06 Feb 13

Gay St Sava? No, No!

Nemanja Cabric

What a disappointment! A debate I was hoping to take part in was cancelled. Finally there was something I felt passionate about: St Sava, my favourite saint.

Poster announcing the debate on Saint Sava's true historical personality

At the beginning I would like to deal with some early memories connected to St Sava that many of us who grew up in Serbia share. The first was from my elementary school days.

In the main hall, above the entrance and to the right, stood a plate on which read something like: “Some say we are west, others that we are east, but I tell you, we are neither east nor west.” It was signed by St Sava.

How perfectly it fitted a post-Communist school in which, only five years or so earlier, children were still called “pioniri”, and wore blue suits and red scarves and little hats with a red star called “petokraka”.

As kids, we found the sign amusing, and everyone interpreted it how they liked. But the sign soon became clearer to me: Yugoslavia is still officially “nesvrstana“ (nonaligned) but is now, again, a religious society.

That was the result of the institutional comeback of the Orthodox Church.  And that, of course, occurred on the holy back of St Sava, because of his immense popularity and respect among the people.

I also remember a moment from my high school, when one of the former students who later enrolled at a Church painting academy painted a fresco of Sava on the wall of the largest school hall, used only for special occasions, such as the celebrations of Sava’s day, Savindan, and School Day.

I found that perfectly normal, as I believe Sava to have been as great a contributor to education as any noble, king or priest in history.

As an Orthodox metropolitan, and a man who became a myth, I believed Sava also to be a pillar of the Serbian Church.

But, as the poster announcing a recent exhibition says, Sava has new colours. Gay ones.

I believe his face on the poster was been deliberately made three-dimensional because the artist wanted to ensure visitors that the truth about the saint would be revealed.

On a scale from 1 to 10 I would say that this is an 11 when it comes to the level of insults to Serbian believers – much like the Muhammad drawing in Denmark, or the gay depiction of Jesus in the exhibition of Swedish photographer Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin in Belgrade’s Gay Pride week in October 2012.

When I first saw the St Sava’s poster on Facebook, I wondered why was it done so provocatively.

Why verbally call for dialogue, but visually attack it with this gay version of St Sava?

Still, by going there to the talk at the debate, I didn’t wish to throw stones, I just wanted to compare the facts.

The announced panellists for the evening were Mirko Djordjevic, a Church analyst known for his criticism of the connection between the Serbian Orthodox Church and nationalism, Milorad Pavlovic, a historian who writes about the role of the Orthodox Church in the Yugoslav wars, and a journalist, Damjan Pavlica.

One can now only imagine what they could have said, as they were alarmed by the reactions of people on Facebook and by an open letter, published by the hard-line Obraz movement. They cancelled the event on Monday.

Had it gone ahead, I guess they would have drooled a lot about the fake patriotism that started in 1990 when I was a school kid. They would then mull the Church’s role in all the various wars.

In the heat of the debate they would probably talk about the damaging phenomenon of ”svetosavlje,” as the cult of St Sava is known.

Then they would probably have got tired and stopped the whole thing. Everybody would have gone out unimpressed.

That’s why I think they needed a provocative poster, so the debate would never be held.

And so, as ever, it all comes to this: While Serbia’s rabid patriots rage, liberals sit passively, but they hold bloody meat in their hands.

Talk about it!

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