New Patriarchal Exarches might be appointed for Belarus

April 22, 2016 18:34

On July 29th, celebrations dedicated to the Baptism of Russia 1025th Anniversary will be held in Minsk with Patriarch Kirill’s participation.

Important historic event and the visit of the Russian Orthodox Church leaders to Minsk can be used to change the Belarusian Orthodox Church leadership. President Lukashenko and Archpriest Povny synchronically made statements that confirm this possibility.

On July 26th in Minsk, President Lukashenko expressed a reformist criticism of the Orthodox Church. In particular, the president said that the Orthodox Church was “getting sick” and along with the state risked losing the younger generation. In addition, the president called for reform of the worship practices, since the older generation (“old ladies”) could not withstand long services. Also, the president negatively responded to the practice of erecting excessively large temple buildings. Finally, Lukashenko urged the Patriarch to start the church reform.

Experts linked the sharp polemical attack by Lukashenko with him not taking part in the main celebrations of the Baptism of Russia Anniversary in Kiev on July 26th, where Presidents Yanukovych and Putin and Patriarch Kirill were present. There is a possibility that Lukashenko’s harsh criticism was indeed connected with the “improper” invitation for him to visit Kiev. In other words, Lukashenko might have felt offended and snapped, as he did when he was not invited to Kiev to take part in the Chernobyl disaster anniversary celebration in April 2011 due to the simultaneous visit of European Commission President Barroso (Lukashenko then said that “Ukrainian leadership is lousy”).

Nevertheless, Lukashenko’s statements could have been addressing domestic issues – namely, changes in the Belarusian Orthodox Church leadership. In particular, for over a year there were couloirs discussions about possible successor of 78-year old Patriarchal Exarches Metropolitan Filaret. The most likely candidate to replace him is father superior of All Saints parish in Minsk, 53-year-old Exarches Fedor Povny.

It is noteworthy that on July 25th, Exarches Povny gave an interview to the Belarusian First TV Channel about preparations for the celebrations. Inter alia, Povny talked about his biography, about social and charitable projects carried out in Minsk and thanked the government for financial support to the Church. Povny also noted that he was pleased to see many children’s faces in the Church and that ‘old ladies for us are almost museum rarities’. In fact, on the following day, President Lukashenko said almost the same thing.

There was no broad media coverage of the Belarusian Orthodox Church leadership change issue, which allows assumptions that Povny and Lukashenko’s statements were coordinated recently and spontaneously. If so, the probability is high that the issue of changes in the Belarusian Orthodox Church leadership will be raised during Patriarch Kirill’s visit to Minsk.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.