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Petar II Petrovic-Njegos: A Holy Saint Or A Racialist Scholar?

The mausoleum of Petar II Petrovic-Njegos, who is revered by most Serbs and Montenegrins.
The mausoleum of Petar II Petrovic-Njegos, who is revered by most Serbs and Montenegrins.
The Metropolitan of Montenegro has raised eyebrows in some circles by announcing that he is going to propose a controversial 19th-century prince-bishop for canonization.

According to Balkan Insight, Bishop Amfilohije Radovic will put the name of Petar II Petrovic-Njegos forward at a session of the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church later this month.

Radovic suggested that Petrovic-Njegos (1813-1851), who is also a renowned poet and philosopher, had long been considered an eligible candidate for sainthood, saying that "people throughout history have spoken about him with awe as a holy man."

Although, the move will be welcomed by many Serbs and Montenegrins, who revere Petrovic-Njegos and his literary oeuvre as an important part of their national and cultural heritage, it is unlikely to go down well in other Balkan countries.
Petar II Petrovic-Njegos
Petar II Petrovic-Njegos

That's because the poet's magnum opus, "The Mountain Wreath," which looks at a south Slavic leader's efforts to regulate relations between the region's warring tribes in the 18th century, seems to contain a sympathetic description of the massacre of Muslims.

Naturally, given the recent atrocities that occurred during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, this has raised the hackles of many. In the eyes of some detractors, Petrovic-Njegos's epic is a seminal text that inspired the horrors of that decade, with one critic even describing it as "a paean to ethnic cleansing."

Those who defend the poet, however, maintain that "The Mountain Wreath," which has nearly 2,800 verses, is far too complex a work to be interpreted so baldly.

They argue that the poem should be read within the context of the time in which it was written, and that it says more about the political, social, cultural, and economic conditions that prevailed in the Balkans in the early 19th century than it does about more recent events.

It's a debate that looks set to get a lot more attention in the coming months as preparations begin for celebrations to mark the bicentenary of the poet's birth on November 13.

-- Coilin O'Connor

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