Serbian Icons Tarnished
12:00 AM, Mar 3, 2010 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Over the past decade, since the U.S.-led NATO intervention to defend the Kosovar Albanians against the terrorism of the late Slobodan Milosevic, Artemije Radosavljevic, bishop of the Serbian Orthodox church in Kosovo, has gained considerable local and global publicity. Artemije’s media career began with his admission that Serbian nationalists had subjected the Kosovars to abuse. He later moved on to demands that the remaining Serb minority in the territory benefit from permanent international protection. Bishop Artemije became a frequent visitor to the United States, and, after September 11, 2001, emerged as a favorite of those who falsely accuse the entire Kosovar Muslim community of jihadism. He directed this flamboyant propaganda, which attributed unspeakably horrible crimes to the Albanians, from a large enclave at the Serbian monastery of Gracanica, near the Kosovo capital of Pristina. There Artemije and his cohort have been assiduously guarded by Swedish as well as NATO forces.
Kosovar Albanians have in fact repeatedly expressed their opposition to radical Islam. The Albanian response to extremist infiltration has been notably articulate and transparent. By contrast, candor was lacking on the part of Bishop Artemije. In recent years, Balkan experts exposed the distasteful fact that he was a leading advocate for the sainthood of a Serbian cleric and Nazi sympathizer, Nikolaj Velimirovic (1882-1956). Velimirovic, who died as an émigré to the United States, was inducted into the calendar of Serbian saints in 2003.
Nikolaj Velimirovic was an extremely strange figure. He was possessed of a corrosive hatred of Jews, whom he said were “inspired by the stinking breath of Satan.” According to Velimirovic, “the Devil taught [Jews] how to stand against the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The Devil taught them through the centuries how to fight against the sons of Christ, against the children of Light, against the followers of the Gospel and eternal life.” Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of these lines is that they were written while Velimirovic was briefly imprisoned by the Germans, late in the second world war, at Dachau. In the same text, Velimirovic declared that “modern ideas including democracy, and strikes, and socialism, and atheism, and religious tolerance, and pacifism, and global revolution, and capitalism, and communism” were all created by “Jews, or rather their father, the Devil.”
Velimirovic also embraced weird obsessions against modern inventions such as the telescope, the microscope, the steam engine, railroads, submarines, and aircraft. He alleged that all such innovations were “directed against Christ.” He additionally expressed a phobia against soap and water, proclaiming that Jews had seduced Europe into “a mania for cleanliness. . . . Plumbing, plumbing, plumbing! Baths, baths, baths! Cleanliness, cleanliness, cleanliness! And everyone tired out with washing and cleaning themselves externally.”
The effort to canonize this eccentric individual was led by Bishop Artemije of Kosovo, who wrote that “graced by the warm currents of Orthodoxy, Nikolaj the genius became Nikolaj the Saint.” Bishop Artemije, the supposed defender of religious and ethnic pluralism, was supported in the campaign for Velimirovic’s sainthood by three other Serbian religious leaders. They included Amfilohije Radovic, Serbian metropolitan of Montenegro. In opposition to Metropolitan Amfilohije, Montenegrins have their own Orthodox church, with a notable local history, and many Montenegrin Orthodox believers aspire to, but have been denied, recognition of their separate status (known as autocephaly) by the Serbs. Amfilohije was also the inspirer of the Serb terrorist known as “Arkan” (Zeljko Raznatovic), who was shot to death in Belgrade in 2000.
The other two Serbian theological figures in the quartet committed to promoting the Jew-hating Velimirovic as a saint were bishop Atanasije Jevtic from Bosnia-Herzegovina, and bishop Irinej Bulovic of Novi Sad in Vojvodina, north of Belgrade. The four were prominent in the revival of ultranationalist frenzies among Serbs in the 1980s, leading to the bloody Balkan wars of the '90s. Still, in Washington, where the biographies of foreign religious figures (including, it must be said, numerous radical Muslims) are seldom examined, Bishop Artemije fooled many people.
Artemije Radosavljevic’s career in special pleading for Kosovo Serbs has apparently come to an end, and without much chance that he will someday be canonized for his activities. Serbian church authorities have removed him from authority in the new republic, and replaced him with his fellow-extremist Atanasije Jevtic. Artemije, who, more than once, flew to the U.S. to denounce the Kosovar Albanians and their declaration of independence, and assail president George W. Bush for supporting them, has been charged by his own church with enabling “financial abuse” of donations from believers, and “spreading discord.” The Serbian authorities have issued a warrant for the arrest of Simon Vilovski, an associate of Artemije who allegedly embezzled close to half a million dollars intended for the rehabilitation of Serbian churches. The change in leadership provoked fistfights at the Gracanica monastery which were videotaped on February 13, the day before the commencement of fasting for the Orthodox Easter. NATO troops intervened to keep order.
Artemije, the false advocate of interfaith concord, has been called “an Orthodox version of the Wahhabis” by Branko Milic, an independent-minded Serbian blogger. Kosovo is, however, far from America and its immediate foreign policy concerns, and the deceptions of Artemije Radosavljevic, as well as his past patronage by American politicians, will doubtless be treated as forgettable. Some pro-Serbian fanatics may even find a way to blame Artemije’s disgrace on the Kosovar Albanians. But with their spiritual destiny in the hands of such apparent hypocrites, and their political prospects bound up with Belgrade’s intrigues, as encouraged by Putin’s Russia, the future of the Kosovo Serbs looks dim.
Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor.