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"Tsar" Šćepan Mali (Stephen the Little) (? - 22 September 1773) was a de facto ruler tsar of Montenegro from 1767 until his death in 1773. He seized the throne by falsely representing himself as the Russian Tsar Peter III.
Šćepan Mali's origins are not known. It is assumed that he was from Dalmatia or Bosnia and that his name was Stefan Rajčević. He first appeared in Montenegro in 1766. During this time, he lived in Podmaine Monastery and operated as a self-styled doctor.
During Christmas fasting in 1766, after the rumors spread by captain M. Tanović, in Montenegro appeared, supposedly, Russian Tsar Peter III, who was believed to have been murdered by the lovers of Catherine the Great in 1762. Having affection for Russia, Montenegrins accepted the newcomer as their new tsar (1768) under the name of Stephen the Little (Šćepan Mali). Vladika Sava conveyed to the people a Russian message that Šćepan was an ordinary crook, but the people believed the tsar rather than Sava. Following this event, Šćepan the Little put Sava under house arrest in Stanjevići monastery.
Metropolitan Sava II wrote "The land has been silenced" and that all of Montenegro was under Šćepan Mali. When Šćepan Mali ruled Montenegro, he began to behave like an absolute ruler.
The Ottoman Empire was afraid of the fact that a Russian tsar was in the Balkans. In May 1768, the sultan ordered an expedition to Montenegro. A few months later, 50,000 Ottoman soldiers were sent to capture Šćepan Mali but were decisively defeated 10-20 km south of Cetinje.
Soon after, Šćepan began to heavily modernize the army. He used the style of Peter the Great's infantry, while due to a short supply of horses, he had no cavalry. The new green uniforms were donated by the Russian government from its old 1720s stock supplies.
The Russian Government sent Prince Georgiy Dolgorukov to gain control of Montenegro and eliminate Šćepan Mali. In August 1769, he arrived in Montenegro but was unable to capture Šćepan Mali. As the Montenegrin people, upon hearing from Šćepan himself that he was not Tsar Peter III, recovered from their shock and proclaimed him Tsar Šćepan I. Šćepan the Little was a very cruel but respected and feared man during his reign. After realizing how much respect he commanded, and that only he could keep Montenegrins together, the Russian diplomat Dolgoruki[clarification needed] abandoned his efforts to discredit Scepan giving him even financial support. In 1771, Tzar Šćepan founded a permanent court, composed of most respected clan leaders, and stubbornly insisted on respect for the court's decision.
In 1770, the Venetians, an ally of the Ottoman Empire, sent a 10,000-strong force to Dubrovnik to fight Šćepan Mali. The armies met at Kotor. The Venetians suffered 500 wounded and some 350 killed, and the Montenegrins officially won with much lower casualties. The retreat of the Venetians was secured by Šćepan himself for 10,000 gold coins paid by the Venetians and the surrender of all their weapons and four cannons. This was the only time Montenegro used westernized tactics of warfare (e.g. line infantry and such) in the 18th century.
In 1772, Šćepan was given a rank of Lieutenant-General of the Russian Imperial Army, the Order of Saint Vladimir, 2nd class, and a hussar's uniform as a gift from Catherine the Great. He was one of the first recipients of the medal.
He was killed while sleeping late on the night 22 September 1773 by his barber, a Greek by the name of Stanko Paljikarda whose family was captured by the Turkish Pasha and was threatened with their safety and lives.
The importance of Šćepan personality in uniting Montenegrins was realized soon after his assassination conducted by order of vizier of Skadar, Mahmut-Pasha Bushatlija. Montenegrin tribes once again engaged into blood feuding among themselves. Mahmut-Pasha Bushatlija tried to seize the opportunity and attacked Kuči with 30 000 troops. For the first time since Vladika Danilo, Kuči were helped by Piperi and Bjelopavlići, and defeated Turks twice in two years.
Serbian historian Vladimir Ćorović supported the theory that he was the center of a plot of a certain circle of people around late Prince-Bishop Vasilije, whose aim was to start a large revolt against the Ottomans in Montenegro. Vasilije himself was a chief developer of Russian cult in Montenegro. Vuko Markov Marković from Maine, who was a host to Šćepan when he arrived in Montenegro, traveled with Vasilije during his last journey to Russia and supposedly saw the Tzar. He was later the main witness of Šćepan's "identity". According to Montenegrin historian Rastislav V. Petrović, he was in fact Jovan Stefanov Balević from Bratonožići. Balević was born in Pelev Brijeg in 1728 and was captured with his father in 1737 during a huge uprising in Brda region. He was then sent to Sarajevo where he was ransomed by Bosnian archbishop Umilinković who provided him with education in Sremski Karlovci. In 1745 Balević left Timișoara to study at University of Halle where he received a degree in 1752, thus becoming the first Montenegrin Phd, after which he returned to Karlovci where he worked in Austrian administration, before emigrating to Russia. His biography accounts are scarce after his emigration to Russia. Simeon Piščević in his Memoires mentions him working in "Montenegrin commission", established by Vasilije and Catherine the Great whose aim was to help Montenegrin migration to Russia. Rastislav Petrović makes the reconstruction of his life stating that he rose from captain to major in Russian army and that he was an agent in Orlov Revolt. He cites a statement from a dragoman of Ragusan consulate in Methoni in 1770 who states that one of three Orlov's officers is in Montenegro at the time presenting himself as Steffano Piccolo (Italian for Stefan the Little).
- Istorijski leksion Crne Gore: Per - Ž ISBN 86-7706-169-X
- (Jagos Jovanovic, Stvaranje Crnogorske drzave i razvoj Crnogorske nacionalnosti, 1947, Obod-Cetinje).
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