Imagine a country so small that the whole ski-in-the-morning, beach-in-the-afternoon thing is feasible. That's Montenegro, a country on the Balkan Peninsula, full of natural wonders and beauty and where people are known for their candor, enthusiasm and hospitality.
But when the leader of the democratic free world, Donald Trump, throws our country, into the chaotic news cycle -- or under the bus -- by calling us "very aggressive" people, we have to stand up for ourselves.
Has Montenegro's history been perfect? No, but we have tried to persevere, and we need like-minded allies to continue our efforts.
Considering we have a population of only around 600,000, we may seem insignificant to others. But our will and desire to be a responsible member of the international community should be recognized and supported. Surely, NATO will not collapse without Montenegro, but Montenegro might not survive without NATO.
Still, our tiny nation has been able to accomplish incredible things.
During the era when we were under communist rule, as part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Montenegrins built roads, railroads and ports for trade.
And in its 12 short years as an independent country, Montenegro has become one of the hottest tourist destinations in Central and Eastern Europe. It has also become a leading destination for foreign investment.
And it has attracted many in the region who are looking for a relatively safe and secure country to call home. We embrace European trends and values, such as respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law.
Additionally, we are making economic progress. We have a fiscal strategy in place that aims to decrease our debt from 73% GDP to 63% by 2020.
Once a conservative society, we have embraced diversity -- gay-pride parades are routinely held without incident -- and we've made great strides to close the political and economic gaps between men and women.
We are proud to have many women in important leading roles, such as government ministers, the secretary general to the government, members of parliament and corporate leaders. And we are striving to achieve gender equality on par with much of Western Europe.
Many generations were raised on the words of Montenegrin general and writer, Marko Miljanov Popovic, who famously said: "Bravery is to defend yourself from another and humanity is to defend the other from yourself."
When you put it like this, it feels like there hasn't been a time in which Montenegro hasn't been "on the defense."
In the past, Montenegro has certainly been home to racist and religious intolerance. During World War II, two Yugoslav partisan soldiers -- Boro Vukmirovi- (an ethnic-Serb from Montenegro) and Ramiz Sadiku (an ethnic-Albanian) -- developed a close friendship. The country's fascists refused to accept this and executed them for it in 1943.
However, when the communists took over after the war, they turned the soldiers' friendship into a symbol of "Brotherhood and Unity" (a slogan that Yugoslavia's Communist Party coined).
And that symbolism of tolerance continued into the nineties during the Yugoslav Wars. Montenegrins have embraced people from across the region. Nearly 30,000 refugees from Bosnia and Croatia came to our tiny country in the mid-1990s. And another 28,000 internally displaced persons came in 1999 during the Kosovo crisis.
Today, there are 22 recognized religious groups living in Montenegro, guaranteed equality and freedom by the Constitution.
Indeed, we've opened our arms to others -- even in the midst of trying to fix our own problems. As our foreign minister Srdjan Darmanovic put it in response to Trump's "aggressive" comment, Montenegrins "have been fighting for freedom for centuries. And Montenegrins are brave people in those fights for freedom."
We have been dealing with problems inherited from the communist era. Unsuccessful privatization processes have led to the closing of many factories. Once an industrial giant, Montenegro now has many ghost towns, leaving thousands of people without jobs.
But we have faith that this path that we have chosen, with the help of our allies, will solve our problems peacefully. We understand the importance of integration.
Don't forget that Montenegro started the process of joining NATO even after it was bombed by the alliance in 1999. Although Montenegro was not the intended target, NATO aircraft bombed targets in Montenegro -- then part of a federal republic with Serbia -- during the Kosovo War. We joined NATO so that the horrors of that period would never happen to us again.
Montenegro is tiny, but our people are generous and proud -- and we want to be treated as such. We have gracefully assumed our place in modern society, and we hope that no one will ever have an excuse to harm us.
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