Not finding one's way in new circumstances

The Montenegrin cause, which was represented by the king and the refugee government, lost its strength over time. Because of the chaotic events in the country and the interests of the great powers. But to some extent also due to the inadequate moves of the Montenegrin government
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Peace conference in a newspaper illustration from that time, Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Peace conference in a newspaper illustration from that time, Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Disclaimer: The translations are mostly done through AI translator and might not be 100% accurate.
Ažurirano: 05.10.2019. 18:20h

During the time of exile, especially in its first part, the Montenegrin king, together with the government, played an active role in many political and diplomatic initiatives.

The struggle and overall life of the Montenegrin king, government, soldiers, and Montenegrin citizens in exile - although solidly covered in domestic historiography - are not sufficiently illuminated, among other things, due to the mysteries surrounding the archive of the king and the government in exile that was never found.

In parallel with the demands towards the great powers and the Peace Conference at which the new political map of the world was decided, and therefore Montenegro, the Montenegrin king and government launched initiatives towards the Montenegrin people in the country through proclamations and other means. They contained different content, depending on the circumstances. And in that part of political activity, King Nikola is criticized for being indecisive and inconsistent.

Thus, the proclamation "To the Montenegrins" - on Christmas Day 1918, that is, on the same day when the "Christmas Rebellion" actually began, the uprising of the opponents of unconditional unification - was politically quite different not only in the title from another proclamation of the Montenegrin king "To the Yugoslavs" on October 8, 1918. And the king's proclamation to the Montenegrin people in the form of a letter addressed to Bož Petrović was largely an expression of the influence of the high actors of the International Conference.

Such declarations are often made with the aim of pacifying the situation in the country in the expectation that the great powers will respect and fulfill the demands of the king and the Montenegrin government. Such expectations later turned out to be unrealistic.

The Montenegrin side in exile, which had diplomatic relations with the great powers and thus legal channels of communication, tried to be open to the demands of the representatives of the great powers, first and foremost the American President Wilson.

On the other hand, the growing indications that Montenegrin demands could be rejected at the International Conference inevitably led the king to attempts to influence political trends in the country, including his return to Montenegro with the aim of restoring the Montenegrin state and from that position possibly participating in the equal creation of a wider Yugoslav communities.

Both political cards of King Nikola at that moment, therefore, the expectation of a just solution to the Montenegrin issue at the Conference or a combative return to the country - carried great risks.

King Nicholas
King Nicholas(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Exponents of official Serbian politics, even some champions of the Yugoslav Committee, for example one of the Croatian leaders, Ante Trumbić, in their international actions, tried to explain to the statesmen of the great powers that the unification of Montenegro with Serbia is the will of the Montenegrin people. Added to that was the version that the Montenegrin king and the government in exile were instigating the riots in the country.

Regardless of the moment of dominant interest among the great powers and in the context of solving the Montenegrin issue, there were moments when European statesmen did not hide their doubts about the further treatment of Montenegro.

Thus, in November 1919, during a debate in the British Parliament, Prime Minister Lloyd George, answering many questions, said:

"The issue of Montenegro is one of the most difficult I have encountered. The people are divided, so it is difficult to determine their views and situation." (Dragoljub Živojinović, Montenegro in the fight for survival, p. 489.)

Even after he showed - despite the many injustices already committed against him and Montenegro - breadth and personal openness towards the allies, even on the occasion of the constitution of the new Yugoslav community under the conditions of respect for democratic principles - King Nikola became more and more politically marginalized over time.

Despite the oft-repeated, basic position of King Nikola and the Montenegrin representative government - that the Montenegrin question is not dynastic, but democratic, that it is actually about the historical right of the Montenegrin people to self-determination, the essentially cruel, diplomatic game continued in convoluted forms, based on established interests of the great powers. The very realization of the interests of large states took place in many forms of politics fait accompli.

In one period, King Nicholas and the Montenegrin government tried to see their chances in the fight for Montenegrin interests through Italian diplomacy. Although Italy understood and respected more than other countries, and in one period, to the extent possible, supported Montenegrin interests - over time it was clear that Italian policy functioned primarily on the basis of its specific interests, which primarily related to solving the so-called Adriatic issue.

It was at the beginning of 1919 that the conflict between the Italian delegation led by Prime Minister Orlando at a conference in Paris and others from the so-called The big four powers - especially with the USA, due to Italy's expectation that Rijeka and Dalamacia belong to it.

The conflict culminated in an open confrontation between Italian Prime Minister Orlando and American President Wilson, even in the form of public letters. Namely, on April 23, 1919, Wilson sent a public letter to Italian citizens, while already on April 24, the Italian Prime Minister replied to the American President in the same newspaper. As a sign of protest, Prime Minister Orlando and the Italian delegation left Paris and the Peace Conference on April 26.

This opened up the possibility of armed conflicts on the Adriatic coast, which did not suit the main actors of the Peace Conference.

Vilson(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Under the existing circumstances, Italy responded to the unresolved issue of Montenegro, which was already in a situation of high tensions and latent internal conflicts.

That is why it is no coincidence that the Convention between the Italian and Montenegrin governments on the stationing of Montenegrin military formations in Gaeta was signed on April 30, 1919, in the moments of peak Italian disagreements with other high political actors of the Peace Conference in Paris.

Understandably regrouped, and little by little, as time went on, ceding many initiatives to the Montenegrin government in exile, while receiving controversial news from the country, King Nikola decided in the spring of 1919 to, it seems, his last concrete political attempts in the country. Probably doubting their sure success himself.

Namely, in that period, the king shows his intention to leave France, which formally obliged him not to leave that country until the end of the Peace Conference. During that period, the Montenegrin king showed intentions to move to Italy and continue to operate from that country. To be closer to Montenegro, but also to his soldiers stationed in Gaeta. This is what the Italian diplomatic envoy at the Montenegrin court in France, the Marquis Montagnari - otherwise a frequent, and it seems privileged, interlocutor of King Nicholas during his exile - reported in a confidential dispatch on May 26, 1919 to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Rome.

"His Highness, King Nicholas, traveled by land to Rapallo (Italy) yesterday....At the last moment, it was decided that Princess Vjera would also go with him. It seems that everything was decided at the last minute, and to avoid complications with the French government, the Queen and Princess Xenia stayed here (in France). Unless some important events happened that would require his return to Paris, the king left with the intention of never returning to France, where he had to endure many, severe humiliations. Without counting the moves at the Peace Conference, it is enough to remind that the letters addressed to Presidents Wilson and Poincare in which the requested reception was not even answered.

The king now intends to wait in Italy for an opportune moment to return to Montenegro and place himself at the head of the insurgents. It is about a general uprising that would begin during the spring at a moment that would benefit the entire enterprise in which he completely, and perhaps excessively, believes. He hopes that when the moment comes - as he told me yesterday before departure - that the Italian government will supply him with means and weapons and enable them to cross the Adriatic Sea together with the soldiers from Gaeta.

The king fully believes that once he lands in Montenegro, the Serbs will not be able to remain in power and that the liberation of Montenegro will be the last blow to the pan-Serbian structure that Pašić built, which will create opportunities for the formation of a Yugoslav confederation in which all its components will have their own independence.

From here, quite a distance away, I would hardly be able to assess the chances of success of this plan.

But on the other hand, it is understandable the desire of the old Sovereign to return to his homeland, towards which the Allies behave distantly, with promises they did not keep.

Montenegrin politics had its mistakes, mainly due to the indecisiveness of the king, which was again caused by advisors who were not always honest, but the injustice towards Montenegro, which shed blood and suffered terribly for the alliance of Atlanta, is obvious." (Archivio Ministero degli affari esteri. Montagliari, telegrama per posta N. 9. - Confidenziale - 26. maggio 1919)

And this phase of King Nikola's activities, and the very plan described by Montaljari, were not completed successfully.

Certainly, the Montenegrin cause, which was represented by the king and the refugee government, lost its strength over time. Because of the chaotic events in the country and the interests of the great powers. But to some extent also due to the inadequate actions of the Montenegrin government in the part of requests that were addressed to the great powers and bodies of the Peace Conference.

Let's say, the king and the government made many requests for obtaining large territories, which objectively, neither as ethnic wholes, nor as areas in the historical sense did not belong to Montenegro. The claims of the creation of a great Montenegro from the beginning of the war, when the Montenegrin army arrived at the home of Sarajevo in 1914, were not significantly corrected in the demands that the Montenegrin government in exile delivered to the Peace Conference in Paris. Thus, in the Memorandum of King Nikola to the British government on September 27, 9, regarding the territorial claims of Montenegro, it was requested to obtain Shkodër with its surroundings, part of Bosnia up to Romania, part of Herzegovina up to Mostar...

It should not be ruled out that the applied search tactic is more than realistic in the expectation that it will do better in the final outcome.

Such apparently maximalist demands, later somewhat corrected, often had counterproductive effects in the struggle for the Montenegrin cause.

In 1920, the principle of the balance of power between the great powers, sometimes carried out in diplomatic waltzes, and in the end game in a brutal way, established a new political map of state entities and international relations.

There was no more room for Montenegro on it. Neither as an independent state as it entered the war with the allies, nor with a just, dignified status in the newly formed South Slavic state.

Attempts by the Montenegrin government to request the admission of Montenegro to the large, newly formed international organization "Society of Nations" in 1920 did not succeed. Even the negative response from the Political Section of the General Secretariat of the "League of Nations" served as a formal argument for France and England to sever diplomatic relations with the Montenegrin court at the end of the same year. The second argument used for breaking off relations with Montenegro referred to the parliamentary elections held in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in November 1920.

In the same period, Italy, after a major crisis in negotiations with the Allies and a period of leaving the Peace Conference, approached the final phase of the Conference with more pragmatism and achieved its interests as much as possible. Thus, the somewhat greater interest and help of the Italian government and court towards the Montenegrin king, the government and the army that was on Italian territory, gradually and surely weakened.

At the end of 1920, the Montenegrin king had to come to terms with his political fate.

After all, the harsh course of history very often reflected personal destinies. This also happened to the Montenegrin king in exile.

(End in the next issue of Art)

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