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Historical overview of Montenegrin diplomacy


Towards the end of the 15th century (1496), Montenegro was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, only to begin its struggle for independence soon thereafter. In the early 18th century, the Montenegrin struggle resulted in political independence. The process of state building, territorial expansion to areas which had remained under the Ottoman rule, including the struggle for international recognition of Montenegro's sovereignty followed. Such efforts caused continuous struggle with the Ottoman Empire, which regarded Montenegro as its own disloyal area.
As the conflict threatened the political order in the Balkans at the time, the Great Powers had an interest in its resolution. In order to win their affection and convince them it was not a disloyal Ottoman area but a state entitled to sovereignty, Montenegro embarked on continuous diplomatic action. Symbolically, Montenegrin diplomatic activity commenced in 1711 with establishment of the political ties with Russia. The establishment of Montenegrin-Russian relations rendered Montenegro one of the major centres of national movements against the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans. Metropolitan Danilo Petrović Njegoš (1697-1735), the Montenegrin at the time and the founder of the well-known Petrović dynasty, was received in St. Petersburg by Tsar Petar the Great in 1715. Metropolitan Danilo was the first ruler of a Balkan country to have an audience with the sovereign of a great power. Subsequently, the other Montenegrin rulers continued to visit the Russian rulers. Apart from Russia, during the 18th century Montenegro paid attention to its relations with Austria, which had also shown a keen interest in political situation in the Balkans.

Until the mid 19th century, Montenegrin rulers pursued an foreign policy themselves, since Montenegro was unable to build its own diplomatic institutions due to lack of financial resources. Some foreign affairs were attended to by the Montenegrin Senate (set up in 1831), as the highest state authority after the ruler. To enable the division of competences in the Senate, an Office for Foreign Affairs was established as a special department within the Senate in 1874. The Office for Foreign Affairs was the first state institution exclusively in charge of pursuing foreign policy and diplomatic action.

During the 1860's, Montenegro opened its first diplomatic representation in a foreign country, which marked the beginning of its diplomatic and consular network. Montenegro's first diplomatic representation abroad was the Consulate in Shkodër (belonging to the Ottoman Empire at that time) in 1863. The Consulate in Shkodër acted as a mediator in the settlement of Montenegrin-Turkish border disputes, represented Montenegro's political and economic interests in the Ottoman Empire and protected interests of Montenegrin citizens. Immediately prior to the outbreak of the Montenegrin-Turkish war in 1876, the Consulate in Shkodër ceased to operate. It was reopened again in 1893.

After the official international recognition of its sovereignty at the Congress of Berlin in 1878, Montenegro was granted the right to send and receive diplomatic representatives. Thereby, it gained the international legal ground for development of its own diplomatic network, including the right to communicate with other countries through accredited foreign diplomats. Following its international recognition, Montenegro established official diplomatic relations with a large number of countries. In the same year, it established official diplomatic relations with Russia and France, and in the following year with Great Britain, Austria-Hungary, Italy and the Ottoman Empire. Diplomatic relations with Greece were officially established in 1881, and with Serbia and Bulgaria in 1897. In the early 20th century, diplomatic relations were established with the United States of America in 1905 and with Germany in 1906.

After 1878 Montenegro began setting up its own diplomatic missions abroad. The dynamic of the process was significantly affected by Montenegro's rather modest financial means: a diplomatic representation abroad would be set up only when Montenegro's state interests could not be protected otherwise. Accordingly in the period of its existence as a sovereign state, only four diplomatic missions of Montenegro had been opened abroad - in Constantinople (1879), Belgrade (1913), Paris (1916) and Washington (1916).

Montenegro's legation in Constantinople was set up in 1879, while the first legate with the rank of a minister plenipotentiary was the Duke Stanko Radonjić. He had a brief term of office and was replaced by the Duke Gavro Vuković who held this position from 1879 to 1880 and from 1882 to 1884. He was succeeded by Mitar Bakić, who was appointed for the period 1884-1887. From 1887 to 1889 Mitar Plamenac held the same position, upon whose sudden death Bakić was re-appointed. Mitar Bakić was a legate from 1890 to 1903. In the period from 1903 to 1912, when the diplomatic relations between Montenegro and the Ottoman Empire terminated, Montenegrin legation in Constantinople was headed by: Jovan Matanović (1903-1906), Dušan Drecun (1906-1907), Dušan Gregović (1907-1909), Jovo Popović (1909-1910) and Petar Plamenac (1912).

The second Montenegrin legation established in Belgrade, was set up in the aftermath of Balkan Wars. By King Nikola's decree of 13 October 1913, Lazar Mijušković was appointed extraordinary legate and minister plenipotentiary, who remained in office until 1915. 

The third Montenegrin legation was set up in Paris in June 1916, at the time when the Montenegrin Government was in exile due to the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Montenegro. The Consul General of Montenegro in Paris Louis Brunet was appointed Montenegro's chargé d'affaires in France. Despite the capitulation of the Montenegrin army and the fact that the King and the Government had been forced to leave the country, Louis Brunet remained in France as Montenegro's chargé d'affaires until February 1917.

Montenegrin legation in Washington was opened in mid 1918, at the time when Montenegrin exiled Government endeavoured to win U.S. support for the preservation of Montenegro's independence after the World War I. Dr Anto Gvozdenović, King Nikola's Adjutant General, was appointed extraordinary legate and minister plenipotentiary in Washington. In September 1918 Dr Anto Gvozdenović presented his letter of credence to the President of the United States Woodrow Wilson, and remained in the position by the end of the same year. He was succeeded by Đoko Matanović in the period December 1918 - April 1919, who was replaced by Jevrem Šalić who had been in office from 1919 to 1921.

Apart from legations, Montenegro's interests in foreign countries were represented by the numerous honorary consuls: in Argentina, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Brazil, Great Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Malta, Norway, Holland, Spain, Switzerland, etc. Immediately prior to outbreak of the World War I (1914), Montenegro had 27 honorary consuls.

After the Congress of Berlin, Montenegro established an umbrella institution for its diplomacy in 1879 - the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which replaced the Office for Foreign Affairs. According to the Law on Government and the State Council of the Principality of Montenegro from 1902, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was in charge of political and administrative affairs. Political affairs included: intelligence work, diplomatic correspondence, conclusion of conventions, and supervision of the diplomatic and consular network. Administrative affairs were listed as: official correspondence with foreign envoys, translation and verification of official documents, passport issuance, distribution of official documents to foreign governments, execution of contracts and conventions.

From its setting up to its closure in 1921, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was headed by the total of fifteen ministers: Stanko Radonjić (1879-1889), Gavro Vuković (1889-1905), Lazar Mijušković (1905-1906), Marko Radulović (1906-1907), Andrija Radović (1907), Lazar Tomanović (1907-1911), Dušan Gregović (1911-1912), Mitar Martinović (1912-1913), Petar Plamenac (1913-1915), Janko Vukotić (1915), Lazar Mijušković (1915-1916), Andrija Radović (1916-1917), Milutin Tomanović (1917), Evgenije Popović (1917-1919) and Jovan S. Plamenac (1919-1921).

Until 1905, the Montenegrin diplomacy was characterized by the lack of written rules and instructions. In 1905, the first instructions were issued for Montenegrin diplomats, i.e. for the only diplomatic representative Montenegro had abroad at the time - in Constantinople. According to these rules, the diplomatic agent in Constantinople was not allowed to seek audience without prior approval from Cetinje or to impose himself on the Ottoman authorities through excessive activity. He was obliged to act with dignity, seriousness and courtesy at all times and to refrain from gossiping and expressing opinions regarding his colleagues, including the diplomatic representatives of those countries with which Montenegro was not on friendly terms. The Montenegrin diplomatic agent was given very precise instructions on how to act on certain occasions: 'Observe the Festivals or Days of Mourning of the Russian, Italian and Serbian Missions as your own; Do not decline the invitations of a Mission, regardless of the kind, as such occasions are best used to obtain information of what is going on; Cultivate personal relations with members of Embassies to the greatest extent possible, and do not use business cards excessively since whoever maintains relationships on business cards eventually loses the valuable acquaintances and remains lonely; Attend invitations issued by Spouses of the Diplomatic Representatives - jour fixé - as these occasions are also precious for a diplomat; Be a member of a circle (smaller group), as this, too, is a good opportunity to meet the members of the Diplomatic Corps; Do not be seen at any hour of the day or night in inappropriate places avoided by the Diplomatic Corps; State secrets should be kept from each Embassy and even from persons you are on the most intimate terms with; Particularly beware of the friends of the Serbian legation. Do not take them into your confidence, but cultivate the best possible relations with them.'

Montenegrin diplomacy played a particularly important role at the time when Montenegro's exiled Government struggled to preserve Montenegrin independence after the World War I, and in defending the rights of Montenegro and its dynasty. Fighting against international isolation which the opponents of Montenegro's sovereignty and the opponents of the Petrović Njegoš dynasty advocated, Montenegrin diplomats defended Montenegro's right to state sovereignty through various supporters of the cause. The diplomats sent a myriad of memoranda, complaints and letters of protest to Governments of the Great Powers and the international public.

Upon the creation of the Yugoslav state in 1918, Montenegro as one of its constituent parts had no diplomacy of its own, nor did Montenegrin political parties have influence on the new state's foreign policy. It was only during the time of socialist Yugoslavia (1945-1990) that Montenegro was elevated to status of a Republic, thereby gaining an opportunity to participate in the recruitment of diplomats and contribute to foreign policy in general. 

Within Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, established after the World War II, Montenegro re-established its foreign policy service in 1979, following the 1974 constitutional amendments that allowed Yugoslav republics to maintain international relations with federal entities of other states. This decision came after the devastating earthquake that hit Montenegro on 15 September 1979. A number of states and international organisations expressed a great desire to help rescue citizens, rebuild cities, objects, infrastructure, and cultural and historical heritage of Montenegro. The Parliament of Montenegro adopted the Government of Montenegro's proposal of April 1979 and established the Republic Committee for Foreign Relations.

The opening of this office enabled certain republic institutions (Government, President, Republic presidency, Parliament, some ministries, and municipalities) to take part in the federation's international relations, as well as to maintain contacts with other states and international organisations, host foreign delegations, experts, negotiate priorities, and get assistance and support. Montenegro, like other republics, was able to establish cooperation with other nations’ federal units, and did so with Puglia (Italy), Baden-Wurtemberg, Hamburg, Bremen (Germany), Russia, Armenia (USSR), and many others. Montenegro was also equipped to take part on equal footing in the processes of planning and implementation of Yugoslavia’s common foreign policy and international cooperation in the institutions tasked with creating the foreign policy (Federal Council for Foreign Affairs, Parliamentary Committee for international affairs, Federal Secretariat for Foreign Relations, Committee for Foreign Affairs of the Government, and others). It hosted a number of missions, which was important for attracting partners for development programmes or long-term cooperation (Norway in the Simo Milošević Institute of Igalo; technical cooperation with German, British, and Italian partners in Obod, Radoje Dakić, KAP, and others). In this period, Montenegro had a notable initiative to launch, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Non-Aligned Movement, a gallery of the non-aligned countries in what was then Titograd (Podgorica). This was adopted first at the federal level, and later at the Movement itself, where more than 70 countries decided to bestow their nations’ works of art for this common institution.

The establishment of the Republic Committee for Foreign Relations enabled Montenegro to prepare, select, and propose in a planned and organised manner its administrative capacities to work in Montenegro’s and Yugoslavia’s foreign affairs bodies, especially at the Federal Ministry and the diplomatic and consular missions. Finally, the Republic Committee provided support to the state bodies and many economic, scientific, cultural, educational, sports, and municipality organisations in their contacts with foreign partners and international organisations.

After the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991 and creation of the two-member federation of Serbia and Montenegro in 1992, Montenegro preserved a certain number of posts in diplomacy but virtually had no impact on foreign policy. Admittedly, as a member state of the federation, it was entitled to have its own Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Towards the end of the 1990's, when the Montenegrin political leadership began distancing from Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević, Montenegro enhanced its diplomatic activites and bolder steps mark its foreign policy. The country's diplomatic activity was particularly intensified from 2000 when it was evident that a break-up with Serbia was imminent. In that period Montenegrin diplomacy played an important role in Montenegro's struggle to restore state independence.