Summary. The starting point of this article is an overview of controversies that have left a permanent mark on Montenegrin cultural identity, owing to over hundred years of suppression of Montenegrin state and culture and falsification of historical facts. In this vein, we may label the trends in current cultural identity in Montenegro as a process of leaving behind the internal exile that Montenegro s culture had found itself in.
This process also opens up a new aspect of „ new Montenegro”, which is positioned as a new country in the Western Balkans, inside new cultural dynamism and new forms of strategic thinking and culture management, such as transcultural networking. Multiculturality of Montenegrin society offers a wealth of potential for new cultural and artistic practice – for new unions and new identities. The questions how Serbian, Albanian, Bosniak and Croatian identities exist and develop in contemporary Montenegro, alongside each other, and incorporating popular culture and individual creativity, are interesting and challenging directions of this research. The conclusion is that new cultural identities, in their unusual and hybrid cultural forms and lifestyles, shape Montenegro into a unique cultural tradition in Europe.
On the painting ”Flag” by Jasper Johns on the wall of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, it can happen that someone perceives an ordinary image – a mere reflection of the American flag, just as someone else may notice that this is not at all the image of the flag.
The story about exceeding the mimetic principle in the two-dimensionality of the flag / painting of the fifties of the last century brought about the famous question of the identity crisis of art.
The author himself was delighted that one could easily be taken for the other, but also that it was possible to determine easily that one was not the other.
The famous question of the identity crisis of art ”Is it a flag, or is it a painting”, I introduce remembering the long-standing Montenegrin public polemic about the flag as a state symbol. In the debate on flag the Montenegrin public had been stirring for years. Both historians and heralds were included, and counterfeiters historians and heralds and politicians as professional amateurs and artists.
And, behold, in the middle of that long-standing ”Montenegrin-Serbian” debate emerged our painting / flag, flag / painting ”Vučji do” by Rajko Todorović, who ignored the dilemma ”is this a flag or is it painting?” only for one reason – the flag from Vučji do riddled with bullets and sprayed with heroic blood, although it had been kept as a showpiece at the Museum of King Nikola in the Montenegrin royal capital Cetinje, it had
been provoking a politicized subversive question ”Whose flag is this?”. Political frictions lasted equally, so even after the official adoption of the current Montenegrin state symbols in 2004, there was excessive mutual talk back on the Montenegrin-Serbian. From the standpoint of research of both national and cultural identity, it is interesting that even nowadays we encounter many individual and organized, political, media and other phenomena (and especially passions and caprices of fans) in which the official state symbol is replaced with the symbol of another state.
Social and political changes after the fall of the Berlin Wall brought the destruction of one system of values and painstaking establishment of the new one: transition processes – the West as a role-model, the only genuine space of modernity; principles of liberal economy and market capitalism that were popping into the awareness which had become one with the principles of self-management socialism; dictation of pluralism in every place…
In addition, the dissolution of the unified Yugoslav cultural space and Constitution of the Montenegrin cultural space revived again the decades-long suppressed issue of Montenegrin identity.
Viewed through the twentieth century, which was slowly moving away, just as were the streams through which the Montenegrin culture was being historically considered and recognized, such were also the modern development advancements of the Montenegrin culture – volatile and contradictory.
In that respect it could be said that ”Montenegrin or Serbian” is not the only question that was being opened, and which concerned the answer to the ”Montenegrin”, but also the question of Montenegrin institutional capacity was always appearing.
Cultural and identity transition of Montenegro is a complex development process, but not only because of the century-old heritage of the state and identity annihilation and Serbian political and cultural assimilation.
In the eighteenth year of the twentieth century not only the Montenegrin state disappeared, that’s when began the Montenegrin cultural and institutional lagging behind all other nations in the Yugoslav states that followed throughout the twentieth century, ending with the state union Serbia and Montenegro, from which we came out by restoring the state independence in 2006.
So, although the Assembly of Podgorica and the Christmas Uprising are known as the historical points at which at the beginning of the last century the cultural identity and national dignity of Montenegrins were lacerating, the actions and results are related to ourselves – the identity self-betrayal.
Montenegrin or Serbian – hence, is not only a question of culture and identity, or the inadequacy of Montenegrin institutional capacity. This question creates and structures divisions, whose manifestations are culturally deviant and not in line with the spirit of the modern movement.
Lack of institutional capacity of the Montenegrin society, piled up during the course of time, ingrained the phenomenon of granting mentality and inclinations towards paternalism. In principle it could be said that this is about the identity of authentic self-destructive and self-endangered national entity. Abated in self-esteem it eventually evolved into a sort of hybrid of Serbian / Montenegrin split identity. Without going into the analysis of anathematization of Špiro Kulišić and his study ”On Ethno-genesis of Montenegrins” or into the reasoning of starchy phrase about the Montenegrin nation as a communist fabrication, let us recall that writer Mirko Kovač humorously describes this phenomenon of identity schizophrenia as the Montenegrin self-hatred, historian Živko Andrijašević will name it nation with mistake, Milorad Popović writes a study on the divided nation. Let us also say that this hybrid was popularly also called ”two eyes of one head” (Montenegrin idiom expressing tight bond) and that this unique figure of speech was upholding the nationalistic specificity and inseparability of the state both during the nineties of the last century and immediately prior to the Montenegrin referendum for the restoration of state independence.
The same questions spread in an infinite row: do we decide upon the life and the death in Montenegro taking into account the interests of all the Serbian lands? Is Montenegro called thus because it has renounced the Cyrillic alphabet? To whom does Njegoš belong: to Serbs or Montenegrins? And Bishop Rade – divine of the Serbian or of the Montenegrin church? Is our sea Serbian? Who gave us the right to call the language we speak Montenegrin? Did we achieve in Mojkovac epopee the biggest Serbian victory or did we lose the Montenegrin state? How come that the Comintern nation / fabrication can be extended to one thousand years of statehood? And so on… We can make an endless sequence, or reasonably wonder: is it that the nation has no right to both the construction and the artificiality, and to the autonomy without the millennium long foundation?
However, it should be noted that the nationalist ideologies and populist mythologies resorted to changes of nominations of facts and falsifying historical facts for the sake of annihilation of the Montenegrin identity. This ours specific cultural heritage is particularly interesting for the studies of cultural identity.
The questions that were being asked in the passionate iconography of Montenegrin transitional divisions starting from the belligerent nineties of the last century and campaign of the Montenegrin wing of the Yugoslav People’s Army against Dubrovnik, to the picnic demonstrations against NATO under Chetnik cockades and with roasted pork in front of the Montenegrin Parliament in 2016, equally cause the division in replies.
Locating historical falsifications through various manifestations of political action, through social performances and customs, in textbooks, in various media and, finally, also through the quasi-democratic engagements of pluralized society allows us to discern the special iconography and various cultural metaphors by means of which they mask and produce themselves over and over again.
Unfortunately, disclosure and refutation of counterfeits is a lengthy and difficult process. Paradoxically, the process as a rule has for the effect a cognitive shock in the sphere of mentality, as it would be said using the language of anthropologists. Namely, the construction of the historical truth of the Montenegrin national and cultural identity involves deconstruction and re-construction, while it simultaneously incites suspicions and dilemmas about the objectivity of truth which it inaugurates.
Presumably for this reason, the ambiguity, avoiding of the qualifications and cultural relativism have dominated for long time the cultural and political introspection and creative presentation of the Montenegrin cultural identity.
Thus the reversibility and controversy permanently marked Montenegrin cultural identity, and in the depth of political engagements – no matter which national entities were exclusively representing them – though stereotypes grown on all sorts of mythologems and their archaic and retrograde echoes in contemporary social contexts of all kinds are still visible.
Montenegrin institutional dichotomy was marked also by two Academies of Sciences and Arts. One of them, through a gruelling national and cultural transition of Montenegro held the side of Serbian roots and hearths, kept silent and shut eyes to the ongoing social challenges; the other beginning from nothing, but with the political support of the pro-independence Montenegrin politics, was formed by the so-called academics-Dukljani (Docleans), scientifically affirming the millennial Montenegrin national identity, for which reason the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Montenegrin Metropolitanate, Bishop Amfilohije, publicly cursed them in the Christmas missive. In fact, directly and indirectly, the institutionalization of dichotomy of the key historical truths was taking place and in a unique manner the issues of the role, mission and purpose of existence of institution such as the Montenegrin Academy of Sciences and Arts were being raised. Montenegro still lives the same paradox of divisions. No matter how much they are being defeated and deprived of sense in the new state of European provenance, these divisions are arising exactly where there are inabilities to face what we want and can and to recognize what we mean and contribute to our own society, and what we offer the world as a new country.
The New Montenegrin which is being positioned in the new state context of the West Balkans and the Euro-Atlantic family and is changing shape to the absurd of both the stereotypes of the East and stereotypes of the West and all overemphasis of political and hegemonic interests inside and outside of Montenegro.
From today’s perspective, in the post-communist Montenegro and through almost three decades long transition, the internal contradictions of the Montenegrin cultural identity were reaffirmed exclusively in respect of politics.
If we look back at the cultural emancipation of Montenegro during the socialist period, it will be shown to us more with form than content. This fact is proved by the apparently and partly constituted and bureaucratised cultural institutions in ideologized patterns of behaviour, which we inherited from that era. Janus-faced Montenegrin cultural being we discovered during the belligerent and turbulent Balkans and the Yugoslav period, after the dissolution of the Yugoslav cultural space.
Despite the then enviable intellectual and creative critical mass, cultural institutions were not managing to come to grips with new time trials and to simultaneously transform in the spirit of the new European standards.
Today, therefore, upon many of the same institutionally unresolved problems, in addition to insufficient perseverance in pursuing professional ideas, we look with the new questioning also at the new challenges. Small nation and small country are situated in the new cultural dynamism and new forms of strategic thinking and management of culture; in transcultural networking and so on.
When Milan Kundera in ”Curtain” writes about cultural diversity as of a great European value, he does not fail to emphasise that ”the thing that makes the small different from the big is not the quantitative criterion of the number of their inhabitants, but something much deeper – their existence is not self-intelligible reliability, but it is always a question of challenges, risk.. ”, and that they are on the defensive in respect of history which doesn’t notice them nor takes them into account. Fighting for the European ideal, Kundera lucidly recognizes two types of provincialisms: ”There is provincialism of big nations and that of the small nations” and explains that neither of them has the ability to consider their own culture in the large context. From this same definition of both of them, it is easy to conclude that the neglect of aesthetic values puts each culture in provincialism. Therefore the emancipation of the cultural life is important. That is why Kundera repeats so often that the Prague Spring had begun eight years before 1968. And it did so with Ionesco’s plays.
INTERNAL EXILE AND ARTISTIC (RE)CONSTRUCTION OF HISTORICAL TRUTHS AND CULTURAL GOODS
Within the general reconstruction in the Balkans, social, political and economic, which from the year two thousand has been largely awakening interculturality and regional integration, Cetinje Biennial, created in the nineties on the initiative of Prince Nikola Petrović Njegoš ”in order to overcome the one unique isolation of culture of the region” in the fourth edition entitled ”Reconstruction” (as Prince Nikola himself noted: ”Culture instead of policy, creation instead of kitsch”), through the art-shop approach he offered a sort of extension of the European scene through Cetinje event, or fight for the identity of local communities from the broader Balkan and European context… Renewal, re-creation, consideration of the space in which we change and where we’re changed; reconstruction and recreation of historical and architectural – space and time for a cosmopolitan gesture, for the action of the public benefit. Andrej Jerofejev, who took part in the Biennale, wrote: ”It is time for reconstruction. It is time to rebuild the towns and villages, but also and above all – relations between people. Without them the project of the Balkans revival will remain just a beautiful phrase … One might say that the artist today yearns to be of public benefit. He wants and is trying to help even though practically no one is asking him to do so…”
Effects and impacts of the concept of reconstruction of the Cetinje Biennial, although this event has not survived to this day, are equally pulsing. Whether the topic is the Montenegrin architectural heritage, whether in need of recreating our cultural goods of all kinds. Or creating a (multi) cultural capital.
Public sphere and trend of performative intervention in public spaces leads also to the opportunity to create new identities.
Reconstruction lasts. Reconstruction, as the situation is, must be accelerated. There are so many opportunities for impetus and creation, for the reconstruction of places of memories, for the new cultural landscape, for Crvena stijena (Red Rock), for Duklja (Doclea), for the medieval towns, for Filermosa, for socialist-industrial heritage or our non-material multicultural heritage, for the Hussein-Pasha Mosque, or cult of St. Vladimir’s Cross…
And speaking of the latter, we will observe that the challenges of reconstruction can be also deleterious. For example, for several years present the brass church set on top of Rumija disregarding all laws and urbanistic rules, here could be regarded as an expression of true fetishist disavowal of what the Cross of St. Vladimir socially and culturally unites through all of the three religions and all civilisation circles of Montenegro, that which it traditionally marks and offers in terms of multicultural valorisation.
Transitional crisis of cultural identity stretches wide and artistically opens up new critical and ironic discourses and authentic statements.
A kind of rise out of internal exile which characterizes also the modern Montenegrin cultural identity flows, in this essay is mostly related to the performing arts.
From personal experience I’m presenting and witnessing unusual images of identification and understanding for theatrical themes that are only seemingly local or, as it is often theatrically set, of the patriotic and national-sobering character.
The acting performance ”Montenegrini” (Montenegrins) with historical baggage of Montenegrin political exiles broke through the years long cultural isolation on ex-Yugoslav area. In 1998, the Montenegrin National Theatre with it first came on the scene of the Slovenian Youth Theatre in Ljubljana, where it had not been before that moment, then in the National Theatre of wounded Sarajevo, afterwards at the National Theatre in Belgrade, Skopje, in Elbasan, then on the Mittelfest Italy, wherefrom we were returning in the dramatic journey just when from the base of Aviano started the NATO intervention.
”Montenegrini”, who were dragging worm-eaten bags and documents of all the Montenegrin exiles, were carrying from this theatrical journey more understanding with the audience on a universal level, than they had had the experience on stages at home. The unknown historical truth and contemporary political engagement seemed to had been creating ambivalent effect in the audience at home. In the process of making fiction of the factual material, the performance was revealing unknown truths from the lives of Montenegrins in exile, usually patriots from the Italian camps, but also the political leaders of the Government in emigration; ”Montenegrini” testified about the Montenegrins unusually possessed by the film as a new art (Non é resurrezione senza morte – Resurrection does not happen without death, Rome 1922 Sangro movie), which they were using in avant-garde propagandist manner fighting against the disappearance of the state of Montenegro from the political map after the First World War.
During the century-long cultural and national search for identity, there are many intermediary historical figures like ”Montenegrins” (of course, while we admire them we must not forget that Duchamp’s ”Fountain” already back then was changing the art of the twentieth century, and the Russian avant-garde was researching and experimenting by destroying the institution of traditional art) and they are still initiating consideration of our cultural and historical toponyms. At the same time new thematizations and new identities sum up, formed through a cultural transition, all kinds of processes of emancipation and transcultural connectivity.
It’s a known thing: the art is often the first to react to change of the ideological discourse. It often, exactly out of the overt inability to perceive them, anticipates political changes in the image of the world that it creates. The new discourses and new productions often irritate and at the moment aflame and scandalize by what we will all soon in reality accept as always known, what we shall later easily translate into cultural and life routine.
At the same time, subversive and ironic are fulfilling an increasing political engagement both in the art and in the public performative actions. This is the fact, whether it’s about provocative installation of the Albanian artist Albert Het on the building of the former Serbian Embassy in Cetinje with the inscription ”Embassy of the Republic of Kosovo, Cetinje” in 2004, in the framework of the Cetinje Biennial, whether it’s Montenegro Pride in Podgorica, or something else…
Today the multiethnic, multireligious and multicultural Montenegro is awakening its own identity toponyms – and those wrested from the memory a hundred years ago, and those denied to generations after the World War II through the socialist education and a kind of censorship of socialism, as well as the brand new ones, arising from specific cultural values and identifications in the global context.
Obsessive questions of Serbian and Montenegrin cultural identity remain in the sphere of political / party / pluralistic (and often) quasi-democratic mutual talk back. In this mixture new identities inevitably arise, transcending national divisions. How and to which extent are these new cultural identities defined does not depend only on cultural creators but also on public and cultural policies.
And how does, alongside the mentioned Serbian, develop Albanian, what happens with Bosnian or Croatian, and what does happen with the cultural identities grown on the confection of the mass culture or the flexibility of individual creativity, remain very interesting and challenging fields of research.
Minority ethnic groups, or their cultures, proved the organic unity of the Montenegrin state not only through contribution to the restoration of its independence a decade ago. They truly support the Montenegrin multiculturalism as a powerful potential for individualization of identity.
THE NEW MONTENEGRIN – (MULTI)CULTURAL CAPITAL
Cultural identity in its own processuality of model changes and renews, but the sight of it also changes.
Contemporary cultural complexity that we globally live, Euro-Atlantic processes and forces of modernization, consumer and media standardization, processes of transformation of the cultural identity, new forms in all areas of creativity and creative expression nevertheless warn that the preservation of one’s own cultural interest and self-definition of cultural identities is essential in the mutual influences of globalization. It is necessary to preserve the multi-cultural through the respect of the other and understanding specific differences among us. Acceptance of the other in all registers of the distinctive cultural expression is a huge cultural power.
Only with such cultural power shall our genius Njegoš be read, and not nationally retained and traditional dance (Kolo) of the Boka Navy will be seen by who knows which millionth tourist in Kotor, which the Lonely Planet in 2016 put on the first place in the Top 10 cities in the world.
Only in such a context, it is possible to have successful Montenegrin candidacy of Herceg Novi for the European Capital of Culture in 2021… The list of examples is long.
Politics and culture of environmental protection is another possible Montenegrin specificity. This is a relatively new form of activities and self-improvement, which emerged as a creative response to certain destructive pressures of the forces of privatization and capitalist consumerist spirit. Return to the values of nature through the creation of new cultural capital by collaboration of artistic, business, scientific and civil society is reflected in the project of tourism valorisation of the industrial complex of the Solana Ulcinj salt works and natural habitats of birds.
The New Montenegrin is being placed, therefore, in the new forms and new spaces – real and imaginary. For this reason contemporary social and cultural capital lives in the proactive cultural institutions. In addition, a theoretical construction and narration of the ”New Montenegrin” can surely be personalized: Ognjen Spahić, Roman Simović, Senad Šahmanović, Nina Perović, Momčilo Otašević…
The New Montenegrin is establishing new alliances in a multicultural context, new generations are growing up which bring new cultural expressions in books and galleries, on concert and theatre scenes, on the open-air stages, in the new museums and mobile museum programs, in the new film and video art expressions, on the web, in technopolises, in incubators, in the start-ups…
The map of new identities in unusual and hybrid cultural forms and lifestyles is unstoppably formed. Montenegro liberated from identity contradictions and tensions, in which the voice of other cultures can be clearly recognized, is becoming a unique European cultural heritage.
* Radmila Vojvodić, the Rector of the University of Montenegro, is a Professor of the Faculty of Dramatic Art of the University of Montenegro, a theatre director and a drama writer.
She was a member of the Higher Education Council and of the Government Board of the University of Montenegro.
She is the author of the dramas Princess Ksenija of Montenegro (1993), Montenegrini (1998), Montenegro Blues (2005) and Everyman Đilas (2013). The plays bearing her signature have participated and received awards at numerous national and international festivals.
She has received numerous professional and social recognitions and the highest state award – The 13th of July Award (1997).