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Montenegro.com in Argentina: With the Montenegrins in General Madariaga

ImageGordan Stojovic and Rodolfo Jokanovic president of the "Zeta" association of Buenos Aires. In front of the Émigré museum in Buenos Aires, the first place that new immigrants landed in, rather like Ellis Island in New York.From its inception in the middle of the nineteen nineties Montenegro.com has focussed a large part of its activities on the Diaspora. At that time there was little or no organised center or institution in Montenegro involved in cooperation with or looking after the interests of émigrés, organising them or supplying information about them. If there was something that we didn't know about, it functioned on to very old-fashioned principles, and the new age of the internet and global communication demanded a completely new approach and a huge selfless effort, not just as a service but someone who was able to make things happen and to organise.

At that time we gave our support to the organizing of many activities amongst the émigrés as well as supporting many people in creating, expending and designing web sites for the diaspora, and we worked on linking up the émigrés both as individuals and organisations. The role of the Montenegro.com portal is central whenever you mention the organizing of émigré activities during the nineties, especially in North America. However at the same time as new associations were being formed to gather together émigrés and their descendants all over the world a considerable number of people emerged in Latin America who were interested in tracing their long lost roots via Montenegro.com. Second and third generation Montenegrins from Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Chile, Venezuela started to contact us in search of information about the country of their forefathers. Montenegro.com did all it could to help these people. These peoples letters seemed incredible to us, as, owing to the terrible education system we knew nothing about emigration from Montenegro, and simply didn't know that there were Montenegrins in South America, so that this fact was almost entirely unknown to the public at large. Even today it often happens that even reasonably well educated people ask - Are there really any of our people in Argentinaare there really any of our people in Argentina?The enthusiasm of our team began to grow and we made friends with many people and immediately began to work together. At the invitation of the "Zeta" Association based in Buenos Aires, the first editor of the section for the diaspora in Montenegro.com, the author of the book "Montenegrins in Argentina" and "Montenegrin Émigrés in Argentina" visited the country and had the opportunity of meeting many leading émigrés, their descendants and organisations. ImageMembers of the management committee and founders of the _Zeta_ Association with their friend from Montenegro. From left to right Juan Cetkovich, Milo_ Deretic, Gordan Stojovic (Montenegro.com) i Rodolfo Jokanovic A report in several instalments from this distant country begins today. With the Montenegrins of General Madariaga City of the GauchosImageGauchos during the town fairGeneral Madariaga is a small town of about five thousand inhabitants which is widely known for its Gauchos and quality meat. Gauchos are to Argentina what cowboys are to North America, that is men involved in cattle breeding who have a very special way of life, their own code of behaviour and who spend the greater part of their lives in the saddle. Today Madariaga is a very rich town where people live exceptionally well in comparison with the standard of living in other parts of Argentina. The last two town mayors have been Montenegrins. The present one's name is Juan Knezevich and his predecessor was Adrian Mirkovich. Among the Montenegrins there is considerable political rivalry between the Peronists and the radicals - so that as I listened to the stories of the divisions I felt like I was back in Montenegro. In fact there was a great deal that reminded me of Montenegro, fortunately not just the story about political confrontations in Argentina but also some more pleasant things such as the smoked ham, which you can read about later in this article. At the beginning of the twentieth century the first Montenegrins began to settle in General Madariaga. As the local people told me, the first one was someone by the name of Perovic, and after him many others began to come to this little town in the province of Buenos Aires to cut down the forests. As in many similar situations people who disembarked from ships in Buenos Aires would head off on the trail of their fellow countrymen into the vast open spaces of Argentina. The feeling of loneliness and isolation must have been unbelievably strong. When I think of myself now in the 21st century, especially when I stood in the Immigrant Museum and on the South Dock in Buenos Aires, the places where our emigrants and all those who came afterwards landed and made their first contact with Argentina, I feel homesickness for Europe and my home. I can only imagine the feeling these people had as they stepped ashore after months at sea onto the soil of Argentina. Its almost a natural reflex, the first thing a man thinks of, to look for something that resembles where he has come from, any sign of something familiar, something he has seen before, something warm and secure. And so the Montenegrins in Chaco and those in Tandilo just like the ones in Buenos Aires, Venado Tuerto and General Madariaga doubtless followed the rumours that there were other Montenegrins living and working in these places, far away from home, as they searched for a sign of a warm home and a warm heart. This is a truly incredible dimension especially for me who should be viewing all this from a strictly scientific angle, having already devoted a considerable part of my life to this issue and achieved what is for the conditions that we live in - which are totally unconducive – a significant success. But I can't stop thinking of them standing completely alone thousands of miles from home looking out on their future without any idea of the immense size of the New World. The descendants of the first Montenegrins who settled in General Madariaga are today largely involved in cattle breeding, and some of them have become unbelievably rich through this business so that they now own several thousand head of cattle and several thousand hectares of land. ImageThe Montenegrins were widely known throughout Argentina as very good workers and from the very start they did the toughest jobs. They were lumberjacks, they built the roads, laid the railway lines, worked in the quarries, worked as dockers and building workers, throughout Argentina. Today there are about 150 families in General Madariaga who originate from Montenegro, about 500 people in total, - a very significant number, which has to a large extent helped the preservation of the customs and language. The Montenegrin community in General Madariaga worked together in an organised way from the very start, through many associations which had largely a mutual aid role. They were organised in this way primarily because many of the émigrés were on their own, and they worked all their lives in order to save up enough money to return to Montenegro, and they rarely married, so that they had no one to bury them. Only a minority of them ever had families. The first organisation founded in the 1930's was Sociedad Montenegrina de socorros Mutuos "The Montenegrin Society for Mutual Aid, ImageSeal of the SocietySociedad Montenegrina de beneficienca "The Montenegrin Charitable Society" ImageSeal of the SocietyThe society survives to this day although it has changed its name. At one time it was called Sociedad Montenegrina Yugoslava de socorros mutuos "The Montenegrin Yugoslav Society for Mutual Aid" until after the second world war it changes its name to Socieded Yugoslava _ Njegos _ which it is still called today. The fierce political divisions in Montenegro during the 1920's and 30's were experienced by the Montenegrins in Madariaga too, but their descendants are not keen to talk about that, probably not wanting to be reminded of such unpleasant things. All I was able to uncover was that rivalry was very sharp and issues were even settled with firearms with unfortunate consequences. Many other things that happened in Montenegro where reflected in our colonies in Argentina and still have a great influence even today. After a four hour drive from Buenos Aires through unbelievably monotonous landscape, endless valleys with fields full of cows, we finally came upon a sign indicating that we were entering the town of the Gauchos. ImageAt the very entrance to the town there is a very impressive statue of Christ. ImageThere we waited for our hosts, Basilio Vaso Jankovic and Mr. Markovic. When they arrived we set off to the Njegos Hall where the rest of the management of the émigré society were waiting. ImageWith Vaso Jankovic at the reception in the embassy in Buenos Aires We were welcomed extremely warmly as we were everywhere we went during my visit. The people truly did their utmost to entertain us and to give me an opportunity to see everything that interested me. ImageOfficial ToastInside the hall is a large fireplace where asador beef was being roasted "a la gaucho", a well known Argentinean speciality, along with many famous argentine wines and many other side dishes. ImageWith our hostsWe were met in the hall by the Klisic, Novakovic, Radonjic, Markovic, Jankovic, and Bulajic families. I made haste to look round all the walls with a large number of pictures commemorating many events that had taken place in General Madariaga. Some of the most interesting were those form the annual Gaucho celebration, like this one from 1988 where the Montenegrins appeared in their national costumes with their gusle representing the first settlers and the things that they did. ImageFirst prize at the Gaucho celebration 1988 ImageThe first Montenegrins cut down trees.And so we all began to chat about our families, about Argentina, work, history, life, and of course Montenegro. Each one of them had numerous questions about what is going on in Montenegro, how the people live, where various people are, how far away it is etc. The things that most annoys the Montenegrins in General Madariaga and everyone I met in Argentina as a whole is the fact that their existence has been almost completely ignored for so many years by their own country. ImageTable cloth and glass with the figure of Petar IIThey did praise individuals and many people who had worked on their own to give them the minimum necessary to preserve their identity. This has succeeded in colonies such as General Madariaga and Chaco, whereas in Buenos Aires where there are thousands of descendants of our émigrés, I can state that on the basis of all research and carried out to date and personal contact etc., hardly 20% have even occasional contact with their country of origin, and the language and customs disappeared in the second generation which fortunately has not yet happened in those colonies where there was more often a group of enthusiasts who worked at preserving the culture, customs and language. But in spite of everything the majority of people have a huge dose of enthusiasm to accept any positive move or initiative from Montenegro in their direction. Many of them said that they have the feeling that in recent times their have been positive moves and that they are hopeful that it will not remain just a feeling created by a whim of chance or circumstances. ImageAfter lunch together in the "Njegos" hall we said goodbye to our hosts and set off to visit the Markovic family at their famous ranch "Los Pinos" situated not far from the town. ImageWe set off again through the dust of the pampas following our guide Vaso Jankovic. ImageIn the next instalment - Smoked ham at the Markovic ranch

 

 

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