It was a warm Mediterranean evening. We all gathered on the lawn of the President’s villa. There were perhaps 300 guests. The mood was festive, everyone shaking hands and embracing. The moment eventually came when the President and his wife walked down the lane to the podium, followed by the top guests: the Prime Minister and his wife, and the President of Serbia, the President of Croatia, the Serbian foreign minister, and various other dignitaries. Given that they had just seceded from Serbia, and had been at war with Croatia not all that long ago, the presence of the heads of neighbouring states was pretty remarkable.
The President then made a speech – mercifully brief, in that he was aware that many of his guests don’t have a good grasp of the local language (whatever it may be called). He referred to July 13th as the historical date when Montenegro was recognised by the Great Powers of Europe as an independent state in 1878, but enlarged much more on the other anniversary commemorated, the beginning of the Montenegrin rebellion against fascist occupation in 1941. This was smart politics; the most bitter internal opponents of independence were those who felt particularly loyal to Tito and the Partisan legacy. Having said that, most of us in the audience probably appreciated the brevity more than the content.
So that was the highlight of my week in the Balkans – one of the most impressive receptions I’ve ever been to (and as has been noted, I enjoy such events). Apart from the above, I chatted with most of the Montenegrin cabinet, the EU Special Representative for the Balkans, the leader of the opposition in Slovenia, the two Slovak diplomats whose interventions were crucial in untangling the Montenegro question, and various others.
Apaprt from that the rest of the trip was routine: frantic meetings on Monday evening in Skopje, on Tuesday and Wednesday in Pristina (highlights – the new president a huge improvement on his predecessor; the international official who was having so much fun talking to us that his aides more or less had to drag him out of the room to his next meeting). Then a fantastic car journey to Podgorica, with a former colleague who just happened to be staying in the same hotel as me in Pristina. The Wednesday evening reception as noted above, then a quiet Thursday and Friday (Thursday afternoon spent at the beach reading). And since then I’ve been here.
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