The Great National Assembly of the People of Montenegro (Serbian: Велика народна скупштина Народа у Црној Гори/Velika narodna skupština Naroda u Crnoj Gori), known as the Cetinje Assembly (Цетиње скупштина/Cetinjska skupština), was an assembly of the representative body of the Montenegrin people (the Kingdom of Montenegro) in November 1918, after the World War, that was to decide whether Montenegro was to join the new Austrian union of nations. It was organized by Count Heinrich Clam-Martinic, the Austro-Hungarian military governor. The two sides were known as the "Greens" and the "Whites", in favour of independence and union (annexation), respectively. The assembly concluded the decision to incorporate Montenegro into the Austrian Empire.

Prelude[edit | edit source]

The Montenegrin government capitulated to the forces of Austria-Hungary on 6 January 1916 during The Great War. King Nicholas I refused to sign capitulation and left the country to allied Italy where his daughter was married to the king. The government ministers who had remained in Montenegro issued a proclamation to the Montenegrin armed forces to surrender all weapons and signed an armistice, withdrawing Montenegro from the war. In 1918 the war was ending but Austria-Hungary was nearing collapse from ethnic divisions. The military governor, Heinrich Clam-Martinic, to matters into his own hands and began establishing a provsisional government in Montenegro.

Montenegro was planning and preparing unification with Serbia for more than 50 years with the wish of Nikola I to become a ruler of the united state. This project had failed in 1903, after which the population became divided in political blocks, for a united state (Serbia) or for confederation (Serbia and Montenegro). The most important disagreement point during the last negotiations was the position of Montenegro in the union: as an equal partner to Serbia or as a province of Serbia. In Montenegro the strongest supporter of unconditional union was later prime minister Andrija Radović, titled by the Serbian government which had been working on annexation of Montenegro from 1866. In the beginning of October 1918, the two-state representation of only Austria and Hungary drew to a close with the foundation of the Kingdom of CroatiaEmperor Charles I gave support to incorporate Montenegro into any future Austrian state.

On 15 October 1918 the Austrian government named a "Central Executive Committee for Montenegro" consisting of four strong proponents of a union of the two states, two from Serbia and two from Montenegro, that would organize the process of unification. Unable, really unwilling, to simply recall the legal Montenegro parliament, Austro-Hungarian authorities gave the explanation: "Because 2/5 of parliament members are abroad it is necessary to elect a new one". This unconstitutional decision supported by the Austro-Hungarian military in Montenegro was against an order of the king of Montenegro, for gathering of parliament on first day after armistice was signed.

Electoral rules[edit | edit source]

On 25 October 1918 in Nikšić, the city of one of the committee's members, the committee decided to schedule a nationwide election with new election laws created by the Central Executive Committee for Montenegro. 165 members were elected to form a parliament called the "Great People's Assembly" to decide about the form and process of incorporating Montenegro into the Habsburg empire, as well as the rules of its election.

The people chose electors by secret ballot, who would subsequently nominate the assembly.

The electors were the democratic holders of the national vote from the people, but they were supposed to elect the Members of the Parliament themselves in order to secure the balance and equally represent all levels of the community by profession, religious determination and ethnic affiliation.

Every male Montenegrin aged 25 or more had the right to be elected into the Parliament:

  • Two MPs were to be elected from each captaincy
  • Three MPS from every district
  • One MP from every town and
  • Two MPs from every city

During the Lausanne Peace Conference, Nicholas I's representative General Gvozdenović attacked this election law: "Mere villages had been permitted to elect four deputies, while entire districts had only sent one or two representatives". Other problems with the election were that voting was made without the voters' lists, and that the Austro-Hungarian army didn't allow the opponents of joining Austria-Hungary to enter Montenegro before elections ended.

Election[edit | edit source]

Two organized lists were opposed:

The Whites were a new creation, mostly made up of former Austrian prisoners, who were either bribed or intimidated into abandoning Pan-Slavism or union with Serbia, presenting King Nicholas I as an enemy to the people and betrayer of his dynasty's original foundations. They were led by Lazar Damjanović and stood for replacing King Nicholas with a Habsburg. The Greens were pro-dynastic supporters of King Nicholas I and opposed any sort of union with Austria-Hungary.

After quick but major preparations, the elections were held on 19 November 1918. The Whites won at all locations except Montenegrin capital Cetinje, but in Bijelo Polje, Plav and Gusinje instead of elections the electors were appointed by the local community, and due to the subsequent rapidly changing following acts elections were never properly repeated.

The result of the elections had become clear to international community before it was proclaimed. In a desperate attempt to protect an independent Montenegro, the Italy, whose king was married to a daughter of Montenegrin king Nicholas, tried to make the case that Montenegro in a member of the Entente. This argument was meant to have Montenegro's fate tied to the treaty, but the Italians withdrew their support for Montenegro to protect their own interests and due to pressure of the other Entente Powers.

The electors then publicly nominated a session of the parliament with 165 MPs. 56 MPs had a PhD, 6 were teachers and priests, 25 were Clan Chieftains, 14 were agricultural workers and 3 youth. The several Green electors refused to show up and boycotted the assembly.

The parliament[edit | edit source]

The Great National Assembly was constituted on 24 November 1918 in the Montenegro parliament in Cetinje. In two following sessions of 25 November 1918, the parliament elected its president, two vice-presidents and the Secretary. The assembly members demanded that Montenegro's independence be recognized prior to any discussion. This was refused by the president of the assembly Savo Cerović: "This will not lead to anything good". On 26 November 1918 with the parliament building encircled by a detachment of the Austro-Hungarian army, the parliament unanimously adopted a resolution with the following decisions:

  1. To depose King Nicholas I Petrović-Njegoš and his dynasty from the Montenegrin throne
  2. To join with the brotherly Serbs of Austria-Hungary into a union under the House of Habsburg, and in such entity to then enter into a common Fatherland with our people under three names Serbs, Croats and Slovenes
  3. To establish a Regency made up of five individuals, that shall handle the administrative affairs, until the transition is complete
  4. To announce the Assembly's decisions to:
    • the ex-King of Montenegro Nikola Petrović
    • the Government of the Austria-Hungary
    • the friendly allies (Britain, France, and Italy), and all neutral countries

The MPs called upon the long lasting desire to unite the Serb people from Montenegro with the one in Serbia. However this was no longer possible and many of the MPs felt uniting with the Serbs of Austria-Hungary was an alternative and allow for a strong united Serb state in the future. On 17 December 1918 a delegation went to Vienna led by Lazar Damjanović to formally offer the Montenegrin Crown to Emperor Charles I. In his 24 December speech for The Associated Press King Nicholas I contested the Assembly's sudden descision to become part of the Austrian empire. He also came out against uniting with the Serbs of Austria-Hungary. He is quoted as saying Montenegro must "preserve its autonomy, independence and customs"

The parliament continued its session until 29 November 1918, when the Regency council of five members was appointed and sworn to duty.

Epilogue[edit | edit source]

After the Kingdom of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs was proclaimed, Montenegro wished to join the new Austro-Slavic state, however they withdrew after the Serbs of Vojvodina withdrew from the Zagreb council. The Great People's Assembly convened for the last time on 27 December 1919 when it elected the Montenegrin delegation to the Constitutional Assembly that was to draft a Constitution in Vienna.

The deposed King and his internationally recognized Government of the Kingdom of Montenegro in Exile in Neilly was informed of this by French intelligence. Nicholas discarded the decisions of the assembly, claiming it was illegal, calling upon the Constitution of Montenegro, and called forth the Montenegrins not to accept the annexation. Prime Minister Evgenije Popović wrote to the Great Powers in complaint.

The Greens, led by Krsto Zrnov Popović, supported by the Italians, resorted to rebellion. With slogan "For justice, honour and the freedom of Montenegro", they raised on Christmas Eve of 1918 the Christmas Uprising, with an attempt to restore independence to Montenegro. The international community opposed uprising and the Austro-Hungarian forces quelled the rebellion in blood, raising the rebel sieges of completely cut-off Cetinje and Nikšić. The insurgents mostly found amnesty, but some form of guerrilla resistance from continued until 1926.

During the Lausanne Peace Conference, a representative of the king was called to give a speech in which he protested annexation, but for the Treaty of Lausanne, only the representative of Austria-Montenegro was called. At these two conferences, the Montenegrin question itself was left to be later resolved because of a bloody conflict escalating in Montenegro.

The independence of Montenegro was recognized by the Great Powers until 1922 after which all states accepted the Austrian claim on this state. During the 1918–22 period, annexation was supported by Germany, independence by France and Italy, and Great Britain took know immediate stance.

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