “Montenegrin” as synonyms. This category of “dual” Serbs is also often characterized by the emphasis on their own elitism, i.e “super-Serbis” or “the best Serbs“ and superior in relation to the rest of the Serbs, especially Serbs from Serbia. They also generally view representatives of the Serbian authorities with greater or lesser animosity. And they are more oriented to the so-called civic values.
Few days ago, the Prime Minister of Montenegro, Zdravko Krivokapic, stated that the motherland of Serbs from Montenegro is not Serbia but Montenegro.(1) However, unlike Serbia, whose Constitution states that it is the state of the Serbian people and that Serbian is the official language, in Montenegro the official language is Montenegrin / Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian – while Montenegro is defined as a civil state. Also, Serbs in Montenegro have been discriminated for years and they found it difficult to find employment in the state administration.
The roots of dual identity go far back in history, in the second half of the 19th century. Then, within the inhabitants of the area of the Old Montenegro, the idea of certain specifics in relation to the Serbs from Serbia began to take shape. This thought was fueled by the Serbs from Austria, who, disappointed with the Serbia`s authorities, praised the Serbs from Montenegro in their songs, and they called them “Serbian Spartans”. Which was enthusiastically accepted in Old Montenegro, who launched a slogan about Montenegrin “supremacy”, promoting warrior “Spartan” values through the education system, as well as inciting animosity towards the Serbia`s authorities and Montenegrin Serbs close to them. In addition to the events of the previous 100-150 years, the cause of that lies in the events of the previous 20 years: in the independence of Montenegro.
All this leads, de facto, to the distance of “dual” Serbs from the rest of the Serbian national corps. The changes are visible both internally, i. e in terms of relations with the rest of the Serbs from Montenegro, in terms of relations with pro-Serbian parties from Montenegro and in terms of comprehensive work on preserving the Serbian identity on the territory of Montenegro. As well as externally, ie. in terms of relations with Serbs from Serbia and in terms of relations with Serbian authorities.
When it comes to the census, for Serbs in Montenegro it is necessary to define all the categories present within the Serbian national being on the territory of Montenegro and approach them in different ways. In addition to the necessity of eradicating the dual, ie. Serbian-Montenegrin and Montenegrin-Serbian options, it is necessary to educate the people about the difference between the terms “Serb” and “Montenegrin” in the national sense and to understand that these terms do not represent synonyms.
Two independent studies, the Montenegrin National Electoral Study (2016) and the Strategy for the Symbolic Building of Nations in the Western Balkans (2014), found that 28-29% of ethnic Montenegrins answered the question “Do you think Montenegrins are mostly Serbs?” with >> Yes! <<”. That would mean that every third or fourth citizen who declared himself as a Montenegrin sees himself as a Serb at the same time.(2) This is evidenced by the fact that, according to the 2011 census, 42.88% of the population speaks Serbian, which is over 14% more than the number of Serbs in the same census. All this supports the thesis that there is a serious number of Serbs who, thanks to the complex historical and identity development, are not able to draw a clear line between these terms.
The existence of the Montenegrin nation is an unquestionable fact and that must be respected . The existence of Serbs with a dual identity is also a fact and must be approached in a careful and pragmatic way. When it comes to the state issue and the realization of better rights of the Serbian people, there are various creative ideas – from the idea of regionalization of Montenegro to the fact that the Serbs become a constitutive nation in Montenegro. Without wanting to go so deep, for a start, it is necessary for Serbian political actors in Montenegro to strengthen their influence on the government. Also, the problem of the Law on Citizenship is another issue that needs to be resolved.
When it comes to Serbia, it is necessary for them to be educated in the right way about the Montenegrin issue and all its specifics. They must understand the complexity of Montenegrin society, and above all to be aware of the complexity of the Serbian people of Montenegro and the path they are currently taking. Comparisons of Serbia and Montenegro with Germany and Austria are often heard from Serbs from Serbia and from some Serbian politicians and intellectuals. These are completely absurd comparisons. First of all, the Serbian national corps in Montenegro is still extremely strong, both in terms of population (both in terms of real and census figures) and in terms of cultural influence (identity issues, language, etc.). When it comes to these, in Austria, 81.1% of the population declare themselves as Austrians, compared to only 2.7% of Germans, who are almost three times less than the former Yugoslav peoples with Austrian passports and only slightly more than the Turks.
In addition, anyone who wants the fate of Austria for Montenegro – is unrealistic and does not wish it well. Austria is quite unique in many fields and originated from a once great empire, rich in tradition, while the future of Montenegrin statehood has been tied for centuries to unification with Serbia. For a long time, Montenegro did not have the means to function independently, and the big question is whether it still has it today. And the fact that Montenegro is nationally a divided state only makes things worse. And this is exactly the geopolitical significance of the dual identity in Montenegro. Because of that, the Orthodox population of Montenegro, which cultivates a dual identity, will determine the future of Montenegro. If they side with the Montenegrins, the Serbs will go for decentralization and minority status. But if they side with the Serbs and Serbia, a new state union between Serbia and Montenegro will be a reality.
Author: Slavisha Batko Milacic – independent analyst and historian
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.