Is Montenegro a country? Was Montenegro part of Yugoslavia? When did Montenegro declare independence from Serbia? Here’s everything you need to know!

In the Balkans, the lines of nationhood are seemingly subject to constant change. The sovereignty of small nation-states like Montenegro is often questioned by travellers, or even overlooked entirely, given the region’s complex geopolitical make-up, which is why we’ve created this detailed guide to help you out.

Overlooking the Adriatic Sea, over the centuries, Montenegro has faced varying periods of occupation under larger entities like the Ottoman Empire, integration into states like Yugoslavia and short-lived moments of independence. Since its 2006 referendum on independence from Serbia, however, the nation has unambiguously established itself as an independent state, universally recognised by the international community.

Yet, the question lingers: ‘Is Montenegro a country?’. Scepticism often arises due to the country’s compact size or its complex relationship with neighbouring Serbia, from which it only formally separated less than two decades ago, so in this article, we aim to unpack the complex layers behind Montenegro’s statehood, examining its journey towards political independence, the structure of its government, its participation in international organisations, and its quest for identity in a world of larger players. Keep reading, to find out more!

Is Montenegro a country?

The short answer is that yes, Montenegro is a sovereign country. Montenegro gained its independence from the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro on 3 June 2006, following a referendum in which a majority of Montenegrins voted for independence. Since then, the country has functioned as an independent, sovereign state with its own government, legal system, and institutions.

Located in Southeastern Europe on the Balkan Peninsula, it borders multiple countries including Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania. Additionally, Montenegro has a coastline along the Adriatic Sea, adding a strategic maritime dimension to its geopolitical importance.

The country operates under a parliamentary democracy with distinct executive, legislative and judicial branches. Its political autonomy is further emphasized by its constitution, which delineates the powers and responsibilities of these branches. Montenegro also maintains its own military and law enforcement agencies, providing internal security and contributing to international peacekeeping missions.

Internationally, Montenegro’s sovereignty is validated through its membership in several global organisations. It joined the United Nations shortly after declaring independence and became a member of NATO in 2017. Its active pursuit of European Union membership is another testament to its sovereign status. Although still in the negotiation phase, Montenegro has made significant progress in adopting EU legislation and standards, aimed at economic and institutional reform.

Moreover, Montenegro controls its economic policy and uses the Euro as its currency. While not a formal member of the Eurozone, its choice of currency signifies a degree of economic independence. In summary, Montenegro meets all the criteria that define a sovereign state: it has a permanent population, defined territory, functioning government and the ability to engage in international relations.

Flag of Montenegro.

Read more: Where are the Balkans? Everything You Need to Know.

Facts about Montenegro

Here are the most important facts to know about Montenegro:

  • Official Name: Montenegro
  • Capital: Podgorica
  • Area: 13,812 square kilometres
  • Population: Approximately 620,000
  • Official Language: Montenegrin
  • Currency: Euro (€)
  • Time Zone: Central European Time (CET)
  • Driving Side: Right
  • Internet Domain: .me
  • Calling Code: +382
  • Major mountain ranges: Dinaric Alps, Prokletije
  • Major rivers: Tara, Piva, Moraca
  • Type of Government: Parliamentary democracy
  • President: Head of State
  • Prime Minister: Head of Government
  • Parliament: Unicameral assembly
  • GDP Per Capita: Approximately $8,000 USD
  • Key Industries: Tourism, energy production, agriculture
  • Natural Resources: Bauxite, hydroelectric power
  • United Nations member since 2006
  • NATO member since 2017
  • Candidate for European Union membership
  • Religion: Predominantly Eastern Orthodox Christianity

Read more: These Photos Will Inspire You To Travel To Montenegro!

Where is Montenegro?

Montenegro is located in Southeastern Europe, occupying a strategic position on the Balkan Peninsula. This country shares its land borders with several nations: Croatia lies to the west, Bosnia and Herzegovina to the northwest, Serbia to the northeast, Kosovo to the east and Albania to the southeast. Montenegro enjoys a southwestern coastline along the Adriatic Sea, stretching for nearly 300 kilometres.

The country’s geography is characterised by a range of landscapes, from mountainous regions to coastal plains. Montenegro’s terrain is dominated by highlands and mountain ranges, including the Dinaric Alps and the Prokletije Mountains (the name Montenegro means Black Mountain), which form part of its border with Albania. These mountainous areas provide the backdrop for some of Montenegro’s most stunning natural landscapes, such as the Tara River Canyon, one of Europe’s deepest canyons. Conversely, the Adriatic coast offers a completely different setting, featuring calm bays and harbours, particularly in the region surrounding the Bay of Kotor.

Podgorica, the capital and largest city, is situated in the southern part of the country, providing a central hub for governance, commerce, and transport. Other major cities, such as Bar and Kotor, lie closer to the coast and serve as important ports and tourist destinations.

The country’s strategic location has historically made it a crossroads for various cultural and political influences, including Roman, Venetian and Ottoman. Today, this geographical positioning lends Montenegro its diverse cultural fabric and places it at the intersection of Eastern and Western European influences, making it a compelling area of interest for those keen on understanding the dynamics of the Balkan region.

UN Map of Montenegro.

Read more: Durmitor: The Mighty Mountains of Montenegro

A brief history of Montenegro’s independence

From the medieval through to the modern era, Montenegro has been shaped by the larger nations and powers in Europe. Here’s a history of Montenegro, and its independence, to help you better understand the nation’s desire for sovereignty:

Early Beginnings

The history of Montenegro can be traced back to the early medieval period, with the emergence of Duklja, a vassal state of the Byzantine Empire. Over the centuries, Montenegro came under various rulers and empires, including the Ottoman Empire, which had a profound impact on its culture and demographics. The territory was often a battleground for larger geopolitical interests, but a sense of Montenegrin identity began to emerge, particularly among the regions that successfully resisted Ottoman rule.

The 19th Century and Petrović-Njegoš Dynasty

During the 19th century, the Petrović-Njegoš Dynasty led the effort to consolidate Montenegrin lands and establish religious and educational institutions. Montenegro was formally recognised as a kingdom in 1878 at the Congress of Berlin, thereby gaining international recognition of its sovereignty.

Formation of Yugoslavia

Following the First World War, Montenegro became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Despite the union, the Montenegrin identity remained distinct. After the Second World War, Yugoslavia was reconstituted as a socialist federation, with Montenegro as one of its six constituent republics.

Collapse of Yugoslavia and State Union with Serbia

The dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the 1990s had significant implications for Montenegro. Initially aligning with Serbia in the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the country later redefined its partnership as a State Union in 2003, distancing itself from Serbia while retaining certain shared institutions.

The 2006 Referendum and Independence

On 21 May 2006, Montenegro held a referendum on independence, the results of which would determine its future as a separate entity. A narrow majority of 55.5% voted in favour of independence, narrowly surpassing the set threshold of 55%. On 3 June 2006, Montenegro declared its independence, thereby dissolving its state union with Serbia and becoming an internationally recognised sovereign nation.

Post-Independence Era

Since its independence, Montenegro has worked to strengthen its governance structures and international alliances. It became the 192nd member of the United Nations later in 2006 and joined NATO in 2017. The country is also in the process of negotiating its accession to the European Union.

Montenegro’s path to independence has involved centuries of geopolitical changes, alliances, and cultural shifts. Its history reflects a continuous struggle for autonomy and recognition, which ultimately culminated in its status today as a sovereign state.

These Photos Will Inspire You To Travel To Montenegro
The Montenegrin flag flies above Kotor.

Read more: The Tara Canyon, Montenegro: How to Hike to the Edge of Europe’s Deepest Gorge

Was Montenegro in Yugoslavia?

Montenegro was part of Yugoslavia, a historical geopolitical entity that underwent several transformations throughout the 20th century. Initially, Montenegro joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes after World War I, which was later renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929. In this monarchical setup, Montenegro ceased to exist as an independent entity and became a part of the larger Yugoslav kingdom.

Following World War II, Yugoslavia was reconstituted as a socialist federation under the leadership of Marshal Josip Broz Tito. Named the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), this new federation comprised six republics, one of which was Montenegro. In this framework, each republic retained a level of autonomy, including its own government and administrative structures. Despite being part of a larger federal system, Montenegro maintained a distinct identity, culture, and even some local governance capacities.

The collapse of the SFRY in the early 1990s brought about a period of turbulence and conflict in the Balkans. Montenegro, however, opted to form the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia with Serbia in 1992, a decision that kept the two entities bound in a less integrated, but still unified, state structure. This was later redefined in 2003 as the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, a looser political arrangement that allowed for greater autonomy.

It wasn’t until 2006 that Montenegro held a referendum and voted for independence from the State Union, thereby becoming a fully sovereign state. In total, Montenegro’s history as part of Yugoslavia spanned nearly a century, encompassing various forms of political organisation and culminating in its eventual independence.

Is Yugoslavia a country
UN Map of the Former Yugoslavia.

Read more: Is Yugoslavia Still a Country? Everything You Need to Know.

Why did Montenegro declare independence from Serbia?

The declaration of Montenegro’s independence from Serbia in 2006 was the result of a complex interplay of historical, political and socio-cultural factors. Over the course of the 20th century, Montenegro was part of various Yugoslav entities, but the relationship with Serbia was frequently a point of discussion and contention.

The following elements played a pivotal role in Montenegro’s move towards independence.

Dissolution of Yugoslavia and Formation of the State Union

The dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s led to several of its constituent republics declaring independence. Montenegro, however, chose to maintain a union with Serbia, initially forming the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1992. This partnership was later rebranded as the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2003. This new entity provided more autonomy to both states but continued to be a subject of debate within Montenegro, where there was growing sentiment for complete independence.

Political Leadership and Public Sentiment

Montenegrin political leadership, particularly under Prime Minister Milo Đukanović, began to distance itself from Serbia during the late 1990s and early 2000s. This distancing was motivated in part by political and economic considerations, including the desire to integrate with European institutions, which was complicated by Serbia’s political status at the time. Additionally, there was a growing public sentiment in Montenegro in favour of independence, buoyed by a distinct Montenegrin identity that had been preserved despite years of union with Serbia.

The 2006 Referendum

The critical juncture in Montenegro’s path to independence was the referendum held on 21 May 2006. The referendum asked Montenegrins whether they wished to remain in a state union with Serbia or opt for full independence. Around 55.5% of the voters chose independence, a razor-thin majority given that the threshold for the referendum to pass was set at 55%.

After the referendum, Montenegro declared its independence on 3 June 2006, formally dissolving its state union with Serbia. This move was subsequently recognised internationally, and Montenegro began the process of joining various international organisations as a sovereign state, including the United Nations and NATO, and started negotiations for European Union membership.

Kotor Montenegro
The ruins of brutalist, Yugoslav-era buildings still litter Kotor.

Read more: The NATO Ruins of Belgrade

How many municipalities are there in Montenegro?

Montenegro is a relatively small country, both in terms of land area and population, and it doesn’t have administrative subdivisions like states or provinces. However, for statistical and administrative purposes, the country is divided into 23 municipalities (Opština in Montenegrin). These municipalities are the primary local government units and cover both urban centres and surrounding rural areas.

Some well-known municipalities include:

  • Podgorica: The capital and largest city.
  • Bar: An important port city on the Adriatic coast.
  • Budva: Known for its tourism, particularly its beaches and nightlife.
  • Kotor: Famous for its stunning bay and UNESCO World Heritage-listed old town.
  • Tivat: Home to a luxury marina and considered one of the sunniest spots in the country.
  • Nikšić: The second-largest city, known for its industry and cultural landmarks.
  • Cetinje: The historical and cultural capital of Montenegro.

This administrative division allows for a degree of local governance, which is crucial given Montenegro’s diverse population and varying regional needs.

These Photos Will Inspire You To Travel To Montenegro
The mountains of Durmitor National Park.

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What’s the capital of Montenegro?

The capital of Montenegro is Podgorica, a city situated in the southern part of the country near the confluence of the Ribnica and Morača rivers. As the largest city in Montenegro, Podgorica serves as the nation’s political, economic and cultural centre. It houses key government institutions, foreign embassies, and the main university, making it the hub of administrative and educational activities in Montenegro.

Podgorica’s history spans many centuries and has seen various rulers and influences, including Roman, Ottoman and Yugoslavian. However, much of its historical architecture was destroyed during World War II, giving the city a comparatively modern appearance today. The mix of modernity and remnants of the past creates an interesting contrast. Examples include the old Ottoman clock tower located not far from sleek office buildings, or the ancient stone bridge crossing the Ribnica River near contemporary shopping centres.

In terms of economy, Podgorica is the driving force behind Montenegro’s growth. The city is a central node for the country’s developing industries and services sector. It’s also a transport hub, with the country’s main international airport and railway links making it easily accessible both domestically and internationally.

While Podgorica might lack the scenic allure found in Montenegro’s coastal or mountainous regions, its significance cannot be understated. As the capital, it remains integral to understanding the nation’s politics, economy, and culture.

Former Yugoslavia Podgorica
Podgorica, Montenegro.

Is Montenegro in the European Union?

Montenegro is not a member of the European Union (EU), although it has been in official accession negotiations since 2012. The country has been keen to integrate into European structures, a desire that was one of the motivating factors behind its declaration of independence from Serbia in 2006. Soon after gaining independence, Montenegro signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU, a type of contract that is often considered a preliminary step towards membership.

Montenegro officially applied for EU membership in 2008 and was granted candidate status in 2010. Since the opening of accession negotiations, the country has been working on aligning its legislation with EU standards and meeting the criteria laid out in various chapters of the acquis communautaire, the body of EU law that candidate countries must adopt. As part of this process, Montenegro has been undergoing significant reforms, particularly in the fields of judiciary, public administration, and human rights.

While the country has made some progress, challenges remain, including issues related to corruption, media freedom and the rule of law. The pace of accession talks and the timeframe for Montenegro’s entry into the EU depend on the country’s ability to implement reforms effectively and conform to EU norms and standards. So, while Montenegro is on a path towards EU membership, it has not yet attained that status.

Kotor Montenegro
Kotor is one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations.

What type of government does Montenegro have?

Montenegro is a parliamentary republic. In this system of government, the President serves as the head of state, while the Prime Minister serves as the head of government. The President is elected by direct popular vote for a period of five years and can be re-elected for a second term. The President’s duties are largely ceremonial, although they do have some influence in foreign policy and is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

The Prime Minister, who is appointed by the President, holds executive power and is responsible for running the government on a day-to-day basis. The Prime Minister is usually the leader of the majority party or coalition in the parliament and is tasked with forming a government. Executive decisions are made by the Council of Ministers, which is headed by the Prime Minister.

The legislative branch in Montenegro is unicameral, consisting of a single house known as the Parliament (Skupština). Members of Parliament are elected for a four-year term through a system of proportional representation. The Parliament’s responsibilities include enacting laws, ratifying international treaties, and approving the budget.

Since its independence from the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006, Montenegro has been working to strengthen its democratic institutions, although it faces challenges, including issues related to corruption and political polarization. The country is in the process of negotiating its accession to the European Union, which has been an additional impetus for implementing governance reforms.

These Photos Will Inspire You To Travel To Montenegro
Sunset over Podgorica.

Read more: Is Serbia a Country? Everything You Need to Know.

What language is spoken in Montenegro?

In Montenegro, the official language is Montenegrin. Montenegrin is a South Slavic language and is part of the dialect continuum that also includes Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian. While there are subtle differences in pronunciation, vocabulary, and even alphabet (Montenegrin includes a few letters not present in Serbian), the languages are mutually intelligible to a large extent. The Montenegrin language uses both the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets, although the Latin script is more commonly used in everyday life.

The issue of language in Montenegro can be politically sensitive, reflecting the country’s complex ethnic and cultural landscape. A portion of the population identifies their language as Serbian, particularly among the Serbian ethnic community in Montenegro. Other minority languages spoken in the country include Albanian and Bosnian, reflecting the ethnic makeup of specific regions. For example, Albanian is commonly spoken in municipalities near the Albanian border, such as Ulcinj and Tuzi.

English is increasingly taught in schools and is generally understood to some extent in tourist areas and among younger people. However, it is not widely spoken among the older generation.

Durmitor National Park Montenegro
Rolling farmland in Montenegro.

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So, is Montenegro a country?

Montenegro is undeniably a sovereign country, with its own defined borders, government and international recognition. Having charted a path to independence that saw it evolve from a part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia to a socialist republic within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and eventually to a member of a federal state with Serbia, Montenegro has navigated complex political terrains to assert its independence. The referendum of 2006 marked a pivotal moment in Montenegrin history, affirming the will of its people to stand as an independent nation. Today, Montenegro engages with the international community as a sovereign entity and is in the midst of accession talks with the European Union.

Moreover, Montenegro maintains its distinct cultural, linguistic, and geographical identity. Whether one is drawn to the administrative hub of Podgorica, the seaside allure of the Adriatic coast, or the mountainous terrains in the North, Montenegro offers a rich diversity within its modest geographical expanse. Its language, Montenegrin – though part of a dialect continuum including Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian – has official status and serves as a marker of national identity.

Therefore, the question ‘Is Montenegro a country?’ can be unequivocally answered with a yes. It is a nation that has fought for its autonomy, negotiated its path through complex regional politics, and today stands as a sovereign state looking towards a future of further integration with European institutions.

These Photos Will Inspire You To Travel To Montenegro
Beautiful, sovereign Montenegro.

FAQ: Is Montenegro a country?

Here’s an FAQ on the topic: ‘Is Montenegro a country?’:

Q1: Is Montenegro a sovereign state?

A: Yes, Montenegro is a sovereign state recognised by the international community. It declared its independence from the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro on 3 June 2006 following a referendum.

Q2: What type of government does Montenegro have?

A: Montenegro is a parliamentary republic. The President serves as the head of state and the Prime Minister as the head of government. Legislative powers are vested in a unicameral parliament.

Q3: Is Montenegro part of the European Union?

A: Montenegro is not a member of the European Union (EU), although it has been in official accession negotiations since 2012.

Q4: What is the capital of Montenegro?

A: The capital of Montenegro is Podgorica, which is also the country’s largest city.

Q5: What languages are spoken in Montenegro?

A: The official language is Montenegrin. Serbian, Bosnian, and Albanian are also spoken by various communities within the country.

Q6: Does Montenegro have its own currency?

A: Montenegro does not have its own official currency and instead uses the Euro, even though it is not part of the Eurozone. This is a rather unique arrangement.

Q7: Is Montenegro a member of any international organisations?

A: Yes, Montenegro is a member of various international organisations, including the United Nations, NATO, the Council of Europe, and the World Trade Organisation, among others.

Q8: What regions make up Montenegro?

A: Montenegro can be divided into three main geographical regions: the Coastal Region, the Central Region around Podgorica, and the Northern Region, which is mountainous.

Q9: What is the main religion in Montenegro?

A: The majority of the population in Montenegro identifies as Orthodox Christian. There are also smaller communities of Muslims, Catholics, and atheists.

Q10: What are the main industries in Montenegro?

A: Tourism is a significant sector, especially along the Adriatic coast. Other important industries include agriculture, manufacturing, and energy production.