Distinguishing ‘Anti-Judaism’ from ‘Antisemitism’: Recent Championing of Serbian Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović

Byford, Jovan (2006). Distinguishing ‘Anti-Judaism’ from ‘Antisemitism’: Recent Championing of Serbian Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović. Religion, State and Society, 34(1) pp. 7–31.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09637490500459867


The well documented revival of the far-right in post-communist Eastern Europe was accompanied by the widespread rewriting of the past and the rehabilitation of controversial historical figures from the 1930s-40s, many of whom exhibited antisemitic and pro-fascist tendencies.
The paper is part of a broader project that examines the rhetoric of post-communist revisionism in Serbian society, using the example of the recently canonised Bishop Nikolaj Velimirovic (1880-1956), the controversial Serbian Orthodox Christian philosopher whose writing includes overtly antisemitic claims. The paper focuses on the representations of Bishop Velimirovic in Serbian Orthodox culture around the time of his formal canonisation in 2003, and looks at the rhetoric deployed by the bishop’s supporters to manage his moral accountability and counter accusations of anti-Jewish prejudice.
The rhetoric of denial of Velimirovic’s antisemitism is shown to consist of the attempt to work up the opposition between, on the one hand, the seemingly legitimate ideas of Christian anti-Judaism (to which the Bishop’s views are said to belong) and, on the other, the anti-normative ideology of (Nazi) antisemitism. By exploring the blurred nature of this distinction, the paper reveals how the discursive dynamic of denial helps to present antisemitism as a satisfactory, unproblematic and even normative aspect of Christian identity, thus ensuring its persistence on the visible margins of Serbian Orthodox culture.

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