An investigation into the possessions of Russia's powerful elite by leading Russian daily Novaya Gazeta
has led to the claim that more than 40% of property in Montenegro is owned by Russians, and that there are even entire villages which are 100% Russian owned, according to an article in Croatia's Slobodna Dalmacija
on January 8, 2012.
Russian real estate invasion of Montenegro
The paper claims that the investigation, in collaboration with the Centre for the Study of Corruption and Organized Crime - an international organization that brings together journalists and researchers from Eastern Europe - pored over cadastral records at the Montenegrin Land Registry as part of its research, and found evidence of ownership of multiple properties by the prominent Russians, including 150,000m2 of land on the attractive Lustica peninsula, which was once owned by former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov.
Whatever the actual figures, there is no denying the fact that the Russian real estate invasion of the tiny Balkan capital - population 620,000 - has left its mark, as large Russian-owned hotels such as Hotel Splendid in Budva have become recent and very prominent additions to the coastal areas.
Russian schools, Russian villages
The party resort of Budva, long a favourite as a summer resort from holiday-makers from Belgrade, seems to have attracted the Russians in particular. Known in some quarters as Little Russia, Budva has opened its first Russian-language school, and spoken Russian can be heard on its streets and in its cafes throughout the year, even out of the tourist season. Entire villages, such as the Russian Village above the country's most famous attraction - Sveti Stefan - are owned by Russians.
The attractions of Montenegro to Russians are numerous. With no visa requirement for entry, a stunning coastline and attractive Adriatic Sea, Montenegro represents an attractive tourist destination a short flight from Moscow, and the number of charter flights into Tivat from various parts of Russia are testament to its popularity. The fact that both countries share the Orthodox faith is also a cultural advantage.
Russian interest in tourism in Croatia
Figures released for the peak season month of August 2011
, for example, reveal the prominence of the influence of Russian tourism. Montenegro recorded 455,185 arrivals in its peak month, of which more than 20% were Russian, a figure that assumes great significance when countries of the former Yugoslavia are taken out of the equation (Russians were the second biggest visitors after Serbia - 27.9% - and ahead of Bosnia and Hercegovina and Kosovo in third and fourth).
To the more well-heeled Russian, the relatively relaxed approach to urban planning has enabled construction in prime locations to take place, permits which would be impossible to obtain in neighbouring countries such as Croatia for example. It is also a country with EU aspirations, where citizenship can be obtained for investment of a cool half a million euros
, with former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra
became a Montenegrin citizen in early 2010, for example.
The contrast to the Russian influence on Montenegro and its Catholic neighbour Croatia is stark. While richer Russians have bought prime properties in desirable hot spots such as Dubrovnik, Russian tourists are much less prominent.
On the island of Hvar for example - named by Lonely Planet
as its number 5 destination for 2012 - the official tourism statistics for 2011 show that the island was more popular with tourists from 15 other countries ahead of Russia, including Belgium, Canada and Brazil, with Russian arrivals for the entire year recorded at 1,369.
This represents a 10% increase on Russian arrivals on Hvar, which made global headlines with the antics of Prince Harry and Beyonce last summer, and may be the start of increased interest in Croatia. A more relaxed approach to visa regulations to Russian tourists, coupled with the introduction of direct Aeroflot to Dubrovnik
in 2011, and the announcement of Croatia Airlines
routes to both Moscow and St. Petersburg, indicate a growing interest in Russian tourism moving up the Adriatic coast.