International Tourism, Multinational State, National Museum? National Identity and National Narratives in Montenegro’s Museums

By Thomas E. Schweigert.

Published by The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

What is the role of a national museum, and the place within it of a national narrative, in a self-professed civic and multinational state striving for EU admission and basing its development strategy on international tourism, including museum centered cultural and heritage tourism? Montenegro may be Europe’s newest country, but its museums are long-established, being themselves to a degree ontogenic recapitulations of the history they attempt to exhibit, and a history that is not so well known beyond the borders of the former Yugoslavia.Montenegro is struggling to establish itself as a viable independent state after a 2006 referendum dissolved the union with Serbia but revealed the contested nature of national identity. Euro-Atlantic integration now proceeds as a Stabilization and Association Agreement was recently signed with the EU. A new constitution has been adopted with a civic basis for citizenship, although there was sentiment for explicit naming of constituent “nations” –Montenegrin, Serb, Albanian, Croat, Bosniak (Muslim Slav)–as a guarantee of collective national rights in a new multinational state. Political parties remain partly or exclusively national, there is ongoing debate over what distinguishes Montenegrin from Serbian national identity, the continued presence of the cross on state symbols has its domestic opponents, and “Montenegrin” has, contentiously, become the “official” language, joining Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian as a fourth “new” (mutually intelligible) language in the region. As its economic development strategy, the Montenegrin state has designated an increasingly upmarket international tourism as the leading sector.
In somewhat cliched terms, Montenegro, like the Western Balkans in general, has been located: 1) at the intersection of three great European “races”, Latin, Germanic and Slavic; 2) at the most enduring East/West divide, that between Constantinople/Rome and hence Orthodoxy/Catholicism (and its Protestant offshoot); and 3) at the “civilizational” boundary between Christendom and Islam, in the form of the Ottoman Empire. A much reduced Montenegro, compared to its current size, had for centuries maintained a semblance of independence from the Ottoman Empire which surrounded it. An independent Montenegro was formally recognized by the Great Powers at the Congress of Berlin in 1878. Montenegro expanded when the First Balkan War succeeded in “driving the Turks (almost) out of Europe”. In still–contested events in 1918, Montenegro was absorbed by Serbia and soon thereafter became part of the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes–Yugoslavia. In Tito’s post-WWII Yugoslavia, Montenegro was designated a Republic within its current borders.
The National Museum in the historic capital of Cetinje can be seen in part as a shrine both to centuries’ long struggles to preserve Montenegrin (and Serbian?) national independence and to the revered nineteenth century leader Petar II Petrović Njegoš, the last Vladika (Prince-(Orthodox)Bishop) of Montenegro, subsequent rulers being secular. Njegoš’s epic poem, The Mountain Wreath, is a canonical work of South Slav literature, but its celebration of the “Kosovo myth” and its depiction of the slaughter of converts to Islam by their Christian kinsmen cannot but be seen in light of recent events. In addition to these Montenegrin (Serbian?) national narratives, the museum also prominently celebrates the Yugoslav narrative of the WWII Partisan anti-Fascist struggle and its heroes, not only Tito but also native son, Milovan Đilas, who subsequently became the prototypical dissident and, while in jail, Njegoš biographer.
One might expect the Maritime Museum in Kotor, on the Bay of Kotor in southern Dalmatia, to celebrate other themes, as Kotor was not part of historic Montenegro. While Montenegrin highlanders fought to maintain independence, Kotor was part of the Venetian empire until its demise and was then within the Habsburg empire until 1918. But Venice and Austria, with the blessing of Rome, also contested with the Ottomans for regional control, with Slavs often providing the manpower. Thus, paintings in Venetian style and with Italian captions that depict sea battles between Slavs and enemy Turks are a prominent display. Near the museum is the Communist–era named Square of the Sailors’ Uprising of 1918, and the museum features an exhibit to honor the four Slavic martyrs who, allegedly inspired by the Russian revolution, lead a failed mutiny against the Austro-Hungarian navy in the waning days of WWI and were executed for treason in Kotor.
Even accepting the validity of a national narrative, there is the dilemma of how to deal with the multiplicity of them: historic Montenegro, Montenegro as part of Serbia, Communist Yugoslav Montenegro, post-Communist independent Montenegro. Then there is the question of the place of national/religious minorities such as Albanians (Muslim and Christian) and Bosniaks, as well as of regions that were not part of historic Montenegro such as Kotor. What is the proper place of the Communist past in a post-Communist society and museum? And of what relevance or interest is much of this to an audience coming, not from Yugoslavia, but from a cruise ship? This research will engage the museum exhibits, analyze written and recorded textual narratives of those exhibits, observe and analyze varieties of the performed narratives of tour guides, and interview museum personnel. What is included and excluded in these narratives and how is this determined, by the availability of objects themselves or by more subjective factors? How does the narrative compare with an “objective” assessment of the historical “facts”? In a world of limited budgetary resources and contested national identities, what are the prospects for major changes at these museums?

Keywords: Heritage and Cultural Tourism, The Politics of Heritage, National, Regional and Ethnic Identities, Neutrality, Balance and Objectivity

International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp.7-22. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 4.598MB).

Dr. Thomas E. Schweigert

Professor, Department of Economics, University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, Wisconsin, USA

I am a professor of Economics with an interest in international, development, and comparative economics. My regional focus had been Latin America where I have done research in Panama and Guatemala and taught in Costa Rica, but I have since broadened that to include Southeastern Europe and the EU. I was on sabbatical in 2003-04 in Croatia and produced the paper, “Croatian Exchange Rate Policy: Nominal Stability and Real Consequences”, which I presented at the Academy of Business and Administrative Sciences XI International Conference in Bratislava. I am currently a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Montenegro where my research is focused on tourism.


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