Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 45

Senior officials, accompanying President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on an inspection tour of Hrodna region on March 4-5, complained about "Polonization" and the growing influence of the Roman Catholic Church in the region. Catholics form to this day the majority of believers in that western region of Belarus. The Church is also increasingly active at the grass roots owing to an influx of Polish priests from across the border, the presidential officials complained. They charged that the Church is "politicized," works with the "disloyal" local Polish cultural association, looks to the Church of Poland for guidance and promotes the Polish language in liturgy and in schools in the region. They grudgingly acknowledged the effectiveness of the Church in working with children and youth, opening Sunday schools and even creating its cable television network "which worries us."

Belarus authorities expelled some eighty Polish priests, monks and nuns from the region just last year, but it has all been in vain, the officials admitted. They also worried about the prospect that the Catholic church may seek restitution of its confiscated properties on the basis of recently found archival documents. Noting the cohesion of Catholic parish communities and the motivation displayed by priests, the presidential officials contrasted those qualities with the "low professional level" of the Orthodox clergy and the low church attendance and squabbles that, according to the officials, characterize many Orthodox parishes. (Russian agencies, March 4-5)

Western Belarus was part of Poland during the inter-war period and was home to a sizable Polish population. Soviet persecution of the Catholic Church, confessional Orthodoxization and linguistic russification have been less effective in the western region, compared to the rest of Belarus. In the country as a whole, there exists a certain correlation between Catholic background and membership in national-democratic opposition groups. The Orthodox Church, on the other hand, supports the authorities, and is affiliated with the Patriarchate of Moscow and all Russia. The authorities, while essentially atheistic, privilege the Orthodox Church for political reasons and treat it as a state-building institution.

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