In World War I, Montenegro fought valiantly alongside the allied armies. At that time, King Nikola I Petrovic of Montenegro became increasingly surrounded by advisors and politicians who were plotting the subsequent annexation of Montenegro by Serbia. In a gesture of trust in his Serbian ally, uncharacteristic of his otherwise savvy statesmanship, Nikola made a crucial error in putting much of the Montenegrin army under the Serbian army's high command. This later precipitated large losses of Montenegrin lives. It also contributed to Montenegro's defeat and occupation by Austria, and the subsequent annexation by Serbia.
In 1915, the Montenegrin army won a major battle against the Austrian army at Mojkovac, albeit at an enormous cost of 6000 lives. In this and previous battles of World War I, the Montenegrin army played a crucial role in securing the retreat of the Serbian army to the ports of northern Albania, from where it was transported by boats to the Greek island of Corfu. While the Serbian army and King Karadjordjevic withdrew to Corfu, Montenegro was occupied by Austria. At that point Nikola realized the tragic mistake of not withdrawing his army to Allied territory as had the Serbian King Petar. King Nikola, his family, and several members of the Government fled to Italy, where King Nikola's daughter Elena was Queen.
In 1918, the Serbian king Petar Karadjordjevic, a son-in-law of King Nikola, exploited the chaotic conditions following the end of World War I and his army occupied Montenegro. The Montenegrins initially welcomed the Serbian troops, their allies during the war, in naive anticipation of the reinstatement of their own Montenegrin Government and a larger confederation of south Slavic states -- the first Yugoslavia -- that was in the making. But as the Serbian army's conduct as an occupying force became clear, the enthusiasm quickly turned to revolt.
The Montenegrin revolt culminated in a full-fledged war with Serbian troops after the Serbian-sponsored abolishment of the kingdom of Montenegro and Montenegro's annexation to Serbia. In 1920, the Montenegrin Autocephalous Orthodox Church was abolished in an uncanonical and illegal manner and its property transferred to the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Before the annexation, the political forces in Montenegro favored only a loose confederation with other South Slavic countries, but with full preservation of the Montenegrin national state.
Following the occupation by Serbian troops, the Montenegrin kingdom was abolished and annexed to Serbia and King Nikola was banned from returning to Montenegro. All symbols of Montenegrin sovereignty were forbidden (see The Montenegrin Hat). The Serbian authority in Montenegro, set up in 1918, organized a police-controlled, unconstitutional "Grand National Assembly" (Podgoricka skupstina) that proclaimed the "annexation (prisajedinjenje) of Montenegro to Serbia". These decisions were illegal and in violation of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Montenegro, which was still valid and in effect. Thus Montenegro became the only Allied country in World War I to be annexed to another country after the end of the war. Moreover, following annexation, Montenegro lost its official name and was included in a region of Yugoslavia called Zeta.
The forced annexation of Montenegro by Serbia proceeded despite President Woodrow Wilson's support for Montenegrin independence in his address to Congress of January 8, 1918. See Foreigners on the return of Montenegrin Sovereignty.
The majority of the Montenegrin population opposed the annexation. As a result, two weeks later, on Orthodox Christmas, January 7, 1919, Montenegrins staged a national uprising -- the Christmas Uprising -- against the Serbian annexation.
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www.montenegro.org Last updated on 1 Nov 1997