No Desire to Lose Belarus
Regarding the Sensitivities of Russia’s Christians
L a d u s h k i n – It’s true what the British „Church Times“ wrote on 14 August: The Christians of Belarus are split on the issue of Alexander Lukashenko. Orthodoxy’s Moscow Patriarchy, which is also the largest church in Belarus, congratulated Lukashenko after his re-election. The Protestants, Roman- and Greek-Catholics view matters in a very different light.
The border cities of Brest and Kobrin are located on the doorstep of the „Golden West” – the loyalties of
Protestant in these Western regions are clearly pro-Western. The Protestant stronghold of Kobrin is allied closely with its fellow believers in Western Ukraine. The view is slightly different
along the eastern border: Protestant friends of Russia can be found in the regions of Mogilev and Vitebsk. Lukashenko himself hails from Mogilev region and a number of Baptists there are
acquainted with members of his family.
Claiming to be politically abstinent, traditional Baptists and Pentecostals are essentially neutral or pro-Russian. Four days after the dubious election on 9 August, Minsk’s Baptist Union published a statement. The modest response cites four Bible verses and calls for daily prayer at nine a.m. and p.m. On 17 August, the Baptist journal “Krynitsa” offered the suffering a stay free-of-charge on the Baptist campgrounds near Kobrin.
A Baptist pastor in Minsk, Dmitry Lazuta (or Lazouta), broke ranks when he became the first person to sign a
lengthy and eminently political statement created by Protestant pastors. The initial group of 32 pastors demand a recount of the vote and write: “If an examination of the election results is
impossible, then new presidential elections for Belarus will need to be called.” The paper also calls for a “restoration of justice”, the cessation of violence towards civilians and the release
of all detainees.
Most of the signers are Pentecostals. Not surprisingly, Vyacheslav Goncharenko, the long-time pastor of the “New Life” Pentecostal church in Minsk, published video statements on 16 August. He called for government officials to apologise to the nation. Following the New Testament example of Zacchaeus, Goncharenko demanded of them that their victims be repaid four-fold. He expressed the view that their state no longer had the authority to address the populace. “If a child has wounds, the state can take the child from its parents. Yet when the state itself injures a thousand of its citizens, the people are entitled to declare the state a social danger.” “New Life”, which meets in a converted cattle barn, has been at loggerheads with the government for at least 15 years. (See our release from 28 June 2011.)
At a rally of his faithful in Minsk on 16 August, Lukashenko warned of NATO by claiming that a transition of power would lead to “dark-skinned and yellow-mouthed” soldiers invading the country. Such a warning reminds one of German (and church) protests in 1923 against African soldiers being part of the French occupation army in the Ruhr. Such profoundly primitive statements morally disqualify Alexander Lukashenko as a holder of state power.
It may be the egoism of those of us, who live in Russia, that we have no desire to deliver Belarus to the West on
a platter. Today, Russian citizens have little access to the Baltics and Ukraine; they have no desire to see the same thing occur in Belarus. Lukashenko needs to go – but not his country.
Russian media are currently packed with negative commentary on Lukashenko. That’s acceptable, for it is noted that the on-going security agreements are between Russia and Belarus – not between Russia and Lukashenko. If Russian diplomacy plays its hand well, the country could remain allied with the East without military intervention. That would be a happy ending for big brother in the East – and also for many Belarusians. In legal terms, Russians do not view Belarus as a foreign country – see for example traditional rail travel between the two countries. Taking leave from the European East flies in the face of all current alliances: the Eurasian Union, the customs union and security agreements.
Several years ago, a young Baptist woman in Minsk, who described herself as a „nationalist“, informed me that Belarus was no more Russian than Poland. That is a profoundly non-historical position, which ignores the divide between Eastern and Western Slavism. After all, the chasm between Catholic Western Slavism and Orthodox Eastern Slavism dates back more than a millennium. Belarus is part of the Eastern realm; Ukraine has long suffered from its division – the fact that its Western regions are essentially within Western Slavism. The Greek-Catholic national church in Western Ukraine answers to the Vatican.
Belarus’ Roman-Catholic archbishop is Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, who was born near Grodno in 1946. He served in Moscow as the new Russia’s first Catholic archbishop from 2002 to 2007. He won the respect and approval of many of Russia’s leading Protestants at that time. In view of his stellar reputation, he would seem to be well-suited as an honest broker in negotiations between Russians and Belarusians.
Why is this topic of particular importance to me? My Russian spouse and I lived in Orsha/Belarus from 2010 to 2018. After that, we moved back to Russia.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Berlin, 21 August 2020
A journalistic release for which only the author is responsible. It is informational in character and does not express the official position of any church organisation. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #20-17, 846 words.