Sekula Drljević (7 September 1884 – 10 November 1945) was a Montenegrin politician and lawyer. Born in the town of Kolašin, he earned a doctorate degree in law and became the Minister of Justice and Finance in the Kingdom of Montenegro before the outbreak of World War I. During the interwar period, he led the "Greens" (zelenaši), a Montenegrin separatist movement. A proponent of the theory that Montenegrins were an ethnic group distinct from Serbs, he also founded and became the leader of the Montenegrin Federalist Party. In 1927, he was elected representative of the Kotor District as a member of the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS).
Following the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941, Drljević began cooperating with the Italian authorities occupying Montenegro. In July, he became leader of the Axis puppet state known as the Kingdom of Montenegro. That September, Italian authorities sent him to an internment camp in Italy after the oubreak of an anti-fascist revolt. Drljević escaped the camp several months later and made his way into the German-held half of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH). In the summer of 1944, he created the Montenegrin State Council in Zagreb. Drljević moved back to Montenegro in 1945 and agreed to the formation of the Montenegrin National Army with Chetnik commander Pavle Đurišić. Đurišić and other Chetnik leader were later ambushed and murdered on behalf of Drljević and the NDH. Đurišić's men later joined Drljević's Montenegrin National Army and withdrew with him towards the Austrian border. In mid-1945, Drljević crossed over into Austria with his wife and ended up in a camp for displaced persons in Judenburg. Three Chetnik agents discovered them there in November 1945 and killed them by slitting their throats.
Early life and political career
Sekula Drljević was born on 7 September 1884 in the village of Ravno, near the town of Kolašin. Having finished law school in Zagreb and earned a doctorate degree, he became the Minister of Justice and Finance in the Kingdom of Montenegro. During World War I, he was captured by Austro-Hungarian forces and interned at the Boldagason internment camp in Hungary, where he grew strongly opposed to the leader of Montenegro, King Nicholas I. He was released after the war and moved to Zemun and worked as a lawyer there. He also became the leader of the "Greens" (zelenaši), a Montenegrin separatist movement which sided with the Yugoslav Federalist Party. During this time, he cooperated frequently with Croatian politicians such as Stjepan Radić, Vlatko Maček, and Ante Pavelić, with whom he became good friends. In the mid-1920s, Drljević founded the Montenegrin Federalist Party. He quickly became the party's sole leader and foremost theoretician. He expressed support for the unity of Yugoslavia and stressed Montenegro's loyalty to Serbian nationhood, but argued that a nation did not necessarily need to be part of a single state and hinted that he would support the restoration of Montenegro's independence. Consequently, the "Greens" demanded that Yugoslavia's internal boundaries be organized to match the borders of the Balkan states as they were prior to 1918.
In 1927, Drljević was elected representative of the Kotor District as a member of the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS). Afterwards, he helped solve a political rift between Radić and Serb politician Svetozar Pribićević, resulting in the formation of an HSS–Democratic Party coalition. The following year, Drljević unsuccessfully attempted to dissuade Radić from attending the National Assembly of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes prior to his assassination by Serb politician Puniša Račić.
World War II
On 6 April 1941, Axis forces invaded Yugoslavia. Montenegro was invaded by the forces of Germany and Italy, with the Germans attacking from Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Italians from Albania. The Germans later withdrew, leaving the Italians to occupy the area. In the western portion of Yugoslavia, the extreme Croat nationalist and fascist Ante Pavelić, who had been in exile in Benito Mussolini's Italy, was appointed Poglavnik (leader) of an Ustaše-led Croatian state – the Independent State of Croatia (often called the NDH, from the Croatian: Nezavisna Država Hrvatska). The NDH combined almost all of modern-day Croatia, all of modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina and parts of modern-day Serbia into an "Italian-German quasi-protectorate". NDH authorities, led by the Ustaše militia, subsequently implemented genocidal policies against the Serb, Jewish and Romani population living within the borders of the new state.
The creation of an Axis puppet-state known as the Kingdom of Montenegro was proclaimed on 12 July 1941. The state was to be headed by an Italian regent and led by Drljević and his supporters. By 13 July, this proclamation prompted the outbreak of an anti-Italian uprising in Montenegro led by local communists (Partisans) and Serb nationalists (Chetniks). Having assumed power the previous day, Drljević established the Provisional Administrative Committee of Montenegro, a collaborationist entity which was a territorial component of the Italian Empire. He also organized his followers to fight against Montenegrin Chetniks and the Yugoslav Partisans. In September, he was dismissed from office by the Italians. Believing that his life was endangered by the revolt, they sent him to an internment camp in Italy. Several months later, Drljević escaped and smuggled himself into the German-controlled area of the NDH. With the surrender of Italy in September 1943, he moved back to Zemun. Here, he became the administrator of the German-run Sajmište concentration camp. In the summer of 1944 Drljević relocated to Zagreb, where he created a Montenegrin State Council in the NDH with the assistance of the Germans and Croats. He also published a pamphlet in Zagreb titled Who are the Serbs? (Croatian: Tko su Srbi?). In it, he blamed supposedly "aggressive" Serb policies for all past and modern problems in the Balkans, presented ethnic Serbs as a "degenerate race" and pointed out their similarities with Jews. Drljević had become a proponent of the theory that Montenegrins were an ethnic group distinct from Serbs following the Axis occupation of Yugoslavia. As early as 1921, he had stated that Serb and Montenegrin "mentalities" were diametrically opposed. He stated: "The mentalities of Serbians and Montenegrins are irreconcilable. The visage of the former was speckled with [Ottoman] slavery; liberty gave the latter a new visage." It was not until 1941 that Drljević advanced the notion that Montenegrins were not Slavs at all, but Dinaric people descended from the ancient Illyrians. He wrote:
Races are communities of blood, whereas people are creatures of history. With their language, the Montenegrin people belong to the Slavic linguistic community. By their blood, however, they belong [to the Dinaric peoples]. According to the contemporary science of European races, [Dinaric] peoples are descended from the Illyrians. Hence, not just the kinship, but the identity of certain cultural forms among the Dinaric peoples, all the way from Albanians to South Tyroleans, who are Germanized Illyrians.
Retreat and death
In the spring of 1945, Drljević visited parts of Montenegro held by the Chetniks of Pavle Đurišić. It was here that Đurišić made a safe-conduct agreement with Drljević and with elements of the Armed Forces of the NDH. Although the details of the agreement are unknown, it appears to have been agreed that Đurišić and his men were to move into the NDH and cross the Sava River into Slavonia where they would be aligned with Drljević as the Montenegrin National Army, with Đurišić retaining operational command. Suspicious of Drljević's intentions, Đurišić tried to outsmart him and his forces by sending only his sick and wounded across the Sava, keeping his fit troops south of the river. Following his defeat at the Battle of Lijevče Field, north of Banja Luka, and the defection of one of his sub-units to Drljević, Đurišić was forced to negotiate directly with the leaders of the NDH forces about the further movement of his units towards Slovenia. This appears to have been a trap, as he was attacked and captured by them on his way to the meeting. On 20 April, Đurišić, Petar Baćović, Dragiša Vasić and Zaharije Ostojić were taken to the Stara Gradiška prison, near Jasenovac. The Ustaše gathered them in a field alongside 5,000 other Chetnik prisoners and arranged for Drljević and his followers to select 150 Chetnik officers and non-combatant intellectuals for execution. Đurišić, Baćović, Vasić and Ostojić were amongst those selected. They and the others were loaded onto boats by the Ustaše and taken across the Sava River, where they were killed either in the Jasenovac concentration camp itself or in a nearby marsh. Both the NDH forces and Drljević had reasons for ensnaring Đurišić. The NDH forces were motivated by the mass terror committed by Đurišić on the Muslim population in Sandžak and southeastern Bosnia while Drljević was opposed to Đurišić's support of a union of Serbia and Montenegro which ran counter to Drljević's separatism. Left without a leader, the majority of Đurišić's men were integrated into Drljević's Montenegrin National Army and withdrew with him towards the Austrian border.
In the second half of May, the troops of the Montenegrin National Army surrendered to the British and were quickly turned back into Yugoslavia and into the hands of the communists. Drljević managed to evade capture, and he and his wife sought refuge at a camp for displaced persons in the Austrian town of Judenburg. On 10 November 1945, three of Đurišić's followers discovered them there and murdered them by slitting their throats.[a]
In 1944, Drljević rearranged the lyrics of the Montenegrin patriotic song "Oj, svijetla majska zoro" to celebrate the creation of the Montenegrin puppet regime that had been established in July 1941. He was declared a war criminal at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946. When "Oj, svijetla majska zoro" was chosen as the national anthem of Montenegro in 2006 with Drljević's additions intact, many Serbs and pro-unionists in the country protested the selection due to its alleged fascist connotations.
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- Trencsényi & Kopček 2007, p. 431.
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- Pajović 1987, p. 100.
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