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East European Perspectives: February 20, 2004


20 February 2004, Volume 6, Number 5

CANONIZING THE 'PROPHET' OF ANTI-SEMITISM: THE APOTHEOSIS OF BISHOP NIKOLAJ VELIMIROVIC AND THE LEGITIMIZATION OF RELIGIOUS ANTI-SEMITISM IN CONTEMPORARY SERBIAN SOCIETY (Part 1)*

By Jovan Byford

In the first half of the 20th century, Nikolaj Velimirovic, Bishop of Ohrid and Zica, was one of the most highly regarded of Serbian clerics, renowned as much for his nationalist fervor as for his charisma, oratorical skills, and scholarship. In the 1930s, at the pinnacle of his career as a priest, theologian, and evangelist, Velimirovic emerged as the principal voice of Christian nationalism in Serbia. He advocated the establishment of a society founded on Orthodox Christian traditions, and a uniquely Serbian form of religious nationalism and monarchism (Popov, 1993, Subotic, 1993, 1996). Also, Velimirovic propagated the rejection of "all foreign customs and superficial Western traditions" (Radosavljevic, 1986, p. 14) including individualism, equality, religious tolerance, democracy, and other values of modernity and enlightenment.

The anti-Westernism and antimodernism apparent in Velimirovic's writings were suffused with strong anti-Semitic sentiments that permeated his religious thinking from the mid-1920s (Janic, 1999; Djordjevic, 1996). The anti-Jewish and anti-Judaic references consisted of a blend of religious anti-Semitism, which has a long history in (Orthodox) Christianity (Poliakov, 1974), and the 19th-century anti-Semitic conspiratorial tradition whose popularity culminated across Europe in the decades preceding World War II (Cohn, 1957; Pipes, 1998). In Velimirovic's writings, Jews are routinely portrayed as Christ-killers and a cursed people who betrayed God, but also as a powerful Satanic force conspiring against Christian Europe (Velimirovic, 1976, 1977, 1985, 2000).

1. The Controversy Surrounding Velimirovic's Life And His Anti-Semitic 'Words To The Serbian People Through The Dungeon Window'
In the first half of the 20th century, Nikolaj Velimirovic, Bishop of Ohrid and Zica, was one of the most highly regarded of Serbian clerics, renowned as much for his nationalist fervor as for his charisma, oratorical skills, and scholarship. In the 1930s, at the pinnacle of his career as a priest, theologian, and evangelist, Velimirovic emerged as the principal voice of Christian nationalism in Serbia. He advocated the establishment of a society founded on Orthodox Christian traditions, and a uniquely Serbian form of religious nationalism and monarchism (Popov, 1993, Subotic, 1993, 1996). Also, Velimirovic propagated the rejection of "all foreign customs and superficial Western traditions" (Radosavljevic, 1986, p. 14) including individualism, equality, religious tolerance, democracy, and other values of modernity and enlightenment.

The anti-Westernism and antimodernism apparent in Velimirovic's writings were suffused with strong anti-Semitic sentiments that permeated his religious thinking from the mid-1920s (Janic, 1999; Djordjevic, 1996). The anti-Jewish and anti-Judaic references consisted of a blend of religious anti-Semitism, which has a long history in (Orthodox) Christianity (Poliakov, 1974), and the 19th-century anti-Semitic conspiratorial tradition whose popularity culminated across Europe in the decades preceding World War II (Cohn, 1957; Pipes, 1998). In Velimirovic's writings, Jews are routinely portrayed as Christ-killers and a cursed people who betrayed God, but also as a powerful Satanic force conspiring against Christian Europe (Velimirovic, 1976, 1977, 1985, 2000).

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