Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Patriarch German - 1987 interview

by crackpipe
I recently read the book above, which is simply a transcript of a 1987 interview conducted in Belgrade by NIN correspondent Svetoslav Spasojevich. Spasojevich's subject, Patriarch German (photo above), was in 1987 the highest official of the Serbian Orthodox Church. German was considered a controversial patriarch; it was thought that, in his 1958 ascendancy to patriarch, German might have been complicit with Josip Broz (Tito). This perception subsequently led to a painful schism in the Serbian Orthodox Church, and to German's unflattering nickname "The Red Patriarch".

These are likely only arguably interesting topics for non-Serbian readers, but my impression was that most readers who enjoy the more general sweep of history should take the time to read the interview. The historical value of an interview conducted within the final three years of a Communist regime with the head of its second largest Church is obvious. There are additional insights for those who understand the manner in which religious organizations are exploited within Communist regimes. And the text also sparks reflection about how we as relatively free readers evaluate information from censored societies.

For example, we don't learn a great deal of facts around the central political points. Patriarch German's responses become significantly evasive, sometimes nearly unresponsive, when Spasojevich probes, 1) Patriarch German's elevation to patriarch and, 2) German's role in the controversial defrocking of Bishop Dionisije Milivojevich.

Indeed, the interview qua interview seems overall uneven: leading questions, questions unrelated to previous comments, sections which seem scripted, and so forth. Additionally, when German's answers appear evasive, Spasojevich lacks what seem to be obvious follow-ups. But these types of flaws, which typically lead to throwing an interview down, do not divert our attention; we understand this interview was taken within a closed dictatorial society. In 1987, perhaps some of the text was removed or altered by a Yugoslavian agency. Perhaps Spasojevich was provided with a strict list of questions from censors, leaving follow-up questions only to be riskily considered, if at all. Perhaps Spasojevich lost his freedom or life --- others may have hastily or compromisingly assembled the published version. Of course, it's also possible Spasojevich was simply not a skillful interviewer, but what do we want to conclude without being certain?

Attempting to read between German's responses, I eventually had to ask myself, "What might be at stake for German in this interview?". In 1987, it seems reasonable German would still display prudent caution when responding to questions regarding Communism. In equal measure, it seems reasonable to picture German feeling comfortable with some candor and explanations about the Dionisije issue, ie, I would have guessed German's strategy, if he had one for his responses, as one which avoided Communist persecution but healed the Orthodox schism. Instead, German responded openly and negatively about Communism and elliptically at best about Dionisije. What does this mean?

One thought is that Patriarch German was 88 years old at the time of the interview. Did German feel his personal legacy (and-or the legacy of his Church) was more important than his own safety? Still, a strategy of evasiveness on the Dionisije matter is not one an intelligent man would select to solve the schism, and it's therefore just as unlikely that German's staff advised him to feign obtuseness. To me then, it appears German's evasiveness was likely reactive, spontaneous, and correspondingly revelatory of his underlying concerns.

If that's correct, what did German consider needed to remain hidden away? There is little question Patriarch German would have understood the significance of the Dionisije matter within his Church, how it had brought the taint of possible communist/Tito (a Roman Catholic Croat) involvement to his reputation, and led to a schism. These must have been painful impressions for German. Yet when considered against the possibility of healing the Church's schism and his own reputation, we'd expect German to speak more openly at age 88. He misses a significant opportunity in this interview.

So what was his concern? There was of course much stronger stuff than back room power brokering during Tito's era; significant persecution and loss of life. Many priests were killed outright during Tito's tenure. Had German's interview confirmed complicity with Tito, German would forever be despised by Serbian Orthodox leaders and members. I have my suspicions that German was a man feeling significant guilt, but whatever the real story may be, we can only guess. The book is worthy of reading for how one interprets such things.

Incidentally, the problem with Bishop Dionisije went so deeply in the Serbian Orthodox Church, that it spread to the courtrooms of America, (famously) landing in the US Supreme Court (SERBIAN ORTHODOX DIOCESE v. MILIVOJEVICH, 426 U.S. 696 (1976)). The case remains a landmark in the US for defining the separation of Church and State.


Mr. Ed said...

Appears you're speculating again, "crackpipe". Not only did you suffer neurological damage in that 2006 surgery, but I believe my portable electrophoresis machinery will show conclusively that you possess the DNA of a monkey. The gloves are off.

Anonymous said...

What part of your brain was damaged again?

Anonymous said...

Visual processing, memory, flavors, proprioception, temperament, some others. Still testing every two weeks. Oh, plus...I forgot!

Captain Morgan said...

Hyarrr. I will get you, Bishop Dionisije, and steal all your pretty maidens. Hyarrrr.

Anonymous said...

Monkeys can beat-up talking horses.

Anonymous said...

Or ride them.

Cherry Ann said...

You don't want that hyphen in beat-up. If you were using it as an adjective, as in "I returned to find an open monkey cage and a pile of beat-up talking horses," then it would need to be there. You know that, of course.

Anonymous said...

How did you know pet monkeys would be in the news again? Are you from Canadia?