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Trump hypes Montenegro ‘aggression,’ Slavic languages and cultures expert says

Thursday, July 19, 2018

LAWRENCE – Could the “aggressive” nature of Montenegro’s 630,000 people trigger World War III, as suggested by President Donald Trump following his Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin?

“That’s far-fetched,” said Marc Greenberg, the University of Kansas’ Slavic expert who directs the School of Languages, Literatures & Cultures and who visited Montenegro last month. “It shows a misreading of the geopolitical situation. And it’s probably Putin’s formulation in order to get Trump’s reaction.”

Greenberg said there is a grain of truth to Trump’s characterization of the Montenegrin people.

“The Montenegrins have a history of being very fierce defenders of their independence from the Ottoman Turks going back several centuries,” Greenberg said. “They have a warrior reputation in their national narrative, but today they are nice, warm, friendly people.”

Not that the idea of a war emanating from the region is without precedent.

“World War I started in Sarajevo,” Greenberg noted. “The powder keg of Europe is the Balkans, and former Yugoslavia is the very heart of it. So whenever there is conflict in Europe, there is a concern that there can be a conflagration in this area where Islam, Orthodoxy and Catholicism come together; where East meets West; where the Turks meet the Europeans.

“It’s a very complex region with lots of ethnic and religious tensions and a history of warfare. It’s a crossroads of many languages, religions, cultures and territorial rivalries. That leaves us with the need to understand a very complex region. Yugoslavia and the Balkans have always been a focus of study for history, for political science, for security studies. It’s a very interesting and important area to study.”

Greenberg visited Montenegro in late June to sign a memorandum establishing a formal relationship between KU and the Institute for the Montenegrin Language and Literature in the old royal capital city Cetinje. The event was covered in that country's national media. Greenberg noted KU has taught the languages of the former Yugoslavia for more than 40 years in an attempt to build bridges of understanding to the geopolitical hot spot. KU taught Serbo-Croatian during the existence of Yugoslavia, and, following its 1990 breakup, its national/linguistic descendants – Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin (Greenberg compares the relation among them to the American, British and Australian varieties of English), as well as Slovene.

Greenberg can discuss the cultural history of Montenegro, Yugoslavia and the wider Balkans. In fact, he’s visiting Slovenia this week, but available by email, Skype or phone. To interview Marc Greenberg, please contact KU News Service Public Affairs Officer Rick Hellman, 785-864-8852 or rick_hellman@ku.edu, to set it up.