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The Secret Treaty of London

In 1915, the deadlocked battleground on the Western Front in World War I forced England and France to rethink their strategy against the Central Powers. The Allies sought to elicit military support from a then neutral Italy. In exchange for opening a front in the Alps, Italy was promised substantial amounts land in Europe, Asia, and Africa. The Treaty of London, as it became known, also included promises of land to Serbia and Montenegro, as these nations were needed to help offset Bulgaria’s entrance into the war on the side of the Central Powers. The agreement was later rejected by the United States during peace negotiations and eventually nullified. In the years that followed, Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Party frequently pointed to the failure to respect the treaty as a stain on Italian honor, which eventually resulted in Italy seeking to build an empire in Africa and in the Balkans. Serbia and Montenegro tried and failed to seize land they considered rightfully owed to them. The actions left simmering tensions between them and their southern neighbor Albania.

Approximative zones according to the secret Treaty of London, by Andria Radovitch. From the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division collections. Call number, G6831.F2 1915 .R3 Vault.

Approximative zones according to the secret Treaty of London, by Andria Radovitch. From the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division collections. Call number, G6831.F2 1915 .R3 Vault.

The Geography and Map Division holds a signed copy of a map illustrating portions of territorial agreements that resulted from the now infamous treaty. The map in question was created by Andria Radovitch, a Montenegrin nationalist leader who wrote political pamphlets about Montenegro’s claims for the southern half of Lake Scutari/Skadar/Shkoder and its surrounding land, which was held by Albania. Radovitch’s map was one of many presented during the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, where it was not uncommon for parties to cartographically illustrate their territorial demands. Radovitch was a Deputy Prime Minister serving on behalf of the National Assembly of the State of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.

The map’s provenance begins with the author, who likely created it between 1915 and 1919. Through unascertained channels, it reached the State Department’s Division of Political and Economic Information, Geographic Section. The State Department’s Map Division received it on December 18, 1947. It was transferred to the Library of Congress on May 26, 1988. The hand-colored map is scaled 1:400,000 and is sized 45.5 x 36 cm. Radovitch’s annotations are on the left side and outline the so-called “Approximative Zones.” The pink area represents land “Alloted [sic] to Serbia and Montenegro (Valley of the Drim)” and The blue-green area was land “To eventually be allotted to Serbia and Montenegro.” The brown area illustrated the “Islamic State of Albania whose exterior relations Italy is allowed to direct” The light-green area depicted the territory “Allotted to Italy.” The map also shows a purple are representing the “Claims of Grece [sic]”

Montegro’s claims, as depicted on the map, were spelled out in Radovitch’s political treatise, The Question of Scutari. He argued on geographic grounds that the region of Scutari and Lake Scutari was Montenegrin, because the lake flowed to the Adriatic Sea by way of the Boyana River. A pathway to the sea was the right of any nation, he said. He also pointed to the presence of Serbo-Montenegrin cultural influences in the region that were manifested in place names, monuments, and architecture. He claimed that present governance of the region by Albania was nothing more than an a mere interruption of Serb-Montenegrin historic control of the land. If historical and geographic claims were not enough, he argued in the alternative that the territory was deserved payment for military efforts made on behalf of the Allied cause. The land was strategically important, as it lay in the path of the proposed Danube-Adriatic rail line. All of Radovich’s claims, however, were hotly contested by Albanian representatives.

Danube-Adriatic rail line

An enlarged portion of Radovitch’s map that highlights Scutari and the proposed Danube-Adriatic rail line.

Following intense debate in Paris in 1919, Serbia and Montenegro, which made up the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, was not granted total sovereignty over Scutari. The southern portion of the lake and lands on the southern banks remained under the control of Albania, because the United States supported the Albanian position on the issue. While the leaders talked peace in Paris, events on the ground in the Balkans unfolded differently. Following the departure of French troops in 1920, the Serb-led kingdom tried and failed to seize Scutari and other portions of Albania. Territorial issues, like the once heavily contested Scutari, remain a point of tension among these nations to this day.

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