In his latest two speeches, including an All Souls’ Day address to the country, Belarus president Aleksandr Lukashenko called for Christian Orthodoxy to become the official religion of Belarus. Deploring the "de-ideologization" and "spiritual vacuum" of the post-Soviet period, particularly among the youth, Lukashenko urged "returning the Orthodox religion to the people" as a unifying factor and "elevating the Orthodox Church to a new qualitative level." (Radio Minsk, Itar-Tass, Interfax, November 2-4) Lukashenko’s draft constitution, which he wants approved in a controlled referendum on November 24, reportedly elevates Orthodoxy to official status.
Lukashenko has taken considerably longer than other neo-Communist leaders to attempt instrumentalizing religious ritual for political purposes. The president needs all the support he can get in the referendum, and seeks to add some aura of respectability to his quest for personal rule. He has made an alliance with Metropolitan Filaret, head of the Orthodox Church in Belarus, subordinated to the Moscow Patriarchy. The Patriarch, Aleksy II, has more than once received Lukashenko and blessed his effort toward unification with Russia. Lukashenko’s theme of "Slavic" unification on an Orthodox platform suits Russian nationalist, Communist, and official circles.
Belarus is home to substantial Roman Catholic (mostly Polish), Eastern-rite Catholic (or Uniate, mostly ethnic Belarusan), and Jewish communities. Official statistics understate the numbers of Catholics of both rites; and there exists a certain correlation between Catholic affiliation and support for Belarusan independence. Authorities also fear the natural affinity of Belarusan Catholics of both rites for Poland and the Catholic West. Lukashenko’s plan to privilege Orthodoxy seeks to promote an Eastern orientation and to open and exploit a political cleavage in society.
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