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Denial and Repression of Antisemitism

Jovan Byford

Chapter One. Introduction

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1Recent years have seen a rise in interest in the topic of “collective memory” among historians, sociologists, political scientists, and psychologists (Irwin-Zarecka, 1994; Kansteiner, 2002; Maier 1997; Middleton & Edwards, 1990; Misztal, 2003; Olick, 1999; Wertsch, 2002). Although the precise meaning and the scope of terms, such as “collective memory,” “social memory,” “social remembering,” and “national” or “public” memory, remain a matter of debate (Wood, 1999), there appears to be agreement among scholars on the subject that shared, non-consensual, and frequently contested representations of the past, which define social identities and delineate boundaries between social groups, constitute a topic worthy of academic consideration.

2One factor which contributed to the renewed interest in collective memory in the past fifteen or twenty years was the number of radical changes in the representations of the past which accompanied, and were in many ways constitutive of, the post-communist transition in Eastern Europe (Jedlicki, 1999; Muller, 2002; Todorova, 2004; Verdery, 1999; Wertsch, 2002). The fall of communism in the region was accompanied by extensive rewriting of history aimed at overturning communist interpretations of the past, which had dominated national historiographies and collective memory since the end of World War II. In many cases, this process led to misguided instances of revisionism and the rehabilitation of a number of contentious historical figures, some of whom, forty years earlier, had attained notoriety for their antisemitism and fascist and pro-Nazi leanings. Since the late 1980s, biographies of the likes of Ante Pavelić in Croatia, General Ion Antonescu in Romania, Jozef Tiso in Slovakia, and Miklos Horthy in Hungary were subjected to a comprehensive makeover, as attempts were made to transform their status from villains to heroes, perpetrators to victims (Ramet, 1999; Shafir, 2002; Volovici, 1994).

3The rewriting of the past in Eastern Europe went hand in hand with religious revival across former communist lands and the return of organized religion into public life. One way in which resurgent Christian churches sought to establish authority in the ideological vacuum left behind by the decline of communism was through participation in the re-evaluation of national history. Ecclesiastical establishments aligned themselves with nationalist forces in the attempt to weave religion into the narratives of the national past and position the church at the core of national identity. As a result, in much of post-1989 Eastern Europe, confessional affiliation came to be regarded as an important marker of national belongingness; religious rites were a ubiquitous ingredient of nationalist commemorative rituals; while in some instances (such as in the case of the Romanov imperial family in Russia or Bishop Alojzije Stepinac in Croatia), canonization emerged as the appropriate symbolic act through which political rehabilitation could be signified.

4The reinterpretation of the national past which swept Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall did not bypass Serbian society (see Kuljić, 2002; Popov, 1993). For the duration of Milošević’s quasi-socialist regime, revisionism was by and large devoid of official backing from the state, and remained the provenance of influential national(ist) institutions, such as the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Serbian Union of Writers, who were aided in their endeavors by numerous public figures, right-wing political organizations, and publishers. As a result of their combined efforts over the years, the country witnessed a significant change in the understanding of the nation’s history, especially in relation to World War II. The Serbian Orthodox Church—the largest and the most influential religious institution in the land and the self-professed guardian of the nation’s values and main interpreter of its past—played a significant role in facilitating these changes. The much publicized exhumation and religious burial of Serbian victims of the Ustasha regime in Bosnia and Croatia, which the Serbian Orthodox Church organized in 1991, reflected the desire to reconfigure public memory and popularize the martyrological interpretation of Serbian history which had been articulated by the 1987 memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences and which was being instrumentalized by the up-and-coming nationalist political elite. The Serbian Orthodox Church also helped to revise the popular perceptions of collaboration during the Nazi occupation of Serbia (1941–1944) and enhance the public image of a number of collaborators and World War II nationalist leaders such as Generals Draža Mihailović and Milan Nedić or Dimitrije Ljotić (Popov, 1993). In 1994, at the religious service in honor of the head of the Serbian collaborationist government, General Milan Nedić, Patriarch Pavle of the Serbian Orthodox Church hailed Nedić as a “savior of the Serbian people” (Torov, 1994). In doing so he affirmed, from the position of highest spiritual authority in the land, the apologist interpretation of collaboration which continues to be advanced by the political far-right to the present day, and which in 2003 even made it into the school curriculum (see Byford, 2007). Similarly, the longstanding positive stance towards General Draža Mihailović in the religious press in Serbia—which dates back to the late 1980s—culminated in 2004 when Father Miodrag Popović, editor-in-chief of the country’s main Christian publication Pravoslavlje, suggested that Mihailović (who was tried for treason and executed as a Nazi collaborator by the Yugoslav communists in 1946) was not only a “Serb who genuinely believed in God,” but also a “confessor and martyr who died for Christ’s faith” and therefore nothing less than a “saint” (M. Popović, 2005, p. 55).

5The present book examines a specific example of collective memory transformation in post-communist Serbian society, one in which the Serbian Orthodox Church played a central role. It explores the changing representation, over the past twenty or so years of the recently canonized Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović (1881–1956), a controversial early 20th century Serbian Orthodox Christian philosopher who, having been vilified by communist authorities as a traitor and a fascist, is today widely revered in Serbia as a saint and the greatest national religious figure since medieval times. As we will see in the next chapter, in Tito’s Yugoslavia, Nikolaj Velimirović was the embodiment of the reactionary forces within the Serbian Orthodox Church. He was disparaged as an agent of imperialism, an antisemite, a “lackey of the Germans” even a “war criminal.” These evaluations of Velimirović’s personal history, although often exaggerated and tendentious, were nonetheless based on a number of controversies surrounding his life and work, which remain a topic of public contention even today. And yet, in spite of the ongoing controversy, in present day Serbia, the unprecedented greatness of “the Holy Bishop Nikolaj” and his unique contribution to Orthodox Christianity are routinely lauded in both mainstream and ecclesiastical press. His place in the history of the Christian Church is seen as being right next to St Sava and St John Chrysostom. He is hailed by the Serbian Orthodox Church as a martyr, a prophet, and a saint. In the days preceding the canonization ceremony in May 2003, more than ten thousand faithful queued for hours to worship Velimirović’s “holy remains,” displayed in an open casket. What is more, in recent years a score of public figures in Serbia, including a number of prominent politicians, have cited the once reviled Serbian bishop as an unquestionable spiritual and intellectual authority. The aim of the forthcoming chapters is to examine the transformation in Velimirović’s public standing over the past two decades and shed light on the dynamics of social remembering and forgetting which enabled the now prevailing affirmative representations of his life and legacy to emerge from behind forty years of vilification and marginalization, and transform the controversial bishop into a central figure of contemporary Serbian Orthodox Christian culture.

6In examining the shift in Velimirović’s public image since the 1980s, the book focuses on collective memory. Subsequent chapters explore public memorial discourse, including representations of Bishop Velimirović in the media, at commemorative ceremonies, in political and ecclesiastical discourses, in books and pamphlets, in religious art, and in other aspects of Serbian Orthodox Christian culture. Remembering in the context of spoken dialogue is also examined, which includes the analysis of thirteen interviews—conducted specifically for the purposes of the present study—with public figures that have been actively involved in Velimirović’s rehabilitation over the past two decades. Because of the focus on social remembering, rather than on accounts of Velimirović’s life found in official and institutionalized historical writing, the temptation to look at the subject matter as an instance of “historical revisionism” will be resisted. Although the relationship between “history” and “memory” is a complex and controversial one, it can nonetheless be suggested that important differences exist in institutional, epistemological, and rhetorical dynamics between historiography as an academic discipline, and everyday social remembering (e.g., Kansteiner, 2002; Misztal, 2003). Peter Novick (2001) even argues that collective memory is not just “ahistorical” but “antihistorical.” Contrary to what history at least ought to be like, memory is always simplistic, ideologically committed, “impatient with ambiguities,” and prone to reducing events to “mythic archetypes” (pp. 4–5). This will be shown to be apparent in the memory of Nikolaj Velimirović. Public remembrance of Velimirović’s life in Serbian Orthodox culture is fragmented and patchy. The spotlight of memory is focused on selected snapshots, singular episodes, and vivid images without sufficient regard for sequential chronological ordering or narrative coherence characteristic of historical accounts. The concept of “historical revisionism” is also inadequate because it implies that there is an official view of history or the past that is, or ought to be, the subject of revision (White, 2000). In the realm of collective memory there are no unitary, hegemonic representations of the past. Instead of a “mnemonic consensus,” there are multiple memories engaged in a conflict for supremacy and social influence (Olick and Robbins, 1998). Memory is inherently tied in with the concept of social identity. Political, religious, national, ethnic, or gender divisions delineate “memory communities,” whose conflicting representations of the past reflect diverse identities, motives, and ideological commitments. In the pluralist world of multiple memories, collective memory is not a consensual view of the past, but a field of contestation, a symbolic space where different perspectives compete over the “possession and interpretation of memory” (Thelen, 1989).

7The assumption regarding the plurality of memory calls for the recognition of the inherently argumentative nature of remembering. To remember is not merely to recall the past, but to recall it in a way that undermines the alternative “counter-memories.” As well as simply “telling a story,” remembering seeks to actively “forget” potentially embarrassing or threatening aspects of the past, to undermine the credibility of the creators of alternative perspectives, or to “reify” one’s own interpretation by presenting it as an indisputable aspect of empirical reality and a collection of “historical facts.” According to Gur-Ze’ev and Pappe (2003), remembering involves “symbolic violence”: its rhetorical dynamic aims to “[position] more effectively one’s own narrative, interests, values, symbols, goals and criteria, while at the same time ensuring that those of the Other are marginalized excluded or destroyed” (p. 93). Also, the argumentative context, consisting of the nexus of publicly available “counter memories,” determines what topics are worth remembering and how they are to be remembered (Schudson, 1989). As the forthcoming chapters will show, the way in which supporters remember Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović is very much driven by the nature of the controversy surrounding his writing. Favorable accounts of the bishop’s life and achievements orient towards, and attempt to undermine and sideline the alternative, less complimentary interpretations of his personal history, be it the remnants of the older communist critique or the more contemporary unsympathetic appraisals popularized in recent years by the liberal public opinion in Serbia.

8The principal contention surrounding Velimirović’s life and work—over which there is conflict among different “memory communities” in Serbia, and which determines the discourse of his remembrance—is antisemitism. The disagreement over the memory of Nikolaj Velimirović is a dispute over whether he should be remembered as a Man of God and the greatest Serbian religious persona since the medieval Serbian St Sava, or as a thinker and a writer whose status in Serbian history and the history of the Serbian Orthodox Church is compromised by a radical nationalist outlook rooted in the ideological context of the 1930s, and by the presence, in his writing, of an unpardonable contempt for Jews deeply reminiscent of the European fascist tradition.

9In the forthcoming chapters, the public remembrance of Nikolaj Velimirović within Serbian Orthodox Christian culture will be shown to have been guided by the overwhelming concern with making him not appear antisemitic. This continuous effort to repress, undermine, deny, or justify Velimirović’s contempt for Jews, to cleanse his biography of all controversy and popularize a sanitized version of his life—which is the principle topic of this book—exposes as the fundamental preoccupation, among Velimirović’s supporters, what in discursive and rhetorical psychology is called “moral accountability management.” Discourse analytic research has shown that individuals and groups participate in social interaction as actors in a moral universe, operating within a culturally specific set of rules regarding what is right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable. Much of everyday interaction, including remembering, is spent accounting for one’s beliefs and conduct within the salient framework of values, and negotiating for oneself a credible position within the moral universe (Burr, 2003). Crucially for the present discussion, the issue of moral accountability lies at the core of political debate on inter-racial, inter-ethnic, inter-religious, and other forms of community relations (see Augoustinos et al. 2002; Billig, 1990; LeCouteur & Augoustinos 2001; Rapley, 2001; Van Dijk, 1984, 1987, 1992, 1993; Wetherell and Potter, 1992; Wodak, 1991; etc.). When articulating views on what are widely perceived as controversial matters on race, ethnicity, and religion, speakers go to considerable lengths to deny that they are being prejudiced, presenting their beliefs and actions as compliant with the powerful social norm against public display of intolerance.

10The willful forgetting or repression of Velimirović’s antisemitism, as well the rhetoric of denial, which are constitutive of the way in which the bishop’s followers recall their hero, both endeavor to give Velimirović and his ideological position credibility, authority, and integrity in a broader social context where some of his ideas might be seen as violating prevailing norms of ethnic and racial tolerance, and where his reputation is constantly brought into question by rival memory communities. As well as protecting the reputation of Nikolaj Velimirović, repression and denial of his antisemitism safeguard the public image and the social influence of his supporters and admirers, whose group identity is defined by their allegiance to the controversial bishop and by their shared favorable representations of his legacy.

11Repression and denial of antisemitism in the remembrance of Nikolaj Velimirović have an additional broader dimension. In the aftermath of World War II, Christian churches found themselves under pressure to eradicate from their doctrines and religious life what Jules Isaac (1964) aptly referred to as the Christian “teaching of contempt” for Jews. The pressure on churches has been underpinned by the recognition of a historical and ideological link between the longstanding tradition of Christian anti-Judaism and modern variants of secular antisemitism (see Chapter 5 for a more detailed examination of this link). The response of different Christian denominations to the changing moral environment since 1945 has been varied. In the Protestant churches negative conceptions of Jews and Judaism have been mostly confined to the margins. The Catholic Church, on which much of the critical attention had been focused, formally distanced itself from the tradition of Christian anti-Judaism in a series of statements that built on the Nostra Aetate document adopted by the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Although it is often argued that efforts of the Catholic Church have been slow and in many ways inadequate (e.g., Carrol, 2002; Goldhagen, 2002), there appears to be agreement that the Vatican has taken significant steps towards improving Catholic–Jewish relations.

12Efforts to meet the standards of what Jocelyn Hellig (2002) calls “responsible theology,” apparent in western Christendom since the Holocaust, have largely bypassed the Orthodox world. Eastern churches, including the Serbian Orthodox Church, have not as yet formally addressed, from a doctrinal or ecclesiastical perspective, the problem of Christian anti-Judaism (M. Đorđević, 1998; Gurevich, 1995; Hackel, 1998; Rudnev, 1995; Tabak, 2000). Dogged traditionalism and staunch belief in the immutability of the Holy Tradition ensures the persistence of “mediaeval preconceptions” of Jews in contemporary Orthodox theology (Tabak, 2000). Although Christian anti-Judaism is for the most part implicit, and thus cannot be said to play a significant part in the everyday religious life of the Orthodox faithful, the outdated and lamentable view of Jews as reprobate Christ-killers persists in Orthodox Christianity’s official religious doctrine and liturgical practice. The failure of the eastern churches to follow in the footsteps of their western counterparts puts them in somewhat of a dilemma vis-à-vis contemporary mainstream political morality. When dealing with the issue of Christian–Jewish relations, Orthodox religious authorities must articulate their stance in a way that preserves the Church’s traditionalist and reactionary anti-Judaic official dogma without blatantly contravening the prevailing secular norms of ethnic and religious tolerance. This “ideological dilemma” (Billig et al., 1988) imposes considerable rhetorical demands on the followers of Nikolaj Velimirović. The remembrance of the controversial bishop must be articulated not just in a way that makes the bishop’s views appear non-antisemitic, but also in a manner that would not undermine in any way the Church’s traditionalist ideological position on Jews. As we will see, the required ideological balancing act plays a role in determining the nature and the function of both repression and denial.

13The remembrance of Nikolaj Velimirović is not the only arena in which the Serbian Orthodox Church manages its moral accountability vis-à-vis its position on Jews and Judaism. On several occasions over the past two decades, the Church found itself under pressure to distance itself from expressions of antisemitism within its ranks. In 1992 the magazine Pravoslavlje, the official publication of the patriarchate of the Serbian Orthodox Church, published an openly antisemitic text that alleged the persecution of Christians by Jews in Israel (“Jevreji ponovo raspinju Hrista,” 1992). Following protests from the country’s Jewish community, the synod of the Serbian Church dismissed the magazine’s editor-in-chief and apologized for the incident (Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church, 1992). Three years later the synod publicly condemned the publishing activity of Ratibor Đurđević, Serbia’s most prolific writer and distributor of antisemitic material, whose anti-Jewish diatribes are steeped in Orthodox Christian rhetoric (see Sekelj, 1997). In 2002, the same body distanced itself from Father Žarko Gavrilović, after this notoriously antisemitic priest made unacceptable claims about the Jewish community in a television show. These instances of public distancing are a testimony to the desire of the Serbian Orthodox Church to maintain cordial relations with the local Jewish communal bodies, and build on a much longer tradition of amiable Christian–Jewish relations in Serbia (see Freidenreich, 1979; Gordiejew, 1999; Ž. Lebl, 2001). And yet, as we will show in Chapter 4, the condemnation of antisemitic outbursts tends to be articulated in a way that preserves the Serbian Orthodox Church’s egalitarian and tolerant self-image, while at the same time warding off any substantive examination of the root causes of these recurring and discomforting (albeit rare) incidents.

14Just like any representation of the life and the writings of Nikolaj Velimirović, this book is situated within the argumentative context at the centre of which is the controversy surrounding his legacy. For this reason, it may be beneficial to declare at the outset the author’s stance on this matter. While reserving judgment on Nikolaj Velimirović’s overall contribution to Orthodox theology and spirituality or the artistic merit of his extensive literary output, this book takes an unequivocally critical stance towards his position on Jews, which it regards as lamentable and indefensible. Forthcoming chapters are equally critical of the unwillingness and inability of the Serbian Orthodox Church—a prominent mainstream institution whose moral influence in Serbian society is steadily growing—to adequately distance itself from Velimirović’s controversial writings and recognize that many of the views which “the greatest Serb since St Sava” held on society, history, and politics belong to an obsolete and discredited ideological tradition of 1930s conservative thought. What is more, one of the main argument of the book is that in an attempt to exonerate him from criticism and rescue his reputation from the marginal place in history allocated to it in communist versions of the past, Velimirović’s supporters have gone as far as to present their hero’s most controversial views not only as unproblematic, but sometimes also as a legitimate aspect of Orthodox Christian religious identity. By suppressing, justifying, excusing, minimizing and trivializing Velimirović’s antisemitic writings, the dynamics of repression and denial have transformed his contempt for Jews into a satisfactory, acceptable and within some circles of Serbian Orthodox culture, even normative stance towards Jews.

15A number of studies on antisemitism in Serbia published in the past fifteen years (Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, 2001, 2003a, 2003b; Sekelj, 1995, 1997) have made a connection between the rise in antisemism in Serbia since the 1990s and Velimirović’s return to the mainstream of Serbian Orthodox Christian culture. This link has been the focus of particular attention since the year 2000 when a number of often militant Christian right-wing organizations, which espouse antisemitic ideas, emerged on Serbia’s political landscape (see Chapter 4). And yet, while accurately identifying Nikolaj Velimirović as the main ideological authority of the emerging Christian Right in Serbia, studies published to date have not explored in adequate detail how Velimirović’s rehabilitation over the past twenty years contributed to the reappearance of antisemitism in Serbia. The forthcoming chapters address this question directly and explore specifically how the management of Velimirović’s moral credibility and the failure by the Serbian Church to adequately tackle the issue of his anti-Jewish diatribes legitimized antisemitism and enabled it to emerge out of the woodwork within a society without an established antisemitic political tradition and within which anti-Jewish prejudice had hitherto had a negligible presence.

16The present work is also the first detailed analysis of the post-communist remembrance of Nikolaj Velimirović and the first comprehensive exploration of the controversy surrounding his life and work. A critical examination of Velimirović’s legacy is important because he is held in high regard not just in Serbia, but also within theological circles in Western Europe and the United States, where there appears to be a widespread unawareness of the controversy surrounding his views. As we will see, this lack of knowledge is caused mainly by the fact that much of the literature in the West relies on the very same sanitized interpretations of Velimirović’s life which the present book aims to expose.

17The following chapter (Chapter 2) provides an outline of Velimirović’s biography, with particular focus on the controversy surrounding his life and work. Also, it examines the campaign against Nikolaj Velimirović during the communist era and situates it in the broader context of church–state relations in the former Yugoslavia. The marginal position which the controversial bishop occupied in public memory in the post-war period is then contrasted with the widespread popularity he is enjoying in Serbia today. This chapter sets the scene for the four empirical or analytical chapters, which examine discursive and rhetorical processes underpinning the transformation in Velimirović’s public image.

18Chapter 3 explores the dynamic of forgetting, or social repression. The rehabilitation of Nikolaj Velimirović—especially in the late 1980s and early 1990s—is shown to have involved continuous suppression and sidelining of the controversial aspects of his biography. Drawing on the work of Iwona Irwin-Zarecka (1994) and Michael Billig (1997a, 1999a, 1999b), this chapter suggests that embarrassing aspects of the bishop’s life were “repressed” by being substituted with a suitable “replacement myth,” namely the portrayal of Velimirović as a martyr and a victim of Nazi persecution. The chapter explores the dynamic by means of which the emphasis on the bishop’s alleged martyrdom helped to maintain the controversy away from social remembrance.

19Chapters 4 and 5 focus on the strategies of denial of antisemitism which have played a more prominent role in the memory of Nikolaj Velimirović since 2000, when his uncritical adulation within the Serbian Orthodox culture came under closer scrutiny and criticism from liberal public opinion and representatives of the country’s Jewish community. Chapter 4 examines the responses to criticism and focuses on the rhetoric of social denial, namely the frequently articulated claim that there has never been any antisemitism in Serbian society and especially not within the Serbian Orthodox Church. By exploring the rhetorical construction of this general myth of national and confessional self-glorification and by examining its various components (e.g., literal and comparative denial, use of offensive rhetoric, and the strategy of reversal), this chapter reveals how social denial diverts attention from the specific controversy surrounding Nikolaj Velimirović’s life and helps to undermine the credibility of memory communities that propagate a more critical stance towards his reputation. Most importantly, as well as shielding the bishop’s reputation from criticism, the perpetuation of the myth about the inherent tolerance of Serbs keeps the topic of antisemitism off the public agenda and facilitates the refusal to recognize it as a social problem that warrants attention and action.

20Chapter 5 explores in more detail the ways in which accusations of antisemitism directed at Velimirović personally are dealt with among his supporters. The chapter examines a variety of rhetorical strategies, the most important of which is the rhetoric of “interpretative denial,” namely the construction of Velimirović’s stance towards Jews as an acceptable form of “theological” or “Biblical” antisemitism, the roots of which are to be found in the Christian Bible. By exploring and scrutinizing this argument, Chapter 5 shows how this type of rhetoric enables Christian antisemitism, as well as to other forms of anti-Jewish prejudice, to be perceived as a normal and even normative aspect of contemporary Orthodox Christian identity.

21Finally, Chapter 6 examines the campaign for Velimirović’s canonization that began in the late 1980s and ended in May 2003, when the bishop was formally included in the Diptych of Serbian Saints. In exploring the construction of Velimirović’s sanctity, it is argued that while the campaign tended to sidestep the controversy surrounding his antisemitism, certain constructions of the bishop’s holiness were fundamentally linked to the controversy surrounding his earthly existence. Moreover, the social construction of Velimirović’s sanctity will be shown to have endowed the antisemitic aspect of his ideology with almost divine authority, ensuring its persistence in the discourse of his celebration as a national saint.

22What follows is a brief outline of the written materials used in the study and details of the interviews conducted for the purposes of this research.

Materials Used in the Study. PRINTED MATERIAL

23The present research project is based on detailed analysis of representations of Nikolaj Velimirović in a wide range of texts ranging from the mainstream press and scholarly writings (Bigović, 1998; Janić, 1994; Janković, 2002a, 2002b, 2003; Jevtić, 2003a; Samardžić, 2004; Saramandić, 2004; etc.), through popular hagiographic booklets (e.g., Janković, 2004; Najdanović, 2001; A. Radosavljević, 1986; etc.) and the ecclesiastical press, all the way to representations found in books and magazines published by the extreme right in Serbia (magazines such as Dveri, Novine Srpsko Ogledalo, Pogledi, etc.; also Đurđević, 1997, 2002, 2003; Gavrilović, 1998; Krstić, 2002; etc.). The Christian press examined in the study includes Pravoslavlje (Orthodoxy), the official publication of the patriarchate of the Serbian Orthodox Church; Glas Crkve (Voice of the Church), published by the diocese of Šabac and Valjevo, which was instrumental in the popularization of Velimirović’s work in the late 1980s and early 1990s; Hrišćanska Misao (Christian Thought), published by the Orthodox Theological Faculty in Belgrade; Svetigora (Holy Mountain), published by the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral; Žički Blagovesnik (Žiča Herald), published by the diocese of Žiča; Sveti Knez Lazar (Holy Prince Lazar), published by the diocese of Raška and Prizren; and Jefimija, an independent publication from the city of Trstenik. The study also examines portrayals of Nikolaj Velimirović in the mainstream press, especially in dailies such as Blic, Danas, Ekspress Politika, Glas Javnosti, Politika, and Večernje Novosti; and weekly publications including Blic News, NIN, Vreme, and others.

24In the examination of the press, special attention has been paid to reports and transcripts of commemorative ceremonies devoted to Nikolaj Velimirović. Speeches and sermons delivered by high church officials at such ceremonies were often reported, in the 1980s and 1990s in the ecclesiastical press (above all in Glas Crkve and Pravoslavlje), and more recently also in independent media, such as Vreme, Radio B92 and Radio Free Europe, albeit in a more critical context.

25Besides looking at media representations of Nikolaj Velimirović in the past two decades, the study briefly examines depictions during the communist era (between 1946 and the mid-1980s). Material pertaining to this period consists mainly of debates in the mainstream press about the merits of Bishop Nikolaj’s philosophy and the nature of his political stance during World War II. The most significant debates took place in 1948–1950, 1968, 1972, 1981, and 1986. The outline in Chapter 2 of these early disputes about Velimirović’s credibility offers insight into the background to the controversy and the argumentative context within which the subsequent rehabilitation had to be realized. The analysis of the material published since 1986 is more detailed, and focuses on the rhetorical and discursive dynamics by the means of which Nikolaj Velimirović gradually became reinstated in the roll call of Serbian national heroes.


26While the bulk of the project examines textual material and speeches and sermons reported in the media, the analysis is supplemented with additional interview data. This data consists of recorded conversations with individuals from different political and occupational backgrounds who have an interest in Nikolaj Velimirović and who have played a role in the popularization of his views. Twelve interviews were conducted in July and August 2003 with members of the Serbian Orthodox Church, intellectuals, men of letters, and activists of Christian right-wing political organizations. The aim of the interviews was to examine the ways in which the management of the controversy surrounding Velimirović’s work, which is apparent in the media, manifests itself and is played out in the context of spoken dialogue. These interviews also enabled the author to question many of the protagonists of Velimirović’s rehabilitation who featured in the media, on issues specifically related to the project at hand. Interviews were recorded and subsequently transcribed by professional transcribers based in Belgrade. The details of the interviews and interviewees are listed below:


27Bates was interviewed as the leader of the now defunct Udruženje studenata Sv. Justin Filozof (St Justin the Philosopher Association of Students), popularly known as “Justin,” founded in 2001. In the early days of its existence, “Justin” was as an extremist nationalist student organization, which openly espoused the ideology of Orthodox Christian far-right. However, by 2003 the organization’s leadership sought to shed its extremist image and toned down its rhetoric. For a while it operated as a formal student organization with offices at the Philosophical Faculty in Belgrade. Nikolaj Velimirović was the organization’s main spiritual and ideological authority. The conversation with Bates, which was held in Belgrade, lasted approximately 120 minutes.


28Bećković is one of Serbia’s leading poets and public figures. In the early days of the campaign for Velimirović’s rehabilitation, in the late 1980s, Bećković was a regular participant in commemorative ceremonies which were organized in the diocese of Šabac and Valjevo. He continues to perform this function to the present day: in 2002, Bećković delivered a speech at the unveiling of the statue of Velimirović at the Soko Monastery in central Serbia. Matija Bećković is thought to be close to Velimirović’s followers within the Church, especially the Bishop of Montenegro Amfilohije Radović. The conversation held in Belgrade lasted approximately 75 minutes.


29Radovan Bigović is a priest at the Monastery St Archangel Michael in Zemun near Belgrade and lecturer in comparative theology at the Orthodox Theological Faculty in Belgrade. He is considered to be one of the leading experts on the work of Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović. His doctoral thesis on Velimirović, subsequently published as the book entitled From All-Man to the Man of God: The Christian Philosophy of Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović (1998) is one of the most comprehensive studies of Velimirović’s life and work to date. Bigović is also a well-known and respected public figure who frequently appears in the media and comments on religious matters. The conversation with Bigović lasted approximately 45 minutes.


30Drašković is a popular Serbian writer and politician. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, as leader of the right-wing Serbian Renewal Movement, Drašković was one of the leading opponents of Slobodan Milošević. He was also one of the main advocates of the rehabilitation of the Chetnik movement. In the late 1980s, he regularly attended commemorative ceremonies organized in Velimirović’s honor and made a significant contribution to the popularization of the bishop’s work. Following the electoral success at parliamentary elections held in December 2003, Drašković’s party entered Serbia’s ruling coalition, a move which earned him the post of Foreign Minister first in the federal government of Serbia and Montenegro, and later (after the secession of Montenegro in 2006) in the government of Serbia. At the January 2007 elections, Drašković’s party failed to win any parliamentary seats, which marked the end of his ministerial career. The interview with Drašković lasted approximately 60 minutes.


31Janković is Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church and editor of an extensive three-volume collection of documents about Nikolaj Velimirović published in 2002 (vols. 1 and 2) and 2003 (vol. 3) under the title Bishop Nikolaj: His Life, Thought, and Work. Janković declined the offer of an interview, but agreed to provide a written answer to five questions, which were submitted to his office at the patriarchate by post. The answers, produced in the form of a six-page document, were returned to the author with the understanding that they represent Janković’s personal opinion rather than the official stance of the Serbian Orthodox Church. During the brief encounter with the author at the headquarters of the patriarchate, Janković expressed the intention to publish his response in the near future in one of the publications of the Serbian Orthodox Church.


32Mileusnić, an art historian and theologian, was one of the leading experts on Serbian religious art and the curator of the Museum of the Serbian Orthodox Church, located in the building of the patriarchate in Belgrade. Between 1989 and 1992 Mileusnić was the editor-in-chief of Pravoslavlje. He was sacked in February 1992, following the publication of an antisemitic article (see above). Mileusnić was also an expert on Serbian saints and the canonization process in the Serbian Orthodox Church. The third and updated edition of Mileusnić’s book, Holy Serbs, published in 2003, includes an entry on Nikolaj Velimirović. The conversation lasted approximately 45 minutes.


33Mladenović is the founder of the Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović Orthodox Spiritual Centre, located in the town of Kraljevo. The interview took place at the Centre, which is located in the house where Velimirović lived between 1936 and 1941, while bishop of Žiča. Until recently Mladenović was a lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Nikšić, Montenegro and deacon to the now retired Bishop Atanasije Jevtić, one of the leading advocates of Velimirović’s religious philosophy within the Serbian Orthodox Church. The conversation with Mladenović lasted approximately 180 minutes.


34Nešić is the leader of the Srpski Sabor Dveri (Dveri Serbian Assembly), another Christian right-wing youth organization consisting mainly of students from the University of Belgrade. At the university, Dveri regularly arranges public debates and seminars devoted to the popularization of Velimirović’s clerical-nationalist philosophy. The organization publishes a quarterly magazine, Dveri Srpske, of which Nešić is editor. In the autumn of 2004 he was instated as the executive editor of Pravoslavlje. The conversation with Nešić took place in Belgrade, and lasted approximately 220 minutes.


35At the time of the interview, Obradović was the leader of Otačastveni pokret Obraz (Patriotic Movement Dignity), one of the leading rightwing youth organizations in Serbia founded in the mid-1990s, which cites Nikolaj Velimirović as the principal authority (see Byford 2002, 2006). Obradović took over the leadership of Obraz in 2001, following the death of the organization’s founder, the theologian Nebojša Krstić. Obradović resigned in 2006, although he remains an active member of the organization. The conversation with Obradović lasted approximately 90 minutes.


36Archimandrite Jovan Radosavljević is one of a few remaining living associates of Nikolaj Velimirović. In the 1930s, Radosavljević obtained employment at Velimirović’s episcopate and became one of his proteges. In 1991 Radosavljević wrote the book Life and Suffering of Monasteries Žiča and Studenica Before, During and After the Occupation (1938–1945), which contains a detailed account of Bishop Nikolaj’s life during the Second World War. A second edition of this book was published in 2003 (J. Radosavljević, 2003). The conversation with Radosavljević lasted approximately 45 minutes.


37Deacon Ljubomir Ranković is the director of Glas Crkve, one of the leading publishers of religious literature in Serbia, based in the Serbian town of Valjevo. Between 1974 and 1989 Ranković was deacon to Bishop of Šabac and Valjevo Jovan Velimirović, nephew of Bishop Nikolaj. Bishop Jovan and Deacon Ranković were the leading figures in the campaign for Nikolaj Velimirović’s rehabilitation in the late 80s and early 90s. The two clerics publicized Velimirović’s work in the journal Glas Crkve which they founded, and were the first to publish his books in post-communist Serbia. In 1996 Ranković founded Radio Glas Crkve, Serbia’s first Christian radio station on which he presented a daily show until the station lost its broadcasting license in 2007. The conversation with Ranković, which took place in the offices of Glas Crkve in Valjevo, lasted approximately 180 minutes.


38Stojanović is an Orthodox priest officiating at the Sveta Petka Monastery in Belgrade. He is also lecturer in Pastoral theology with Homiletics at the Orthodox Theological Faculty in Belgrade. At the time of the interview, Stojanović was also editor-in-chief of Pravoslavlje, the official publication of the patriarchate of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Stojanović is considered to be a progressive voice within the Serbian Orthodox Church. He occasionally appears in national and local media where he comments on religious and ecclesiastical matters. The interview, which lasted approximately 120 minutes, was held in Stojanović’s offices at the monastery.

© Central European University Press, 2008

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