Belarusian Orthodox Church Seeks More Independence from Russia
Belarusian Orthodox circles call it the beginning of a new era, as Metropolitan Pavel, its new leader who recently moved from Russia to Belarus, stated he would ask the Moscow Patriarchate to grant the Belarusian Orthodox Church self-governing status.
Currently, the Belarusian Orthodox Сhurch constitutes a part of the Moscow Patriarchate and lacks the authority to deal even with minor issues without Moscow's consent.
The Belarusian authorities and the clergy support the idea because they want to limit Russian influence. The Moscow Patriarchate will likely ignore the request from Belarus, but it may not last forever.
The First Timid Step to Independence
The war in Ukraine has intensified the desire of the authorities to control those institutions that are dependent on other states. Though Belarus remains a largely atheistic country, the Belarusian Orthodox Church enjoys great credibility among Belarusians.
According to the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies, the Belarusian Orthodox Church is the most trusted institution in the country, with 63% of Belarusians stating they trust it.
For Russians who feel like they living amongst their enemies, Pavel’s statement was akin to a knife in the back. Read more
Pavel’s initiative brought joy for the Belarusian clergy, but not empire-minded Russians. A popular Russian news site Regnum accused Belarus of moving towards autocephaly (i.e. complete separation from the Russian Orthodox Church).
The Russian Orthodox sites mostly condemned the statement of the Belarusian Metropolitan, and the Moscow Patriarchate keeps silence. For Russians, who feel like they live amongst their enemies, Pavel’s statement was akin to a knife in the back.
The wishes of the Belarusian Orthodox Church are no doubt reasonable. The Belarusian Orthodox Church has a very weak position in the Orthodox world and remains the only Exarchate, a mere province of the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia. The Belarusian Orthodox Church unites all of the dioceses in Belarus, but lacks any power over them and is unable to make decisions on its own.
Metropolitan Pavel got his job without so much as a discussion about his candidacy with the Belarusian clergy, orthodox Christians or the authorities. Even now Pavel's Range Rover has Russian registration plates on it. Needless to say, his announcement regarding the Belarusian Orthodox Church's aspirations for greater autonomy came as a big surprise.
Lukashenka in the Background
Metropolitan Pavel does not hide the fact that greater independence remains in the interest of “the priests, believers, and heads of state structures”. Lukashenka's regime wants the Belarusian Orthodox Church to gain more self-governing status, as it will increase the authorities’ control over the religious institution.
Looking at Ukraine, where the Kyiv Patriarchate plays a great role in uniting the country, the Belarusian authorities would like to have their own religious stronghold, able to function without constantly having to look back at Moscow.
the Belarusian authorities want to have their own religious stronghold, able to function without constantly having to look back at Moscow. Read more
The authorities and the Belarusian Orthodox Church has a solid history of cooperation, as Lukashenka said in 2008 that "the Belarusian state considers the Orthodox Church to be the main ideological force of the nation". The authorities financially support the construction of churches, and the Orthodox Church has exclusive rights of influence in certain spheres of the state’s activities such as education, health care, and crime prevention.
The Church supported Lukashenka during the referendum in 2004, which removed limits on the number of times he could run as president. As Lukashenka said in 2002, “for our part, we have the right to expect assistance from the side of the clergy”.
Why the Belarusian Orthodox Church Needs More Rights
Self-governing status within the Moscow Patriarchate should not be confused with autocephaly and separation from it. The Russian Orthodox Church has five levels of independence.
First, there is the metropolitan district, like in Kazakhstan, which lacks any rights to make its own decisions. Second, there is an exarchate, which brings together a large number of dioceses, but has no power. Belarus is an exarchate. Third, there are self-governing churches like in Estonia or Latvia. Pavel wants to upgrade the Belarusian Orthodox Сhurch to this level.
Currently any talks about the fourth and fifth levels which are close to having autocephalous status ,and which the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church of Japan have, remain impossible at this time.
According to the Metropolitan, “it hurts” that the Belarusian Orthodox Сhurch remains at such a low level. Today decisions of the Synod of the Belarusian Orthodox Сhurch, even technical ones, cannot come into force before the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Patriarch in Moscow considers them. Belarusian priest Alexander Shramko has said that this demonstrates “total distrust”.
Metropolitan Pavel is unlikely to want more autonomy for the church because he loves Belarus. He just wants to fix the structure he manages Read more
As a result, the Belarusian Orthodox Church remains sluggish and is gradually losing Belarus. 120 thousand Orthodox believers and 58 thousand Catholics attended religious services on Christmas, which is not all that impressive when one considers the fact that there are seven times more Orthodox christians than Catholics in Belarus.
The Catholic Pilgrimage to Budslau seem to be the major spiritual event of the year in Belarus, and Protestant churches, despite repression against them, keep growing. It remains unlikely that Metropolitan Pavel wants more autonomy for the church because he loves Belarus. He just wants to fix the structures that he manages.
Is Independence Possible?
It remains unknown when the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church will consider giving greater autonomy to the Belarusian Orthodox Church. But as the statement by Metropolitan Pavel grew to become the main religious news in Belarus, it will be difficult to ignore. Even if the Patriarch of Moscow delays the process in the coming years it will still have to be answered. The speed of Moscow's response will depend on how often Minsk will raise the question.
But the delay may be also harmful to the Moscow Patriarchate. If the Russian Orthodox Сhurch turn a blind eye to the justified requests of Belarusian Orthodox Christians, the idea of pushing for autocephaly, or autonomy from the Moscow Patriarchate, will spread more acutely. It was no accident that Metropolitan’s words about greater independence received a resounding ovation from the present priests.
The wishes of the Belarusian Orthodox Church will certainly raise suspicions, not only in the Patriarchate, but also in the Kremlin. The Russian authorities, who strongly influence the Orthodox Church, can see this move as an attempt to reduce their influence in Belarus.
Therefore, the final decision may not made by the Belarusian and Russian clergy, but between Putin and Lukashenka. The issue is not one of religion, but the independence of Belarus. And Minsk and Moscow certainly have contradictory positions on this issue.
Top 10 Civic Actions in Belarus in 2014 Acording to Pact
With the 2015 approaching fast, international NGO Pact identified the most notable items in Belarus’ civil society life in 2014. For the second straight year Pact acknowledged top 10 civic actions in Belarus.
Belarus`s civil society is growing and going somewhere, only we are not sure about the direction yet.
Trend of the Year: Belarusization
Belarusian language free courses have become a new hit in 2014. Mova Nanova (Language in a New Way) has spread to eight Belarusian cities with about 1,000 students and got state registration. The largest Belarus web portal TUT.by launched free Belarusian lessons.
The courses titled as Movaveda attracted a public attention due to their promotional videos based on the known movies. In September, Minsk hosted a first-ever Belarusian-language sports festival Mova Cup organized by stars of Belarusian sports.
Belarus’ top leadership, including president Alexander Lukashenka and prime minister Mikhail Myasnikovich spoke Belarusian in public. In addition, “mass” enthusiasm was shown for national embroidered shirt/vyshyvanka in Belarus. Several companies offer both authentic costumes and modern fashionable clothes with elements of national ornament.
Two Vyshyvanka Days – on October 5 and December 13 – were held as a Festival of national culture and gathered up to 5 thousand people. This year the central October Square in Minsk is decorated with New Year Tree in traditional style with embroidery ornaments.
Event of the Year: Kastryčnicky Economic Forum (KEF)
On November 5, 2014 KEF gathered about 160 Belarusian and international experts for professional dialogue on Belarus’ private sector potential. The annual economic forum was opened by the Minister of Economy Mikalai Snapkou and attended by leadership of World Bank in Belarus, Moody’s Investors Service, IFC Belarus Office among others. KEF is organised for the second time by the Research Center of the Institute for Privatization and Management in association with the Belarus Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC) and CASE Belarus.
Local Fundraising of the Year: MaeSens project
Tree time in row Pact sees the MaeSens project as the most successful local fundraising initiative. The main reason is in its stability: launched in October 2011, a social Internet platform MaeSens.by has collected to the moment about $320 thousand of private donations for charity. Moreover, MaeSens continues to organize a contest of grassroots ideas Social Weekend. The recent Social Weekend-4 gathered more than 200 applications; nine of them received financial support from local business.
Lobbying of the Year: Antimak campaign
On January 15, 2014, president Alexander Lukashenka signed a decree ‘On certain issues regarding state regulation of poppy seeds turnover’. According to Alexander Shpakouski, the Aktualnaja Konseptsiya non-profit institution leader, the decree “practically liquidates conditions for organization of drug business on poppy seeds materials in Belarus”. After more than three year of the Antimak public campaign, adoption of the above decree is the major indicator of its success.
Award of the Year: Via Bona CSR Award
The first ever award in the field of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Belarus was established by Fond of Ideas. In March 2014, the best CSR projects of Belarusian business were awarded in seven categories, for example, the mobile company Velcom got the prize for the best cooperation with the local community (the project VELOCITY).
Community Initiative of the Year: Local Hrushauka Festival
In May 2014, the first ever local community Festival was organized in Hrushauka Minsk district. The event was initiated by a single activist, joined by some organized groups and gathered up to 1,000 local residents. Most notably, Hrushauka Fest was fully self-funded and inspired a number of similar initiatives in Minsk (similar Fests were planned in Uruchcha, Malinovka and Slepyanka city districts) and across the country.
Monitoring of the Year: Barrier-free environment of IIHF World Championship
Before the start of the IIHF World Championship in Minsk, the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities held an accessibility monitoring of facilities of IIHF World Championship 2014 in Minsk. The monitoring studied about 50 different facilities including railway stations, sports complexes, hotels, shops and other places of the service sector and concluded their unsatisfactory degree of accessibility.
Survey of the Year: BISS poll on attitude to reforms
The Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) public poll under the REFORUM project reveals the general attitude of ordinary citizens as well as representatives of civil society and political opposition to reforms and identifying high-priority areas. Thus, 75.6% of Belarusians consider reforms necessary and wants reforms in health sector while representatives of civil society believe the key area of reform a political system.
Education Program of the Year: Golden Age University in Grodno
Golden Age University was voted as such at the 5th Festival of Non-Formal Festival in December 2014. According to the people’s voting and professional jury decision, the Grodno-based Golden Age University (GAU) was recognized the best educational event. Starting from 2010, GAU is improving the quality of life of Grodno elderly by increasing their participation in different fields of life and creating conditions for them to contribute to both civil society and local community.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT:
The film ‘Abel’ financed by the Ministry of Culture includes the reconstruction of political events of the presidential elections in Belarus in 2010. While filming the Ploscha events of December 2010, the actors of mass scenes shouted slogans ‘We are not satisfied’ and ‘Something's wrong (in Russian – «Что-то не так!»). Actually, there were no such slogans at the true Ploscha of December 19, 2010 which anniversary is marked these days.