Official Minsk gives in its influence to Moscow in the Belarusian Orthodox Church

April 22, 2016 18:43

Official Minsk has to yield to the pressure of Moscow and accept the Russian appointee to the post of the Patriarchal Exarch of Belarus in exchange for short-term economic benefits. Tendencies to develop the Belarusian Exarchate independently of the Russian Patriarchate are coming to a halt. Following short-term benefits, the Belarusian authorities keep on losing their influence in religious, military, economic and other areas of life in favour of Russia in the long run. 

On December 25, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) appointed Pavel (Georgy Ponomarev), the Metropolitan of Ryazan and Mikhailov, the Patriarchal Exarch of all Belarus.

Metropolitan Filaret headed the Belarusian Orthodox Church (BOC) since 1978 and the Belarusian Exarchate as of today was practically established by him. Under Filaret, the Belarusian Exarchate opened 10 dioceses, the number of parishes increased significantly, new monasteries and theological schools were established. Despite limited autonomy within the Moscow Patriarchate, the Belarusian Orthodox Church reached considerable independence in terms of internal development in the days of Filaret. 

The formal plea for resignation ‘in connection with the 75th birthday’, as required by the statutes of the ROC, was filed by Metropolitan Filaret back in 2010. Practically unable to lead the BOC for health reasons, Filaret did not repeat his plea for resignation, which would have indicated the seriousness of his intentions. Still, almost four years later the Synod of the ROC suddenly complied with the request of Filaret and appointed its protégé as the head of the Belarusian Exarchate.  

This being said, in his rhetoric, president A. Lukashenko tries to emphasize his independence in decision-making as regards the development of the Orthodox Church in Belarus. And he wanted to see his protégé at this post. The head of the state strongly patronized Archpriest Feodor Povny who was considered to be the most likely candidate for the post of the leader of the BOC.

It is noteworthy that president A. Lukashenko has repeatedly made statements about the need to reform the BOC thus increasing the threat of 

distancing from the Moscow Patriarchate. In 2013 president A. Lukashenko refused to travel 

to Kiev to celebrate the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of Kievan Rus. During the first visit of Patriarch Kirill to Minsk in 2009 the head of the state ostentatiously did not come to hear the speech of the head of the ROC in the Palace of the Republic. 

It is noteworthy that the appointment of Metropolitan Pavel as the head of the BOC took place on the same day when Russian President V. Putin decided to provide Belarus with a loan of USD 2 bn. Concurrently, the new metropolitan Pavel is notorious for his harsh anti-Western statements, as he is the supporter of the unity of ‘the Russian world’. Patriarch Kirill, while bidding farewell to the new head of the BOC, defined the primary mission of the newly elected metropolitan of the BOC as that of ‘keeping the unity of historical Russia’.

The decision to appoint a non-Belarusian citizen as the metropolitan of the BOC induced an extremely negative reaction on behalf of Belarusian citizens. One can note certain consolidation of opinion among the Belarusian society - regardless of political views - that would like to see a native of Belarus as the head of the BOC.

Thus, alongside the weakening of the Belarusian state, the Russian influence is going to aggravate in all areas of life of the Belarusian society. The growing dependence on external financing augments pressure from Moscow, while resources and capabilities of official Minsk to counter it are nearly fully depleted. 

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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.