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Denial and Repression of Antisemitism

Jovan Byford

Chapter Three. Collective Remembering and Collective Forgetting

Memory of Nikolaj Velimirović and the Repression of Controversy

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Ivan Kuzminović: “We have just canonized the famous Bishop Nikolaj. This is a man who writes in his book Nationalism of St Sava that Adolf Hitler is a man who will promote [the values of St Sava]… Do you want me to give you the exact quote? I can read it out, I have it here.”
Vladimir Đukanović: “You know, he was in Dachau. So, he was so in favor of Hitler that the latter then placed him in Dachau?”
(Debate among students from the University of Belgrade in the documentary “Why People Whisper in Church?” [“Zašto se u crkvi šapuće?”] Anem/TV B92, May 19, 2005)

1Bearing in mind the controversies surrounding the biography of Nikolaj Velimirović which were examined in the previous chapter, it might be argued that the maintenance of the positive memory of his life and legacy involves a significant amount of forgetting. The perpetuation of the representation of Velimirović as a positive historical figure and respectable authority can be said to be contingent upon a continuous process of not remembering things like his association with Nazi collaborators, his antisemitism, or the positive evaluation of Hitler which appears in one of his essays.

2The emphasis on “forgetting” is not new in scholarly work on collective memory. Peter Burke (1989), for instance, argues that the study of social remembering necessitates the exploration of the “organisation of forgetting, the rules of exclusion, suppression and repression” (p. 108). The means by which uncomfortable, troubling, and traumatic episodes from the past can be kept away from popular consciousness is also considered by Henri Rousso’s Vichy Syndrome (1991), Peter Novick’s Holocaust Remembered (2001), and Iwona Irwin-Zarecka’s Frames of Remembrance (1994).

3In literature on collective memory, the notion of social forgetting is frequently alluded to as “repression,” drawing on the vocabulary of Freudian psychoanalysis. According to Freud, repression or “willed forgetting” (Bower, 1990) refers to the driving away of troubling thoughts and impulses from conscious awareness (e.g., Freud, 1914, 1916, 1933, 1940). It is a mechanism that protects the conscious part of the self, the ego, from threatening and potentially damaging unconscious drives and desires. The use of the concept of repression in literature on collective memory stems from the possibility that “groups, like individuals, may be able to suppress what is inconvenient to remember” (Burke, 1989, p. 109).

4Recent years have seen a reaction against the reliance on psychological terminology in the study of social remembering (Kansteiner, 2002; Novick, 2001; Wertsch, 2002; Wood, 1999). Wulf Kansteiner (2002) for instance, argues that, when considering collective phenomena, psychological terminology—including words such as “repression,” “amnesia,” or “trauma”—is “at best metaphorical and at worst misleading” (p. 185). He contends that “we are best advised to keep psychological or psychoanalytical categories at bay and to focus, rather, on the social, political and cultural factors at work” (p. 186). The objection to the drawing of parallels between individual and collective memory rests on the belief that the former is regulated by various “laws of the unconscious” (Wood, 1999, p. 2) and specific mental processes (including repression), the ontology of which is in the human brain. Collective memory, on the other hand, is seen as “disembodied” and devoid of an “organic basis” and in that sense as more abstract and elusive. It consists of “texts” or representations originating from “shared communications about the meaning of the past that are anchored in the life of the world of individuals who partake in the communal life of the respective collective” (Kansteiner, 2002, p. 188).

5Because of the assumed ontological difference between collective and individual memory, Iwona Irwin-Zarecka (1994) argues that, in the domain of social remembering, there can be no “unexpressed memories” stored in the unconscious, and therefore no “repression” as such. For aspects of the past to be preserved in the public consciousness, they must be continuously present in the life of the community through the “full information base of remembrance”: commemorations, celebrations, monuments, museums, and publications (see also Terdiman, 1993). Put simply, only that which is “publicly known and spoken about” is committed to memory (Irwin-Zarecka, 1994, p. 195). Conversely, for something to be forgotten, its recollection in public discourse must be suspended. Memories are confined to oblivion by not being invoked, spoken about, and remembered in public.

6In exploring what it is that determines what will and what will not be socially remembered, studies of collective memory often focus on the role of intentionality and power in the creation, maintenance, and transformation of shared representations of the past. Nancy Wood (1999) writes that collective memory always “testifies to a will or desire on the part of some social group or disposition of power to select and organize representations of the past” and as such it “[embodies] the intentionality—social, political, institutional, and so on—that promotes or authorises its entry [into the public domain]” (p. 2). Similarly, studies in the sociology of reputation often emphasize that a fundamental component of “reputational dynamics” is the “strategizing and political manoeuvring” by a figure’s representatives through which his or her image is constructed and managed (Lang & Lang, 1988; Taylor, 1996). The focus on intentionality assumes that “memory enterpreneurship” always involves a manipulation of representations of the past by structures of power, for specific contemporary political and ideological purposes (Olick & Robbins, 1998, p. 126). Thus, a pertinent question in the study of collective memory is “who wants whom to remember what and why?” (Burke, 1989, p. 107).

7The rehabilitation of Nikolaj Velimirović over the past two decades, and the transformation of his image from “traitor” to “saint” could indeed be explored from the perspective of intentionality and instrumentalism. In the late 1980s, as nationalism gradually began to replace communism as the dominant ideology of Serbian society, the previously marginal clique of Velimirović’s supporters in the Serbian Orthodox Church became a prominent force within the ecclesiastical establishment. Riding on the waves of patriotic euphoria in Serbia, the likes of Amfilohije Radović, Artemije Radosavljević, Atanasije Jevtić, and Irinej Bulović emerged as front-runners in the campaign aimed at Serbia’s national and spiritual revival (Perica, 2002; Radić, 2002b; Tomanić, 2001). Together with other nationalist institutions such as the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Serbian Union of Writers, the four clerics became the principal voice of Serbian ethnic nationalism. The Metropolitan of Zagreb and Ljubljana, Jovan Pavlović, once lamented that the four “young professors, future episcopes […] abandoned their theological work and embarked on a cheap political adventure” which helped drag the country into civil war (cited in Tomanić, 2001, p. 17). By 1991, Radović, Radosavljević, Jevtić, and Bulović had all been ordained by bishops, and since then have been wielding considerable influence in the Serbian Orthodox Church.

8The newly acquired status of Velimirović’s supporters within the Serbian Church enabled them to embark on an aggressive public campaign aimed at improving their hero’s standing and ending almost forty years of vilification and marginalization. Moreover, the nationalist clique within the Church viewed Velimirović’s return to public consciousness as a necessity, and a means of exorcising the ghost of communism from the Serbian national corpus. An editorial published in Glas Crkve in 1987 interpreted it as a manifestation of the “forthcoming revitalization of the whole of the Serbian people” and the rebirth of a nation that would once again be “deeply conscious of its ethnic and spiritual identity” (“Kandilo pred ikonom,” 1987, p. 26). Nationalist politician and poet Milan Komnenić saw it as a way of “removing, from the spiritual horizon, all traces of the absurd, of things vulgar and anti-Serbian, of fraud and humiliation” (Komnenić, 1988, p. 30). For the priest Dragan Terzić, Velimirović’s reinstatement in public memory was a way of “healing a huge wound on the Serbian Orthodox national body” (Terzić, 1991, p. 52).

9The campaign aimed at restoring Velimirović’s reputation consisted of different measures aimed at imposing positive interpretations of his life on public consciousness. In 1985, Velimirović’s nephew, Bishop Jovan of Šabac and Valjevo, founded the journal Glas Crkve which was edited by his personal assistant, Deacon Ljubomir Ranković. The aim of this somewhat rebellious journal was to “write openly and freely about problems within the church, problems that often reflect the broader struggles of society” and “comment on the decisions and policies of the highest Church authorities and form its own judgment on these issues, a judgment that may be disputed in the context of democratic dialogue” (‘Posle dve godine,” 1987, p. 72). The journal’s more specific aim however was to “offer its contribution to the objective evaluation of Bishop Nikolaj [Velimirović]’s character” and bring the “harmful campaign [against him] to an end” (“Žurnalistika—ili ????” 1987, p. 73). Its editors were engaged in a battle against the “dark forces of today, who seem to be bothered by [the bishop’s] presence among the Serbian people and who are therefore resolute to ostracize him from the consciousness and memory of our contemporaries” (ibid.). The descriptions of the “dark forces” provided in the same editorial resembled something from Bishop Nikolaj’s own writing: “mercenaries,” “scribblers,” “nameless epigones whose pamphlets reek of the wretched stench of Masonic–Vatican–Comintern rot, and whose lies poison the healthy minds of the people” (ibid.).

10A considerable proportion of each issue of Glas Crkve, which had a circulation of some 10,000 copies, was devoted to the popularization of Velimirović’s thought. Extracts from Bishop Nikolaj’s writings regularly featured in the journal, accompanied by eulogistic appraisals of his work. One article, for instance, argued that “there are only a few texts written by Nikolaj that are not worthy of a place in any anthology of world literature. In his literary works there are no flaws or weaknesses […] As a philosopher [Velimirović] is unsurpassed […] as a poet he was a gift from God […] as an orator he had no rivals” (“Mnogosvećnjak—Vladika Nikolaj,” 1987, pp. 19–21).

11By the end of the 1980s, Glas Crkve became also a publishing house, the first to publish Velimirović’s books in postcommunist Serbia. In 1986 Archimandrite Atanasije Jevtić published, privately, the book The New Chrysostom by Artemije Radosavljević, the first affirmative biography of Velimirović (A. Radosavljević, 1986). Around the same time, at the theological faculty in Belgrade, the young scholar Radovan Bigović began his doctoral thesis on Velimirović, under the supervision of Bishop Amfilohije Radović.

12In addition to its various publishing activities, the diocese of Šabac and Valjevo organized regular commemorative ceremonies dedicated to Velimirović which were endorsed, attended, and publicized by the likes of Jevtić, Radović, and Radosavljević, as well as by the country’s nationalist elite, including writers Vuk Drasković and Danko Popović, poet Matija Bećković, painter Milić Stanković (better known by his artistic name Milić od Mačve), politician Radovan Karadžić, and others. On March 18, 1986, an icon bearing Velimirović’s image was added to the altar of a church in Valjevo. A year later, editors of Glas Crkve, in agreement with the local clergy and some influential Serbian bishops, informally canonized Velimirović and declared him the journal’s patron saint (see Chapter 6 for a more detailed account of this event and its significance). Around the same time, 139 priests from the diocese (although Glas Crkve reported the number as over two hundred) signed an appeal to the Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, calling for an “ecclesiological and historical evaluation of the life and work of Bishop Nikolaj especially in the light of the continuing challenges to his integrity.” The appeal, which received a favorable reaction from the Assembly of Bishops, stated that “in the lives of the pious Serbian people and all other Orthodox faithful, God’s annunciator from Žiča already occupies the place that he deserves, that of a witness, someone chosen by God, a Teacher and Prophet, Archshepherd and Father of the all God-loving people” (“Priziv za zaštitu ličnosti i dela Vladike Nikolaja Žičkog,” 1987, p. 19). The appeal was a reaction to the continued attacks on the bishop, which originate “not just from the Godless ruling ideologues and journalists at their service, but which are sometimes inspired and stirred up from within [the church], by some unshepherdly and unclerical forces and groups, hidden beneath someone else’s umbrella, serving someone else’s unchristian interests” (ibid).

13In the spring of 1989, on the thirty-third anniversary of Velimirović’s death, Glas Crkve organized a gathering during which a chapel dedicated to Velimirović’s memory was formally consecrated by Bishop Danilo of Budim and Archimandrite Atanasije Jevtić. The building of the chapel, financed from private donations, had been commissioned several years earlier by Velimirović’s nephew, Bishop Jovan, who died shortly before its completion. The consecration ceremony was followed by a literary evening dedicated to Velimirović, which featured members of the Serbian nationalist elite, such as Vuk Drašković, Milan Komnenić, and Danko Popović, all of whom paid tribute to the great Bishop Nikolaj. The event attracted publicity after the publication of the speech by Vuk Drašković—which was neither more nor less nationalistic or controversial that his other speeches of this era—was formally banned by authorities. In spite of the ban and in the desire to “push the boundaries of democracy in Serbia,” Glas Crkve published Drašković’s speech in a subsequent issue (Drašković, 1989).

14The gathering at Lelić in March 1989 is also significant because it was there that the pro-Velimirović Serbian clergy revealed their aspirations to transport Velimirović’s remains back to Serbia and lay them to rest in the bishop’s native village (“Osvećena kapela Sv. Nikolaja Srpskog,” 1989, p. 16). Three months later, at the regular meeting of the Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Bishop of Western Europe Lavrentije (who at this meeting succeeded Velimirović’s recently deceased nephew as bishop of Šabac and Valjevo) urged the Assembly to set up a committee which would initiate the return of Velimirović’s remains to Serbia. The Assembly assigned the matter of Velimirović’s exhumation and transportation to Bishop Lavrentije personally. A year later he reported back to the Assembly, stating that “secular authorities gave a green light” for Velimirović’s return, on the condition that the event passed “without larger public ceremonies or mass gatherings of citizens.” Bishop Lavrentije proposed that the transportation be placed under the jurisdiction of two Serbian bishops in the United States and the bishop of Žiča, Stefan Boca (cited in Janković, 2003, p. 493). It took over a year for the relevant paperwork to be completed. On April 25, 1991, Velimirović was exhumed and his remains were transported from Libertyville to Chicago, where they were cleaned and placed in a sealed coffin. On May 2, the coffin was boarded onto a regular Yugoslav Airlines evening flight to Belgrade. It arrived in Serbia the next morning. Velimirović’s remains were greeted at the airport by Patriarch Pavle and a number of bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Much to the disappointment of the Church leaders, only about five hundred faithful turned up at the airport, most of them from the diocese of Šabac and Valjevo. The remains were taken to the Church of St Sava in Belgrade (located next to the construction site of the much larger Cathedral of St Sava), where they were greeted by several thousand faithful. On Saturday, May 4, a Holy Liturgy in Velimirović’s honor was held at the church, followed by a suitable “spiritual academy” devoted to his religious work. On Sunday, May 6, the body was taken to the diocese of Žiča, where Velimirović was bishop during 1919–1920 and 1936–1956. On May 12, the remains were brought to his native village of Lelić. The burial in Lelić was the largest Velimirović-related commemorative ceremony of the period: a mass gathering attended by a crowd of between fifteen and thirty thousand faithful. Representatives of the ruling political establishment, including the Serbian Prime Minister Dragutin Zelenović, Minister of Faiths Dragan Dragojlović, Minister of Culture Radomir Šaranović, and Defence Minister Admiral Miodrag Jokić were present, as were representatives of opposition parties, including two current war crimes indictees, Radovan Karadžić and Vojislav Šešelj. The event in Lelić attracted considerable publicity in the religious press. Pravoslavlje devoted a whole issue to the occasion, as did Glas Crkve. Both publications filled their pages with detailed reports from the burial, interspersed with extracts from Velimirović’s writing and affirmative texts about his life and work. The presence of government representatives also ensured coverage in the mainstream press such as Politika and Politika Ekspres, as well as on national television. Apart from reporting the event on the daily news bulletin, the Serbian state television broadcasted a special program devoted to Velimirović, in which actor Milan Dimitrijević read extracts from Velimirović’s Prayers by the Lake, while author Slaven Radosavljević offered a positive evaluation of his philosophical writing.

15This marked change in the attitude of the mainstream media and the ruling establishment towards the Church and specifically towards the persona of Nikolaj Velimirović was a by-product of a more general transformation in relations between secular and ecclesiastical authorities in Serbia at the time. Both the arrival of Slobodan Milošević on the political scene and the rise of Serbian nationalism attracted significant support from the Serbian Church. In 1989, Archimandrite Atanasije Jevtić praised Milošević’s policy in Kosovo for “looking the Kosovo truth in the eye” and for responding to the “tragedy of the Serbian population in the region” (cited in Tomanić, 2001, p. 20). The editors of Glas Crkve similarly recognized the “contribution of the Serbian leadership in the solution of the Serbian question. The new leadership has demonstrated the ability to use the considerable democratic energy and spiritual potential of the Serbian people which once again is thinking with its own head and is deciding its own future” (“Predlog Srpskog crkvenonacionalnog programa,” 1989, p. 5). In June 1990, members of the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church visited Slobodan Milošević, and after the meeting issued a statement declaring that the encounter symbolized the fact that “at least as far as Serbia is concerned, the difficult and ugly period in the life of the SOC has finally come to an end” (cited in Tomanić, 2001, p. 25). However, the period of cooperation between church and state was relatively shortlived. The Serbian Orthodox Church quickly became disillusioned with Milošević and regarded him as unable to fulfill the promise of a spiritual revival among Serbs (see Radić, 2002b and Tomanić, 2001 for a more detailed examination of church–state relations in Serbia at the time). For this reason, between 1991 and 2000, commemorative events in the diocese of Šabac and Valjevo and other pro-Velimirović activities, such as the fortieth anniversary of Velimirovic’s death in 1996 passed relatively unnoticed, although they were not inhibited by secular authorities either.

16Apart from the numerous commemorative ceremonies and publishing projects which were awash with favorable interpretations of Velimirović’s legacy, memorial activity of his supporters in the late 1980s and the early 1990s included deliberate attempts at suppressing the controversies surrounding his work through censorship. There is evidence that in some editions of Velimirović’s writings published in the past two decades, compromising sections, such as the praise of Hitler, or the reference to Serbs as members of the “Aryan race” were furtively omitted by publishers (see Čolović, 2002; Tomanić, 2003). Similarly, the most controversial sermons from Words to the Serbian People Through the Dungeon Window do not appear in several editions of the book which are currently on sale in Serbia’s bookshops. These examples undoubtedly offer clearest illustration of intentionality and the want on behalf of the memory makers within the Serbian Orthodox Church to regulate the content of collective memory so as to present Nikolaj Velimirović in an unambiguously complimentary way.

17Significantly, however, explanations that display an over-reliance on intentionality seldom tell a complete story with regard to transformations in collective memory. The focus on the power and intent of individuals and institutions involved in memory work translates into a rather unflattering picture of modern society. The reliance on the “simplistic, tacit assumption that collective memory work can be reduced to human agency” (Kansteiner, 2002, p. 195) implies that the public readily accepts communication from relevant power-structures—without challenging, doubting, or disputing ideological claims. In other words, such approaches imply that “facts of representation coincide with facts of reception” (ibid.). What we are left with, then, is the image of an unthinking society, one that is easily hoodwinked by propaganda and spin. In contrast, recent poststructuralist theories of culture and communication suggest that people are not passive recipients of ideology, but agents engaged in a “free play of signification,” able to create their own readings of dominant ideas, as well as to challenge, dispute, and undermine ruling ideologies (Billig, 1997b; Thompson, 1984). As Iwona Irwin-Zarecka (1994) recognizes, “individuals are perfectly capable of ignoring even the best told stories, of injecting their own, subversive meaning into even the most rhetorically accomplished text” (p. 4). This suggests that the process of social remembering involves a strong argumentative component which was outlined in the introduction. To remember is not just to represent, but also to conduct an implicit argument against competing representations that coexist in the public domain. Thus, when examining why and how, in a specific context, one version of the past is “remembered” and another is “forgotten,” it is important not just to explore the machinations of the human and social agency behind it, but also to look at the relevant “textual dynamics”: the rhetorical and argumentative skills by means of which “remembering” and “forgetting” are accomplished in practice.

The discursive dynamic of social forgetting: Repression as replacement

18As has already been noted, Iwona Irwin-Zarecka (1994) proposes that, in collective memory, aspects of the past are forgotten by not being invoked, spoken about, and remembered in public. They become “repressed” by being ostracized from commemorative ceremonies, museums, and books. Significantly, in narratives of the past, because of their chronological order and organization, it is impossible merely to omit an embarrassing episode or period of history. Silences have to be “dressed up in words” (p. 120). That which is “wilfully forgotten” must be replaced by a suitable substitute: “when we speak of forgetting, we are speaking of displacement (or replacement) of one version of the past by another. To use different imagery, when we set out to listen to historical silences, we are forced to listen to a great deal of noise” (ibid.). In that sense, social forgetting involves the creation of alternative memories, which suppress the material which is to be forgotten by replacing it with more innocuous and harmless content.

19More recently, rhetorical psychologist Michael Billig has also argued that the replacement of troubling memories underpins the process of willed forgetting (see Billig, 1997a, 1999a, 1999b). “Repression demands replacement, as a dangerous topic is replaced by another… If one successfully represses an experience the result should not be amnesia—or a gap in the remembered stream of consciousness. A replacement history needs to be found, so one possible memory story is supplanted by another, which suppresses the former” (Billig, 1999a, pp. 168–169). Billig maintains that replacement plays a key role in repression both on individual and collective levels. He suggests that contrary to the assumption of traditional psychology and psychoanalysis, individual repression need not be conceived as some “mysterious inner event” which takes place in the human brain and whose working is observable only indirectly, through psychoanalytic practice. Instead, repression constitutes a discursive and ultimately a social activity. We repress both as individuals and as collectives, by developing, or acquiring through communication, a set of discursive and rhetorical strategies for avoiding having to talk, or think about uncomfortable topics. The skills of repression are essentially the rhetorical skills of effective topic change, through which attention is diverted away from the material that needs to be repressed.

20Billig (1999a, 1999b) also argues that one of the key features of repression, as a subtle and “unconscious” form of willful forgetting, is that it occurs outside conscious awareness. This unconscious, or unmindful nature of repression lies in the fact that the skills involved become weaved into the routine of talk and everyday social interaction: “Sets of routines, because of their habitual and unmindful nature, draw attention away from other possible thoughts and thus can maintain [a] sort of social amnesia” (Billig, 1999b, p. 321). One example of the way in which routine facilitates forgetting is through the standardization of specific memories. When standardized memories are constructed, that is, once specific ways of talking about an event become habitual, then what was originally omitted becomes “even more forgotten” (Billig, 1999a, p. 169). Psychological research has demonstrated that the entrenchment of particular memories ensures that alternative stories are less likely to be produced (Roediger et al. 1997; Schacter, 1995). As Billig (1999a) puts it, “a well remembered anecdote functions to obviate the need for further memory work. It offers its own proof that past has been remembered” (p. 169).

21This principle functions on the social level, where “cultures and groups celebrate their pasts by creating histories which simultaneously involve remembering and forgetting” (Billig, 1999a, p. 170). Billig quotes Ernest Renan’s dictum:

forgetting […] is a crucial factor in the creation of a nation. [Forgetting is accomplished] not by general amnesia, but by the formulation of historic myths which only recount a gloriously unshadowed past […] The more we claim to remember the past—or the more the group claims to know its history—the more that the self-serving account is preserved. The end result is that personal or collective forgetting is accomplished by means of remembering, which becomes solidified into a rehearsed story. (ibid.)

22Recent literature on collective memory offers numerous examples of such solidified replacement myths in representations of the national past. Martyrological interpretations of Austria’s World War II history, which proliferated in the post-war years, played an important role in repressing the alternative and more uncomfortable versions of the country’s Nazi past. Similarly Polish society’s resistance to accepting its share of the moral responsibility for the Holocaust was made possible by the presence of the replacement myth that Poland was in fact “a victim of history,” specifically of Nazism and communism (Irwin-Zarecka, 1994, p. 120). In France too, the emphasis on the activity of the resistance movement in representations of World War II helped repress the legacy of the Vichy and keep the memory of collaboration away from public consciousness (Rousso, 1991).

23The presence of a suitable replacement myth, which facilitates the repression of controversy surrounding his life, was instrumental in the rehabilitation of Nikolaj Velimirović in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and continues to play an important role in the management of his reputation in Serbia today. The myth in question is the portrayal of Velimirović as a “martyr” and a victim of Nazi persecution during the occupation of Serbia between 1941 and 1944.

Velimirović in Dachau: “Martyrdom” as a replacement myth

24Throughout the initial stage of Velimirović’s rehabilitation—at commemorative ceremonies organized in the diocese of Šabac and Valjevo, in sermons and speeches by religious leaders, intellectuals and men of letters, as well as in articles published in the religious press—words such as “martyrdom” and “suffering” routinely accompanied the evocation of the bishop’s name. Velimirović was referred to as “the great Serbian martyr, sufferer, preacher, and cleric” (Zeljajić, 1988, p. 25), “great cleric, sufferer, and martyr for the physical and spiritual salvation of his people” (“Osvećena kapela Sv Nikolaja Srpskog,” 1989, p. 16), “the Martyr of Dachau, the Hermit of Ohrid, the Archshepherd of Žiča, the holy Peasant of Lelić” (Jevtić, 1991, p. 29), “Holy Martyr Bishop Nikolaj of Žiča” (Terzić, 1991, p. 52), and “holy Martyr and hero” (Komnenić, 1991, p. 48).

25On the occasion of the reburial of Velimirović’s remains in his native Lelić in May 1991, the promotional poster displayed in churches across Serbia mentioned nothing about the bishop’s life and work other than that he “was arrested by the Gestapo in 1941” and that he was “incarcerated in Ljubostinja Monastery, in Rakovica and Vojlovica, as well as in the camp Dachau, together with Patriarch Gavrilo.” In the official sermon at the ceremony, the first thing that Bishop Amfilohije Radović said about Velimirović was that he was an “exile from his country, prisoner in Ljubostinja and Vojlovica, an intern at Dachau” (A. Radović, 1991, p. 39).

26Velimirović’s alleged martyrdom during World War II was also emphasized in religious art of this period. A fresco in the Church of St Constantine and St Jelena in Voždovac, Belgrade—painted in 1989 by the controversial artist Milić Stanković—portrays Nikolaj Velimirović in the company of two canonized Serbian Martyrs, Archimandrite Pajsije and Deacon Avakum, both of whom were impaled on a stake by the Turkish authorities in the 19th century. The painting shows Velimirović, Pajsije, and Avakum among dozens of emaciated and nameless Serbian victims of Ustasha concentration camps in Croatia (Fig. 13). Another fresco, found in the Serbian Monastery Nova Gračanica near Chicago, Illinois, entitled “The new martyrs of Jasenovac and Glina, and Bishop Nikolaj at Dachau,” shows Velimirović as a prisoner at the camp, surrounded by a column of Serbian victims of Ustasha war crimes, represented as peasants with halos above their heads. Also pictured on this fresco are Draža Mihailović leading a column of Chetnik fighters, Patrijarch Gavrilo Dožić, and Bishop of Hvostno Varnava Nastić, who is believed to have been poisoned by Yugoslav secret service in 1964 and who was canonized on that account as a new martyr in 2005 (Fig. 14). In both frescos Velimirović is presented as an inherent part of history of Serbian martyrdom.

27Similarly, in the poem “The Return of Bishop Nikolaj,” published in 1993, Dušan Vasiljević describes the return of Velimirović’s remains to Serbia as follows:

Archdeacon Stefan
and Deacon Avakum,
walked backwards,
with the serenity of martyrs;
from the thurible of Saints
they poured fire
along every step
of the Episcope’s way’
(Vasiljević, 1993)

28Again, the choice of Velimirović’s helpers in this allegorical poem is not haphazard. “Archdeacon Stefan” is St Steven, disciple of Jesus and the first Christian martyr. By this association with two canonized martyrs, the image of Nikolaj as one of their number is once again signified. Also, in the poem “Cries Against the Bishop” by Komnen Bećirević, published in Pravoslavlje in September 1991, Nikolaj is described as “Serbian martyr / outcast and prisoner / righteous man in constant prayer” (Bećirević, 1991).

29The portrayals of Velimirović as a victim of Nazism were often accompanied by a photograph from the period of his internment in Ljubostinja, which shows the bishop in the company of a German soldier. In a speech delivered on the occasion of Velimirović’s interment in Lelić, the nationalist poet Milan Komnenić as referring to this photo when he exclaimed that “there is a photo from the war days which symbolizes the suffering of Serbian clergy. In that photo there is a broken Nikolaj, incarcerated in Žiča, and beside him a German guard, as menacing as a Teutonic monster” (Komnenić, 1988, p. 32). The photo in question, which is reproduced here (fig. 15) does little to justify such interpretation. The German soldier, compared in the description to a “Teutonic monster” is no taller than Velimirović, who, according to an identity card issued in the United States in 1949, was hundred and seventy centimeters tall. Also there is nothing on the faces of the bishop and the guard to suggest either that Velimirović was “broken” or that the soldier was in any way “menacing.” Moreover, one can even discern in Velimirović’s posture a significant element of posing for the camera. And yet, Komnenić’s interpretation illustrates the way in which Velimirović’s supporters, in interpreting the photo, have assimilated the relevant visual material within the available interpretative framework dominated by the theme of suffering. This photo has become an emblem of Velimirović’s alleged suffering, a striking image that assists the retention and transmission of memory (Bartlett, 1932; Yates, 1966).

30The tendency to represent Velimirović as a victim of Nazi persecution persists to the present day. A recently published book on Nikolaj Velimirović bears the title The Holy Martyr Bishop Nikolaj of Žiča (Saramandić, 2004). The petition for Velimirović’s canonization submitted to the Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church by a number of high-ranking Serbian clerics in December 2002 emphasized that Velimirović’s cult among the Serbian people had been reinforced by his “suffering for Christ in German prisons and concentration camps” (cited in Jevtić, 2003, p. 306). A similar theme runs through the kondak, a short hymn dedicated to Velimirović, which was approved by the Assembly of Bishops on the occasion of his canonization in May 2003:

On the throne of St Sava in Žiča you held court,
You enlightened God’s people and taught them the gospel;
You helped them repent and feel the love of Christ;
For Christ you endured suffering at Dachau,
For this we celebrate you, Saint Nikolaj, our new Man of God.

31In spite of the frequent references to his alleged “martyrdom” at the hands of the Nazis, the status of Nikolaj Velimirović as a “martyr” is highly contestable. Although a comparison of photos of Velimirović taken in 1941 and 1945 reveals significant signs of aging during that period, there is no evidence to suggest that he endured any torture or suffering during the war. The treatment that he received during the internment in the Serbian monasteries of Ljubostinja and Vojlovica, where he spent most of the war, had been reasonably good. Recollections of eyewitnesses suggest that while in Ljubostinja, Nikolaj had considerable freedom of movement and received regular visits from locals. According to one testimony he also frequently distributed sweets and figs to local children, a privilege enjoyed by very few German prisoners during the war (letter from Bosiljka Đuričin, published in Glas Crkve in 1987). Also, according to his followers in the Church, during his stay in Ljubostinja, Nikolaj managed to found an orphanage for refugee children in the nearby town of Trstenik (A. Radović, 1987, p. 32) and rescue a Jewish family from capture by the Nazis (see below, Chapter 5). In Vojlovica, although under German guard, Dožić and Velimirović had two rooms each at their disposal. They were allowed to hold religious services at the monastery and had sufficient food provided both by the authorities and by local residents (Borković, 1979, p. 270). In his memoirs Bishop Vasilije Kostić (1907–1978), who was in Vojlovica at the time, recalls that food parcels from other Serbian monasteries were a frequent and welcome occurrence (Kostić, 2003). At the same time, Nikolaj is said to have been frustrated by the restriction of movement and by the lack of communication with his diocese. An SS official, Lieutenant Meier, whose duty was to visit Velimirović and Dožić at the monastery, noted in one of his reports that he often found Velimirović in a state of “mental breakdown and drunkenness” (Radić, 2002a, p. 80).

32Also, there is little evidence to suggest that in the two and half months which they spent at Dachau as “honorary prisoners” Velimirović and Patriarch Gavrilo Dožić endured suffering or torture comparable to that to which other, ordinary interns at Dachau were routinely subjected. “Honorary prisoners” at Dachau lived in privileged quarters, the Ehrenbunker, and ate the same food as German officers. As was the case with other honorary prisoners, Velimirović’s and Dožić’s cells were kept unlocked, and they had free and unlimited access to a separate camp courtyard (Berben, 1975; Marcuse, 2001). Also, as men of the cloth, they were allowed to wear their priest’s attire and did not have their heads shaved. A testimony by Branko Đorđević, a fellow prisoner at the camp, which was published by the Serbian Orthodox Church in the summer of 1946, states that Velimirović and Dožić did not suffer physical abuse while at the camp (cited in Tomanić, 2001, p. 50; see also P. Ilić, 2006).

33Further evidence in support of the claim that Velimirović’s life was never in danger during the internment in Germany comes from the fact that Nazi officials took special measures to ensure Velimirović’s and Dožić’s survival. The two had been taken to Dachau following a medical examination the purpose of which was to ensure that both were fit to travel. Shortly before the deportation, the SS General Heinrich Muller noted that the “death of either of the two clerics during their stay in Germany would have serious and damaging repercussions and that enemy agitation in the Balkans and throughout the world would utilize any apparent murder by the Gestapo for propaganda purposes against the Reich” (cited in Radić 2002a, p. 85; also Ristović, 2000). For this reason, all decisions regarding the treatment of the two prisoners during transportation to Germany had to be approved by the head of the German security services (RSHA) in Berlin, General Ernst Kaltenbrunner.

34And yet, favorable interpretations of Velimirović’s life repeatedly suggest that at Dachau, Nikolaj and Patriarch Gavrilo “endured all the horrors of this hell on Earth,” underwent “enormous suffering and agony” (A. Radosavljević, 1986, p. 18), were “tortured and humiliated” by their captors (Marjanović, 1990a, p. 45) and “went though the hell of the Camp Dachau” (Ranković, 1991, p. 9). Father Žarko Gavrilović writes that at Dachau Velimirović “faced death at every second, either from execution, poisoning, from disease or anything else” (Gavrilović, 1998; p. 10). Bishop Amfilohije Radović went as far as to compare Velimirović’s suffering at Dachau to “crucifixion” (A. Radović, 1991, p. 44), while Ranković compared it to Christ’s experience at Golgotha (Ranković, 1991, p. 7).

35In spite of the emphasis on suffering, details of “torment” and “torture” are conspicuously absent from descriptions of Velimirović’s “martyrdom.” Although Bishop Artemije Radosavljević (1986) claims that “numerous witnesses” testified to Nikolaj’s and Patriarch Gavrilo’s “suffering” at Dachau, and that the two clerics themselves recounted their experiences both “in writing and privately,” practically the only publicized detail regarding “hardship” at the camp, of which there are multiple versions, refers to an incident when Velimirović allegedly slipped and grazed his knees while carrying a bucket of water (or a latrine, depending on the version) across the camp courtyard (Janković, 2002b, p. 674; Marjanović, 1990a, p. 45; Stanišić, 1977, p. 58; J. Velimirović, 1991, p. 24). Accounts of this event usually include the description of a verbal interchange between Velimirović and a German prison guard, in which the bishop outwits his collocutor (see for instance Ranković, 2003). This episode is depicted on the aforementioned icon “The new martyrs of Jasenovac and Glina, and Bishop Nikolaj at Dachau,” where Velimirović is portrayed in communication with a German soldier at the camp. Crucially, none of these accounts of Velimirović’s existence at Dachau come anywhere close to describing “suffering” or “martyrdom.” Instead, when describing this stage of the bishop’s life, most writers resort to systematic vagueness. Radovan Bigović (1998), for instance, mentions in passing that “[Nikolaj and Patriarch Gavrilo] know best what they had to endure [at the camp]” and that Velimirović used to describe Dachau as the place where “the living envied the dead” (p. 43). Similarly, in a speech delivered in 1988, and published posthumously in Glas Crkve, Bishop Jovan Velimirović (1991) merely notes that “it is superfluous to speak about the kind of existence that the patriarch and Nikolaj lived in Dachau…” (p. 24). The elusiveness apparent in these accounts is rhetorically significant in that the obvious absence of detail is coated in the impression that the unsaid is so dreadful that it cannot be adequately captured in words. This way, specific information is obscured, without diminishing the overall claim of martyrdom.

36On other occasions, allegations of suffering are substantiated with a reference to Velimirović’s physical injuries, which came to light after his death in 1956. Bishop Artemije Radosavljević writes that Velimirović “complained of pain in his legs and his back, a direct consequence of the suffering and ordeal which he endured at the camp.” Also mentioned are “bruises on [Velimirović’s] back,” obtained at the hands of the Nazis, which remained visible until his death twelve years later. These injuries were apparently witnessed and revealed by a Russian monk who prepared Velimirović’s body for burial (A. Radosavljević, 2003, p. 339; see also Marjanović, 1990a, p. 45). A private letter which the Serbian priest Milivoje Marčić sent to Bishop Lavrentije Trifunović on May 14, 1988, also mentions a testimony by a Russian monk named Vasilije who saw Velimirović’s body and described his legs as being “black below the knee.” Marčić concludes that “he endured pain and suffering, but did not tell anyone about it” (cited in Janković, 2002a, p. 696). The claim about Velimirović’s injuries was reaffirmed recently in December 2004 by the current Bishop of Australia and New Zealand, Irinej Dobrijević, who at the time was consultant to the Holy Synod for International and Inter-Church Affairs. Dobrijević told an audience of university students in Belgrade the following:

When I started writing my thesis on Bishop Nikolaj, I interviewed a man who prepared his body for burial. This pious Russian told me that one of the main reasons why Nikolaj used a walking stick, why he limped, after leaving Dachau was that he was wounded during his incarceration. It looked, he said, as if [Velimirović’s] toes were permanently contorted, as if someone cut his feet with a blade or burned them with hot iron or cigarettes. Bishop Nikolaj never spoke of his bad experience in Dachau […] there is only one exception where he mentions a conversation with a young German soldier. (Source: author’s audio record.)

37The discrepancy between these accounts (pain in back and legs, darkened skin below the knee, scars and burn marks), all of which are said to have been derived directly from a first-hand source—the Russian monk who prepared Velimirović’s remains for burial—inevitably casts doubt on their credibility. And yet the descriptions are revealing of the way in which the story about the marks on Velimirović’s body—attributable most probably to arthritis from which he suffered and which was undoubtedly exacerbated by the unfavorable conditions in which he spent the war years—has been assimilated into the story of the martyrdom and transformed into forensic evidence of torture and suffering which he is said to have endured at Dahau. Moreover, it is the torture which Nikolaj never spoke about. He is therefore presented not only as a martyr, but also as a brave and heroic character who quietly and modestly endured his earthly suffering.

38Although most references to Velimirović’s martyrdom refer to the plight in captivity, some writers also emphasize the continuation of his suffering after the war. Ljubomir Ranković referred to Velimirović’s final years in exile as the “Golgothic path of emigration,” arguing even that “he who suffered greatly during his lifetime became an even greater sufferer after his death” when “he, who was prisoner of the most notorious fascist camp, was declared a collaborator” (Ranković, 1991, p. 8). The writer Vuk Drašković expressed a similar opinion during the interview conducted for the purposes of the present study:

He survived the Golgotha of the concentration camp, and the fact was that in the meantime his country rejected God, became atheist, openly anti-Christian and anti-God, a dictatorship, a country of crime in which he was unable to return. He spent the rest of his life in emigration, in a foreign land, listening to lies about himself, about General Draža Mihailović, about the king, Serbian history, and St Sava, about all that made him a Christian and a Serb. Everything was under attack and rejected, while he followed that misery from abroad, and he probably died in spiritual agony. He was a martyr.

39Also, some of Velimirović’s admirers hold the view that the bishop was murdered by the Yugoslav secret services, which enhances his status as a martyr. Deacon Radoš Mladenović, who runs the Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović Orthodox Spiritual Centre based in the town of Kraljevo mentioned during the interview conducted in the summer of 2003 that Velimirović could not be formally considered a martyr “unless it is true that he was poisoned.” Mladenović went on to recount a story—in which he claims to believe—according to which the bishop was poisoned by a young agent of the Yugoslav secret services who infiltrated the seminary in 1956. The young assassin allegedly prepared coffee for Velimirović on the eve of his death, and then disappeared without a trace. This version of Velimirović’s death—attributed to a young Russian monk Vladimir Mayevski—resident of the Russian seminary in Pennsylvania in which Velimirović died—was never officially endorsed by the church and is not included in Bishop Nikolaj’s official hagiography. Nonetheless, it continues to feature in the public domain. Mayevski’s testimony appears as a supplementary text in Bishop Artemije Radosavljević’s book The New Chrysostom, the most widely publicized and many times reprinted biography of Velimirović, as well as in the edited volume Holy Bishop Nikolaj of Ohrid and Žiča, the publication of which accompanied Velimirović’s canonization in 2003 (Jevtić, 2003).

The martyrdom myth in context: The narrative of Velimirović’s suffering and the rise of Serbian nationalism

40The view of Nikolaj Velimirović as a martyr, which is apparent in representations of his life in the late 1980s and the early 1990, was not the invention of the likes of Artemije Radosavljević, Amfilohije Radović, or Ljubomir Ranković. As early as in the 1960s, Velimirović’s disciple, the dissident monk Justin Popović hailed his former mentor as a martyr. In a sermon delivered in Lelić in 1966, Popović referred to Nikolaj as the “greatest Serbian martyr after St Sava” and explained the following:

Why do I say “after St Sava”? The martyr St Sava did not give peace to the enemies of Christ’s cross. He gave them no peace until they burned his remains at Vračar in Belgrade. A martyr even after his death, a martyr even today as he watches his Serbian people, and within it thousands of traitors to the testament of St Sava. The Holy Bishop [Velimirović] was a martyr of this world, too. Those who know his intimate life will know that he wept frequently. They know of his weeping in Ljubostinja during the war. The Germans, who were our enemies at the time, well knew what Bishop Nikolaj meant to them. His mouth had to be silenced. You silence that mouth; you have silenced the Serbian stock. He who, while at Ljubostinja, mourned Serbia’s miserable fate during the war, mourned the fratricide among Serbian brothers, mourned all the suffering and troubles of the Serbian people, became a prisoner at the monastery Vojlovica and was later taken to Dachau to die for God, for all of us Serbs. Martyr above all martyrs—that is our Bishop Nikolaj. (J. Popović, 1998, p. 11)

41Justin Popović’s influence among Velimirović’s supporters should not be underestimated, and there is little doubt that the interpretation of his mentor’s existence as one of martyrdom provided the foundation for the martyrological narrative which resurfaced in the late 1980s. On the other hand there is a further and arguably more important reason why, in spite of the lack of historical or material evidence, the concept of martyrdom acquired such a dominant role in the representations of Velimirović’s life. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, at the time when Velimirović’s rehabilitation began, the general theme of suffering and victimization dominated Serbian nationalist rhetoric both in political and ecclesiastical discourse (Radić, 2002b; Tomanić, 2001).

42In an attempt to whip up nationalist sentiments among Serbs throughout Yugoslavia, the Serbian nationalist elite, including representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church, regularly emphasized the suffering of Serbs throughout history, especially under the Croatian Ustasha regime during World War II. Church publications in particular drew parallels between Serbian victimhood in the past and the present-day plight of Serbian minorities in Croatia and the province of Kosovo. As early as in 1983, the official voice of the patriarchate of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the newspaper Pravoslavlje, published a series of articles entitled “From Kosovo to Jadovno,” written by Atanasije Jevtić. The articles which were subsequently published as a book (Jevtić, 1987a), detailed the suffering (instances of rape, murder, assault, etc.) endured by Serbs in Kosovo and drew a parallel between their fate and that of the Serbian population in Croatia under the Ustasha regime between 1941 and 1945. In 1987, the Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church issued a statement in which the predicament of the Kosovo Serbs was referred to as “genocide” (cited in Radić, 2002b).

43Also, as ethnic relations in Croatia and Bosnia began to deteriorate in the early 1990s, the plight of Serbs in these regions was added to that of the Kosovo Serbs. The revival of the memory of the Serbian victims of Ustasha persecution led to the drawing of parallels between the regime of Ante Pavelić and that of the contemporary Croatian leadership. In 1991 Pravoslavlje published regular and graphic accounts of instances of present-day Serbian suffering in Croatia. One article by the Bishop of Slavonia Lukijan Pantelić published in March that year referred to contemporary Croatia as the “Ustasha state” (cited in Tomanić, 2001, p. 40).

44In June 1990, the Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church demanded of “secular authorities the exhumation of bodies of World War II [Serbian] victims buried in pits in Bosnia, and their reburial in cemeteries and other appropriate locations”(ibid. p.41). Permission was granted in 1991, after which the Serbian Orthodox Church, encouraged by Bosnian Serb nationalist elite, embarked on the project of unearthing World War II mass graves of Serbian victims. The project was widely publicized as footage of hundreds of human sculls and piles of bones laid out in large marquees was broadcast daily on Serbian television, accompanied by pathetic speeches by nationalist politicians, academics, and artists. The purpose of the whole enterprise was to graphically illustrate the extent of Serbian suffering under the Ustasha regime and mobilize Bosnian Serbs around the nationalist political program. In 1991, Bishop Atanasije Jevtić explained that the aim was “to bury Serbian victims, who were not just murdered but also disgraced, and in doing so deliver their bodies and their souls from posthumous martyrdom and humiliation. For fifty years, the Serbian people and their Church could hear the innocent blood of Abel screaming from below the earth, but Cain did not hear the voice of the Lord. […] Episcopes of the Church and the living Church itself were not, and must never be deaf to the cries of Abel” (cited in Tomanić, 2001, p. 41). Jevtić also made Serbian martyrdom the principal theme of the speech delivered on the occasion of his consecration as bishop of Banat, in July 1991:

Once again the Serbian people find themselves on the cross in Kosovo and Metohija, in Dalmatia, in Krajina, in Slavonia, in Banija, Lika, Kordun, Srem, Bosnia, and Herzegovina. This is a people used to carrying a cross, because carrying a cross has been our destiny. This moment, I pray to God to let us to carry that cross with dignity the way we have carried it until now […] Every Orthodox Serb has been crucified together with the crucified people from Kosovo to Jadovno especially from Krajina to Borovo. May God turn that crucifixion into resurrection, not only our resurrection, but even of those who in the name of Christ rose against the cross with three fingers. (cited in Tomanić, 2001, p. 56)

45In the late 1980s Serbia also witnessed the revival of the Kosovo Myth, which was actively encouraged by the Serbian Orthodox Church (Bieber, 2002; Judah, 2000; Radić, 2002b). In 1988, the holy remains of the Serbian saint and martyr Lazar—the medieval prince who led the Serbs into battle against the invading Ottoman army at Kosovo in 1389—were taken on a widely publicized road trip through Orthodox dioceses in Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina. Holy Prince Lazar was flagged as the symbol of Serbian martyrdom and the ruler of “Heavenly Serbia,” an empire in heaven reserved for righteous Serbs who lived and died for the Cross and their country. Inherent in the theme of “Heavenly Serbia” was of course the notion of collective suffering. In 1988, Bishop Jovan Velimirović, who is credited with reintroducing the term “Heavenly Serbia” into contemporary nationalist rhetoric, wrote that “since Prince Lazar and [the Battle of] Kosovo, the Serbs, above all, have been creating heavenly Serbia, which today must certainly have grown to become the largest state in heaven. If we only think of those innocent victims of the last war, millions and millions of Serbian men, women and children killed or tortured in the most terrible way or thrown into pits by Ustasha criminals, then we can understand that today’s Serbian empire is in heaven” (cited in Judah, 2000, p. 47).

46Considering the ubiquity of the theme of martyrdom in Serbian nationalist and ecclesiastical discourse in the late 1980s, it is not surprising that accounts of Bishop Nikolaj’s life reflected these broader ideological themes and concerns. This is especially so given that that individuals involved in the Church’s nationalist project—Jovan Velimirović, Atanasije Jevtić, Amfilohije Radović, Artemije Radosavljević, and others—were also the leading figures in the campaign for Velimirović’s rehabilitation. The story of Velimirović’s life and the motif of Serbian martyrdom were effectively blended into a single ideological theme. According to the editors of Glas Crkve, “it has become impossible to imagine the suffering of the Serbian people and the Serbian church, without reference to the suffering [of St Sava and Nikolaj Velimirović]. In all the suffering of their people, they emerge as the heart of that suffering. They are the symbol of Serbian martyrdom” (“Žurnalistika—ili ????” 1987, p. 73).

47Four years later, on the occasion of Velimirović’s reburial in Lelić, Bishop Amfilohije Radović drew a parallel between Velimirović’s life and Serbia’s tragic history in the 20th century: “Bishop Nikolaj is a whole epoch, and we can safely say that everything that has happened to the [Serbian] people since the beginning of the century reflects the path of Bishop Nikolaj’s life” (A. Radović, 1991, p. 40). The celebration of Velimirović’s life thus became also a commemoration of Serbian suffering in the hands of its neighbors, while at the same time the nation’s fascination with collective martyrdom provided an ideological framework within which Velimirović’s return into public memory could be instituted.

Remembering in order to forget: The martyrdom myth and repression

48The emerging memory of Nikolaj Velimirović as a martyr, which echoed the prevailing mood and nationalist sentiment of the late 1980s, had a very significant implication. It helped to “repress” the controversy surrounding the bishop’s political views. Remembering the suffering helped to sideline the contentious elements of the bishop’s biography, such as his apparent admiration for Hitler, his anti-Semitism, and the association with Dimitrije Ljotić.

49The “repressive” quality of the martyrdom myth can be examined by looking at the way in which each element of the replacement myth contributed to diverting public attention away from the controversy. Just like any tale, the narrative of the bishop’s martyrdom, as told by his supporters, has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It starts with accounts of Velimirović’s arrest by the Germans in 1941, continues with descriptions of his stay at the camp and ends with the bishop’s “release” in 1945.

50Accounts of Velimirović’s arrest usually contain an element of drama. Authors seldom mention that the Germans arrested Velimirović in July 1941, because of suspected links with the Chetnik insurgents in central Serbia. Instead the bishop is presented as a great, if not the greatest threat to the Third Reich who was arrested in the first days of the occupation. As we have seen in the earlier quotation from the sermon which he delivered in 1966, Justin Popović alleged that from the outset the German occupiers were set on ‘silencing’ Bishop Nikolaj. Velimirović’s nephew, Bishop Jovan, even suggested that the Germans were so threatened by Velimirović’s influence that they attempted to assassinate him shortly after his arrest (J. Velimirović, 1991, p. 23). Most frequently however, texts devoted to Velimirović’s whereabouts during World War II mention that the order for the arrest came directly from Adolf Hitler. For instance, in 1990, Ilustrovana Politika claimed that “Hitler pointed out to General von Loehr that the greatest enemy of Germany was the leadership of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and he singled out Gavrilo Dožić, Metropolitan Zimonjić, and Bishop Nikolaj” (Marjanović, 1990a, p. 46; the same claim is made also in “Hitler je lično izdao naređenje da se likvidira episkop Nikolaj Velimirović,” 1987, pp. 35–36; D. Popović, 1989, p. 24; Ranković, 1991, p. 7). In a biography of Velimirović serialized in the Serbian daily Glas Javnosti in 2003, Zoran Saramandić writes that “after the attempt on Hitler’s life, 126 prisoners out of the 129 held in Bishop Nikolaj’s barrack [at Dachau] were shot,” thus suggesting (inaccurately) that Velimirović was interned at the camp among, and therefore as one of, Hitler’s greatest adversaries (Saramandić, 2003, p. 17).

51These dramatic versions of Velimirović’s arrest, which are continually reproduced in religious publications, enhances the representation of Velimirović as an enemy of Nazism. In particular, the reference to Hitler’s orders not only reinforces the view of Velimirović as a threat to Germany, but gives this overall theme a personal dimension. It sets up Velimirović’s subsequent “suffering” almost as Hitler’s personal vendetta against him. Such a personalized construction implicitly addresses the accusation of pro-Nazism. By ingraining the contrast between Velimirović and Hitler into the narratives of the bishop’s life, the memory of the praise of Hitler in the 1935 sermon is repressed. The more Velimirović is remembered as a thorn in Hitler’s side, the easier it becomes to “forget” and sideline the fact that the bishop once expressed admiration for the “current German leader.” In fact, Velimirović himself invoked his imprisonment in Dachau when responding to criticism regarding his appraisal of Hitler in 1935. In a letter to the Serbian Bishop Dionisije Milivojević dated February 26, 1946, Velimirović explains that had he really been an admirer of Hitler “why would the Germans keep me under arrest from the first day [of the occupation]—until the last?” (Velimirović, 1983, p. 704).

52In representations of Velimirović’s whereabouts during the war, the accounts of his internment are hazy. In 1991, in a speech delivered on the occasion of Velimirović’s reburial, Bishop Lavrentije intimated that Velimirović spent most of World War II in Dachau when he noted that “afraid of his influence among the Serbian people, and knowing that he does not condone Nazism, the Germans declared him an enemy and incarcerated him in one of the most notorious concentration camps at Dachau” (Trifunović, 1991, p. 3). In some instances, the significance of the internment in monasteries, where Velimirović spent most of the war is undermined. Writing in the journal Jefimija, Predrag Protić (1993) refers to Vojlovica, where Nikolaj spent eighteen months, as a “mere temporary stop on the way to Dachau” (p. 21). On other occasions, monasteries are equated with concentration camps. Although Dachau is the only real “prison” that Velimirović was held at, in favorable accounts we are frequently told, for instance, that “Bishop Nikolaj together with Patriarch Gavrilo spent four years in Fascist concentration camps, including Dachau” (Čakić, 1987 pp. 76–77) or that they spent the war years in “dungeons of Nazism” (Trifunović, 1998, p. 5). Thus, in the context of accounts dominated by the theme of Velimirović’s suffering, no distinction is made between Serbian monasteries or the Schliersee resort in Bavaria and Nazi concentration camps.

53Velimirović himself was somewhat “economical with the truth” when accounting for his whereabouts during World War II. In a statement to the New York Times published on January 17, 1946 Velimirović claimed that he spent “two years” rather than two months in Dachau, and that he was rescued from the camp by “American soldiers” (“Bishop, ex captive of Nazis, is here,” cited in Radić, 2002a, p.86, also P. Ilić, 2006, p. 203). Several months later, Velimirović told Chicago Herald American that he spent “four years” in Dachau and intimated once again that he had been rescued by allied troops (“Bishop Reveals Persecution of Church under Tito Regime,” 1946). Also, following an encounter with Velimirović in November 1945, the Anglican bishop of Chichester, George Bell, noted in his diary that Velimirović spent “four years in a concentration camp, part of that time in Dachau” (Heppell, 2001, p. 106). This inaccuracy is intriguing bearing in mind the level of friendship between Velimirović and Bell and the fact that the reference to “four years” in a camp was added to an aide memoir shortly after the conversation between the two clerics. Also, in 1956 Bell mentioned in a sermon that Velimirović spent fourteen months at Dachau (Heppel, 2001, p. 91). Without dismissing the possibility that both occasions were lapses on Bishop Bell’s part, it is also conceivable that Velimirović was, if not dishonest, than at least deliberately vague about his existence under occupation. Other sources in the English language contain similarly misleading information about Velimirović’s whereabouts during the war. The recently published The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity (2001) states that Velimirović spent two years at Dachau. This error is not surprising given that the source for the entry was the book Serbian Patericon by Fr. Daniel M Rogich, published in 1994, which states that “in 1941, with the German occupation of Yugoslavia, Bishop Nikolai, together with Patriarch Gabriel Dozhich, was arrested and sentenced to imprisonment in the infamous Dachau Prison Camp in Germany. He spent two years in Dachau, witnessing and suffering some of the cruelest torture of human beings the world has ever known” (Rogich, 1994).

54Just like the various claims of torture and the reference to Velimirović as Hitler’s nemesis, the misleading information about the length of incarceration at Dachau helps to augment the bishop’s image as a victim of Nazism. The inaccurate assertions manage the bishop’s moral accountability on the basis of the implicit logic that the length of incarceration is a measure of a person’s anti-Nazi credentials. More specifically, the emphasis on victimization helps to repress an embarrassing detail associated with Velimirović’s time at the camp, namely the fact that he is said to have written his most virulently antisemitic work, Words to the Serbian People Through the Dungeon Window, which was first published posthumously in 1985, while interned at Dachau. Since its publication, this work, which was quoted in Chapter 2, has become the epitome of Nikolaj’s prejudice and hatefulness towards Jews and Judaism. Practically every critical article or commentary about Velimirović’s antisemitism published in recent years offers quotations from this book, frequently mentioning the fact that Velimirović wrote it in 1944, and therefore at a time when he had to be aware of the real face of Nazism and the true consequences of its ideology (e.g., Byford, 2006; Byford & Billig, 2001; David, 1991; M. Đorđević, 1996; Lebl, 2003).

55In an attempt to sideline these criticisms, accounts of Velimirović’s life promoted by the Serbian Church seldom mention the bishop’s creative endeavors at the camp. When they do, the writing of the book is presented as a subversive activity. Velimirović is said to have written it on “scraps of paper” or even “toilet paper,” using abbreviations when referring to Germany, in case the manuscript was discovered by the guards (Trifunović, 1998, p. 7; see also A. Radović, 1991 and J. Velimirović, 1991). Velimirović’s most antisemitic and anti-European work is presented as a “moving, apocalyptic account of that era” and essentially an indictment of Nazi Germany, because “Hitler is also Europe” (A. Radović, 1991, p. 43; for more details on the representations of this book among Velimirović’s supporters, see Chapters 5 and 6). Such constructions, which are embedded in the overall motif of martyrdom, help obscure and sideline the otherwise indefensible antisemitic rage articulated in the book.

56Finally, descriptions of Velimirović’s release also reveal elements of repression. In biographical accounts published in the religious press, there is considerable ambiguity regarding how and when the “martyrdom” in Dachau ended. Upon arrival in the United States in 1946, Velimirović told both the New York Times and the Chicago Herald American that he was liberated by American troops in May 1945. After noting that Velimirović and Dožić were taken to Dachau in 1944, Artemije Radosavljević’s book The New Chrysostom claims that “both were finally released only on 8th May 1945, by the 36th American division” (A. Radosavljević, 1986, p. 18). A virtually identical version of events is provided by Ljubomir Ranković who suggests (inaccurately) that “they were the only two Church leaders in Europe who were imprisoned by the Fascists. They went through Dachau and survived the hell of the concentration camp. They were released only on 8th May 1945, by the 36th Allied division” (Ranković, 1991, p. 8). At the ceremony of Velimirović’s reburial in Lelić, the then bishop of Žiča, Stefan Boca, declared that Velimirović and Dožić were “taken to Dachau, the place of horrific torment and suffering, where they stayed together until the end of World War II” (Boca, 1991, p. 33). An article published in the journal Jefimija in 1993 argues that “Velimirović was taken from Vojlovica to Dachau. At the end of the war he left first for England and then America” (Petrović, 1993, p.112). In 1996 an edition of Velimirović’s collected works published by Glas Crkve introduces Words to the Serbian People Through the Dungeon Window as having been written in the notorious concentration camp at Dachau between September 15, 1944 and May 8, 1945. A serialized biography of Velimirović published in the Belgrade daily Glas Javnosti alleges that “in September 1944 Germans transferred Nikolaj and Patriarch Gavrilo to the Dachau camp, where they remained until they were released by the American troops” (Saramandić, 2003, p. 17). The book Church and State in Yugoslavia since 1945 by the British historian Stella Alexander also mentions that “in August 1944, shortly before the liberation of Belgrade, [Velimirovic and Dožić] were transported, ill and exhausted, by goods wagon and motor-van to Dachau and then moved from one concentration camp to another until they were set free by the U.S. Army on May 8th, 1945” (Alexander 1979, p. 18).

57To the uninitiated reader, this version of events seems to suggest that the two clerics remained in Dachau, or at least in some other concentration camp, until May 1945 and the arrival of the American army. Given that it is well documented that Velimirović and Dožić departed from Dachau in November 1944 (see P. Ilić, 2006 for details), this is an important example of omission. Velimirović did encounter the US troops on May 8, 1945, but not in Dachau, which was liberated by the Allies a week earlier. It was in Kitzbuhel, a small resort town on the Austro-German border. By that time Velimirović was a free man, on his way to Switzerland accompanied by a number of Serbian collaborators and German officials who were fleeing Serbia. In Kitzbuhel Velimirović resided in the company of General Milan Nedić, prime minister in the Serbian quisling government (later extradited to Yugoslavia where he committed suicide in somewhat suspicious circumstances while in police custody) and Hermann Neubacher, Hitler’s special envoy to the Balkans and the first Nazi mayor of Vienna (1938–1939), who was subsequently sentenced to twenty years imprisonment by the Yugoslav authorities. Hermann Neubacher and Velimirović maintained cordial relations, and discussed German philosophy while sharing an air raid shelter during the allied bombardment of the border town (cited in Janković, 2002b, p. 645). A testimony quoted in Janković (2002b) alleges that, before they were separated, Neubacher gave Velimirović thirty-five gold coins “just in case” (p. 670; see also Slijepčević, 1991).

58The failure to mention Velimirović’s release in November 1944 preserves the image of the bishop as the victim of Nazism. Victims of Nazi persecution were seldom freed by their tormentors, especially not, as Velimirović and Dožić had been, as a result of negotiations between the Nazis and collaborators. Moreover, the allegation that Velimirović and Dožić remained in Germany until the end of the war omits from the biographical narrative an important and controversial period of Velimirović’s life: the stay in Slovenia, during which he gave his blessing to the collaborationist forces and spoke favorably of Dimitrije Ljotić at his funeral in April 1945.

59The inaccuracy surrounding the precise time of Velimirović’s and Dožić’s release from captivity is particularly interesting in the light of the fact that the same ambiguity appears in representations of Patriarch Gavrilo Dožić’s life, promoted in the late 1940s and 1950s, at the time when the Church endeavored to build the patriotic credentials of its newly returned leader. The issue of the religious journal Glasnik Srpske Pravoslavne Crkve published on the occasion of Dožić’s return to Serbia in 1946 alleged that “his Holiness Patriarch Gavrilo of the Serbian Orthodox Church was freed on May 8, 1945 by the 36th [Allied] division” (“Povratak Njegove Svetosti Patrijarha Srpskog G. Gavrila u Otadžbinu,” 1946, p. 211). Another issue of the same journal published four years later, on the fiftieth anniversary of Dožić’s entry into monastic life, spoke of his captivity as “the ascent to Golgotha” where “each new [concentration] camp meant a new hell” and where “patriarch suffered greatly: He was hungry, his clothes were torn […] he was sick, exhausted, humiliated to the point of martyrdom.” In the end, “suffering came to an end. The storm had been weathered. Joy replaced sorrow on May 8, 1945, in Kitzbuhel in Tyrol, where Patriarch Gavrilo, who had been arrested by Hitler’s hordes in 1941, was finally released” (“Pedesetogošnji jubilej njegove Svetosti Patrijarha Srpskog Gospodina Gavrila,” 1950, p. 23; see also Durković-Jakšić, 1980, p. 25). The striking similarity between these accounts and more recent narratives of Velimirović’s existence during the war strongly suggests that the latter were informed by the former. What is more just, like in the case of the narratives of Velimirović’s life promoted thirty years later, the emphasis on “May 8, 1945” as the release date, and the insistence that Dožić had been dragged from one “concentration camp” to another until his “martyrdom” finally came to an end, both performed the repressive function: they obscured the patriarch’s journey to Slovenia and the politics behind his release from Dachau. It also helped to symbolically separate Gavrilo Dožić from Nikolaj Velimirović, who was conveniently omitted from the tales of the patriarch’s “suffering,” and who at the time was being dismissed as “the lackey of the Germans.” Thus, the same replacement myth which in the late 1940s and 1950s sought to promote Patriarch Gavrilo Dožić as a patriot and a victim of Nazi persecution and in doing so reinforce the distinction between him and the ‘traitor’ and ‘collaborator’ Nikolaj Velimirović resurfaced thirty years later and became the principal tool for the management of Velimirović’s own moral accountability.

60Bearing in mind the extent of concealment, forgetting, and replacement in the narratives of Velimirović’s life in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it might be tempting to suggest that the martyrdom myth is merely the product of an intentional and well-calculated campaign of propaganda and deception by those who wanted to transform Velimirović’s public image. In the book The Serbian Church During the War and the Wars Within it, Milorad Tomanić (2001) makes such a point when he refers to the narrative of martyrdom as a collection of “cover-ups, lies, and half-truths” forced upon the Serbian public by those who subsequently brought Serbia to the “edge of destruction” (p.50). On the other hand, it might be argued that a subtler and more complex process is involved. Before the mid-1980s, Velimirović was marginalized by state authorities, and even within the Serbian Orthodox Church. As a result, detailed historical records relating to his life and work were scarce. What was known about Velimirović was largely based on hearsay, anecdotal evidence, and an oral culture transmitted among his limited fan base. These accounts were subject to distortion through repetition, which is why today we often have different accounts of the same anecdotes from Velimirović’s life (such as those pertaining to his wounds, or his exact whereabouts and activities during the war). Therefore, rather than being reducible to individual motivations and machinations by specific memory makers, the selective nature of remembering apparent in the prevailing narratives of Velimirović’s personal history should be seen as the outcome of a subtle dynamic of “social repression” and moral accountability management which take place at the level of discourse, communication, and the shared practice of remembering and forgetting, and which are firmly embedded in the broader social, cultural, and political contexts.

The dynamic of everyday forgetting: Continuity and the “routinization” of repression

61In writing about the rhetorical aspects of repression, Michael Billig argues that the practice of remembering is always situated within a specific argumentative context. Those who are doing the remembering must always position themselves in relation to alternative viewpoints and memories. As Billig (1999a) puts it, “memory work is rarely neutral, as if speakers are recalling the past for its own sake. Instead, speakers, in talking about the past, are often conducting the business of the present. Memory talk contains what some discursive psychologists have called ‘rhetorical stake.’ Points are being made, arguments conducted, as the past is invoked” (p. 159). The present chapter has examined the way in which the argumentative nature of remembering manifests itself in the affirmative representations of Velimirović’s life. It suggested that the enforcement of the martyrdom myth in biographical narratives has helped to repress and keep away from conscious awareness the contentious aspects of the bishop’s work. Importantly however, the practice of willful forgetting is more than simply concealment through replacement. This is because the alternative, critical interpretations, the “countermemories,” can never be fully replaced. Instead they continue to feature in the public domain, even if only on the margins, manifested as challenges to Velimirović’s credibility from the independent media, liberal intellectuals, and civil rights organizations, or as remnants of the older communist critiques. Therefore, repression of critical versions of Velimirović’s life, through the enforcement of the replacement myth, is a practice that needs to be undertaken continuously. The practice of remembering, of invoking the past, has to be organized in a way that provides the rhetorical resources by which thinking or talking about controversial matters can be actively avoided and routinely kept away from conscious awareness.

62One way in which this is done is through the inhibition of memory work. Billig (1999a) argues that “if we humans possess the rhetorical skills to open up matters for discussion, then so we are equipped with the abilities to close down matters discursively. For every rhetorical gambit to push the debate forward, so there must be analogous rhetorical devices which permit the discursive exploration to be curtailed. Routinely, we are able to change the subject, pushing conversations away from embarrassing or troubling topics” (p. 51). Thus, an important aspect of repression, as a continuous practice, is the “active avoidance” of memory work, which threatens to “disturb the sovereignty of the accepted account of the past” (Billig, 1999a, p. 171). This is accomplished primarily by diverting attention away from the potentially embarrassing or damaging topics, in the direction of the preferred themes, that is, the replacement myth.

63The way in which such “active avoidance” is accomplished can be illustrated using a number of examples from the discourse of Velimirović’s remembrance. The following extract is from a speech delivered by the writer Danko Popović in 1989, at Velimirović’s grave in Libertyville. The speaker remembers Velimirović’s suffering, especially that which occurred in Dachau:

The bishop, beside whose grave we stand, was held prisoner by the Germans during the occupation of Serbia, and was taken to the notorious concentration camp at Dachau. After the war, the prisoner of Hitler’s concentration camp was declared an enemy of the people. Not their enemy, the enemy of communism, which he naturally was, but an enemy of the people. There, a prisoner from Dachau—yet an enemy of the people? […] how is it possible—Hitler, the greatest enemy of the Serbian people, declares the bishop to be his greatest enemy, the same bishop who spends the whole duration of the war as a prisoner at Dachau, in the end is declared a public enemy? (D. Popović, 1989, p. 24)

64Unsurprisingly, the paragraph constructs the image of Velimirović as a victim of Nazi persecution, and the enemy of Nazism. In that sense it outlines all the basic features of the familiar martyrdom myth. On this occasion however, the author hints at the existence of an alternative interpretation of Velimirović’s life, one that has been used to portray him as an “enemy of the people.” Yet the counterarguments, which are alluded to, are never articulated. We are not told why Velimirović was branded a traitor. Instead, each time the invitation for further memory work is made (“how is it possible?” and “a prisoner from Dachau—yet an enemy of the people?”), the answer is simply to repeat the principal claims of the replacement myth. The very existence of the myth “obviates the need for further memory work.”

65Similarly, on other occasions when the reference to Velimirović’s status during the communist years is hinted at, this is done in the context of the safe and comforting narrative of his suffering. Deacon Ljubomir Ranković suggests that “Velimirović was declared a traitor and an enemy of his people. He who survived all the horrors of war, who was the prisoner of the most notorious Fascist concentration camp, was declared a collaborator” (Ranković, 1991, p. 9). Serbian philosopher and literary critic Nikola Milošević also noted that “he who spent time in the notorious camp at Dachau, was declared nothing less than a war criminal!” (N. Milošević, 1991, p. 47). In June 1987, in response to the petition from the diocese of Šabac and Valjevo which called for the “ecclesiological and historical evaluation of the life and work of Bishop Nikolaj,” the Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church issued a statement in which it “concludes with resentment that attacks on the late Bishop Nikolaj (Velimirović) of Žiča have been going on for years. Nikolaj was Hitler’s prisoner and martyr of Dachau, yet they call him a criminal and a traitor, even though the whole of the cultured world knows that he was a prisoner for the duration of World War II and that he was at Dachau at the end of the war” (cited in Janković 2003, p. 436). In neither of these cases are arguments against Velimirović laid out in full or addressed. Instead, criticisms are merely cast aside and the claim about martyrdom is offered in their place.

66Even on occasions when the nature of the controversy is revealed, the alleged martyrdom is used to undermine it. In 1990, the magazine Ilustrovana Politika published a two-part article on Velimirović, which contained a favorable interpretation of his life. The article aimed to answer the following question: “Why was Bishop Nikolaj, who was declared by the Germans to be their worst enemy and was kept locked away in the worst prisons including the camp at Dachau, declared after the war to be an enemy of the people?” (Marjanović, 1990b, p. 45). In providing the answer, the article reflected on just two aspects of the controversy regarding Velimirovic’s life: the medal from Hitler and the eulogistic speech that he delivered at Ljotić’s funeral in April 1945. And yet, both were dismissed as unwarranted by being substituted with the narrative of suffering under the Nazis. In response to the controversy, Archimandrite Atanasije Jevtić is quoted as stating simply that “the bishop was an antifascist […] that is why he suffered so much” (Marjanović, 1990a, p. 46). The topic of discussion was therefore shifted onto the suffering in the camp as the remembrance of the specific details associated with the controversy is subtly resisted. The title of the second article in the series echoes this strategy: “A traitor—yet in Dachau!”

67The avoidance inherent in the martyrdom myth is evident also in the context of spoken dialogue. In May 2003, shortly after Velimirović’s canonization, Deacon Ljubomir Ranković took part in Radio Free Europe’s regular show, “Radio Bridge.” When the show’s host Omer Karabeg asked Ranković about the controversies surrounding Bishop Nikolaj’s work, including his antisemitic writing at Dachau, the latter replied:

The life of every saint should be the subject of dialog and debate, and it can be examined from different aspects. With regard to the Holy Bishop Nikolaj, he and his work should also be put to the judgment of the public. But, the examination of his life must be devoid of all prejudice and bias, of emotion and superficiality. It must be an objective judgment, which any serious critique demands. Of course, Words to the Serbian People is somehow the most controversial work by the Holy Bishop Nikolaj. However, one should bear in mind that this work came about in the greatest hell in history known to man, in the concentration camp at Dachau. Bishop Nikolaj was taken to that camp after three years under German guard. There are many written testimonies. I was lucky enough to be secretary and Deacon to Bishop Jovan Velimirović, who accompanied Bishop Nikolaj during the imprisonment in Žiča, Ljubostinja, and Vojlovica. From his story I know of their suffering, and that when they arrived at Dachau, hell began, in the true sense of the word. (“Radio Most,” RFE/RL, June 2, 2003)

68Ranković’s answer to the question about Velimirović’s antisemitism starts with the reiteration of the martyrdom myth which switches the topic onto the positives from Velimirović’s life. The frequency with which this rhetorical move occurs both in written text and in public discussions (see for instance the quote at the start of the chapter) reveals how the perpetuation of the martyrdom myth supplies the armory with which the remembering of the controversy can be resisted. The myth does not just tell a story but also equips the public with the necessary skills of repression. The routinized narrative of the bishop’s suffering provides argumentative resources required for casting aside the embarrassing questions, to be used should anyone ever shed doubt on Velimirović’s integrity and dare to remember his antisemitism or the links with Nazi collaborators. The rejoinder “but he was in Dachau!”—which has become an almost automatic, routine response to any challenge to the respectability of Velimirović’s writing—constitutes an expedient means of shifting the conversation away from the compromising biographical details. It ensures that the issue of antisemitism does not have to be tackled in a more meaningful way that might be damaging to the ongoing adulation of the controversial bishop as the “Greatest Serb since St Sava.”

69In his discursive reformulation of Freudian repression, Michael Billig argues that “wilful forgetting” is not necessarily a bad thing. He suggests that “the topic of racism illustrates why repression is not necessarily something to be mocked […] It is possible to argue that on an ideological level, psychological repression can be justified and progressive, moral and socially beneficial. It can be a means of replacing ways of talking that belong to discriminatory times” (Billig, 1999a, pp. 259–260). And yet, in the case of Velimirović’s remembrance, it is hard to find evidence of repression’s “progressive” potential. The suppression of controversy surrounding the life and work of Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović, which has been shown to play a crucial role in his remembrance in the late 1980s and early 1990s, did not contribute to the suppression of antisemitism. Quite the opposite. The routine forgetting of Velimirović’s controversial views has created a curious discrepancy between, on the one hand, representations of his life in mainstream Orthodox Christian culture—which “forgets” and seeks to downplay his offensive political views—and on the other, the bishop’s literary output, available in practically every bookshop in Serbia, where objectionable viewpoints are openly propagated. The promotion of the martyrdom myth thus created a situation where readers would approach Velimirović’s work as that of a respectable theologian, whose political and moral integrity is above suspicion most of all because of his much-publicized reputation as a victim of Nazi persecution. Favorable biographical accounts, cleansed of the controversy, invite uncritical interpretation of Velimirović’s ideas, and give his contentious writings and especially Words to the Serbian People Through the Dungeon Window an importance and credibility they do not warrant. As we are about to discover, this harmful outcome of social repression is further exacerbated by the coexistence, in memorial discourse, of the complementary process of denial.

© Central European University Press, 2008

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