Christmas Uprising

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Christmas Uprising
Krsto Zrnov Popovic.jpg
Krsto Zrnov Popović, leader of the Uprising
Date January 6, 1919
Location around Cetinje, Kingdom of Yugoslavia
Result Whites/Allied victory, the uprising was put down
Kingdom of Montenegro Montenegrin Greens
 Kingdom of Italy
Kingdom of Yugoslavia Montenegrin Whites (sr)
Kingdom of Yugoslavia Kingdom of Yugoslavia
Commanders and leaders
Krsto Zrnov Popović
Jovan Plamenac
Petar Gvozdenović
Kingdom of Yugoslavia Marko Daković (sr)
4,000 10,000
Casualties and losses
98 killed and wounded 16 killed, 63 wounded

The Christmas Uprising or Christmas Rebellion (Montenegrin: Божићна побуна, Božićna pobuna or Божићни устанак, Božićni ustanak) refers to the uprising of Montenegrin guerrilla fighters aimed at overturning the unification of the Kingdom of Montenegro with the Kingdom of Serbia. The uprising occurred in and around the town of Cetinje on 7 January 1919, the day of Orthodox Christmas.

The catalyst for the uprising was the decision of the controversial Grand People's Assembly in Montenegro (The Podgorica Parliament) for unconditional unification of Montenegro with the Kingdom of Serbia. Following a questionable candidate selection process, unionist side (in favor of unification with Serbia) outnumbered the party favouring the preservation of Montenegrin statehood and a unification with the peoples of Yugoslavia in form of a confederation. The uprising was named after the Orthodox Christmas of January 7, 1919, because it erupted on the previous day, on Christmas Eve. The Unionists, with support from the Serbian Army, defeated the Greens near Cetinje. Many homes were destroyed, and a number of participants in the uprising were tried and imprisoned. Part of the rebels fled to Italy, while others retreated to the mountains, continuing a guerrilla resistance under the banner of the Montenegrin Army in Exile which lasted until 1929.

The military leader of the uprising was Krsto Zrnov Popović and its political leader was Jovan S. Plamenac. After it occurred, the dethroned King Nicholas I was forced to issue a call for peace, but several groups of rebels continued to resist until 1929, most notably the militia of Savo Raspopović.

Italian role[edit]

Though the actual rebellion was started by local Montenegrin chieftains, the Kingdom of Italy played an instrumental role in its organizing. Various Italian figures visited prominent Montenegrins who were known to be dissatisfied with the decisions of the Podgorica Assembly in order to spur them on to take up arms and rebel.

During fall 1918 as World War I was drawing to a close, the Kingdom of Italy (led by King Victor Emmanuel III and prime minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando) was embittered by the 29 October 1918 proclamation of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs provisional entity, established in obvious preparation for the impending merger with the Kingdom of Serbia into a joint South Slavic state. The proclamation came against the backdrop of the Battle of Vittorio Veneto in which the Entente led by the Royal Italian Army was in the process of soundly defeating the Austro-Hungarian Army.

Cover of the Italian weekly La Tribuna Illustrata from 1919, titled "Fighting near Podgorica between Montenegrin rebels and Serbian army"

Italian dissatisfaction over the South Slavic joint stately aspirations in the Balkans was based on the Treaty of London, a secret pact between Italy and Triple Entente (France, United Kingdom, and Russian Empire) signed on 26 April 1915, less than a year into World War I. The secret agreement stipulated that in return for switching warring sides by leaving Triple Alliance (German Empire, Austria-Hungary, and the Kingdom of Italy) to join Triple Entente, Italians were promised the following territories at the end of the war in the event of the Entente victory: part of Tyrol and South Tyrol, entire Austrian Littoral without port of Rijeka, western part of the Duchy of Carniola, border parts of southern Carinthia, northern Dalmatia including Zadar, Šibenik and all of Dalmatian islands except Krk and Rab, the Dodecanese Islands, port of Vlorë, protectorate over Albania, parts of German colonies in Asia and Africa, and "a just share of the Mediterranean region adjacent to the province of Antalya in the event of the partition of Turkey".

However, as the war was ending with the Entente victory looking certain, and as the world was getting ready for the global peace conference to divide up the territory of the soon-to-be-defeated Triple Alliance countries, Italians became uncertain whether the terms of the secret London Treaty would be respected. Sudden proclamation of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs that claimed many of the territories promised to Italy in London, gave Italians further cause for concern. Their course of action following victory at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto was to summon the defeated Austro-Hungarian military leadership to Villa Giusti in Padova on 3 November 1918 and make them sign an armistice that officially ended the hostilities on the Italian front. Forced onto Austria-Hungary from an overwhelming position of strength, the agreed terms of the armistice gave Royal Italian Army the legal basis to enter Austro-Hungarian territory, specifically Istria and much of Dalmatia thus effectively seizing control of those areas and ensuring the self-proclaimed State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs can't claim them as it prepared to unite with Serbia into a joint South Slavic state.

In parallel, Italy tried a similar maneuver in Montenegro, although using different means. In late November 1918 during the Podgorica Assembly, Italian troops attempted to take control of the coastal areas of Montenegro under the guise of Entente troop movement, but got prevented from doing so.

On 1 December 1918, the joint South Slavic state called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes got proclaimed, created as a union between the Kingdom of Serbia and the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. Livid with this turn of events Italy began openly arming and logistically supporting the several thousand Montenegrins who were unhappy about the decisions of the Podgorica Assembly and the manner in which Montenegro united with Serbia.

Italy's support of the January 1919 Zelenaši (Greens) uprising in Montenegro was seen as part of a larger Italian military and diplomatic effort to stretch the already frail defense capability of the newly created South Slavic state which would make it easier for Italians to dispute the new state's still undefined and internationally unrecognized borders.


On 7 January 2008, on the 90th anniversary of the uprising, the Montenegrin Government of prime minister Milo Đukanović revealed a memorial statue for the Greens died in the battles.[1]


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