Religion and the Social Protest in Belarus

Bel Church Finchley

The Belarusian Greek-Catholic Church in London

Yesterday I attended the service at the Belarusian Greek-Catholic Church in London. The context, however, was rather disturbing – the Freedom Day celebrated on 25 March in Minsk turned into massive arrests and seizures of peaceful protesters. The priest from the Belarusian Catholic Mission to London marked this strongly in the sermon.

Religious institutions in Belarus reacted differently to these developments. The head of the Belarusian Catholic Church asked for a peaceful resolution and humanitarian treatment of those detained by the police. The Orthodox Church remains silent, whereas a Baptist believer appealed a petition to the authorities.

Thousands of people went yesterday on streets of Minsk holding officially unrecognised white-red-white flags and to demonstrate their commitment to the Freedom Day, also not welcomed by the authorities. Others wanted to express their dissatisfaction with the current politics.

The pictures and videos widely spread over the social media show the shocking scenes – hundreds of people were beaten by Belarusian police and detained, including elders. We shall see how many of them will have to face criminal cases.

Freedom Day on 25 March: an alternative historical narrative

This year the Belarusian authorities reacted to the planned celebrations on 25 March with the high dose of fear. Not only they did not allow the peaceful rally through the centre of Minsk to mark the Freedom Day, but also began ‘preventive’ repressions already in the beginning of March.

The local police detained over 300 social activists, journalists, opposition politicians already earlier this month. Regardless this tense situation, thousands of people went yesterday on the streets to demonstrate their solidarity, commitment to the Freedom Day and express their attitude towards the authorities.

nn.by

Source: nn.by

For the opposition, many social activists and ordinary Belarusians ’25 March’ remains the date symbolising the beginnings of the Belarusian statehood. The current authorities continue condemning this event and impose other historical narratives. I have written more about these competing narratives in the Belarusian society here.

A member of the Protestant church appealed to the authorities

Krynica.info, Belarusian religious news website, reports on an interesting initiative of the member and the lawyer of the Minsk-based Evangelical Church “New Life”, Siargey Lukanin. He launched a petition to the authorities with regards to the seizures.

He writes “[…] We law abiding people, who in their life try not to breach the law, but for us the God’s law comes first. We pray for the authorities, ask God to give every official wisdom and love for their nation, as we want to have quiet and peaceful life […]”. As for now, 1,234 people signed the petition and the number is still increasing.

Reaction of other churches towards the state’s violence

This comes as no surprise that the religious institutions often act as the intermediaries between the private and the state, as they remain part of civil society ecosystem. Also in Belarus, they enjoy rather high public profile and social trust, thus they are capable of resolving the state-society conflicts.

svaboda.org

An older gentleman taken by the police by force. Source: svaboda.org

I was interested in the Catholic and Orthodox churches’ reaction. On the website of the Orthodox Church I could not find any reference to the yesterday’s events.

The website Catholic.by published an official statement of the head of the Belarusian Catholic Church, Metropolitan Kandrusievich who happened to return from America. He calls

“[…] the authorities and their opponents, but also the civil society organisations and people with different views to hold a constructive dialogue in order to resolve the present problems for the good of our nation and the consolidation of the society […]”.

Further, he comments on those who were detained by the police: “I hope that […] they will be treated in a humanitarian and just way and I hope they will return home soon”.

Certainly, the political setting in Belarus has a serious impact on the society-oriented activity of all religious institutions. I am curious whether priests (and other figures) did refer to these developments in today’s preaching. Also, I hope to explore more the churches’ approach towards the social protests in the next posts.

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