Are Catholics coming up with “Maidan scenario” for Belarus?
Protest actions began in Belarus after the presidential elections. What is the position of the country's Catholic and Orthodox Church in relation to these actions?
On August 9, 2020, presidential elections were held in neighboring Belarus. According to the results of the CEC, the current president of the country, Alexander Lukashenko, won by a huge margin. Its gap from the closest competitor Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was more than 70%.
However, despite the seemingly unconditional victory, as early as evening, the streets of the multimillion-strong Minsk were filled with scattered groups of protesters (in the amount of several thousand people) trying to prove that the election outcome was falsification, while Lukashenko's victory was fiction.
Actually, "spontaneous" protests, as has been the case recently in some countries of the post-Soviet space, were well organized and far from peaceful.
In less than no time, the “peaceful” protest turned into quite a non-peaceful one: the bombardment of security officials with explosives, stones and direct collisions. As a result, one person died, 3000 were detained by the police. Also, more than 40 law enforcement officers were injured of varying severity.
It is clear that in the near future the situation in the country will only get worse and may lead to even greater complications and conflicts. It is also obvious that the scenario of the Minsk protests is so reminiscent of the Kyiv Maidan that it is simply impossible not to notice the parallel. This is the simultaneous (as if in short order) engagement of the Western media in the “coverage” of the Belarus issue, statements by representatives of other states about the right of Belarusians to “peaceful protests”, “independent” results of exit polls conducted by representatives of the “free Western press”, well-organized preparation of the opposition, which does not agree with the results of the vote, slogans about “European Belarus” and much more.
However, we will focus on the religious constituents of this scenario rather than political ones. The reason is that like in the case of the Ukrainian Maidan, Catholics played a crucial role in inciting protests on the Minsk “Ploshcha” (Square – Ed.).
Catholics and “Maidans”
Long before the presidential elections, the Catholic Church in Belarus organized a powerful media campaign called “Catholic does not falsify”.
According to the organizers, this movement was supposed to communicate to believers that “participation in falsifications or suppression of facts of falsifications is a grave sin, for which one must confess.” One of the organizers of this "movement" generally stated that "no one talks about this (falsification) as clearly as we do."
In particular, this message was voiced by Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, head of the Catholics of Belarus.
Moreover, the organizers of the campaign are sure that “the elections in Belarus have never been fair. This is clear also because during the entire period of Lukashenko’s presidency, Metropolitan Kondrusiewicz has not a single time congratulated him on his victory, as he well understood the cost of these elections.”
In other words, representatives of the RCC of Belarus publicly declare that they and their clergy consider all previous elections for the presidency to be illegitimate and invalid. As a result, by calling for “conscious” voting, the RCC is actually inciting people to protest movements.
In such a position of the Catholics of Belarus, it is impossible not to notice striking similarities with the actions of their fellow believers in Ukraine six years ago.
Needless to say, one of the main driving forces of the Kyiv Euromaidan was the Uniates, whose leader Sviatoslav Shevchuk directly called on his followers to participate in the protests.
And even a few years after the change of power, in 2019, he openly declared that the victory of the Kyiv Euromaidan became possible only with the most active participation of the Uniates. The Head of the UGCC writes: “At the end of 2013 they tried to deprive us of the opportunity to fulfill our national dream – the dream of a free, catholic, European Ukraine ... and on the Maidan, at the cost of great sacrifices, we defended our right to do good in freedom.” In turn, the Bishop of the UGCC Boris Gudziak claimed back in 2014 that half of the participants in the protest movement in Ukraine are Greek Catholics.
In the position of Catholics in Belarus, it is impossible not to notice similarities with the actions of their fellow believers in Ukraine six years ago.
Moreover, even during the first Maidan in 2004, most of the protesters were affiliated to the UGCC and were based in the Ukrainian House in Kyiv, where the headquarters of the National Salvation Committee, the center of the UGCC and the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) were located. In this regard, we can recall that the most radical and armed formations of the Maidan – "Right Sector" and "Trident" are actually organizations operating in close cooperation with the UGCC.
"Christian maturity" or just politics?
Interestingly, the Catholic hierarchy both in Belarus and in Ukraine is actively engvaged in speaking out on political topics. With the only difference – the Belarusian hierarchs of the RCC do it more carefully.
Both in Belarus and in Ukraine, representatives of the RCC and the UGCC believe that by participating in elections, believers somehow display not political, but Christian (!) maturity, while the "correct" vote indicates a conscientious choice.
Here are the words of Sviatoslav Shevchuk about the upcoming presidential elections in Ukraine in 2019: "Today in Ukraine we are preparing to show our national and Christian maturity by participating in the presidential elections in Ukraine."
And here are the words from the address of the main Catholic of Belarus, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz: "Participation in elections is a manifestation of responsibility and maturity in building the future of our country."
You must admit that similar wording is too obvious to be just a coincidence.
In fact, on August 4, i.e. a few days before the elections, the same Kondrusiewicz makes a statement that can be regarded as a veiled call to participate in protest actions, or at least as an encouragement to participate in them. Speaking about the upcoming elections, the head of the Catholics of Belarus declares: “Therefore, we will not be afraid of difficulties, for Jesus is with us. If we trust Him, with various social and political forces acting in accordance with the spirit of the Gospel and showing care for the common good of our country, then Jesus will help us, different (to be different is natural), to be one nation, mutually loving and respectful brothers and sisters, and will turn the storm in calm." Note that Kondrusiewicz warns of the "storm" on August 4 – when there were no protests yet. Therefore, we will not be surprised if Catholic priests, laymen and bishops become the most active participants in government protests in the coming days.
Orthodoxy and “revolutions”
The Orthodox Church takes a completely different position regarding revolutions and protests. Both in Ukraine and in Belarus, the clergy from the very beginning of the pre-election process called upon citizens to peace and avoiding violence.
On the eve of the presidential elections, the Exarch of Belarus, Metropolitan Pavel of Minsk and Zaslavl’, addressing the believers, said the following, “The Belarusian Orthodox Church calls on all citizens of the country, bearers of different views, to harmony, dialogue and mutual respect, recalls the importance of maintaining peace, tranquility and prudence. Addressing all residents of Belarus, I urge all of you, dear brothers and sisters, not to succumb to provocative appeals and not to embark on the path of violence, confrontation and violation of the legal order. Every person in our country who has reached adulthood has the right to make his own constitutional free choice, but this right should be exercised not at barricades and rallies but at polling stations that are provided for and organized in accordance with the legislation of the Republic of Belarus."
In January 2014, priests and monks of the UOC with banners and crosses stood between the rioters and law enforcement officers, exhorting them to dialogue. Our hierarchy constantly called for peace and harmony, priests and laity raised prayers for an end to civil confrontation in Kyiv and the country as a whole.
Note, not a word was said about the "storm", that "we should not be afraid of difficulties, because Jesus is with us," and so on. Everything is clear cut: one needs to defend their legal rights in a legal manner, rather than at barricades.
Let us recall that during the Euromaidan period, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church also held a similar position. In January 2014, priests and monks of the UOC with banners and crosses stood between the rioters and law enforcement officers, exhorting them to dialogue. Our hierarchy constantly called for peace and harmony, priests and laity raised prayers for an end to civil confrontation in Kyiv and the country as a whole.
Why is there such a fundamental difference in views on the protests between Catholicism and Orthodoxy? Why do the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church consider themselves entitled to call the people in the name of Jesus to participate in various "Maidans" (as was the case, for example, in Hong Kong), while Orthodox bishops pray for peace and call for love and respect? After all, the Gospel is the same for both faiths, both Catholics and Orthodox believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Why, then, is there such a discrepancy in views?
The point is that the Orthodox bear in mind that the Kingdom of Christ is not of this world. The Savior came to earth not to change the political system, but to change the soul and heart of man. The Lord frees us not from earthly tyrants, but from the tyranny of sin, Satan and death. Orthodox Christians always remember that they are, first of all, citizens of heaven. They remember that patriotism is love for one's homeland, love for one's people, and respect for everyone instead of hatred, anger and aggression. The Church does not divide believers into parties, does not indicate which political views are correct and which are wrong, does not say that "Christian maturity" depends on political consciousness (as Sviatoslav Shevchuk does). No! For our Christian life, alongside maturity, depends only on our faith in Christ and penitence.