It would really be a shame if something eminent like Montenegro, which one small people created for more than a thousand years, would be destroyed.
In Southern California lives a spur of the Dynasty Petrović-Njegoš, Princess Milena Petrović-Njegoš Thompson, daughter of Milo Petrović-Njegoš, who was a direct descendant of Rade Petrović, brother of the bishop Danilo. Prince Milo Petrović-Njegoš was born in Njegusi on October 3, 1889 from father Djuro and mother Stane-Čane. He left Montenegro in 1919 and continued for more than a half century all around the world to struggle for Montenegrin rights and renewal of Montenegrin statehood. He did this, according to his contemporaries, bravely and proudly, often dressed in the Montenegrin national costume, which he wore with nostalgic pride. Recently in America has been published a book written by Princess Milena Petrović-Njegoš Thompson, MY FATHER THE PRINCE, which will soon be translated into the Montenegrin language and published by DANU (DUKLJA ACADEMY FOR SCIENCE AND ART).
I recently visited Princess Milena at her home in Santa Ana Heights, a suburb of Los Angeles. I was met on the doorstep by a markedly tall, elegant older lady with a stern appearance, but with refined and restrained manners. However, after initial conversation and with the first smile crossing her face, this stern look disappeared as if it had melted and from her face radiated nobility and warmth. It was clear to me that our talk and interview for Monitor, which she gladly accepted, would flow easily as with people who have known each other for a long time.
First we visited her working room. On the wall hung a huge portrait of her father Milo in Montenegrin national costume, which looks as natural as if he had grown in it. On the wall hung his sword and in the vitrine case is his golden watch and silver cigarette box engraved with his initials and royal crown. Princess Milena showed all this with great pride. She said that his military uniform and other sword had been previously donated to the museum in Dublin.
MONITOR: How did your mother and prince Milo meet and how did they come to marry?
PRINCESS MILENA: My mother Helena Smith was born in England and finished high school there. Before the First World War she moved with her parents to California, where she finished college and got her Ph.D. in psychology. In 1926 she went back to England to visit friends and relatives. She met my future father at an art exhibition in London, where were also displayed some frescos from Montenegro. It was love at first sight. He, as is the custom in England, invited her for tea and very soon they become inseparable. After a few months they decided to come together in California, where they married in 1927.
I was born the next year. They named me after a Montenegrin queen -- Milena. When friends asked from where came such a strange name, my parents said jokingly: that is first part of my father's name MI-lo and the second half of my mother's name He-LENA!
MONITOR: What did Milo do at that time in California?
PRINCESS MILENA: That was a period of economic depression and social crisis in America. My mother was principal of a school, and father tried to organize Montenegrin emigrants in the struggle for Montenegro's right to regain sovereignty. He gave speeches and published articles in various newspapers. My mother supported him with great enthusiasm, because she was quite sure that he was fighting for a right cause. The injustice done to Montenegro brought my father to desperation. He didn't find too much support in America for his activities, and could not find peace of mind here. He traveled to Mexico, even to China. Disappointed and depressed, he returned to Europe in 1930. He spent most of the time in London with his old friends. My mother understood his state of mind and their separation was friendly. They corresponded regularly and retained a good relationship. They considered the possibility, should the opportunity come, that she would return to England with their child to be together again, but this was never realized. Hitler soon came to power and war started in Europe, and this probably contributed that my parents, after ten years of separation, formally divorced.
MONITOR: How did you again establish contact with your father, whom you didn't even remember from your childhood?
PRINCESS MILENA: In spite of suffering because of separation from my father, my mother always talked to me about my father with respect and enthusiasm. When I finished high school, my mother was preparing to send me to Europe to see my father. She didn't want me to go alone and insisted on going with me, which made my father angry and my trip was canceled. That was very difficult for me to accept. Probably the reason was another woman with whom he lived and my mother coming was undesirable. After the death of my mother in 1964 when I was already married, my first husband, Austrian-Hungarian born, showed a lot of understanding and support for my wish to go and finally see my aging father.
That period of waiting and uncertainty brought to me a lot of disappointment, and in one moment of weakness I destroyed all correspondence with my father for which I am today bitterly sorry.
MONITOR: How was it meeting with your father after such a long period?
PRINCESS MILENA: My father left London during the war and bombardment and went to live in Dublin, Ireland, where he owned a big house in which he had an antique shop. He collected art paintings, silverware, crystal and porcelain. Later he moved to a small town on the rocky coast of Connemara above the sea, where he lived alone as a recluse with his two dogs. From time to time he had a helping hand from a young man in the neighborhood that would come to visit the "reclusive Prince", as they called him, and the postman would deliver his groceries.
He met me on the doorstep and after hugging said to me: "I would recognize you if I met you any place!" We sat silently for very long in front of the fireplace. I was so happy to be at his side. Destiny finally wanted me to be with my father, the prince, of whom I was so proud. I had wished so much indeed to meet him. He spoke very little. He would start some story about Montenegro, and then suddenly stop in the middle of the sentence, and waving a hand like he wanted to push away some unpleasant thought, said: "Ah, this is all times out of mind." He wished Montenegro all the best, but he didn't see for himself any place in the new happenings there. When he would again gather some strength and confidence, and obviously he was aware how much was my desire to know each detail from his life, he would tell me about time he spent in a military academy in Russia, where he was preparing to become a colonel in the Montenegrin army. In Russia he was often in the company of King Nikola's daughters, particularly Princess Milica, who introduced him into high society. He had an opportunity to meet even Rasputin when he attended a reception with the Russian empress. He participated in some spiritual séance, which he found to be very bizarre. He was an excellent horseback rider, very often in company with Russian colonels and generals. Sometimes King Nikola would include him in his entourage when he would visit European capitals. The Italian queen, Jelena, a Montenegrin princess by birth, liked her handsome cousin and supported him in difficult times, but after Mussolini came to power, the royal family lost its influence.
My father liked England very much, which treated him in many instances like a member of a renown dynasty, but he liked Ireland the most and felt very close to the Irish people. His best friend, and the only one who stayed with him to the end of his life, was a retired Irish banker, Reginald Miley.
I stayed with my father for only ten days, because I had to go back to school. I was a school principal like my mother, and had received my university degrees from the same university as she had. I had a master's degree in education.
After this first visit I came to see my father more often, sometimes twice yearly. Less and less he was ready to talk and was retreating inside himself. For hours we would walk along the coast with his two dogs, which were always around him. While more than eighty years old his walk was firm and stable. Over the rocks he moved fast, like a wild goat. He always considered himself as a soldier and accepted life as a stoic. Occasionally, when he would be in good mood, he would tell me about the Balkan wars in which he participated and a battle on mountain Lovcen where he was wounded. Sometimes he would show me how to prepare Montenegrin food. Our relation became warm and close.
MONITOR: Did you travel to Montenegro?
PRINCESS MILENA: I talked with my father about a trip, but he didn't encourage me. He was even afraid for me to go. "Over there are now communists," he would tell me.
Finally in 1973 I decided to go and I was elated! That trip helped me to see my father in a new light and myself personally as well. When I told my father that I went to Montenegro, his face lighted up like I had turned on neon lights, but I knew that for him to have to live half a century away from his fatherland had been very hard and painful.
MONITOR: How did you come on the idea to write a book?
PRINCESS MILENA: Even before, but especially after I met my father, I read everything I could find about Montenegro in the English language. I got interested in the history of the Balkan, Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires. I also made notes from conversations with my father and mother about what they remembered, just to preserve that for myself. But after the tragic situation in the Balkans and the appearance of Milosevic, and especially because of the difficult situation in which Montenegro finds itself, I started to think about writing a book. My husband, Malcolm Thompson, showed a lot of understanding, encouraged me, and actually was very helpful, so I dedicated the book to him. The book was written primarily for the American public that does not have much knowledge about Montenegro or the Balkans. My intention was to describe authentically my father's life so that readers could get the correct picture about places, times and happenings which were connected to my father's life. Particularly I wanted to uncover the conspiracy against one small country and to show the struggle of one man to correct that unbelievable injustice and tragedy.
MONITOR: When were you with your father the last time?
PRINCESS MILENA: When I visited him in 1978, after my first husband died, my father was happier than ever to see me. He would seldom leave the house. A car had hit one of his dogs and other one disappeared. Life was very lonely for him without his dogs.
He was thinner, and surprisingly more eager to talk about Montenegro. At that time he gave to me these things that you see here, but his portrait he had sent to me a long time ago. When I said farewell to him he looked more agile and stronger and he was so happy with my visit. "Come whenever you want and stay as long as you want," he said. I felt that now that I was single that I would come more often and stay longer. But all this was an illusion. Two weeks after I returned to California, I got a telephone call from Reginald: "Your father is very ill. He is even refusing a doctor!" The next day I flew to Ireland. I found my father immovable in bed. He could not talk, but he was conscious. I sat on his bedside holding his hand. He passed away twenty-four hours after I arrived. So went the last Montenegrin warrior from dynasty Petrović-Njegoš.
MONITOR: Esteemed Princess, how do you feel about your personally having such different inheritances?
PRINCESS MILENA : Wonderful! I like all three components and would not change anything. My mother was British. I grew up and lived in an "English home" in America with my mother and grandfather under the influence of their culture and tradition. I was born and educated in America and have lived here all my life. Then I married an Austrian-Hungarian born gentleman and moved into a "Continental home", in America, my country. But Montenegro! Well, it is not only the country of my father. It is something special, almost magic. I pray for it, and whenever when I see the title in the newspapers MONTENEGRO, or when I hear it on television, my heart goes up to my throat! I hope that I will live to see her independence even if my father did not. It would really be a shame for our civilization if something eminent that this one small nation created for a thousand years would be destroyed.
* * *
I am paging through copies of papers that the Princess handed me when I left her. From the Bulletin "Montenegrin Mirror" which Milo Petrović-Njegoš published in English in San Francisco in 1931 in the name of the committee for freedom and independence of Montenegro, and his proclamation of the same year in Geneva, I quote: "With you, Montenegrins, I have great hope that our royal crown which was stolen from Montenegro, will be returned, the Crown of Petrović-Njegoš, under which in the old time Montenegrins were led from triumph to triumph, from honor to honor when our country had high reputation and respect from people around the world"!
Here is also his will with his last wishes: "Two houses on Njeguši (village Erakovići) under Lovćen (Vrčanj and Trešnja) and 20 acres of land near Ulcinj which is close to the property of Marko Dragov Petrović I am leaving to my daughter Milena... I want to be buried very privately on the parcel which I purchased in the front of Cathedral St. Mary with ceremony of the Irish Church."
On the day of burial of Milo Petrović-Njegoš, November 22, 1978 under torrential rain and wind, jammed under the same umbrella were present only his daughter Milena and friend Reginald!
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www.montenegro.org Last updated on 18 November 2001