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Belarus: Charismatics and Catholics Protest against Regime

A fascinating article on religious protest in Belarus, from Forum 18:

When Catholic parishioners in Grodno announced a hunger strike to begin on 1 December if officials fail to overturn their decade-long refusal to allow them to build a new church, they took their inspiration from protests by New Life Church. This Minsk-based charismatic congregation held a high-profile hunger strike in October to try to prevent the authorities seizing their church. “We are grateful to the Protestants for giving us courage,” Fr Aleksandr Shemet declared.

…In the wake of this year’s presidential elections, the Evangelical Belarus Information Centre reported that on 20 March more than half of those demonstrating against the regime in central Minsk raised their hands when asked who would join in prayers for Belarus: “The next day almost everyone responded to the same request, and the day after that the majority of songs heard in the tent camp were Christian.”

However, this faith-based dissent needs to be balanced against the support Belarussian dictator Alexander Lukashenko gets from the Russian Orthodox Church. Back in August Private Eye (1164, p. 19) published a “Letter from Minsk” which touched on the subject:

A few years ago [Lukashenko] presented the Russian Orthodox Patriarch with $85,000 worth of gold, silver and jewel-encrusted banners for the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. In return, Patriarch Alexis II commended Lukashenko for resisting the “cult of force, self-destruction and lack of morals that permeate the west”, then he decorated senior Belarus KGB men (we have not bothered to make the secret police sound more customer-friendly) with the Order of Apostle Grand Duke Vladimir (no relation) for “decisive implementation of the government’s policy of spiritual development of the nation.”

In 2001, Alexy presented Lukashenko with a prize from the “International Foundation for Unity of the Orthodox Peoples”; he followed this up in 2002 with the Order of St. Sergius of Radonezh, “for strengthening unity of Slav peoples”. After the farcical recent election in Belarus, Alexy wrote with words of gushing appreciation:

Seeing the impressive results of your previous work in this office, the multinational people of the republic have again given you a vote of confidence through supporting your candidature by a majority of votes’, the patriarchal messages says.

‘…As primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, I am very much gratified with the fact that good relations have been established between the religious and secular leaders in Belarus in the last years. These relations are called to show common concern for the restoration of shrines ruined in the past, for religious education, Christian enlightenment and moral health of society,’ the document notes.

Meanwhile, Lukashenko has recently been swapping notes with another leader noted for using religion to bolster a reactionary and oppressive agenda:

(Pic from Wolny, via Belarusan American Blog)

One Response

  1. […] Well, I suppose he might be doing nothing more than just being polite (and mindful of the position of Orthodox Turkmen) – but this is the same Alexy who is notorious for heaping praise and honours on Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko (as I blogged here). […]

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