Today being Saint Patrick day, I got to musing about the greats among us while watching the Irish revere their own on the biggest feast day in that country.
Still in Iceland, it dawned on me that the Irish have done a great job at exporting their Saint and making his feast day one of the greatest binge drinking days the world has ever seen. Certainly, if you were to ask an Irishman who among them is the greatest of all Irishmen, Patrick would probably be in the top ten. Followed by Colin Farrell, Michael Collins, Yeats, and so forth.
This had me thinking who would be in the top 10 or at least the greatest of all Montenegrins if we were to name a person. And that’s where all thought just breaks down and stops. I can think of only one person, Njegos. Sure there are a few others but nobody has Njegos’ greatness. Those that come to mind are not entirely Montengrin either (although I should be the last one to complain about that as neither am I).
I am reminded that reading somewhere I came across the fact that Nikola Tesla’s ancestors were Montenegrin. Did that make Tesla himself one-one-something Montenegrin? The same was revealed to me recently when perusing Marina Abramovic’s autobiography. She too was the child of a Montengrin father. Then there was Milos Raonic whom I grew up with partially in Canada (both parents being Montenegrin). He is considered the next big tennis sensation and a rising star, but does that qualify him as a Montenegrin great? I certainly am not about to add Milo Djukanovic to the list.
That again leaves me with Njegos and no other. So, what makes Njegos so great? Well to start with he left behind a national epoch in literature which we still read today. I am referring to the famous book he penned called “The Mountain Wreath.” Certainly, when one is travelling to any new country, you would want to familiarize yourself with the people who made their mark in the country. I always do that and presume others do as well. Perhaps I am wrong.
Given the lack of any clear choice I rest my laurels on Njegos. Maybe it’s because at the time he reigned life was simpler than it was today. People were divided into clans and their path in life had, in my opinion at least, much more purpose than it did today. You were either in the military or a farmer and those were the two choices that were available to you as a man. Women had much fewer choices than this. In the patriarchial world of Njegos time, a person knew his place in the world and grew into the destiny that was shaped for them.
He didn’t inherit a just world, but unlike the royals and monarchs of his time he struggled with issues of fairness and what was wrong and right. Not just as a member of the nobility destined for the high clergy either. His contemporaries often describe him as a man who walked about as if he bore the weight of the world on his shoulders. Why? The great questions of his day were being fought out on battlefields not too far from Montenegro’s borders. The Turks, the age-old enemy were encroaching on more and more of Serbia and Njegos knew it was only a matter of time before they would reach his lands in a house which was becoming increasingly divided.
When you consider that he wrote The Mountain Wreath in just one sitting and that the theme of the book – the struggle to govern a clan divided nation which was becoming weaker and weaker given the Turks had coerced a quarter of the population to convert to Islam.
Even though the events of the book had taken place nearly two hundred years prior to Njegos writing about them, they did depict an actual real-life event that purportedly took place on a Christmas Eve when the Orthodox majority was plotting the death of their co-clansmen who had converted to Islam.
I think the fact that Njegos struggled with this very theme shows a lot about the sort of ruler he wanted to be. He ruled Montenegro at a time when Serbia was under constant Ottoman threat and an uprising and rebellion was all but written in the stars. After all, one by one, Montenegro’s Christian neighbours were asserting their independence and engaging in revolutions to throw the Turks out once and for all.
Njegos set out on a path of reform and did quite a lot in his short thirty-seven years on the planet. He modernized the country and modernized with Russia’s assistance. I don’t think anybody back then saw the sort of tourist potential the country could one day had, but the reforms and ideas he brought forth two hundred years ago, certainly helped pave the way to the country we are left with today.
He governed, ruled, modernized, visited and kept abreast of the themes of the day. He took interest in forward thinking ideas like the construction of roads, the rudimentary education of women and the opening of philanthropical societies and the promotion of Montenegrin culture abroad.
To me that makes him the greatest Montenegrin that ever-lived and he stands tall in a class of his own.