Tag Archives: Montenegro

Montenegro: Land Without Justice

7 Jun


Montenegro was originally the ultimate destination of this trip, with a quick drive-through of Macedonia, Kosovo to visit the Serbian monasteries and ultimate destination Durmitor national park and the town of Žabljak.  But I’m skipping over Kosovo for now because it was the country that left the deepest, and actually most painful, marks on me and after that Montenegro was simply this placid paradise.


Because Montenegro is paradise, at least for someone as in love with high country as I am.  Gorgeous mountains, sparkling cold rivers and lakes, deep forests, great meat and dairy products — Switzerland without the Swiss essentially.  So instead of chilly neat-freaks, you find this land of towering mountains inhabited by this race of smiling Slavic giants…who are so gentle and polite that one finds it almost impossible to reconcile them with the Montenegrins of only a century ago that Djilas describes in his book with such emotional complexity and depth.  One can still imagine certain scenes of  Land Without Justice having occurred in the past in Albania or Kosovo or even Macedonia — of course Afghanistan — but not in Montenegro as you experience it today.  It was, paradoxically, of all the countries I visited, the one most lacking in Balkan male posturing and the weird edgy tenseness it brings.  It was very odd.


I’ve talked about this book a lot because it’s — if not just a literary — a psychological masterpiece.  It describes a society of incredible cruelty and desperation and weaves the simultaneous threads of warmth and pride and love through it so that by the time you’re just one fifth into the book you find that, without realizing it, you’ve suspended all moral judgement of these people and feel only incredible empathy for them, as beings inhabiting not just high altitudes, but the highest, most pathos-soaked peaks of the human condition.  The men are beautiful paragons of manliness and courage and treacherous killers; the women are cruel shrews and sudden swamps of love and tenderness; kin betray kin; a brother stabs his brother in the thigh for the humiliation of being constantly teased by him, so that the bright red blood spurts across the Christmas dinner table, and though they continue to love each other so powerfully they would easily give up their lives for the other, they never speak again; the assertion that the love of a Montenegrin sister for her brothers is above any mother’s is actually an assertion that convinces you; and everyone pursuing with manic drive the one highest emotional satisfaction they know: vengeance.


Below are some selections from the early portions of the novel, when the Djilas clan is establishing a name for itself, while Montenegro is coalescing into something like a modern state and, like everywhere in the Balkans after the Ottomans’ departure, the new governments were exploiting and manipulating the traditions of clan warfare to bring some kind of order to the new society.

Here Djilas writes about his great uncle Marko, an “outlaw,” because they were used to the violent free-for-all that characterized the last few disordered decades of nineteenth-century life in the Ottoman Balkans and were just not used to the authority being imposed by the newly Balkan states’ “governments,” an authority that, as in this case, was often just a settling of old scores by men of the same ilk as the “outlaws.” Here, he describes Marko’s “unmanly” killing – ordered by then Prince Danilo of Montenegro — and how it was avenged by his nephew Aleksa, Djilas’ own grandfather:

“One morning when Marko was awakened, his cave was surrounded. He was lured out by a pledge of truce and met a volley of rifles. The attackers were led by the famous hero and new district captain of the mighty Čorović clan, Alica Čorović. Dying, Marko moved his lips to speak – to curse the treachery or to leave a message – but Akica rammed a rifle butt into his teeth and stopped his last words…

“There was nobody to avenge the dead outlaw… The blood that had been shed might have subsided and been forgotten had not Akica boasted that his cruel deed had been not only official but also an act of personal whim and passion. This has always been possible where authorities are inhuman, and especially so in my country. Then there rose among the Djilas kin a will more savage and indomitable than Akica’s, that of my uncle Marinko’s son Aleksa, my grandfather.

“Two, if not three, years had gone by since the death of Marko, whose personality had caused a new name and new clan to blaze up from the ashes of the humble living and peaceful dying of former serfs. It was spring and Aleksa was plowing the field. His father, Marinko, was tending the flocks in the mountain. Captain Akica Čorović, accompanied by two soldiers, came riding by the field. He stopped his horse and called out a greeting to the lad. Aleksa replied with a murky silence, the only fitting tribute to a murderer. Akica shot back, “Dog, why don’t you respond to my greeting? For I could lay you out to dry as I did your uncle!” The lad left his plowing, hurried back to his mother, and tricked her into believing that his father had sent an urgent demand for his rifle to fight attacking wolves. His mother gave him a blunderbuss from the locked chest. Aleksa intercepted Akica, fired a shattering volley into his chest, and them, with a dagger, carved out pieces of his heart.”


Aleksa then goes on the run too – somehow managing to have a family in the meantime — but eventually is lured into an ambush, equally unheroic and “pabesiko” (Besa-less), by others recruited by the government again:

“Aleksa’s own godfather [they were all soy and koumbaroi too] invited him to a celebration prepared secretly for his death. There, at his godfather’s board, a guest hit Aleksa on the head with a wooden mallet. If they had killed him in a manly way, with a gun and out of doors, there would have been less hatred to remember! But they felled him like an ox. And they threw his body in the middle of the field.

“The authorities in Cetinje had directed the murder; for them not even spiritual kinship was sacred. Many others were tricked in this same manner. Prince-Bishop Njegos had frequently broken his word, though never willingly, but he, at least, had never forced Montenegrins to trample on their most sacred customs. Prince Danilo did not balk at this, and Prince Nikola dispatched his opponents even more silently and without notice. It could not always be so.

“In Montenegro of that time it was not unusual for whole families to be wiped out, down to the last seed. Thus it was decided to destroy the rebellious house of Aleksa Djilas. The murderers of Aleksa set out to kill off all the males in his family. They surrounded his house and called out Aleksa’s younger brother Veljko, who was brave and fast with a gun, and therefore they feared him. Veljko, unsuspecting, came out and was met with a volley of rifle shots. Though wounded, he slipped away in the dark through the bullets and the kives. Aleksa’s oldest son, Mirko, a lad of twelve, fled through the window. The middle son, Lazar, lay hidden by his mother in the manger hay. Aleksa’s father, Marinko, bent and deaf from old age, was innocently warming himself by the fireplace when the murderers broke in and killed him by the hearth. His blood fed the flames and his body was burned. My father, then a year and a half old, was in the cradle. As a murderer swung his knife, one of my grandmother’s kin, who was among the attackers, caught his arm. “It would be a sin – a babe in the cradle!” [That was a sin; and like I said, they were all soy and koumbaroi] And so my father lived. No one touched Stanojka, the oldest child, who was fifteen and had just come into maidenhood; it was not the custom of Montenegrins to take up arms against women.

“The house and the cattle were plundered. The family was left on the bare bloody rock.

“Aleksa’s head had to be rescued, for according to beliefs of that time, a retrieved and preserved head was like the retrieving of one’s honor and pride, almost as though a man had not been slain. None dared except Aleksa’s daughter Stanojka to go and bring the head, to keep it at least from being gnawed by the dogs or dishonored by enemies…

“This land was never one to reward virtue, but it has always been strong on taking revenge and punishing evil. Revenge is the greatest delight and glory. Is it possible that the human heart can find peace and pleasure only in returning evil for evil?”

MontenegroBIMG_0344 2(click)

And Stanojka is only one of the many women who display not only more physical courage than some of the men in the novel, but greater ethical courage as well.  The following passage occurs during WWI and the Austrian invasion of Serbia and Montenegro, when the Montenegrins ripped the invading Austrian army to shreds, just before doing the same to the retreating Serbian army the next year; Montenegro’s “now-I-love-you-now-I-don’t” relationship to Serbia is a difficult and complicated one for me to comprehend and — I admit, as a Serbophile — one that makes me kind of angry.  I was surprised by the passions it still generated there — that, yes.

“As in every criminal deed and dishonor, there sounded out deep from the masses a humane voice, alone among the thousands, but noble and unforgettable. There was a woman, a Montenegrin, who had no more pity for the Austrian army than the rest, but who sorrowed at the human suffering of soldiers in a strange land. She drove her husband, who had taken some soldier’s boots away from him, to find the poor man and restore them to his bare and bleeding feet. She said she did not want the curse of a martyred soldier’s mother to overtake her children. Spare and bony, all bent and sucked dry, she stood before her country and her people, great and pure. Human conscience and compassion are never stilled anywhere, not even in Montenegro in moments of drunkenness from holy hatred and righteous revenge.”



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Al Jazeera — After the Floods, Unity and Compassion…yeah.

20 May


Sorry to be the grinch here, but it’s always just a little too late, isn’t it?  This is the flip-side of the: “we all lived so happily together before — I don’t know what happened…” that people love to mumble when the actual slaughtering has started and has picked up speed: “We all lived so happily together.”  Then when it’s all over, hundreds of thousands have been killed, hundreds and thousands have been displaced, centuries-old communities, their cultures, traditions, ways-of-life been lost forever — we’re all “Unity and Compassion” — “Brotherhood and Unity.”

Shouldn’t be too churlish about it.  But it’s Khaled Hosseini, the Afghan writer, who writes in his “A Thousand Splendid Suns” that: “It seems axiomatic in human behavior that no man regrets the damage he’s done until it’s so great that it’s irreparable.”  So, haydi, go clean up your mess together now — literally and figuratively — and stop making such a fuss of how “humanitarian” or “soulfully generous” it is of you to be helping each other out.  ‘Cause it makes me laugh – the icing on the cake of the destruction you wrought.

And readers, see previous posts to see how you can help all the flood-stricken countries that were once part of the noble experiment of a place called Yugoslavia.


After the Balkan floods: Unity and compassion: The Balkans floods have unleashed an unprecedented humanitarian response that cuts across borders.

During the last week, countries in the Balkans have experienced extremely heavy rain – the amount of rainfall expected over the period of three months, fell on the region in only three days, bringing about catastrophic floods. The rain has stopped, but the force of water has caused horrific destruction. Bosnia and Serbia have declared a state of emergency, and flooding has in recent days also reached eastern parts of Croatia. Entire cities are submerged. The map of the flooding shows that large parts of Serbia and a third of Bosnia and Herzegovina are under water; a territory larger than Slovenia is currently flooded. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, more than a million people live in the affected areas.

Consequences of the floods

The floods have caused not only infrastructural destruction. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced across the region. Al Jazeera Balkans has reported that over 16.000 people have been evacuated in Serbia, 10,000 in the Bosnian town of Bijeljina alone, and hundreds in Croatia. The number of victims has still not been released. As the water recedes, it is expected that more bodies will be found and the death toll will rise.

The rains have brought not only flooding, but also landslides. The poorest are often the ones who are hit the hardest during natural disasters, and this one was no different. It is heart-breaking to see that the people who have been rebuilding their houses after the war have now lost everything again. Entire villages in Bosnia have been buried due to landslides and there is nothing but the rooftops emerging from the ground to testify that these places were once inhabited. More than 200 active landslides have been identified in the eastern part of Bosnia.

The water has also inundated minefields in Bosnia, a remnant from the 1992-1995 war. The unexploded devices are likely to become a problem during the clean-up. Economic losses and health consequences are also a concern. Thousands of hectares of agricultural land in Bosnia and Serbia have been flooded, which will have an imminent impact on food distribution and prices this year. In the future, recovery of agriculture in these areas will likely be a challenge, as the soil has been contaminated by the flood water. The disaster is also expected to have epidemiological consequences, due to the shortage of clean drinking water and medicines.  

Finding unity in the face of disaster

Although the destruction and loss brought by the floods have caused much pain and suffering across the region, the citizens’ voluntary mobilisation has been overwhelming. Images of this disaster have motivated thousands to join the relief efforts by donating, collecting the essentials, and distributing food, water and medicine to the affected people. The response has served as an example of unity, solidarity and humanity.

In Serbia, thousands of volunteers have joined the police and army in building barriers which have prevented the river Sava from overflowing in the town of Sabac. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, although the politicians still remained in their respective areas, rescue troops and rafting teams crossed the real and imagined borderlines, going from Bihac to Doboj, and from Foca to Zenica, in order to help their fellow citizens, regardless of their ethnicity or political party affiliation.

Soldiers in both countries have been working around the clock for days to help with the evacuation, food, water supplies and shelter. Students and youth organisations in Bosnia have organised volunteers to assist with the clean-up. On May 18, 500 students went from Sarajevo to help with recovery of Maglaj, Zavidovici and Olovo. Buses, trucks and essential aid have been provided by local transport companies and private businesses.  

Hotel owners have provided free accommodation for the displaced. Initiatives of private individuals have also sprung up on social media; people throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina have offered through Facebook, shelter to those who have lost their homes. Diaspora in Europe and abroad immediately responded with contributions. Convoys of humanitarian assistance collected by Bosnians, Serbs and Croats living abroad are waiting to cross the borders and reach affected areas.

Regional solidarity at this time of need has been just as heart-warming. Neighbouring countries have sent rescue teams and humanitarian assistance. The solidarity which has emerged from the disaster has been uplifting. After the 1990s war and 20 years of hate speech, humanity still prevails. Montenegro has put all their resources at disposal of Bosnia and Serbia, and Macedonia has sent in rescue teams, humanitarian and technical assistance. In just one day, citizens of Macedonia collected more than $60,000 for Bosnia through humanitarian phone lines. Croatia, whose border towns have also been flooded, declared that, together with Serbia and Bosnia, they will apply for European Union funds for the post-disaster recovery, in order to assist the three countries in dealing with the consequences.

In Bosnia, the United Nations has given $400,000 in financial assistance for relief efforts and EU Forces have assisted rescue work in the country. Rescue teams from Slovenia, Luxembourg, UK, Austria and Russia have also joined in.

What can you do?

The disaster has caused terrible floods, and our neighbourhoods, villages and towns have been completely submerged. Livelihoods and homes have been completely destroyed. As we await another wave of floods, we take refuge in the humanity, empathy and solidarity we have witnessed so far at home and abroad. It will take years, and billions in financial aid, for Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia to recover from the disaster. Funds will be needed for medical treatment, clean-up and sanitation of the affected areas and re-building of both houses and lives.

There are various ways to help and get involved, either by actively assisting those in need, if you are in the area, or through donations. Many reputable organisations have opened accounts for this purpose, including the Red Cross Bosnia, Red Cross Croatia,  Red Cross Serbia, Novak Djokovic Foundation, Government of Serbia, and Association Pomozi, just to mention a few. Please visit their websites and contribute what you can, or at least – help spread the word.

Lana Pasic is an independent writer and analyst from Bosnia and Herzegovina. 


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Maria Todorova and “A Falcon drinks water from the Vardar”

2 May

I wrote in “A Falcon drinks water from the Vardar”: Good-bye to Macedonia”  that:

“The six simple lines of this beautiful Macedonian song:

A falcon drinks water from the Vardar.
Oh Jana, white-throated Jana.
O falcon, hero’s bird, Have you not seen a hero go past?
A hero go past with nine heavy wounds?
Nine heavy wounds, all from bullets.
And a tenth wound, stabbed with a knife.

…encapsulate all you need to know about the Balkan cult of blood and tragic masculinity, which is the root of everything horrific you’ve read and heard about the region, yet, fortunately — or unfortunate, at least,  for those who, as they say, can’t hold two contradictory ideas in their heads at the same time — the foundation for everything so stunningly beautiful about it.”

imagining the balkans

Maria Todorova, the Bulgarian historian, writes in her Imagining the Balkans, a book which does for the Balkans what Said’s Orientalism  did for the Arab Middle East, that — I don’t have the book with me, this is a very rough summary and paraphrase — the West’s constantly describing the Balkans as “male” is one of the primary ways of exoticizing it and stigmatizing it as inherently violent and backwards.  She’s right.  I want to avoid that.  And yet, it’s hard.

(Click on all photos.)

Men in Montenegrin cafe, date unknown.

Montenegrin men in cafe

Traditional Montenegrin male costume, all red and gold braid — I’ll find a color one.IMG_0409Men in traditional costume in Cetinje, Montenegro’s old royal capital – date unknown — and traditional coffeehouse in Cetinje.IMG_0535


Žablak, Montenegro, the town kafene today.


FK Rudar Pljevlja won the first double in the four-season history of Montenegrin football, with their three trophies also making them the young nation’s most successful club.



Serbia’s water polo team at London Olympics 2012.

3511340708_6831b076e3_o copyThe Montenegrin team.

London Olympics Water Polo Men

The cover of Said’s Orientalism contained a detail from the 19th-century painting The Snake Charmer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904) — painting used on first edition of Said’s book. (Click)


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Montenegro: Baptized in the Tara

2 May

Τό’χα τάμα.  I had promised myself I’d do it.  The river and the canyon are spectacular.  Like an idiot I dove right in and got the most vicious ice cream headache in the world in one second flat.  I could only bear about two more minutes in the freezing waters.  But I never felt cleaner in my life.

IMG_0362 IMG_0357 IMG_0358(click on all)

Unfortunately, the bridge over the beautiful river is pretty ugly, since Montenegro isn’t in the European Union and can’t get a zillion dollars from Brussels, so they can pocket half of it and then hire Santiago Calatarava to build them some spectacular eagle span across the canyon with whatever’s left.  Like Greece.


Note: I’m still in Montenegro but will be jumping back and forth between countries, so expect “redux” posts on Macedonia and Kosovo.

The Tara canyon — the river barely visible — from further up on Durmitor (click).


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Off to ex-Yugoland

25 Apr


Ochrid, Macedonia

This was the summer that I would finally do it.  Me and a friend are off for a two-week tour through Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro.  (And yes, we’re calling it Macedonia and if anybody has a problem with that….emmm…tough shit; don’t read this blog.)  This is effectively the second leg of my journey; the first part was a visit to the monastery of Hilandar on Athos.  If I have the time and money I may do a Sarajevo to Belgrade run later in July.

I think you have to understand the degree to which I’ve saturated myself in everything about this part of the world for twenty-five years to understand my excitement.  When we crossed the border into Macedonia last night I nearly pissed on myself.  If you want to come with me on this trip in spirit you’ll get your hands on Rebecca West’s Black Lamb, Grey Falcon, a book written about her trips through Yugoslavia in the 1930s that is so by far the best, most perceptive, most loving book ever written by a Westerner about the Balkans that it might as well be the only book ever written by a Westerner about the Balkans.  Everybody I know in New York rushed out and bought it in the nineties because it was getting touted everywhere as the thing to read in order to understand the Yugoslav wars, and then dropped it about a quarter — if that far — of the way through because they decided it was too pro-Serbian — Western liberals generally liking to have their preconceived notions about places they don’t know shit about validated for them.  The reason I’ve inhaled all 1,100 pages of this book about four times is best expressed in Christopher Hitchens’ brilliant introduction to the 2007 re-edition, Hitchens being one of the only intellectuals of our time to understand the brilliance of West’s mind, and the complexity and depth of her thought about not just Yugoslavia or the Balkans, but about masculinity and gender, war and pacifism, nationalism, fascism, anti–semitism, and just about all else:

“She never chances to employ the word, but Serbo-Croat speech has an expression that depends for its effect not on the sex lives of humans, but of animals. A “vukojebina” – employed to describe a remote or barren or arduous place – literally a “wolf-fuck,” or more exactly the sort of place where wolves retire to copulate. This combination of a noble and fearless creature with an essential activity might well have appealed to her. The term – which could easily have been invented to summarize Milovan Djilas’s harsh and loving portrayal of his native Montenegro, Land Without Justice – is easily adapted to encapsulate a place that is generally, so to say, fucked up. This is the commonest impression of the Balkans now, as it was then, and West considered it her task to uncover and to praise the nobility and culture that contradicted this patronizing impression.


Sveti Naum39628346Sveti Naum, Ochrid (click)

(You’ll also find yourself a copy of Djilas’ stirring, disconcertingly moving book as well.)

Land without Justice

I’m getting a good connection almost everywhere, but I may not have time to write a lot in the next few days — you’ll probably get some photos with quotes from West — because we’ll be on the road a lot.  But next week we’re anchoring for five days on Durmitor in Montenegro, near a town called Žabljak, apparently the highest inhabited village in the Balkans, and then I’ll probably have time to write some.  Till then…

Ochrid, Easter Friday 2014


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Besa: A Reader Responds…

14 Apr

Besa: A Code of Honor  (November 20th)

“Niko I have long wanted to leave a comment about this post. I believe that what the Albanaians did for the Jews in sheltering them from the Nazis was courageous, noble and just. And besa is at its roots a tribal, and to a lesser extent, islamic code of honor. You mention Afghanistan-there is in Pashtunistan what is known as the Pashtun code Pakhtunwali which also purports to protect an accepted guest. Pakhtunwali is also tribal and islamic. Was it not this same code that protected Osama Bin Laden after his escape from Tora Bora? Is that same code rightly honored in one instance and rightly deplorable in another? Just a thought…”

NB: It is the same code Rafa.  No, I personally, at least, do not think it’s deplorable in one case and not the other. Honor is absolute, absolute by definition.  For me, the word itself means”no-exceptions”; otherwise it’s not honor. Whether we like its consequences or nor or whether it gets “honored” more in the breach or not is another question.  Those Pashtuns didn’t have a choice.  And you know who to talk to that’s most likely to agree: the American servicemen that were up there.


The Проклетије (Prokletije) or Accursed Mountains, that separate — or more likely unite — northern Albania, Montenegro and Serbia.  (Click, for sure; it’s a huge file and it’s gorgeous)

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Nole takes Murray down — finally

14 Oct

“Vengeance – this is a breath of life one shares from the cradle with one’s fellow clansmen, in both good fortune and bad, vengeance from eternity.  Vengeance was the debt we paid for the love and sacrifice our forebears and fellow clansmen bore for us.  It was the defense of our honour and good name, and the guarantee of our maidens.  It was our pride before others; our blood was not water that anyone could spill.  It was, moreover, our pastures and springs – more beautiful than anyone else’s – our family feasts and births.  It was the glow in our eyes, the flame in our cheeks, the pounding in our temples, the word that turned to stone in our throats on hearing that our blood had been shed.  It was the sacred task transmitted in the hour of death to those who had just been conceived in our blood.  It was centuries of manly pride and heroism, survival, a mother’s milk and a sister’s vow, bereaved parents and children in black, joy and songs turned into silence and wailing.  It was all, all.”

Land Without JusticeMilovan Djilas


“Resilient Djokovic SLAMS Murray”


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Serbia Wins Bronze

12 Aug

But against Montenegro, a sad victory.  And Italy played like they did against Spain in the Euro final (or like they fought in WWII), so now we have to put up with the Croats’ gloating for an eternity.  See: “History has made lawyers of the Croats, soldiers and poets of the Serbs. It is an unhappy divergence.” — Rebecca West.

Serbia’s Filip Filipovic reacts after scoring on a penalty against Montenegro goalkeeper Milos Scepanovic, back, during the men’s water polo bronze medal match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)


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“History has made lawyers of the Croats, soldiers and poets of the Serbs. It is an unhappy divergence.” — Rebecca West

10 Aug

This is a disaster…and infuriating!  “This is another revenge for what they have done to us during the war,” said Mate Bacic, a Croatian fan in the nearby ancient Croatian city of Dubrovnik. “We are defeating them in peace.”

Croatia beat Montenegro in the Water Polo semi-finals, 7-5.  Italy beat Serbia 9-7.  Not staggering losses, but losses nonetheless, which means that Croatia will get the silver, possibly gold!  And the most infuriating thing is the Western medias repetition of the same lame cliches at the end of AP piece: Serbo-Montenegrins blamed, without examination, as the villains and the quote from the mean, whiney, vindictive Croat: “This is another revenge for what they have done to us during the war…” — playing the role of peace-loving victim, getting away scott-free with his own crimes, which include starting the war itself.

No Serb, even Montenegrin, would have made a statement to a journalist so smugly vengeful and niggardly and bitter.  He may have smashed a few things or pulled a knife or punched somebody out, but never copped that hypocritical  “wasn’t-me” pose of innocence.

And now we have to watch what would always have been the painful game between Serbia and Montenegro tomorrow for only the bronze.


Published August 10, 2012

Associated Press

KOTOR, Montenegro –  When the Red Sharks lose, Montenegro mourns.

The water polo team of this tiny Adriatic Sea country, the pride of Montenegrin sports, lost 7-5 to Croatia, its wartime Balkan adversary, in the Olympic semifinals Friday, triggering despair in the ancient walled city of Kotor.

“This is a disaster,” Mladen Martac said as he watched the game at the Vardar cafe in the city center. “If it was football, basketball, or some other sports, it would hurt … but this is water polo, our beloved game.”

Montenegro reached the semifinals at the London Olympics along with Italy and two other former Yugoslav republics, Serbia and Croatia. Serbia faced Italy in the other Olympic semifinal later Friday.

The quarterfinals demonstrated the region’s power in water polo. Montenegro, population 625,000, beat Spain, population 47.2 million. Croatia, 4.7 million, beat the U.S, 312 million. Serbia, 7.3 million, beat Australia, 22.6 million.

Many doubted that after the bloody 1990s breakup of Yugoslavia, which won three Olympic water polo titles, the states that emerged could carry on the glory of the old communist country.

But many were wrong. Serbia has won three world and European championships since 1991. Croatia has captured one world and one European title in that time. Montenegro won the 2008 European crown.

The phenomenon of water polo dominance is nowhere more striking than in Montenegro, a picturesque southern European country nestled between pristine rocky mountains and the turquoise of the Adriatic.

Out of 13 Montenegro players on the Olympic roster, 12 come from two small coastal towns, Kotor and the summer resort of Herceg Novi, on the border with Croatia, where water polo grounds are cordoned off in the waters that dot nearly all villages.

On Friday, old wooden goalposts and plastic line markers swayed in the hot breeze and the waves of the Adriatic.

“It’s real rarity that so many world-class players come from such a small area inhabited only by some 60,000 people,” said Dusan Davidovic, a former player for Primorac Kotor, the 2009 European club champion.

He attributed the success to the “old Yugoslav water polo school.”

“That’s the school of improvisation, fitness and discipline,” he said, adding that the tradition of tall and muscly Balkan men has something to do with it.

“The ex-Yugo teams play with a lot of contact,” he said, describing a sport that often includes brutal underwater wrestling unseen above the surface of the water, and to referees.

War broke out in Croatia after it declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, and 10,000 people died in the conflict. Montenegrin troops took part in the fighting around the walled city of Dubrovnik.

Lingering rivalry among the former Yugoslav republics is perhaps best seen in water polo, which triggers national pride and emotion.

“This is another revenge for what they have done to us during the war,” said Mate Bacic, a Croatian fan in the nearby ancient Croatian city of Dubrovnik. “We are defeating them in peace.”


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Montenegro and Serbia advance to semis!!!

8 Aug

And the closer each team gets to medals, the more I dread the emotion of the game between them…

Montenegro’s Drasko Brguljan (R) and the bench celebrate a goal against Spain during their Men’s Quarterfinal water polo match during the London 2012 Olympic Games August 8, 2012. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

(From Reuters)

By Sarah Young

Aug 8 (Reuters) – Gold-medal favourites Serbia joined their Balkan neighbours Montenegro in the semi-finals of the Olympic water polo tournament on Wednesday, after staging a decisive turnaround in the second half of their match against Australia.

Serbia, who won their group and were playing the lowest seed from the opposite pool narrowly avoided a huge upset. They trailed Australia right until the final four minutes of the match, before winning 11-8.

Montenegro beat Spain 11-9 in an earlier quarter final clash to book into the semis, giving the country a shot at winning its first Olympic medal as an independent nation.

“I was afraid,” admitted Serbia’s Filip Filipovic said of how he felt when they were behind, but he said he took confidence from the team’s ability to turn the match around.

“I think that this team showed spirit. When we play badly like in the first two quarters, we can rise up again, and we can play the most beautiful water polo.”

The team roared back to life in the second half of the match with a torrent of goals from their three top scorers, Andrija Prlainovic, Filipovic and captain Vanja Udovicic, in a display which saw Serbia’s famed defence recover to put a stop to Australia’s run.

Filip Filipovic — scored three goals to pull Serbia ahead over Australia, and into the semifinals

Serbia, who won bronze in Beijing, have spent the past four years on a roll, winning every major title on offer and are favourites to win the tournament after an unbeaten run so far.


Montenegro cruised through the middle periods of the game before letting a four-goal lead slip in a tense fourth quarter as Spain capitalised on their extra-player situations.

Montenegro narrowly lost out on the bronze to take fourth place in Beijing, when it competed in its first Olympics as an independent country since it separated from Serbia in 2006.

“I don’t want to be one more time fourth, I want to take a medal. It’s very important for us to take a medal,” Montenegrin captain Nikola Janovic said after the win.

The team was cheered on in the stands by Prime Minister Igor Luksic earlier on in the tournament, who spent his holiday in London watching the country’s teams compete in water polo and handball, such is his desire for a medal for Montenegro.

“We must be a little crazy. It’s the moment. It’s one moment (of) inspiration,” said Janovic when asked how his team will win their next match and guarantee a shot at the gold medal.

Nikola Janovic of Montenegro

Montenegro will play either Croatia or the U.S., who meet in a quarter final match later on Wednesday, in the semi-finals scheduled for Friday, while Serbia will meet either Hungary or Italy.

The Serbians have already overcome defending champions Hungary, looking to win a fourth consecutive Olympic gold, in the group stages.

“Doesn’t matter. Semi-final, tough game, everybody comes here to win,” Serbian coach Dejan Udovicic said when asked which team he would rather meet in the semis.

The former Yugoslav nations of Montenegro, Serbia and Croatia all play a similar style of water polo, which has to date help them dominate at this year’s Games.

For Spain, who last got a medal in the water polo in 1996 when they took home gold, the loss was a painful repeat of 2008, when they were also defeated in the quarter-finals. (Editing by Alison Williams)


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