Lukashenka’s Rating on the Rise, Counting Political Prisoners – Digest of Belarusian Analytics
IISEPS published the latest national opinion poll results. Alexander Lukashenka’s rating is on the rise. The Liberal Club takes a closer look at the public administration reforms. Jana Kobzova notes that the discrepancy in a number of political prisoners in Belarus might be a practical problem for EU policymakers.
Results of the National Opinion Poll. June, 2013 – A national survey conducted in June 2013 by Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS), shows that the image of the state as the chief spokesman of the people’s interests becomes more and more “dim”. However, these sentiments are not directly transferred to the president. Increasing the “economic well-being” in the second quarter of the year has had a positive impact on the attitude to the president – his electoral rating continues to gradually rise: in December 2012, 31.5% respondents were ready to vote for him, in March – 33.4%; now, in June – 37.3%.
What Eastern Europeans Think about the Democratic Transition: Understanding Values and Attitudes – The paper describes current trends based on available public opinion polls in four Eastern European countries (Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) in order to provide deeper analysis of the transition process taking place in these countries. It argues that democratic transition in post-Soviet countries should not be viewed only in terms of changes in the political elite, but also in terms of changes in the attitudes of its citizens.
Belarus and the Eurasian Union: Incremental Integration – In a policy brief by Balázs Jarábik, Alexei Pikulik and Andrei Yeliseyeu examines the new integration process which reflects Moscow’s efforts to create a supranational regulatory framework inspired by the EU. However, many obstacles prevail. Belarus, for example, has no interest in pressing for a full-fledged Eurasian Union unless it is on its own terms. While Central Europe and the Baltic states were willing to pay the price of hard reforms to achieve their European dream, Belarus wishes to get paid for Eurasian integration.
Counting Belarus’ Political Prisoners – Jana Kobzova gives some attention to the difference in numbers of political prisoners: 9 such people on EEAS’ list; 11 – in Human Rights Centre Viasna list; 5 prisoners of conscience are named in the recent Amnesty International annual report; and 13 political are mentioned by Belarusian news portal Charter97. The expert notes that such a difference in numbers is not just confusing – it might also become a practical problem for European policymakers.
How to Arrange Belarus. A Square with Love – Ina Romashevskaya of research project in public administration BIPART comments on the meeting of Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich with the Minsk authorities on the issue of improvement of the capital. The expert believes that the state – in this case, the city authorities – should and can transform its urban space, making it attractive, safe and fun for everyone. Respectively, the government should ask the citizens’ opinion in order to understand what a “cosy” and “attractive” urban space means for them.
Public Administration Reform: Policy Documents vs. Presidential Decree – Nikita Belyaev, of the Liberal Club, presented a policy brief on the analysis of the Program of Social and Economic development of Belarus for 2011-2015 and the relevant presidential decrees. One of the findings of the research claims that some decisions taken in the framework of public administration contradict the objectives set out in the policy documents; at the same the presidential decrees have much greater practical force.
Belarusian Mobilization as an External Factor – Alexei Gajdukevich, the project “Cytadel”, talks about the purposes and methods of mobilization of Belarusian society. He believes that integration into global processes with positive internal consolidation and protection of the physical, moral and spiritual dangers can become a significant factor for the Belarusian state in foreign policy. In contrast to the decline of Western civilization, the expert sees some positive processes in Belarus, which may lead to more opportunities for Belarusian expansion in the world.
Economy on the Fingers – a regular program of TV TUT.by discusses the strike of entrepreneurs, the introduction of “platinum action” and the legal side of unloading warehouses. The experts of the program – the economist Sergei Chaly and the lawyer Maxim Znak – come to ambiguous conclusions, in particular, that individual entrepreneurs are at a dead end in the evolution of corporate law. Also, Gazeta.ru identifies the main feature of the current protests, namely, for the first time Belarusian entrepreneurs have put forward political demands and starting to collect signatures for the exit of Belarus from the Customs Union.
The State Needs Young Experts. But Why? – this week TV TUT.by program “Amplituda” is dedicated to young people’s participation in analytics and the state demand for young intellectuals. The invited experts – Alexei Matsevilo, Information Analysis Centre under the Administration of President; Yauheni Preiherman, of the Liberal Club NGO; and Alexander Shpakovsky, of project “Cytadel” – discuss the challenges and guarantees that the project would not become analytical support to add to the legitimacy of government decisions already made.
LGBT Topic in Belarusian Media – Mediakritika.by analyses the results of the annual Report on coverage of LGBT issues in Belarusian media. In particular, monthly Belarusian media publishes about 1.6 related articles; about 61% of the materials contain a neutral evaluation, about 26% – positive, and 12% – negative. It is noteworthy that the state-run media are showing a more aggressive approach in covering the LGBT topic while independent editions demonstrate neutral or positive modality.
Victor Martinovich: Belarusians are an Absolutely Tolerant, but Cowardly People – What is exactly is Belarusian tolerance and is it objective? Whom and why do Belarusians like or not like ? Is it possible to love others if you do not love yourself? What is more healthy, “give a face” or to keep yourself? Why is the issue of homophobia relevant? Journalist and writer Victor Martinovich answers these questions under the campaign “Budzma!” project “Culture Improves Life!”
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.
Belarusian Orthodox Church: In Symphony With The State
On 4 July the president of the Papal Inter-Religious Committee from the Vatican, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, met with Alexander Lukashenka in Minsk. During the meeting, Belarusian authorities tried to convince the Vatican’s representative that all 25 religious denominations present in Belarus live in peace and enjoy freedom. However, as Lukashenka made clear, only the Orthodox Church can have a leading role in Belarusian society.
Top Belarusian politicians and Orthodox hierarchs often emphasize that Eastern Christian rites laid a cornerstone for the Belarusian nationhood. But many are concerned that the Orthodox Church goes too much hand in hand with the Belarusian authorities and in many ways legitimizes the authoritarian regime.
Recently the Orthodox Church in Belarus publicly expressed its position on many society-related issues such as saying ‘no’ to capital punishment. This signifies that the Church wants to become a real moral authority for Belarusians. The question might be, however, how independent can the Orthodox Church be, considering its canonical structure and dependency upon Moscow.
Metropolit Filaret: the Orthodoxy as a spiritual-cultural foundations of Slavic nations
Metropolit Filaret, born in Moscow in 1935 as Kirill Varfolomeyevich Vakhromeev, remains the highest hierarch in the Belarusian Orthodox Church. He was educated at the theological seminary in Moscow. In 1978 Filaret became a Metropolit of Minsk and All Belarusian Soviet Republic. In 1989 following the demise of the USSR and creation of an independent Belarus, he became the head of the Belarusian Orthodox Church.
The figure of Filaret arouses controversy. On the one hand, he remains popular due to his religious activity and attempts to revive the Orthodox Church in Belarus. He initiated the translation of the New Testament into Belarusian. He also revived a number of monasteries. He also founded the first Theological Academy in Belarus. That won him the respect of many people.
At the same time many criticise Metropolit Filaret’s passivity when it comes to the human rights violations in Belarus. According to their logic, if the Church is claiming to have a leading role in the society, it cannot remain silent about human rights violation.
Interaction between the State and the Church
Metropolit Filaret supported Alexander Lukashenka on many occasions. For example, supporting his referendum to remove limits on of the number of times he could run as a president in 2004, he said that ‘the Belarusian nation has more than once expressed its wisdom. I am convinced that now our nationals will make the right decision’.
A special agreement signed in 2004 between the Belarusian authorities and the Orthodox Church defines a character of their mutual relations. The agreement went as far as to define a scope of co-operation between the state authorities and particular ministries, with the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church received the exclusive right of influence in certain spheres of the state’s activities such as education, health care, crime prevention. The state also granted it the status of “one of the most important social institutions” with “which cultural heritage in the past and today accord influence on formation of the spiritual, cultural and national traditions of the Belarusian nation”.
Belarusian Catholics are still waiting for a similar agreement. The Belarusian authorities has been postponing concluding a concordat for several years.
More Equal than Others
The Belarusian Orthodox Church remains the biggest religious community in Belarus. But it is not independent.
The Belarusian Orthodox Church remains subordinated to the Russian Orthodox Church headquartered in Moscow. This means that the church in Belarus follows all the elements of religious life such as teaching religion, service practice, and also a hierarchical system of management from its Moscow-based centre. The majority of Orthodox Churches in the world, like Polish, Greek and Serbian hold the status of autocephaly, meaning independent of external authority. In case of Belarus, the Church remains under Moscow’s patriarchal authority.
Apart from the state-recognised Church, the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church exists, but it can operate only outside of Belarus. Since it does not accept the supremacy of the Moscow Patriarchate, it cannot get permission to register itself in Belarus. This is the reason why the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church remains the religious organisation primarily for Belarusians in in the United States and Canada.
Do Belarusians Need an Autocephalous Orthodox Church?
In 2010 Lukashenka met with Bartholomev I, holding the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the most honourable title within the Orthodox Church. Albeit the fact that he does not decide himself on autocephaly, he holds the exclusive right to call special synods to deal with various issues.
The meeting caused rumours in Russian and Belarusian media about the potential independence of the Belarusian Orthodox Church. Both the Church and presidential administration immediately denounced it.
However, the Orthodox Church in Belarus has had a short period of autonomy in its history in years 1922-1938. In 1930s due to the anti-religious policy of the Soviet authorities it had to return under Moscow’s Patriarchate control.
Today the Church in Belarus probably would meet all criteria necessary for autonomy. It operates in the territory of independent state, has a number of the clergy, theological schools and monasteries. Advocates of the autocephaly often raise the issue of negative attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church towards the Belarusian identity, culture and language.
Many people think that nearly all Belarusians are Orthodox Christians. In reality, however, this is a simplification. Western Belarus, including the Hrodna region, has a strong presence of the Roman Catholic Church, that uses both Belarusian and Polish in its service. But the vast majority of Belarusians – whether Orthodox or Catholic – do not pay much any attention to religion in their daily life.
Only over the last years has post-Soviet Belarusian society begun to search for its spiritual values. One of consequences of this has been that protestant communities are on the rise over the last years, and the state persistently creates institutional obstacles for them. While the state favours the Orthodox Church, data shows that less people attend it.
The Orthodox Church and Belarusian Society
Recently Metropolit Filaret spoke out against death penalty at a round table co-organised by the Council of Europe and the Belarusian authorities. As he reminded the audeince, when in a 1996 referendum where the death penalty question was put for a popular vote, the Orthodox authorities ‘called people to decline this form of punishment’. So far, however, the Orthodox authorities did not voice their opposition when executions took place. This was the case in 2012, when the state executed two men convicted for organising the bombing attack in the Minsk metro.
The Orthodox Church together with Catholic also opposed abortion and surrogacy. They appealed for the amendments to Belarusian law. According to official figues, over 25 thousand abortions occur in Belarus every year. As press officer of the Belarusian Orthodox Church said: ‘Even the very early canonical sources treat abortion as killing. This is also our position now: abortion remains evil and contradicts Christian creed’.
Families of political prisoners publicly requested the leaders of the Orthodox Church for their support. So far these calls failed to produce any results. The Catholic Church is more assertive here. In 2012 the Vatican’s Ambassador to Belarus Apostolic Nuncio, Claudio Gugerotti, visited several political prisoners, including former presidential candidate Mikalaj Statkievich and human rights activist Ales Bialiatski.
Traditionally for Orthodoxy, the state-Church relations are based upon the concept of “symphony”. It presumes that the state and the religious authorities should develop and interact in harmony. This should not mean, however, that the church should agree with any particular policy of the state.
If the Orthodox Church wants to strengthen its position as moral authority in Belarus it should clarify its position on political issues and moral dilemas facing the Belarusian society today. Being a moral authority requires more than praising the “Slavic brotherhood” with Russia and economic stability.