MILO ĐUKANOVIĆ, PRIME MINISTER OF MONTENEGRO
Speech at the Ceremonial Academy commemorating
the centenary of the Battle of Mojkovac
7 January 2016
Dear citizens of Mojkovac and Montenegro,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Since 2014, Montenegro has, like other countries that participated in the conflict, held a series of events to mark the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. By recalling those events, we are once again filled with pride over Montenegro’s role in the Great War, and we have reaffirmed our commitment to the universal values it symbolises, and we recalled traditional values of the Montenegrin society by remembering the unique examples of patriotism, suffering, and steadfastness.
In our calendar of glorious memories today we are marking 100 years since the Battle of Mojkovac. With utmost respect, we bow to the memory of its victims and heroes, and we reaffirm our loyalty to the peace-loving and moral tradition of Montenegro. Just as the Montenegrin heroes of Mojkovac had remained faithful to Montenegro and its freedom. “The Battle of Mojkovac was а purely Montenegrin fight – the last and the most glorious in the history of this small state. With it, the state was extinguished, in а final bloody and unforgettable flash of heroism, glory, and legend,” Milovan Djilas had once written.
By marking the centenary of the Battle of Mojkovac, this imposing part of the historic backbone of our statehood and national founding, contemporary Montenegro shows that it does not forget its glorious past and fully honours it. Even though we do not idealise our history, nor do we intend to build ideals on the cult of victimhood and suffering, we must clearly say what is the historic truth. This truth will help the self-awareness of our society and it will help us to be consistent in the respect for our national tradition and rich moral heritage. And therefore also worthy of those who have built this tradition in the harshest of conditions. We must learn from the greatest and most glorious examples of our history. One of such events is the Battle of Mojkovac. The greatest victory of Montenegrin arms in the First World War. In terms of greatness and valour, it stands side by side with the battles of Krusi, Grahovac, Vučji Do… In this battle, the people of the Tara Valley in Montenegro have made their own Grahovac, and inscribed their names in golden letters into the great stream of Montenegrin history.
The Battle of Mojkovac took place on 6 and 7 January 1916, and it marked the end of the great Austro-Hungarian offensive that was launched on Montenegrin soil in November 1915 with the take-over of Pljevlja and fierce drive through the Tara Valley towards Mojkovac. The aim of the Austro-Hungarian army was to subdue this area and then advance towards Podgorica, Mateševo, and Andrijevica. Towards the end of 1915, the retreat from occupied Serbia of 90 thousand strong of the main body of the Serbian army across Montenegro had taken place. The Serbian army had been making the retreat from Peć towards Andrijevica, Podgorica, and Shkoder. The Austro-Hungarian army’s war plan was to take Mojkovac and advance towards Podgorica in order to prevent the retreat of the Serbian troops. However, the heroic struggle in the Tara Valley of the Montenegrin units in December 1915 had prevented this plan from realisation. Finally, with the decisive victory in the Battle of Mojkovac on 6 and 7 Janaury 2016, the Montenegrin army had stopped the Austro-Hungarian campaign towards Podgorica and Shkoder. This has enabled an uninterrupted retreat of the Serbian army from the areas of Montenegro and Albania. The fiercest battles took place in Bojna Njiva, Razvršje, Uloševina… The forces were 1:4 in favour of the opponent. From the military standpoint, the Battle of Mojkovac is a rare example of bravery and fanatic perseverance of an army of fewer and lesser equipped forces, which in spite of this had managed to claim victory in an uneven battle clash against a bold and mighty enemy, which acted in compliance of the laws of war and the military codes of the era. The victory at Mojkovac brought the Montenegrin army new glory. Heroism and chivalry of the Montenegrin soldier has even been recognised by his enemy. This battle stands out also by the wise and brave command of the officers, the role of Serdar Janko Vukotić and also the bravery and military prowess of Brigadier Miloš Medenica, the commander of the Kolašin brigade. The victory at Mojkovac is all the greater considering the circumstances in which it had been won. Every last soldier at Mojkovac knew that the end of Montenegrin independence was nigh and that it is only a matter of days when Cetinje would fall and the Montenegrin army would have to lay their weapons. It was known that Montenegro will certainly meet the same faith already encountered by a much larger Serbia. Regardless, Montenegrin defenders have not let their spirits whither in such difficult times. It was as if Njegoš had written his famous lines just for them: “Die in glory, if die indeed you must!”
This was not a lonely example of sacrifice for one’s country and its freedom in those days. At the same time of the Battle of Mojkovac, on 6 January 1916 the steamboat “Brindisi” was sunk as it was taking 500 emigrant volunteers who came back from America and Canada to defend Montenegro. Around 350 did not survive the catastrophe. The volunteers and the heroes of Mojkovac are the beacons of patriotism and loyalty to one’s fatherland, an admiration of subsequent generations.
The historic fate had commanded that the Battle of Mojkovac would mark an end to a splendid epoch of Montenegro under the rule of the great family of Petrović-Njegoš. Three years of occupation ensued as well as the political undoing of Montenegro at the illegitimate Assembly of Podgorica. In the newly-created State, into which Montenegro had been drowned, its historic merits, and especially its honourable and heroic role in the First World War, instead of being recognised and valued, became subject to renunciation and abnegation. The public sphere saw untruths that served the purpose of discrediting the role of the Montenegrin ruler, his government, and Montenegrin army in the First World War. Instead of recognition came accusation, and instead of gratitude to Montenegrins for their sacrifice in the Battle of Mojkovac came diminishment and disregard of its importance, which ended in historiographic counterfeiting. Deliberate forgeries by the then-leading court historian Vladimir Ćorović, which gained status of official position, it was manifest that Montenegro’s achievements were meant to be forgotten. And especially the sacrifice it had taken to aid its ally. The new State had not officially marked the 10th and the 20th anniversary of the Battle of Mojkovac. This fact is also very telling. Not before 1940, when Second World War was already under way, and the Montenegrin fighting spirit gained importance once again, did a modest ceremony take place to commemorate the 25th anniversary.
In these just short of 100 years we have experienced trials of almost Biblical proportions, disruptions and political pressures of all sorts, denials of the Montenegrin identity… But we have endured. The Montenegrin idea, the idea of Montenegro free and its own has survived its enemies.
With belief and determination that we shall not repeat the mistakes that have costed us so dearly in our past, Montenegro says today to all those that at the end of the First World War have buried its statehood, as well as to those who decades later have negated it: Montenegro is alive, never more European, educated, stable, and prosperous than today, respected by its neighbours and the whole of the democratic world.
From the viewpoint of today we may convincingly analyse Montenegrin mistakes and sideways and recognise them. Just like Montenegrin values. We can more easily consider the reasons due to which we had spent the greatest part of the XX century in strife between and wandering from misconception to truth about ourselves. Why and how the opponents of Montenegro tried and succeeded in presenting to us the misconceptions as tradition and to force them upon us as our guiding ideas, and to poison the national responsibility and interest with accusations of insufficient consideration for Serbhood, Orthodoxy, and Pan-Slavism. Why has the respect for what is ours has by default been qualified as betrayal of what is someone else’s; why even the most senseless war demises have been celebrated as patriotism… And so on and so on through the historical heritage that had been stolen from us and renamed, to almost extinguishing the sense of own identity.
Luckily, Montenegro is again free and its own. It is where it belongs, a place we have won alone through democratic will, wisdom, and remorseless toil. A generation has come of age in it which is not afraid to show it knows its path. A generation that does not have the sense of inferiority or guilt because it protects and cherishes what belongs to it. A generation that knows how to protect what it has and to build something new. To build a modern, European, democratic, and civic Montenegro. A generation of divergent political beliefs and identities, devoted to common values and a single goal: to live in a free, economically stable, and culturally developed Montenegro. We do not wish to repeat the mistakes of the past. We do not accept the burying of the highest values of the historic and contemporary existence of Montenegro. We do not allow the tearing down of our State, fully aware that a lot in it should be changed for the better. Our own history has taught us that nothing good can come from misery, hatred, and divisions.
On this occasion as well as any other, looking back in history must not lead to new loathing and new divisions. We revisit the past so we could show a civilisational regard for those who have made it great. And in order to try and use the good and bad experiences of our ancestors as we go towards a more fortunate future for all citizens of Montenegro. By turning the clock one century back, we are presented with all the magnanimity of the Montenegrin efforts at Mojkovac. And also with the extent of the misfortune that had befallen us afterwards. We have lost our freedom and State, went through denial and humiliation, in order to show, in our 13 July Uprising at the outset of the Second World War, a new historic glimpse of Montenegro. Anti-fascism has become a political and moral credo of the historic endurance of our State. We have achieved full affirmation in the Socialist Yugoslavia, but we also witnessed its bloody demise in the 1990s. However, in that turmoil we have managed to preserve peace and strengthen multi-ethnic harmony. Less than ten years ago we employed resolve and political skill to restore statehood and secure rights to decide on our own destiny. Today, Montenegro is a stability factor in the Balkans, a country that has been invited to join NATO and successfully leads EU accession negotiations.
This, in short, is the magnificent Montenegrin trajectory over the past one hundred years. It proves that Montenegro has the strength and capacity to endure and renew itself, in spite of denial and wrong choices it itself had also been making. Montenegro now makes its own choices, takes due diligence in caring for its identity and multi-cultural nature, and economic and democratic development paths. Modern and independent Montenegro is determined to build a contemporary European society on Montenegrin soil, and to preserve that which is the most valuable. And one of the steady rocks on which it stands today is without doubt the Battle of Mojkovac.
The speech of US President Abraham Lincoln at the Gettysburg graveyard in 1863, after the battle that had altered the course of the Civil War in the US, sounded as it had been intended for the heroes at Mojkovac: “But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow – this ground. The brave men… who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here…” And these words are testament to the universality of the Montenegrin feat at Mojkovac one century ago.
Glory be and praise to the heroes of the great Montenegrin Battle of Mojkovac!
Their feat is an historic testimony to our eternal Montenegro!
Source: Government of Montenegro