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Sekula Drljević (Serbian Cyrillic: Секула Дрљевић; 7 September 1884 – 10 November 1945) was a Montenegrin lawyer and politician who collaborated with both the Italians and Germans during the Axis occupation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia during World War II. [1]

His political views and ideological aims ranged wildly and changed frequently during his career in politics. Initially a proponent of Serb unification, Drljević later founded the pro-Green Montenegrin Federalist Party that supported Montenegrin sovereignty during the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, only to eventually end up as the figurehead of the Italian-run Montenegrin fascist puppet state created by the Axis forces in 1941. Later during World War II, Drljević served for the fascist Croatian Ustashi in hopes of forming a militia force that would influence matters on the ground in Montenegro where a chaotic battle was raging. After the war, Drljević was accused of war crimes and Nazi collaboration, as well as being responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people.[citation needed]

In 1937 he altered some of the lyrics of the popular Montenegrin folk song, "Oj, svijetla majska zoro" ("Oh, the Bright Dawn of May"), stripping it of the references to the Serb identity of Montenegrins. He published his version in 1944 under the name "Vječna naša" (Eternal Our...). Sixty years later, Drljević's version of the song was adopted by the ruling DPS-SDP coalition of Milo Đukanović as the national anthem of modern Montenegro on 12 July 2004 as "Oh, the Bright Dawn of May", although a few of his lyrics where slightly altered due to popular demand.[citation needed]

Early life[edit | edit source]

Drljević was born in Ravni village, Kolašin Municipality near Morača, Principality of Montenegro on 7 September 1884. He completed elementary education in his village and then went to Sremski Karlovci in Austria-Hungary where he finished his secondary studies at the famous Serbian Karlovci Gymnasium. He then moved on to Zagreb, also within Austro-Hungary, where he enrolled at the University of Zagreb Faculty of Law. After graduating, he continued with post-graduate studies and soon also earned a Ph.D. (doctorate)[citation needed]

Career in politics[edit | edit source]

Principality/Kingdom of Montenegro[edit | edit source]

After getting appointed to the post of justice minister of the Principality of Montenegro on 2 April 1907, 25-year-old Drljević moved back to Montenegro in 1909, thus starting a political career and becoming one of youngest Montenegro's political leaders. He held the post until 24 January 1910. In 1909 named the Minister of Justice by the cabinet of the True People's Party, as well as the representative of Education & Church Ministry in the Government of Montenegro. From 6 June 1912 to 25 April 1913 he was both a Minister of Finance and Construction in the national unity government.[citation needed]

After that, at the 1913 elections, he was elected into the National Assembly of the Kingdom of Montenegro as an independent. An outspoken enemy of the Ottoman Empire and supporter of closer relations and union with the Kingdom of Serbia, he was a chief proponent and planner of Serb unification after the kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro got a common border after the Balkan wars since 10 February 1914. On the eve of the First World War, Drljević was the representative of the radical line demanding immediate and outright war with Austria-Hungary after it declared war on Serbia. He was a fierce opponent of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy ever since it annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina, which had a Serb majority. In his The Struggle for Monetary, Martial and Diplomatic Union of Montenegro and Serbia work from 1914, he unveiled first detailed plans for a "peaceful unification of Montenegro with Serbia".[citation needed]

After Essad Pasha surrendered the city of Shkodër to Montenegrin and Serbian forces in April 1913 at the end of the First Balkan War, Drljević paid a visit to Belgrade as part of an honorary diplomatic initiative. Holding a speech at the event, he reminded the gathering of "..the darkest Turkish tyranny over the Serb people, forcing them to celebrate Easter of its Serbian God and its Serbian birth while hiding in caves.." and "..the epic honour of Serb weaponry in the great war, the epic victories at Kumanovo, Bitola and Edirne." "It need not be proven that this sweet new proof of the honour of Serb weaponry and Serb heroism...To Serb heroes and to the people its the foundations of its heroism, and let those foundations be the basis of a great union, the one so long wanted, which will be the groundwork of a greater Serbian state"[citation needed]

On 19 July 1914 in the Serbian National Assembly of the Kingdom of Montenegro MPs discussed the declaration of war of Austria-Hungary on the Kingdom of Serbia and decided that Montenegro should immediately stand by Serbia's side, all of which Drljević vehemently supported. His speech: "To only make a statement of solidarity with Serbia would be an insult to the unity of Serb Kingdoms, as well as to the united defense of Serb interests. The Monarchy is not only attacking Serbia, but also attacking the unification of Serb lands into a single Serb state. Both Serb kingdoms are now one and the Montenegrin people shall fulfill their duty, sacrificing everything for the fatherland and for the salvation and unification of Serbdom...I only regret that that Law has not yet created such article, which defines that the declaration of war on Serbia automatically draws upon a declaration of war from Montenegro. But, here the Serb kingdoms are now one, and the Montenegrin people shall fulfill their duty, sacrificing everything for the fatherland and Serbdom..."[citation needed]

After Montenegro fell to the Central Powers in January 1916, he was arrested amongst all other politicians who did not flee or refused to collaborate. At the last parliamentary session he denounced King Nikola who fled the country in secrecy, blaming him for leading the country into the horrible situation. Drljević was interned in the Karlstein Austro-Hungarian internment camp.[citation needed] In prison he reportedly organized with other detainees from Montenegro plans to unify Montenegro and Serbia into a single Serb nation-state, electing a special Board for Unification that he presided over. It was supposed to prepare and act for expelled King Nilola's in case of his return to occupied Montenegro. Its work served as a basis for the Great People's Assembly of the Serb People in Montenegro (also known as the Podgorica Assembly) that gathered in November 1918 and declared unification with Serbia.[citation needed]

Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes / Yugoslavia[edit | edit source]

After the end of war, the royal government secured Drljević's release. He joined the Serbian Radical People's Party and moved to Belgrade where he was assigned to the Ministry of Justice in Stojan Protić's government. However, he resigned only three months after arriving. Furthermore, he left the party, disappointed by the position he got, since he considered that his role in the unification warranted a much higher post. In April 1919 Drljević opened a law practice in Zemun, on the Belgrade-Pančevo city territory. The cases that he worked on were mostly politically motivated trials. He was most famous for successfully defending brigadier Radomir Vešović in 1921.[citation needed]

Disappointed in the centrist policies coming from Belgrade, especially the newly established subdivisions of the Kingdom, Drljević founded the Montenegrin Federalist Party in 1922, whose main aims were decentralization and preservation of the historical entities abolished in favor of unification. His party did not achieve much support at the 1923 election, but he managed to get enough votes to get elected into the Serb-Croat-Slovene parliament in 1925. Still an outspoken Serb nationalist, he covertly supported the Montenegrin Army in Exile and the aggressive Montenegrin extremist Greens that favored guerrilla resistance in Montenegro against the royal centralist regime as well open independence.[citation needed] He opposed what he considered to be Serbia's hegemony after the unification, specifically complaining about the printing of books in Serbian ekavian accent and not ijekavian. He furthermore complained about lack of investments into Montenegro, and that retributions by the government needs to be repaid for the damages done in the civil fights that occurred in Montenegro between the Whites and the Greens after the unification.[citation needed]

Drljević's speech in the royal parliament on 16 February 1926, during the discussion on the army:"This tradition in our army, is given by none other than one army, until the unification of the independent states Kingdom of Serbia and Kingdom of Montenegro, that is the two independent Serb states, and that army is the army of the Serb people ... By the understanding of our people there were only heroic Montenegrins and heroic Šumadians, that is only the heroic Serb people..." and on 26 March the same year on the Montenegrin question: "The Serb people was in one historical momentum entirely united, but united in slavery under the Turks. Montenegro repulsed that unification and separated from the Serb people by keeping in its firm haiduk hand the Kosovo Cross-Banner of Boško Jugović and the statist thought on that chain of the karst mountains hanging under Lovćen like a closter on a stalk..."[citation needed]

The originator of the idea to unite the other historical entities to stand opposed to Serbia, he worked with Croat Federalists doctors Ivan Lorković and Ante Trumbić for some time. He cemented his ideas when he allied with Stjepan Radić and his Croatian Republican People's Party, being elected as their MP in Županja. Joining too with the Independent Democratic Party, he was reelected into the parliament as a member of the Peasant-Democratic Coalition in 1927.[citation needed]

In 1929 King Alexander Karageorgevich introduced dictatorship. His party like all were originally banned, but it wasn't implemented so Drljević continued his political activity. In 1930 he went to Zagreb to take part in the process against Vlatko Maček, with whom he continued cooperating after Radić's death, but as many major political opponents, he was arrested for act of treason against the state and interned in Sokobanja. He was released shortly after an appeal, promising to give up on a policy of secession. In the 1930s Drljevic cooperated with the underground banned Montenegrin .[citation needed]

After Alexander was assassinated in Marseilles in 1934, former imprisoned rebel Novica Radović joined Drljevic's "Montenegrin Peasants' Federalist Movement" and shaped its ideological beliefs that turned extremely Serbian and Montenegrin nationalistic and the two returned into politics, ever more determined to create an independent Montenegro, pointing out that Serbia in a most cruel way annexed and betrayed Montenegro thanks to the Allies and that Montenegrins are superior and "true, pure Serbs", and not the Serbians and distancing from cooperation with the Serbian opposition, closing by to the Croatian Party of Rights. Since most of the population were peasants, it reshaped its electoral aims to achieve support.[citation needed]

In 1937, Drljević came into contact with the pro-Croatian Montenegrin activist Savić Marković Štedimlija and rewrote the lyrics for a Montenegrin folk song, removing references to Serb identity as a mark of protest against Serbia and designated it to be the national anthem of all Montenegrins, "Our Eternal..." (Vječna naša...). The song celebrated cleansing of Muslims from Montenegro and centered on Montenegrin patriotism, calling forth for his plans of a Greater Montenegro. Though a member of the 1938 Unified Opposition, Drljević eternally stayed in opposition even after the Cvetković-Maček Agreement of 1939 that put a temporary end to most Yugoslavian problems because of his demands for an independent Montenegro, losing all support and disappearing from the political scene.[citation needed]

World War II[edit | edit source]

During April 1941, Axis forces occupied the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Montenegro fell under the control of fascist Italian regime led by Benito Mussolini. Drljević quickly gathered his separatists and formed the "Interim Administrative Committee of Montenegro" on April 17, 1941, the very same day the Royal Yugoslav Army capitulated, elected its President. He was preparing to organize an independent Montenegro that would collaborate with the Kingdom of Italy. Up to some time in May, the Committee had formed a "Kingdom of Montenegro" inviting successor Michael Petrović-Njegoš to take the throne. He refused however, on the argument that the "Black Latins" (Црнолатинаши, Crnolatinaši) as Drljević's men were called, are traitors of the Serb people. Subsequently the Nazis interned Petrović-Njegoš. The plans for Greater Montenegrin state proved fruitless as most of Herzegovina was taken by the Nazi-puppet Independent State of Croatia (NDH), the Bay of Kotor was annexed to Italy and a fascist Greater Albania took not only Metohija, but also even eastern parts of Montenegro. The only achieved expansion was towards the northern Serbian part of Sandžak.[citation needed]

On 12 July 1941, Drljević came to Cetinje, the Montenegrin capital, and held a speech at the "Saint Peter's Council" that proclaimed the "Independent State of Montenegro" under Italian protectorate. The very next day, 13 July, as a reward Conte Serafino Mazzolini nominated him to be the first Prime Minister of the collaborationist government. However, Drljević's governance lasted less than 24 hours, as the recently formed Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland (Chetniks) raised a national rebellion along with Partisan assistance opposing the "Saint Peter's Council" separatist decisions.[citation needed] By October 1941 Italians realized that Drljević enjoyed no popular support in Montenegro and saw that they have no use of him, so they imprisoned him in Sanremo through a decree by Alessandro Pirzio Biroli, Fascist Italy's main representative in Montenegro. Drljević was soon released, but got banned from leaving Italy, which was imprinted in his passport.[citation needed]

However, he managed to acquire the NDH passport through his Ustaša connections and thus successfully reached his home base in Zemun, now occupied by the NDH. Drljević's Black Latins collapsed into two groups, the more extremist one that attempted to raise rebellions with the Partisans in the Bay of Kotor and the more moderate one that together with certain Greens collaborated with the Italians and, after the defeat of Italy in 1943, the Germans.[citation needed]

Relocation to Independent State of Croatia[edit | edit source]

In 1944 the Axis started losing the war rapidly to the Allies and Sajmište was closed. That spring, as Tito's Partisans were about to liberate Belgrade, Drljević moved further into the country for security to Zagreb, capital of the NDH. The Ustašas provided him residence and introduced him into the political life of the Independent State of Croatia, so he joined the Ustaši and became an associate of their "Poglavnik" (chief) Ante Pavelić.[citation needed] Believing in Adolf Hitler's promises of a renewed offensive against the Allies, he formed from prominent remaining Black Latins the "Montenegrin State Council", which roughly acted as a Montenegrin Government in Exile dedicated to the restoration and preservation of Montenegrin sovereignty. Among other prominent figures, Štedimlija was appointed to Drljević's cabinet. Drljević proclaimed "Eternal our..." as the national anthem of Montenegro. The anthem would, with slight changes, be adopted as the modern Montenegrin anthem in 2004.[citation needed]

Adopting Štedimlija's research of Montenegrin individuality as a "nation separate from the Serbs and that by origin stems from Red Croats", he propagated an anti-Serbian state union of Montenegrins with Croats and Albanians. In 1944 in Zagreb he published a pamphlet, Who are the Serbs? (Tko su Srbi?), in which he presents the Serbs as a degenerate race, blaming all of Balkan's modern and past problems on the Serbian nation and its aggressive policies, as well as referring to their similarity to the Jews, whom Axis world's ideology blamed for most of world's problems. Drljević was also active in religious issues. He attempted to form a Montenegrin Orthodox Church, but found no support for it and had to make do with Štedimlija's Ustaša-styled Croatian Orthodox Church.[citation needed]

Condemned as a war criminal[edit | edit source]

On 15 February 1945 the Yugoslav Partisan Military court sentenced Sekula Drljevic to death penalty for the crimes committed in Sajmište and for propaganda against People's Liberation struggle, after the State Commission for Establishing the Crimes of the Occupiers and Their Helpers finalized its research on him. On 24 February 1945 the Croatian Federal State Commission established his crimes and collaboration in NDH further and confirmed the sentence.[citation needed]

Actions in closing months of the war[edit | edit source]

Seeking a personal army, he met with the embattled divisions of Chetniks that broke off from the main course of Draža Mihailović retreating in Bosnia worn out from the fights with the Partisans in the civil war and negotiated with their leader Pavle Đurišić, who recognized the switch from the Allies to the Axis. The Montenegrin State Council as its own sovereign became leader of the self-styled "Montenegrin People's Army". On 22 March 1945, a deal was struck in Doboj and Drljević became the Supreme Commander of the 8000 strong Chetnik Force. He promised safe passage across the German border in a planned massive evacuation to Nazi Germany as a result of growing Allied successes at the Eastern Front.[citation needed]

However only weeks later, on 8 April 1945, Đurišić tried to move his troops northwestwards without Drljević, so they were assaulted by the Ustašas and heavily defeated at the Battle on Lijevča field. The three remaining Chetnik units were reorganized into the Montenegrin Army and instructed under direct Croatian Home Defender forces control to act around Karlovac. Đurišić was now in an even weaker position than before; on the run in Banja Luka vicinity where he got tracked down by Ustaša colonel Vladimir Metikoš whom he knew well from their time together in Royal Yugoslav Army. Metikoš relayed another offer from Drljević of negotiations in Stara Gradiška, which Đurišić and his remaining officers fatally accepted. Upon arriving to Gradiška, their weapons were taken away and they were sent to Jasenovac concentration camp and killed. Drljević knowingly never even showed up for the supposed negotiation meeting.[citation needed]

Retreat, flight and death[edit | edit source]

On 6 May 1945, the Ustaše started a massive evacuation and a northwest retreat. Drljević was fleeing into Nazi Germany (itself in its last throes) and his rearguard was protected by the remaining fringes of the Chetnik Montenegrin People's Army against the attacking Partisans. After the chaotic retreat, Drljević and his wife stayed in a hotel in Judenburg, Austria. On 10 November 1945, members of the Montenegrin People's Army who up to that point had safeguarded them, killed the couple by slitting their throats.[citation needed]

Political author[edit | edit source]

In 1914 Drljević explained how Serbia and Montenegro should be unified in his "The Struggle for Monetary, Military and Diplomatic Union of Montenegro and Serbia" (Borba za carinsku, vojnu i diplomatsku uniju izmeðu Crne Gore i Srbije). Several of Drljević's books were published. He gathered his Yugoslav parliament speeches and published them as Centralizam ili federalizam (Централизам или федерализам) in 1926.[citation needed]

During World War II, his book Balkanski sukobi 1905-1941 was published. In 1944 in Zagreb he published the pamphlet, Who are Serbs? (Tko su Srbi?).

Sources[edit | edit source]

  1. Vujovic, Milan (15 January 2008). "(Ne)uvažavanje (ne)poraženih". Politika. http://www.politika.rs/rubrike/uvodnik/t53916.sr.html. Retrieved 22 August 2011. 
  • Jovanović, Batrić (1986). Crnogorci o sebi (od vladike Danila do 1941): prilog istoriji crnogorske nacije. Narodna knjiga. ISBN 978-86-331-0048-9. 

External links[edit | edit source]

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