19 mei Vive les Russes!
Montenegro, what’s in a name? Steep mountains, not so hospitable villages, deep gorges, black knights, spooky ruins, dark history. The former royal family of Petrovic (last king was Nicolas), has been living in Paris, banned from home. It has taken possession of one of its palaces recently, but the Montenegrins don’t want their king back, while orderly democracy doesn’t seem to be an option either. On the contrary, it is lack of transparency that brings the lazy Montenegrins at least a little prosperity, thanks to the Serbian investors and especially the Russians who have, in a way, adopted this little country. This is not strange knowing the tight relations both countries have had since many centuries. Montenegro has been the Russian nobility’s Brighton for ages, a place where Petrovic princesses used to seduce the tsarist counts and dukes, who then ended up marrying them in exchange for, well, money. Montenegro was in fact being financed from Moscow and St. Petersburg, you could leave that to the girls.
The beach resort Budva proves that little has changed since. Russian money has created harbours for sleek yachts, casino’s, boutiques, five star hotels and night clubs. Because the locals don’t like to work, guests are served by Bosnians and Serbs who find jobs they lack at home. The Montenegrins sell thir land and their ancestors ruins and watch with growing amazement how the Muscovites occupy their most beautiful spots, among others in the bay of Kotor. This is Europe’s most southern fjord and indeed one of the most attractive areas in the whole of the Balkan. No far from Kotor the new Port Montenegro, a harbour for exclusive ‘Abramovic’ kind of yachts, breathes the same kind of nouveau Monte Carlo atmosphere, with its multi million Euro apartments owned by the super rich such as tennis player Djokovic and several Canadian goldmine owners. But a positive note is that Moscow-on-the-beach has been built with lots of respect for the local tradition and architecture. The bay of Kotor, once a refuge for the Venetian and later the Austro-Hungarian navy, is covered with lime stone buildings, elegant in size, with little private harbours and neat gardens. No pompous extravaganza but stylish and discreet in a pleasant way. Extreme clear water invites the visitor for a swim with a view on the snowy mountain tops. This is by all means a nice destination despite, or should we say thanks to the Russian investors. It is clean and safe, ingredients that obviously appeal to the international jet set. The Aman resort has understood this better than any other: it bought an island in front of Sveti Stefan and turned it into a six star hotel. The historic church and other valuable sights are not open to the public. Only guests are allowed on the premises and you become a guest by paying EU 990.- a night, without breakfast, as the lady at the reception was kind enough to mention. Fortunately the Aman has a cheaper neighbour called Hotel Romanov, indeed, owned by a direct descendant of the Russian tsar. Less arrogant and much more fun, I guess. The walls of the dining room are covered with satirical paintings by a Muscovite artist who is obviously politically incorrect: there is Putin listening to dirty stories from a young Abramovic, a football and a bottle of champagne on a nearby table; and slim Mrs. Merkel holding a baby Sarkozy (with nappies) in her arms. And much more to make you smile. Next to my table the Romanov family is entertaining friends from Russia. Vodka and salmon, what else. The men wear Adidas slippers, the ladies are on Chanel high heels. Culture… Nazdrovije.
The neighbours from Albania and Macedonia must be more than jealous watching all this materialistic theatre in Montenegro. They can learn that teaming up with oligarchs has its advantages. Or they can wait for the last piece of land being sold to the Russians and see how the Montenegrins will then react. Better still is to use the lessons learnt under dictatorship (and wars) and to become as shrewd as they were when assured of work but not of freedom.