Saint Velimirovic’s shady halo
by Mirko Ðordevic
Those who have studied the person and deeds of Bishop Nikolaj [Velimirović] know well the peppery price of their undertaking. Ever since his canonisation in 2003, this ideologue of [World War II fascist leader Dimitrije] Ljotić has left no one indifferent - even within the iconostasis of Serb saints. Worse than that: he has since become untouchable, so that any attempt at dialogue about him usually ends with stone-throwing and death threats involving a ‘consecrated bomb’. As a saint and ideologue, Nikolaj typifies the provincial politics of which Vojislav Koštunica acts as first minister. It seems that herein lies the everlasting glory of Nikolaj’s halo: it is nothing but politics, and bad politics at that. The bishop was not the only one among Serb clerics who used to praise Hitler. The Serb patriarch Varnava praised the leader of the Third Reich even more exultantly in 1937 - it was all published in the official journal of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC). All this may no longer be important. What is important is that contemporary provincial politics has discovered in Nikolaj the full measure of its own spirituality. Vojislav Koštunica thus insists that he is ‘our eternal guide’.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, however, a book has caused a great flurry. P. Ilić’s work: SPC i tajna Dahaua [The SPC and the Dachau Secret] can be likened to a stone thrown into a stagnant pool. For many years now SPC bishops, grey-haired members of the proud SANU [Serbian academy of science and art], poets and writers have been insisting that Nikolaj, together with [Varnava’s successor] Patriarch Gavrilo, spent ‘years in the death camp of Dachau’, where he was tortured, beaten and maltreated practically every day. A warlike monk called Anastasije - he had been a bishop, but gave it up - made devout old women and confused young men weep with his descriptions of Nikolaj’s tribulations in Dachau, telling them how he carried the slop-bucket, how he was spat on and knocked about. Devout and touching lies, all of them. And now suddenly a strange book appears - strange in that it presents carefully marshalled documents which unequivocally destroy ‘the Nikolaj myth’. Much of this was already known, of course, but it is now presented in a systematic and clear fashion. The patriarch and Nikolaj were in Dachau, but only for a month, which they spent in its ‘VIP section’. They were treated with the greatest care by the German authorities, so that nothing untoward happened to them. They were released in late 1944. This was the time when the Red Army had its sights on Belgrade, whence Nedić and the Germans themselves were fleeing. And it is not true that they were liberated from Dachau by the Americans: they were freed, but by the Germans, who took them to Slovenia. It was the end of October 1944 and the war was practically over. Once in Slovenia, our ‘martyrs’ presided over a review of Ljotić’s and other collaborationist formations, declaring that they were proud to find themselves among ‘national heroes’. These ‘heroes’, like Ljotić himself, had in fact spent four years fighting against the Allies. They were now grouping to forge armed resistance [against the Partisans]. A government was being formed, and General Vlasov too was asked to help. This all took place at the end of April and the beginning of May 1945, i.e. after the end of World War II.
As I have already said, this is all familiar and often repeated stuff. But there are those in Serbia who reject the truth, who are uninterested in what actually happened in history. Which is why we are where we are. This is why this book is important. The glow of a halo is intoxicating, but it loses its lustre when exposed to the rays of historical truth. Myths are seductive, but are of little value when confronted with documents. Ilić’s book demands careful reading, irrespective of the fact that stone-throwing rather than dialogue will follow. It is bound to distress our provincial ideologues, who for some time now have being talking about a preumljenje [metanoia: here conversion] of Marx and Freud on the basis of ‘spirituality’. This stuff is repeated day in and day out: the TV prophets are tireless. They continue to repeat calmly: ‘Those who have not read our Saint Nikolaj have wasted their lives.’ Another good reason why it is necessary to read books like The SPC and the Dachau Secret.
Translated from Monitor (Podgorica), 1 September 2006
Argument by Stoning
On 15 May 2006 at around midnight, stones were thrown at the windows of Mirko Đorđević’s home. He and his wife Mira were not hurt, but the message was clear. Professor Đorđević is best known for his works on religion, which maintain a critical attitude towards the misuse of religion and the Serb Orthodox Church. On the evening of the stoning of his house, he had taken part in a television programme about Nikolaj Velimirović, recently proclaimed a saint of the Church. He had talked about Nikolaj’s anti-semitism, his praise of Hitler, and his friendship with Dimitrije Ljotić whose paramilitary formations fought with the Nazis during World War II. For some time now Serbia has been awash with ideas and projects associated with Fascism. This ideological wave helps to protect from punishment the perpetrators of crimes committed in the recent war. Nebojša Popov
From an editorial in Republika (Belgrade), 1 June.- 31 July 2006