11 Jun 15

From Karl Marx to Sister Teresa

Damir Pilic

There is no doubt that Karl Marx is one of the most influential philosophers of all time. Just one illustration: in a BBC poll in 1999, he was voted “the greatest thinker of the millennium”.

In my personal life, Karl Marx has also played an important role. Without him, I probably would not have been born.

Sister Teresa Forcades, interviewed by Damir Pilic on a previous visit to Croatia, in the town of Sibenik, September 6, 2014. On the left is Srecko Horvat, a Croatian left-wing philosopher.

Photo by Ante Filipovic Grcic

I come from a family with a strong religious tradition. In every generation for centuries, the eldest son became a Catholic priest. My father was an eldest son so the priesthood seemed to be his likely career. If he had followed that path, I would not exist because, of course, Roman Catholic priests take a vow of celibacy.

But a miracle happened. At the age of 16, my father met two people who were to become crucial in his life. One was Karl Marx. (Of course, he never met Marx personally but became familiar with him through his books.) The other was my mother. I can’t say who was more influential but the fact is that my father gave up thoughts of the priesthood and became a Marxist sociologist. A married Marxist sociologist. With two children – my brother and me.

Now, five decades on from my father’s fateful year, I'm doing research into ex-Yugoslav and Western Marxists for the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence. My family's religious tradition was one reason why I wanted to interview Teresa Forcades, a Spanish Benedictine nun who lives in the Sant Benet de Montserrat monastery near Barcelona. Sister Teresa is a public supporter of Podemos, the left-wing anti-austerity Spanish party. I am interested in the popularity of Podemos and Syriza, the party with communist roots that now governs Greece.

The gods were on my side. In early May, both Sister Teresa and Antonio Sanchez, a prominent Podemos member, were in Croatia. Sanchez held a public lecture in Zagreb on May 10 and I interviewed him afterwards.

I asked him if it was difficult to propagate leftist political ideas in a strongly Catholic country such as Spain. He answered: “There are priests and nuns like Teresa Forcades who share our views. There is nothing better for a young left political movement... (than) if you have a nun who publicly supports your views.”

Sister Teresa held a public lecture in Rijeka on May 11. But her schedule was so packed that the only time she could do an interview was 40 minutes before she flew back to Spain. So I met her at Zagreb airport the day after her lecture.

Sister Teresa told me that she could not be a Marxist because Marxism is atheism but that she deeply respects some parts of Marx's theory, such as his concepts of "alienation" and "exploitation of man by man". And then she said: “Private property cannot be an absolute right.”

I responded: “Excuse me, sister, but that is a pronounced Marxist thesis, and you say that you are not a Marxist?”

She replied: “Yes, Damir, Karl Marx was born, but Jesus Christ was born before him.”

And I thought at that moment: “Yes, and my father was born after Karl Marx. Thank God!”


Damir Pilic is a journalist for Slobodna Dalmacija newspaper in Split, covering social issues. For the fellowship programme, he is researching the stories of of ex-professors of Marxism from eastern Europe and an apparent revival of Marxist values, as seen in the success of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain.

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