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Jun 19, 2006

World Cup Anomaly

Following his team's 6-0 defeat to Argentina and subsequent elimination from World Cup play, Coach Ilija Petkovic announced his resignation. In many ways, Petkovic's move was a formality: as coach of Serbia and Montenegro, he represented a country that no longer exists. Between the end of the qualifying round and the start of the World Cup, voters in Montenegro voted to secede and establish their own state. So, technically, this year's World Cup featured teams from 31 countries and one former nation.

The vote is a logical fallout from the outcome of the Balkan Wars; perhaps we have to wait only for the expected formal secession of Kosovo from Serbia to end the conflicts' political legacies. But the vote also reverses what is one of the more interesting (if lesser-known) anomalies of World War I: how Montenegro, de facto independent since 1796 and a recognized independent state since 1878, a country that fought in the war on the Allies' side, nonetheless ended the conflict by losing its independence.

Serb expansion played a key role in this outcome: the Serbian army"liberated" Montenegro as Austria-Hungary collapsed in autumn 1918, but then prevented Montenegro's king from returning from exile. The Serbian dynasty, which ruled the new kingdom, abolished Montenegro as a political entity (it wasn't restored as a Yugoslav unit until Tito's regime), and merged the Montenegrin Orthodox Church with its Serb counterpart.

Resistance to these moves did occur. The"Christmas Uprising" of 1919 launched a seven-year guerilla war. And in 1920, the Montenegrin government-in-exile filed a formal protest with the Great Powers. But France in particular had little desire to intervene: support for the Little Entente (Yugoslavia, Romania, and Czechoslovakia) formed a key element of France's post-WWI diplomacy.

So while Petkovic might no longer have a team, the Montenegrins now have a country. This seems like more than a fair tradeoff.

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