Montenegro (Yugoslavia)

Montenegro is a country in South East Europe, on the Balkan peninsula, on the shores of the Adriatic See. Even as it became after the I WW part of Yugoslavia, the independence movement stayed strong in Montenegro. During the II WW Montenegro was first occupied by the Italian forces, who created there puppet Independent State of Montenegro. In 1943 Montenegro was occupied by the German army, which gave new strength to the communist partisan movement.

After the victory of communist partisans in 1945 the terror was launched against non communist forces, thousands of them were massacred. After the creation of communist Yugoslavia, terror nevertheless continued with new wave of arrests. After the fall of communist Yugoslavia, the power in Montenegro was seized by the former communists and Montenegro was turned part of Serbia. Only in 2006 Montenegro succeeded to achieve full independence from Serbia.

Historical overview

Montenegro was occupied by Mussolini’s Italy in April 1941, while one part of the country was incorporated into Greater Albania, and another into the Sandžak province, which was a part of the Independent State of Croatia.

At the time the occupation began, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia began to prepare its underground operations. The KPJ included 1,800 people, and its affiliated youth organisation (SKOJ) had 5,000 members. On 13 July 1941, around 30,000 people joined the nation-wide uprising in response to the occupation of the country; 10% of Montenegro’s population took to the streets in protest. By 24 July 1941 they had liberated three-fourths of the country’s territory and 80% of the population.

However, Montenegro was re-occupied by large Italian forces coming across the Albanian border in mid-August 1941. The leader of the Partisan troops in Montenegro as well as the local party organisation was Milovan Đilas. The partisans used terror against both real or suspected opponents of the communist movement; historians put the death toll of this period at 117 people. Starting in the dying months of 1941, fights broke out between the Partisans and the Chetniks, the latter cooperating with the Italians. Two units of anti-communist Muslim militiamen were also involved in combating communists.

Due to the involvement of Italian forces and strenuous skirmishes with the Chetniks, most communist forces retreated to the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina in mid-1942.

The capitulation of Italy in 1943 and the takeover of Montenegro by Germans concerned primarily urban areas, which favoured Partisan activity. Communist units returned to Montenegro in mid-1943 after breaking through the surrounding occupation forces in spring during the Battle of the Neretva (2nd Corps of General Peko Dapčević). This led to the establishment of a first stronghold in Kolašin, which had until then been one of the toughest battlegrounds for the communists.

Formation of political leadership began in February 1942, when the meeting of the “Patriots' Parlament“took place in the Dolny Ostrog monastery. Although the proceedings were directed by communists, the participants included also people opposing fascist occupation. On 16 November 1943, the Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Montenegro (Antifašističko vijeće narodnog oslobođenja, AVNO) was established in Kolašin. Its representatives were present at the meeting of the AVNOJ in Jajce in November 1943. On 13 July 1944, AVNO was renamed the Montenegrin Parliament of National Liberation (Crnogorska antifašistička skupština narodnog oslobođenja, CASNO).

In addition to fratricidal fights with the Chetniks and clashes with German occupants, Montenegro – particularly its capital Podgorica – was significantly damaged by Allied bombings in 1944. The process of liberation of Montenegrin territory lasted from the autumn of 1944, after the German offensive in the Piva and Durmitor mountains was repulsed, until January 1945.

The communists' victory in World War II meant building a state based on declarations of national equality, with communists holding the political monopoly. One of the premises of this policy was the support for nations whose identity was questioned, such as the Montenegrins.

The Constitution of the Republic was adopted on 31 December 1946, and the share of posts in the KPJ, security and military held by Montenegrins was decidedly larger than the actual percentage of Montenegrins in the ethnic composition of post-war Yugoslavia.

The reasons for considering Montenegrins as a nation separate from the Serbian ethnos was explained by Milovan Đilas in the article On the Matter of Montenegrin Nationality. He ascertained that although ethnically speaking they were Serbian, in the 19th century they developed their own national characteristics. In 1945–1953 the Communist Party of Montenegro was led by Blažo Jovanović.

The sovietisation of Montenegro proceeded at a fast pace, as in other republics, mainly due to industrialisation and agrarian reform; still, scholars like Žarko Andrijašević maintain that around a third of all citizens held anti-communist beliefs during the war. During the elections to the Constituent Assembly in November 1945, only 7% of the Montenegrin votes were cast by secret ballot. In 1945 the KPJ in Montenegro had 4,000 members (with a total population of 360,000) and by the beginning of 1950s it had grown to 16,000; at that point, just over 200 of those members had been in the organisation prior to the war.

Among the greatest shocks to Montenegrin politics was the proclamation of the Cominform Resolution of 28 May 1948 and the conflict between Tito and Stalin. In Montenegro, almost half of the Political Committee members (Božo Ljumović, Vuko Tmušić, Niko Pavić and Radivoje Vukićević) supported Stalin, and only talks with Kardelj, Ranković and Đilas managed to convince them to side with Yugoslavia. In the military, figures like Peko Dapčević and Arso Jovanović declared their support for Stalin’s policy and considered his accusations against Tito as justified; both soon fled to Albania. 

As a result of the conflict with Cominform, Montenegrins were the most public about their disapproval of Tito’s policies, with 5,000 out of 470,000 inhabitants openly rejecting him and 3,500 arrests in this period of heightened tensions. About 2,700 of the arrested were members of the KPJ, and as many as 2,600 of them received prison sentences. The historian Zoran Andrijašević explains this fact through the Montenegrins’ traditional Russophile tendencies and somewhat radical tendencies. The head of the UDB in Montenegro was Blaža Jovanović, who coordinated the fight against pro-Soviet agitators.

High-ranking military officers – Arso Jovanović, Radonja Golubović, Vlado Dapčević and Branko Petričević – sided with the Cominform resolution condemning Yugoslavia, and in many locations (Nikšić, Andrijevica, Ivangrad, Kolašin and Danilovgrad) the majority of politicians sided with Stalin, which in turn triggered mass arrests in Montenegro.

Fearing a military invasion during the conflict with Cominform, the authorities chose to move Yugoslav industry into the country’s interior; Montenegro stood to benefit greatly from this decision. Dennison Russinow points out that this policy was the reason for building a steel mill in Niksić; however, it still took ten years for this steel mill to receive the necessary blacktop access road and eight years for a rail line to the Adriatic coast. 

The most important politician in Montenegro was Milovan Đilas, considered to be the first dissident in the Eastern Bloc. He was a long-standing member of the KPJ and a pre-war political prisoner; during the war he was one of the leading politicians together with Tito, Ranković and Kardelj.

He was responsible for the terror against political opponents in the post-war era. In 1945–1952 he was a member of the Politburo and the head of Agitprop. In late 1953 and early 1954 he published a series of articles in the Borba newspaper and Nova misao journal in which he criticised party bureaucrats for abusing their privileges and being disconnected from the needs of Yugoslav society.

He spoke about communists as the “priests of socialism” and maintained that the desire for freedom is a sine qua non condition of proper functioning of a state in times of peace. He argued that party and ideological discipline were a good thing, but only in time of war. At the 5th Congress of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia in January 1954, Đilas was heavily criticised, expelled from the party, and later even receiving a suspended prison sentence. After publishing an article in The New Leader magazine in 1956, he received an immediate prison sentence. In total, he spent seven years in prison. He wrote books that significantly influenced the perception of communism around the world, particularly The New Class: An Analysis of the Communist System, in which he presented the mechanisms of communist government as an oligarchy standing above the society deprived of agency.

Other significant politicians include Blažo Jovanović (prime minister/president of the Executive Council 1945–1953; president of Montenegro  parliament 1953–1963); Veselin Đuranović (chairman of the Executive Council 1963–1966; chairman of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Montenegro 1968–1977, chairman of the Executive Council (prime minister) of Yugoslavia 1977–1982, chairman of the Presidency of Montenegro 1982–1983), Veljko Milatović (head of the Department of People’s Protection of Montenegro 1944–1946 and subsequently the Minister of Interior of this republic until 1953; president of Montenegro parliament 1967–1969; chairman of the Federation Presidency 1974–1982).

In Montenegro, the period as part of the Yugoslav Federation resulted in the significant strengthening of nationalist tendencies and the perception of Montenegro as a separate nation. As Montenegro was made one of six equal republics and its autonomy was increased by each subsequent constitution, the sense of separate national identity had consistently grown until the mid-1980s.

At that point the economic crisis led to a political crisis. In 1988, Podgorica witnessed pro-Serbian rallies organised to express support for Slobodan Milošević who claimed that Serbs and Montenegrins were being wronged in Kosovo.

In January 1989, demonstrators demanded the resignation of the government due to the republic’s economic failure. In April 1989 at the 10th Congress of the League of Communists of Montenegro, people close to Milošević began to take over positions of power: Branko Kostić became the chairman of the LCM and Radoje Kontić was appointed president of the Executive Council. The Montenegrins stopped being described as a separate nation; now they were perceived as having close ties with the Serbs.

Montenegro was the only republic of the Federation to support Milošević's policy at the 14th Congress of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia in 1990. Although political pluralism had been introduced in the late 1980s, the winner of the 1990 parliamentary election was the LCM with 56% of the votes. According to the official data, 96% of Montenegrins voted in favour of Montenegro’s continuance as part of Yugoslavia in the referendum of March 1992. On 27 April 1992, the establishment of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was announced; Montenegro declared its independence following another referendum in 2006.




As the Partisan forces grew in strength and gained the Allies’ recognition as the main resistance in Yugoslavia, the Chetniks started to withdraw towards Austria via Bosnia in December 1944. About 5,000 of them were arrested in Slovenia near the settlement named Zidani Most. Around 1,500 of them were shot and only 150 people managed to stay in Austria. Among the executed were the Montenegrin metropolite Joanikije and a clergyman who accompanied him; the latter had previously collaborated with the Italians.

According to the historian Ivo Goldstein, repressions during the fight against the “enemies of the people” were most drastic in Montenegro, which can be explained among others by the style of warfare that dominated this region.

Another instance of repressions were the 1970s, when the Yugoslav authorities arrested the so-called Bar group led by General Vlado Dapčević  (1974) as part of their fight against the Soviet model of communism. Dapčević escaped to Romania, where he was captured in 1975 and extradited to Yugoslavia. Between 1948 and 1988, he spent 21 years in prison.

As Katarina Spelnjak maintains, due to the mitigation of oppressive state policies in the 1950s, the phenomenon of dissidents was non-existent in Montenegro.


Collectivisation and nationalisation, implemented by the state policy in 1945–1946, were facilitated by the fact that the Italian occupants announced the confiscation of private property and state-owned businesses in 1941. In return the occupiers promised to provide sustenance for everyone, which in mountainous Montenegro had always been a real problem. Under the law on agricultural reform and colonisation, up to 40,000 people settled in Vojvodina. As many as 75% of Montenegro citizens lived in rural areas at that point in time.

60 km of railroad on the Titograd-Nikšić route was built with the help of youth volunteers; two power and heating plants and one hydroelectric plant were constructed as well.

It is estimated that due to mass industrialisation, the industrial production increased thirty-fold between 1947 and 1979, and in the late 1970s the industry accounted for 31.8% of its GNP (in comparison to less than 10% before World War II).

The provisions of the first five-year plan of 1946 stated that investments in industrialisation would be highest in underdeveloped republics such as Montenegro. The largest new objects were the “Radoje Dakić” plant in Titograd which produced construction materials and the “Obod” factory in Cetinje which focused on electric equipment.

The plan for the years 1957–1961 included significant modernisation schemes for the most underdeveloped regions; Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro. In 1961 a steel mill was built in Niksić, and ten years later an aluminium processing plant was erected in Titograd.

The beneficiaries of the Federation Fund for Underdeveloped Regions established in 1965 were Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia. Probably due to its large political influence, Montenegro was the only one of these republics that managed to make a relatively good use of those funds.

In the 1950s, the economic growth index was 6.5%, the 1960s saw a slowly lower rate of 6.3% which dropped further to 5.7% in the 1970s.

The infrastructure and transport network of this mountainous republic had grown significantly. By 1980, 1,650 km of roads and 227 km of railways had been built. The most important project was the railway line connecting Bar and Belgrade and reached completion in 1976. In the 1950s and early 1960s, a modern port was built in Bar, and an airport was constructed in Podgorica in 1961.

Industrialisation caused a shift in the occupational structure of the Montenegrins: By 1980, only 25% of the adult population worked in agriculture. The 1980s crisis influenced Montenegro strongly; the country suffered particularly due to the inefficiency of the local production plants. It was difficult to maintain economic and logistic connections as the republic was located on the periphery of Yugoslavia.

The 1990 GDP per capita reached around 2,000 USD in Montenegro – the Yugoslav average stood at just below 3,000 USD, while the Slovenian average towered both at around 4,500 USD. 

Society and culture

Agitprop was active in Montenegro to restore the country in its entirety. For example, the focus of Antun Pogačar's works was the construction of the Niksić-Titograd railway (e.g. the poem “On Building of the Railway“) while actors from the Titograd Theatre staged plays at the railway construction site.

A very significant writer from Montenegro, particularly during the Agitprop years, was Radovan Zogović; he was lauded as the “Yugoslav Zhdanov”, but later got expelled from the party on suspicion of supporting Stalin.

The Montenegrin National Theatre was founded in Titograd in 1953, and Television Titograd began broadcasting in the 1960s.

Veljko Vlahović University was founded in 1974. In the early 1950s, over 20,000 Montenegrins were enrolled in tertiary education institutions; a third of them were studying outside the republic.

In 1973 the Montenegrin Society of Sciences and Arts was established; in 1976 it was renamed as the Montenegrin Academy of Sciences and Arts.

Mindful of the importance of film propaganda, the communists opened film production studios in every republic; for Montenegro, this meant the foundation of Lovćen film in 1947. The most important director of Montenegrin origin was Veljko Bulajić, the director of Battle on Neretva.

It should be noted that, due to the peripheral location of the republic and weakness of its cultural traditions, its artists worked mainly in Belgrade (e.g. painters Milo Milutinović and Petar Luburda).

Mihailo Lalić, whose works from the 1950s and 1960s departed from the Partisan myth which were characteristic for the Agitprop years, has gained a prominent position among Montenegrin writers. In his novels The Wedding, The Evil Spring, and particularly The Mountain of Cries and The Pursuit, Lalić presented the brutality of war, the prison in Kolašin and repressions towards the prison’s inmates, as well as crimes of the Chetniks and Italian occupants against the civilians. 


The National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia (NOVJ) had 800,000 soldiers at the end of World War II. Its Commander-in-Chief was Josip Broz Tito. Between 1941 and 1945, the structure of the army consisted of two commanding officers on every level: the political commissar and the military commissar. The army was restructured in 1945 when the number of soldiers was reduced by half and the army changed its name to the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA). It was one of the main factors guaranteeing legitimacy to the Yugoslav regime.

Josip Broz Tito acted as the army’s Commander-In-Chief between 1941 and 1980. Between 1941-1945, he was the head of the General Staff of the Partisan Detachments for National Liberation, which was later renamed the Supreme Staff of the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia. At the second AVNOJ proceedings in 1943, he was elected president of the provisional executive authority called the National Committee for the Liberation of Yugoslavia, which secured him the position of NOVJ Commander-in-Chief.

The constitution of 1946 gave the parliament the authority and power to elect the Commander-in-Chief, but given the Politbureau’s omnipotence under the aegis of Tito, the choice was obvious. Constitutional laws in 1953 ensured that the President of the Republic would also automatically be the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Similar provisions were included in the subsequent Yugoslav constitutions with the only difference being that new constitutions from the 1970s granted authority to the Presidency of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was also led by Tito.

After 1953, the Presidium received help from federal Secretaries of Defence (since 1971 federal Secretaries of Defence were equivalent to the Ministry of Defence): Ivan Gošnjak (1953-1967), Nikola Ljubičić (1967-1982), Branko Mamula (1982-1988) and Veljko Kadijević (1988-1992). They answered to Parliament, to federal authorities (federal SIV) and to the Commander-in-Chief. Conflict with the Eastern Bloc in the late 1940s and early 1950s generated the highest spending on armed forces for the federal budget - in 1952, the country spent 22-24% of its national budget on defence – these numbers fell again shortly after, going down to 10.8% in 1956.

In the mid-1950s, after the situation between Belgrade and Moscow was settled, the country’s military doctrine changed and was refocused on defending the country from NATO. The approach changed yet again after the attack on Czechoslovakia by five Warsaw Pact countries in August 1968. This military incursion into Czechoslovakia inspired the initiative for a territorial defence system organised by the republics themselves, should there be an invasion by external aggressors.

According to tactics planned by General Gošnjak, the aim of territorial defence was to form partisan units. The formation of the People’s Defence forces of the republics began at the end of 1968 and the Law on All People’s Defence that was adopted by the federal parliament on 11 February 1969 started this particular form of militarisation of the country. The Army was restructured in such a way that the capital of each republic was supposed to take responsibility for establishing its Army’s leadership, as it was the republican authorities who oversaw territorial defence.

Serbian and Montenegrin dominance in the YPA’s ranks was manifest. In 1953, Serbians constituted 53% of the Army’s high-ranking officers (but 41.7% of the whole Yugoslav population), whereas Montenegrins made up 10.8% of the Army’s elders (compared to 2.8% of the population) and 20.3% of the higher cadre were from Croatia (with 23.5% of the population).

There was also a big disproportion in Bosnia and Herzegovina where the Serbs overwhelmingly dominated the party, military and security service structures; this was one of the many remnants of domestic disputes during World War II. This disproportion was at its most visible in the 1980s when Serbs and Montenegrins made up almost 70% of all high-ranking military officials.

The constitution of 1974 emphasised the crucial role of the YPA as the protector of the country’s unity. These changes, which led to an increased level of autonomy for the Territorial Defence forces and the fragmentation of the country, were not enthusiastically welcomed by top-ranking military officers.

Branko Mamula, a Serb from Croatia, became the Minister of Defence in the 1980s and later sought to subordinate territorial defence to the YPA in his quest to centralise the armed forces, and to invest further in armaments. He managed to achieve his goal when a law in 1987 transferred the control over territorial defence from the republics to the General Staff of the Yugoslav Armed Forces.

By virtue of constitutional amendments adopted in Croatia and Slovenia in 1990, control over territorial defence was returned to republican authorities, which resulted in conflict with the YPA. In Slovenia, this did not raise any problems due to the homogenous nature of the country, whereas in Croatia, the territorial defence involved different nationalities - the Serbs and the Croatians - serving side by side.

As the consequent republics declared independence, from October 1991 the YPA answered to the Serbian authorities. Serbia along with its autonomous provinces (despite abolishing autonomies in 1989) and Montenegro still had their representatives in the Presidium. In April 1992, the YPA officially became the Yugoslav Army consisting only of Serbian and Montenegrin soldiers.

Noticing tendencies moving towards the dissolution of the country, JNA Generals, Veljko Kadijević and Branko Mamula, spoke strongly in favour of keeping Yugoslavia a single entity.

As soon as the reserve of the Macedonian Army reported its first casualties in the war against Croatia in the spring and summer of 1991, Macedonians demanded the right to only serve in their own republic. Their request was denied by the federal ministry to little effect; Macedonia broke all ties with the Yugoslav army when the country declared its independence in September 1991 and adopted its first constitution in November 1991. In February 1992, laws were passed in Skopje regarding military service and an agreement was signed that very same month announcing the JNA’s withdrawal from the republic.

With the outbreak of war in Slovenia and Croatia, Alija Izetbegović, the president of the Presidium of the League of Communists of Bosnia and Herzegovina, decided in September 1991 to stop drafting new recruits into the YPA.  In November 1991, Izetbegović still claimed that the ongoing war in Croatia in 1991 did not concern Bosnia. However, there were units based in Bosnia which were carrying out military operations in Croatia.

In December 1991, Slobodan Milošević demanded that YPA units be transferred to Bosnia and Hercegovina. This led to a gradual concentration of troops in Serbian strongholds. In June 1992, Izetbegović demanded the YPA’s withdrawal from Bosnia. Talks concerning the YPA’s status in Bosnia and Hercegovina were held in Skopje between Branko Kostić, a member of the federal Presidium, Izetbegović, a member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidium and Blagoje Adzić, the acting Minister of National Defence. Initially, the talks were postponed, but later the YPA joined them taking the Serbs’ side.



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Danijel Ivin- historian, former dissident

Petar Janjatović- journalist, musician critique

Gordan Jovanović- social activist, former dissident

Dagomir Olujić-journalist, former dissident

Predrag Ristić- architect, former dissident