The Changing Religious Landscape of Belarus and Its Impact on Belarusian Nationalism

Executive Summary

Historically, no religious denomination has categorically or systematically promoted Belarusian nationalism. Rather, for centuries, an Orthodox-Catholic contest over which faith would play a dominant role in Belarusian lands ended up promoting the national causes of Russia and Poland, respectively, and not offering a niche for Belarus as such. Consequently, Belarus has long been effectively a cultural borderland. And the existence of a fuzzy and unstable border between two Christian denominations on this territory resulted in frequent, geopolitically triggered changes in religious allegiance on the part of the ancestors of today’s Belarusians.

By the early 20th century, the Catholic minority began to play a more active role in the Belarusian national movement, whereas the Orthodox Church remained the major symbol of cultural proximity to Russia. However, the current protest movement, triggered by the disputed August 9, 2020, presidential election, may have shattered this symbolic divergence, as some Orthodox priests and even the head of the Belarusian Christian Orthodox Church could not stay away from castigating the government’s harsh response to the street demonstrations. The initially loose relationship between religion and Belarus’s national cause, including the country’s sovereignty, now appears to be tightening across the board.

 

Introduction

Against the backdrop of Europe’s relative secularism, Belarus looks quite religious.[1] According to the 2018 national survey by the Information Center of the Presidential Administration, 62 percent of Belarusians acknowledged belief in God.[2] The 2017 estimate of the Pew Research Center was even higher, at 84 percent.[3]

More demonstrable, quantifiable and credible is Pew’s 2018 data about the proportion of highly religious adults, based on combining four individual measures of religious observance—a self-assessment of religion’s importance in one’s life, attendance of religious services, frequency of prayer, and belief in God. The composite index thus derived adds an extra layer of certainty: spatial continuity. Specifically, as mapped out by Pew,[4] Belarus is midway between Russia and Poland not only physically but in terms of dedication to religion as well: 27 percent of Belarusians are highly religious versus 17 percent of Russians and 40 percent of Poles.

The data on Belarus’s other neighbors does not undermine this continuity and is in line with well-established facts, like for example, lower levels of religiosity in largely Protestant countries. Thus, of all nations bordering on Belarus, the least religious is, predictably, largely Lutheran Latvia (15 percent); predominantly Catholic Lithuania is more religious (21 percent); and predominantly Orthodox Ukraine is not far apart from Belarus, at 31 percent.

Being in between Russia and Poland on dedication to religion makes sense also because Orthodoxy and Catholicism are the two leading religious denominations of Belarus. According to various surveys, Catholics account for 9–14.5 percent of Belarusians, whereas Orthodox Christians make up 72–83 percent. A typical Belarusian believer does not show up regularly for services on Sundays; only 12 percent do, which, however, is twice the frequency of Russians (6 percent). Catholics are more active than the Orthodox: 25 percent of them attend church once a week, and they also more frequently attend religious events outside their regular places of worship.

Altogether, 25 religious denominations are registered in Belarus. The third-most numerous is the Protestant community. It accounts for up to 4 percent of Belarusians, and the dominant varieties of Protestantism in Belarus are Baptist and Pentecostal.

Located in the center of the former Jewish Pale of Settlement, Belarus was at one point distinguished for being home to the highest percentage of Jews anywhere in Europe—14.2 percent of the entire population back in 1897, or more than 900,000 people.[5] At that time, in Minsk alone, Jews accounted for 57 percent of the population. Currently (2019), merely 13,705 Jews remain in Belarus.[6]

The Orthodox lead not only in terms of the overall number of believers but also the number of parishes (1,709).[7] Curiously, they are followed by Baptists (524) and only then Catholics (498). The fact that Evangelical Christian parishes outnumber Catholic churches reflects the smaller average size of the former’s parishes but also the aftermath of a Protestant boom of the 1990s.

 

Soviet Crackdown on Religion and the Geography of Religious Communities

All of the major religious denominations are represented in Minsk and the country’s other five regional centers. But geographically, the center of gravity of religious life, including the sheer number of parishes, is definitively found in western Belarus, which, from 1921 to 1939, lay within the borders of interwar Poland. In this regard, maps of the religious landscape in Belarus from 2006 (Figures 1–3) are not outdated: the situation had largely taken shape by that time and did not change much thereafter. Such an uneven geography is a lasting legacy of the Soviet crackdown on religion in the 1930s in the eastern part of the republic. For example, by 1939, not a single acting Orthodox church remained in Minsk; and 20 Catholic churches of eastern Belarus still functioning in 1936 had all been closed by 1939.[8] It is then little wonder that on maps implicitly reflecting the number of parishes per unit of land (Figures 1–3), even Orthodox Christianity, which invokes and reflects spiritual closeness to Belarus’s eastern neighbor, is centered in western Belarus. Catholics are most numerous in the northwest, especially in Grodno Oblast; but even there, the number of Catholic parishes yields to the Orthodox (176 and 210, respectively). Only the area integral to the former Wileński Kraj (environs of Vilnius) and stretching along the Lithuanian border, at the crossroads of Minsk, Grodno and Vitebsk oblasts, stands out for hosting few Orthodox parishes and featuring an absolute dominance of Catholicism. Protestant parishes are particularly numerous in the southeast of Brest Oblast and in the adjacent corner of Minsk Oblast.

Figure 1: Eastern Orthodox Parishes in Belarus (one dot = one parish)
Source: Konfessii i kultovye sooruzheniya Belarusi, Minsk: BGU 2007: 50.

 

Figure 2. Roman Catholic Parishes of Belarus (one dot = one parish)
Source: Konfessii i kultovye sooruzheniya Belarusi, Minsk: BGU 2007: 50.

 

Figure 3. Protestant Parishes of Belarus (one dot = one parish)
Source: Konfessii i kultovye sooruzheniya Belarusi, Minsk: BGU 2007: 50.

 

Following the Soviet crackdown on religion in the 1930s, church buildings tended to be repurposed as warehouses. The Council for Religious Affairs actually proposed converting closed churches into schools, museums, libraries, archives and book depositories. However, this could only be relevant for cities. In the villages, where most of the closed churches were located, such institutions were not in demand. Wooden temples could still be converted into a club or a school, but the stone-and-brick religious buildings were only suitable for various warehouses and “utility rooms.” Anything could be stored in churches: grain, sauerkraut, fuel, fertilizers, pesticides, manure, etc. Before the war, barrels of herring stood in the ancient Peter and Paul Church in Minsk. Already after the war, the unique fortress church in Synkovichi, Grodno Oblast, was used for vegetable storage.

In larger cities (Polotsk, Mogilev and Bobruisk), closed churches were often assigned the role of archives and book depositories. In Minsk, four religious buildings were used this way simultaneously. Temples often served as garages: notably, larger churches in Vidzy, Lepel and Melyuntsy (Vitebsk Oblast), Grinevichi (Minsk Oblast), Mezhirechi and Shilovichi (Grodno Oblast), as well as synagogues in Borisov and Uzda (Minsk Oblast). For several years, the garage of a sports motorcycle club was located inside the Bobruisk synagogue at 29 Chongarskaya Street. In Antopol (Brest Oblast), local authorities located a fire station in the church. They did the same with the synagogues in Dyatlovo (Grodno Oblast) and Orsha (Vitebsk Oblast). Amazingly, fire services are located in these temples to this day.[9]

In contrast to eastern (Soviet) Belarus, in the western part of the republic, in 1939, there were hundreds of functioning places of worship. The Soviet authorities did not close most of them right away; so, by the end of February 1941, there were still 446 Catholic and 540 Orthodox churches, 387 synagogues and 14 monasteries. They collectively employed 617 Catholic and 606 Orthodox priest and 293 rabbis.[10] Four months later, the Soviet Union was attacked by Nazi Germany. After the war, the closure of places of worship in the western part of Belarus became pervasive, but still not to the same degree as in the east, prior to the German invasion. All synagogues, however, were shut down as they were now devoid of their respective communities.

 

Religion and Nationalism

Perhaps the most crucial fact about Belarus’s religious landscape is that historically and largely to this day no religious denomination has had strong, if any, connection to Belarusian national idea (i.e., the idea that Belarusians are a nation separate from Russians and Poles). That is to say, no particular creed is associated with the emergence of the Belarusian nation in the late 1800s or to its subsequent evolution. The sociolinguist Nina Mechkovskaya writes that in Belarus, in the late 1800s to early 1900s, “anything that was elevated above the illiterate peasant’s existence, be that church, school, or officialdom, automatically became either ‘Russian’ (and Orthodox) or ‘Polish’ (and Catholic).”[11] The emergence of a Belarusian national idea was a step forward compared with the awareness of ethnic distinction that, early on, resulted from West-Rusist (see below) folklore expeditions of the 1860s.

More than 40 years later, at the beginning of the 20th century, the role of Belarusian nationalism’s cradle was played by the Nasha Niva literary circle, which, from 1909 to 1915, published the eponymous newspaper in Wilno (Vilnius). This circle consisted mostly of Catholics, a minority among Belarusian speakers. The preponderance of Catholics among the Belarusians, who became conscious of their belonging to a distinct ethnicity, is underscored by many authors, notably by Alexander Tsvikevich.[12] From 1909 to 1912, the Nasha Niva paper was published in two parallel versions: Lacinka (i.e., using the Latin alphabet) and Grazhdanka (using the Cyrillic alphabet). Among Belarusian speakers, the Roman Catholics who preferred Lacinka were five times less numerous than the Orthodox. The latter did not just prefer Grazhdanka but were for the most part ignorant of the Latin script. Yet at the same time, the percentage of Nasha Niva’s readers among the Catholics was 2.5 times higher than among the Orthodox. This parallel publishing in two scripts was an early indication of a cultural divide that would complicate the national consolidation of Belarusians for decades to come. It is also important to keep in mind that although Lacinka was popularly perceived as a symbol of high culture and of belonging to Europe, the Russian government was hostile to the idea of introducing the “Polish alphabet” to the peasant masses. In 1912, faced with this controversial situation and also strapped for cash, the editors of Nasha Niva switched to publishing entirely in Cyrillic.[13]

The aforementioned divide opened up a gap between how two groups of Belarusian intellectuals understood what it means to be a Belarusian. The ideological blueprint for those leaning toward the East was so-called West-Rusism, a theory that emphasized Belarusian peculiarity only within the confines of the Russian cultural universe (Russian World), which implied a devotion to Orthodoxy. The most prominent author and promoter of this theory was Mikhail Koyalovich (1828–1891). Born into the family of an Orthodox priest in Kuznica Bialystocka, now in Poland, in the Belarusian-speaking area’s extreme west, wherein the Orthodox were a minority, Koyalovich was imbued with the idea of the high mission of Russian Orthodoxy.

Born ten years later in Mostovliany, Konstanty (Kastus) Kalinowski (1838–1864) was imbued with the idea of the high mission of Polish Catholicism for the enlightenment and liberation of the local, and mostly Orthodox, peasantry. In a primordialist sense, that is, assuming that nation comes first (as a kind of biological organism) and nationalism later, both Koyalovich and Kalinowski were Belarusians. But they were committed to dragging the heart and soul of the Belarusian national cause in opposite directions: for Koyalovich, the Belarusians’ natural home was Orthodox Russia; for Kalinoswki, it was Catholic Poland. Similar alter egos can be found in the next generation of Belarusians. Thus, Bronislaw Taraśkewicz (Taraškevič or Tarashkevich), the author of the first Belarusian grammar manual (1918), was apparently raised in Polish culture. In the Vitebsk Drama Theater’s production of Sakrat Yanovich’s play “Arrest,” Tarashkevich talks about himself as a man of Polish culture and clarifies that this is different from actually being a Pole. Tarashkevich’s contemporary, Yevfimii Karski, the premier Belarusian linguist of all time, was Orthodox, an offspring of a converted Jew[14] and decidedly a man of Russian culture. As the rector of Warsaw University from 1905 to 1915, he was one of the most ardent Russifiers of Poland, not just Belarus.

The denominational pattern of ethnic mobilization inherent in Polish and Russian nationalisms did a disservice to the Belarusian national cause, as noted by multiple scholars. “Denominational problems are extremely painful for the Belarusian national movement,” wrote Pavel Tereshkovich. “In Belarus, Catholicism bears a distinctly colonial imprint, whereas the attitude of the Orthodoxy to the national movement is chilly, although the Orthodoxy has absorbed some regional features… The overwhelming majority of Catholic priests are ethnic Poles who consider all Belarusian Catholics to be Poles. The Polonization conducted by the priests is also reinforced by widespread Polonophile views among youths.”[15]

Interdenominational problems have lingered in independent Belarus, perhaps initially in a more latent way, under the cloak of the peaceful coexistence of religious communities; but subsequently, they have acquired greater visibility. For example, Roman Catholics played an inordinate role in the Belarusian Popular Front, whose founder, Zianon Pazniak, is an ardent member of that faith. Also, of the two largest denominations in the country, only Catholics have attempted to Belarusify their church services: in the major Catholic cathedral in Minsk, masses are now conducted intermittently in Polish and in Belarusian. In contrast, the country’s Orthodox clerics have firmly clung to Russian. Responding to questions of why Belarusian is almost absent in their houses of worship, Orthodox hierarchs suggest that they will switch to Belarusian as soon as there is popular demand for it, which, so far, has been missing or inadequate.[16]

The primary factor behind Catholics’ stronger proclivity to embrace the Belarusian national cause is not difficult to ascertain. In today’s environment, propagating and strengthening Belarusian identity can only be achieved through distancing from Russia and Russians. Being a Catholic is an overtly non-Russian trait, so it naturally facilitates the aforementioned detachment. The same logic has been valid for Belarusians in eastern Poland, where each subsequent post-war census recorded a smaller number of self-identified Belarusians. Being Orthodox in Poland is much like being a Catholic in Russia. Apparently, there is also a strong homogenizing pressure within Poland, one of the world’s most ethnically homogenous countries. As a result, Belarusian identity has almost entirely vanished among Catholics of northeastern Poland and has only been retained among a part of the Orthodox: in 2011, almost 84 percent of the Belarusian minority (a community numbering around 40,000 people in total) identified as Christian Orthodox.[17]

Across the border, in Belarus, the situation is entirely different. Here, Catholic Belarusians are usually strongly dedicated to their Belarusianness. Prior to 1990, there was no Catholic seminary in Belarus. Therefore, in the religious upsurge that began during the years of perestroika, most priests in Belarus were “imported” from the neighboring country to the west. Over time, however, Polish citizens began to be ousted from the ranks of the local clergy—the authorities simply did not extend their visas. As a result, by 2007, out of 470 Catholic priests, only 181 were Polish citizens; by 2009 there were 161 of them in the country, by 2015 only 113, and in 2019, only 87.[18] While expelling Polish priests pursues the authorities’ goal of detachment from Poland as an unfriendly entity, indirectly this practice boosts the Belarusian identity of the local Catholic Church.

The Polish language has consequently also been in gradual retreat from Catholic masses, especially outside Grodno Oblast. In November 2016, in Minsk, this author interviewed Father Stanisław Waszkiewicz, whose parish is in the northern part of the city. Born in Voronovo (Werenow), the most Polish district of Belarus, Waszkiewicz considers Polish to be his native language. “In my youth, after several years of studying in Poland, my spiritual ties with the language grew even stronger,” said Waszkiewicz. However, in his everyday interactions with parishioners in the Minsk district of Uruczcze, he had to address the question: who am I in the first place, the purveyor of the Polish national spirit, or a Catholic priest? For Father Waszkiewicz, the answer was clear: I am a priest. As such, he feels obliged to speak in the languages ​​of his parishioners. In dealing with people and when hearing confessions, he speaks Russian. At mass, he uses Russian and Belarusian. Of course, not every priest—especially in areas with compact communities of ethnic Poles—takes this same approach to language. However, the Voronovo-born priest’s words point to a general tendency that even the remaining Belarusian clergy who are Polish citizens would not challenge.

Occasionally, inter-denominational issues give rise to clichés. For example, the Belarusian historian from Białystok, Poland, Oleg Latyszonak, sees profound symbolism in his observation that the four most important personalities who led independent Belarus back in 1992 had a Catholic background: Zianon Pazniak, the head of the Belarusian Popular Front; Stanislaw Shushkevich, the speaker of the parliament; Viacheslav Kebich, the prime Minister; and Stanislaw Bogdankevich, the chair of the National Bank. The fact that at least one of them, Kebich, and, possibly, Bogdankevich, too, used to be Soviet bureaucrats rather than devout Catholics, did not dissuade Latyszonak. Likewise, in his opinion, the Belarusian Orthodox majority “took revenge”[19] in 1994, the year Lukashenka came to power. In Latyszonak’s view, Catholics represent a morally positive force; but in the opinion of his de facto opponent, Vladislav Makarov, who thinks otherwise, “all Belarusian opposition effectively consists of Belarusian Poles and Belarusian-Catholics for whom Polish culture and language are closer than the culture of Orthodoxy.”[20]

But even such analytically shallow contentions contain some meaningful information since they reflect attempts to use religion to attach moral or ethical labels to geopolitical leanings. As a case in point, the reason that the prominent Catholic Konstanty Kalinowski is today proclaimed an utmost Belarusian hero (at least among the opposition-minded public) whereas Koyalovich, his Orthodox alter ego, is only known to historians, is entirely because the present-day Belarusian national idea requires separateness from Russia. Kalinowski matches this task perfectly considering that he called upon Belarusian peasants to distance themselves from Russia and embrace the spiritual patronage of Polish culture. In contrast, Koyalovich does not appear to be a “good guy” and is worthy of oblivion (for the Westernizing opposition at least) because he recognized Belarusian specificity only as an inalienable part of the Russian World.

Also, the way Belarus’s two biggest Christian Churches are organized makes Catholics more prone to embrace Belarusian nationalism. Whereas the Orthodox Church in Belarus is just an arm of the Russian Orthodox Church (the so-called exarchate), the Roman Catholic Church is independent, in the sense that it is institutionally separate from the Polish Catholic Church. And whereas the Belarusian exarchate was, until recently, headed by ethnic Russians, born and raised in Russia, first by Filaret and then Pavel, the leaders of Belarusian Catholics, Cardinal Kazimir Sviontek (Kazimierz Świątek, who served in that capacity during 1991–2006) and Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusevich are not from Poland. Sviontek was born in Estonia, and Kondrusevich is a native Belarusian. Only in 2020, did the leader of the Belarusian Orthodox Church become a Belarus-born cleric.

 

Belarus as a Historical Borderland

One peculiar historical feature of Belarus’s religious landscape is a frequent change in the local population’s dominant religious affiliation. The historian and political commentator Yury Shevtsov observed that in Belarus such changes occurred on average once every 150 years.[21]

Christianity first came to Belarusian lands in the tenth century. In 986, the first church was built in Polotsk. However, mass conversion from paganism to Christianity was a centuries-long process, lasting until 1387 in the northwestern corner of Belarus. The first episcopates with centers in Polotsk and Turov belonged to the Russian metropolis of the Constantinople Patriarchate; so after the Great Schism of 1054,[22] it became an Eastern (or Greek) Orthodox Church. Roman Catholicism came to Belarusian lands later, with the 1387 baptism of Lithuanians, including quite a few Slavic-speakers and Slavicized Balts in the northwestern part of modern Belarus. The initial divide between the Orthodox and Catholic ecumenical territories lay along the Polotsk-Borisov-Mozyr line, well to the east of where a fuzzy (indistinctive) divide runs these days. Reallocations of this divide during the decades and centuries to come were chiefly a function of a tug-of-war between historical cores of Russia and Poland for domination over Belarusian lands.

During the Reformation, a notable infusion of Protestantism into Belarusian lands occurred. Thus, at the end of the 16th century, only two senators of the Great Duchy of Lithuania out of twenty-five were Catholics, the rest were largely Protestants. The earliest Protestant communities appeared in 1535, in Slutsk, and in 1553, in Brest, laying the foundation for the Reformation movement, initially Lutheran in nature. In the second half of the 16th century, many magnates, including such families as the Radzivils, Sapehas and Tyshkeviches, embraced Calvinism, while many of the gentry also adopted Nontrinitarianism.[23] In 1563, the charter of the grand duke of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania gave Protestants equal rights with Catholic and Orthodox believers. Though not numerous, Protestants made a substantial contribution to book printing in Belarus; the first book printed within the contemporary borders of Belarus and the first book printed in Belarusian within those borders were both by Protestants.[24]

While dominance of the Orthodox religious dogmas and rites on Belarusian lands lingered, the subordination of local churches to the Moscow Patriarchate was terminated in 1595–1596. That change stemmed from the decision of the Ruthenian (Proto-Belarusian) Orthodox Church eparchies (dioceses) in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth to break relations with Moscow and to enter into communion with and place themselves under the authority of the Pope of Rome. In such a way, the Uniate or Greek Catholic Church was born. Between 1569 to 1839, most residents of Belarus, by some accounts about 70 percent, belonged to the Uniate Church, whereas Roman Catholics were still quite numerous in the western part of the Belarusian lands. Some scholars believe the subsequent collapse of the Uniate Church, in 1839, when it returned to the institutional realm of the Russian Orthodox Church, more than any other development undermined Belarusians’ sense of being different from neighboring ethnic groups.[25] Indeed, the Uniates (who abided by Orthodox rites but recognized the supremacy of the Pope) essentially represented a transitional, halfway creed between Roman Catholicism and Russian Orthodoxy. One may say that it was just as transitional as local vernaculars were between Polish and Russian. Two transitional features (language and creed) superimposed might have led to something qualitatively new, as occurred in western Ukraine, where the Uniate Church survived and the region ultimately became a hotbed of Ukrainian nationalism. However, even at the time when most ancestors of today’s Belarusians were Uniates, many in the upper classes were Roman Catholics.[26] It is, therefore, not a foregone conclusion that the retention of the Uniate Church would have helped to consolidate a sense of Belarusian nationhood. In the annals of Russian history, 1839 is referred to as voluntary reunion, a return of the prodigal child to the parental church; but in the Polish telling as well as in the perception of Belarusian Westernizers, the return of Moscow’s authority over the local Uniate parishes is treated as compulsory. The truth is most probably in the middle. On the one hand, the “reunion” was a direct result of the two Polish uprisings (1794 and 1830) and the ensuing desire of Moscow to retrieve and entrench its influence over Belarusian lands. On the other hand, since the liturgical rites were not altered, the shift in church subordination per se could hardly become a disruptive event for the general public. In the early 1990s, an attempt was made to recreate a Uniate or Greek Catholic Church in Belarus. Currently, 16 Uniate parishes exist in the country, including 4 in Minsk and 4 in Vitebsk, with the total number of parishioners reaching about 10,000.[27]

During subsequent decades, shifts in the fuzzy border between Roman Catholicism and Russian Orthodoxy were entirely a function of Russian-Polish relations, especially in the aftermath of the third Polish uprising of 1863–1864 and of relative liberalization following the 1905–1907 revolution in Russia. A seminal article by Pavel Tereshkovich about Belarus as a borderland contains a wealth of relevant information on that trend.[28] Thus, in the wake of the uprising of 1863, as a result of a purposeful conversion to Orthodoxy, the Catholic population of Belarusian lands was significantly reduced.[29] For example, in Minsk from 1858 to 1897, the proportion of Catholics decreased from 33 percent to 15.1 percent. In total, the Catholic community of Belarus lost up to 280,000 adherents.[30] Along with this, the government called for “snatching Russian Catholics from the hands of the Poles,” that is, to wean the people who remained in the bosom of Catholicism off their Polish identity. “To this must be added,” writes Tereshkovich, “that the policy in the area of education pursued by the Russian administration in the second half of the 19th century in order to combat Polonism led to the construction of an ‘imaginary Belarus’ ”—a historical, folkloric and ethnographic entity that had never existed before.[31] Indeed, inspired or sanctioned by the authorities, West-Rusist publications, devoted to inculcating the locals with the notion of Belarus, were impressive in volume and content. Among other things, they strived to perpetuate the name “Belarus” (Belorussia) for the territory inhabited by people whose speech was now called Belarusian. The identical opinion about the foundational role of West-Rusism in “discovering” Belarusians as a self-styled ethnic group is expressed by Valer Bulgakov in his History of Belarusian Nationalism (2006).[32]

To be sure, Belarusianness was viewed by West-Rusism exclusively as a manifestation of the “primordially Russian” character of the region, juxtaposed against Polonization. Paradoxically, however, “the majority of the activists of the Belarusian national movement at the beginning of the 20th century were Catholics” who would rather facilitate Polonization, not move away from it.[33] In such a way, on the territory of modern Belarus, Belarusianness clashed with Polishness in the most sensitive area of religion, with which national feelings were inextricably linked at that time. It is not surprising that the 1897 census found Catholics made up only 2.4 percent of in Belarus. A significant decline in the prestige of the Polish language also followed.[34] Thus, at least on paper, the Polish population decreased so much, writes Tereshkovich, that “Polish scientists over the past hundred years have invariably considered statistics reflecting these dynamics to be falsifications.”[35] It is all the more significant that as a result of subsequent liberalization, after the 1905 adoption of the law “On Religious Tolerance,”[36] many thousands of Orthodox believers converted back to Catholicism, construction of Catholic churches began on a grand scale throughout Belarus, and the number of Poles from 1897 to 1910 increased by 70 percent, including in Minsk from 1897 to 1917 by as much as 2.5 times, while the number of Belarusians decreased by 4 times.[37] In this, Tereshkovich discerned what he called “the usual social practice of the borderland, the practice of adaptability and flexibility.”[38] Borderland is the key word in this context. The very phenomenon of a frontier, coupled with a tug-of-war for expansion and influence, can explain denominational fluctuations within Belarusian lands, whereby ordinary people were at times implicitly and at times outright asked to adjust their religious preferences to those of the upper strata. Hence the ever-shifting and indistinctive border between Western and Eastern Christianity that, nevertheless, has been regarded as “the most fundamental religious border in Europe today.”[39] It is this religious border that Samuel Huntington used as his eastern border of Western civilization.[40]

Figure 4. A Civilizational Fault Line
Gray line: Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1996).
Black line, partially dashed (where the border is somewhat debatable): Piotr Eberhardt, “The Concept of Boundary between Latin and Byzantine Civilization in Europe,” Przeglad Geograficzny 76, no. 2 (2004): 169-188.

 

Piotr Eberhardt attempted to mark out this cultural divide more accurately than Huntington did in the latter’s seminal book about the clash of civilizations. According to Eberhardt’s version (Figure 4), the divide leaves a strip along the northwestern border of Belarus (at the crossroads between the Grodno, Minsk and Vitebsk regions) on the side of “Western civilization,” while the rest of Belarus is assigned to the Byzantine Orthodox.[41] Although it has become at least controversial to try to apply a master key of cultural determinism to current events, many observers have paid attention to the overwhelmingly peaceful and violence-free nature of the Belarusian protest movement as a reflection of its Europeanness. As the Russian liberal economist Yevgeny Gontmacher put it, “even during the protest rallies, not a single car was burned, not a single glass window was broken. This […] speaks to the quality of social capital of Belarus.” In that sense at least, the Belarusian protest movement has been far apart from both recent instances of social unrest in the West and from what Alexander Pushkin famously called a “Russian rebellion—senseless and merciless.”[42]

 

Recent Developments

The unique religious landscape of Belarus has continued to subtly influence developments in the country in recent years—culminating in the ongoing anti-Lukashenka protest movement. On April 4, 2019, associates of the local forestry administration demolished 70 massive (five-meter-tall) wooden crosses that Zmitser Dashkevich, one of the most defiant opposition activists of Belarus, and a dedicated Baptist, installed back in July 2018, along the perimeter of the Kuropaty forest. Situated in the northernmost part of Minsk, Kuropaty is the site of late-1930s mass executions by Stalinist secret police.[43] Only Dashkevich’s crosses were removed; multiple other crosses standing within the forest patch itself were not touched. Tadeusz Kondrusewicz, the head of Belarusian Catholics, spoke against the removal of the crosses.[44] Less stringent criticism emanated from the Orthodox Church. “I support the president [Lukashenka] by all means: Kuropaty should be put in order,” wrote Sergei Lepin, the head of the Synod Information Department of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, “but the method used by the local bullies I cannot support.”[45] Feodor Povny, the rector of the Minsk Cathedral of All Saints, called Kuropaty a “metaphorical human Golgotha,” but added, “whereas a cross is holy in and of itself, the whole alleys of crosses are more like overindulgences than signs of reverent veneration… There is a fine line between protecting a cross and condemning the authorities that everybody strives to label inhuman… As for Kuropaty, they began from a standoff and […] from exaggerating the number of victims and distortions of facts that later were disguised by those crosses. Let us confess to ourselves that each time this place of mourning is recalled in public, it is either because of a scandal or of a provocation.”[46]

In October 2018, the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople decided to grant the Ukrainian clerics independence (“autocephaly”) from Moscow. On the same day, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka met, in Minsk, with the members of the Russian Orthodox Church Holy Synod.[47] In principle, the Belarusian Orthodox Church could seek to claim independence, too—with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church serving as a clear precedent. But although some supporters of Belarusian autocephaly managed to conduct a conference in Chernihiv, Ukraine, a claim for the Belarusian Church’s separation from the Moscow Patriarchate is far-fetched at least for the time being. First, there does not appear to be any significant grassroots preference for that kind of development in Belarus. And second, until recently the leading Orthodox clerics in Belarus, including former Metropolitan Paul, the Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus, were all ethnic Russians.[48]

Nevertheless, the reputable Russian cleric and religious philosopher Andrei Kuraev, known for his criticism of Church authorities, opined, in an interview for the Belarusian Service of Radio Liberty that autocephaly for Belarus is only a matter of time and will probably take place following a “change in the political climate.”[49] Piotr Rudkovsky, a Catholic theologian who is now leading the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, shares this opinion. Rudkovsky sees the seed of a further future schism within the Russian Orthodox Church in the fact that not a single ethnic Belarusian participated in the above-mentioned Synod meeting in Minsk, in October 2018—specifically because the members of the Synod were not locals and mostly ethnic Russians. Rudkovsky interprets this as abuse of Belarusians’ loyalty to Moscow that will not remain unnoticed.[50] Meanwhile, Valer Karbalevich of Radio Liberty argued that by hosting the Synod meeting in Minsk, the Belarusian government was taking part in Moscow’s geopolitical games. This overshadows Minsk’s peacekeeping efforts in Ukraine since it is effectively giving up the status of an independent international actor while reinforcing its reputation as an instrument of the Kremlin’s foreign policy, Karbalevich asserted.[51]

In November 2019, the major event that reverberated with religious feelings for many Belarusians was the reburial of the remains of Kostanty (Kastus) Kalinowski in Vilnius, Lithuania. Born in 1838 in Mostowliany (in the easternmost part of today’s Poland) and executed in 1863 in Wilno (Vilnius), Kalinowski was one of the local leaders of the uprising against tsarist Russia. Among other achievements, he published the newspaper Mouzhytskaya Prauda (Peasant Truth) in Belarusian, which sought to fuel peasant support for the nobility-led rebellion. Much debate exists about the identity of Kalinowski himself and about his significance for Belarus. For the opposition-minded Belarusian Westernizers, Kalinowski has long been seen as a national hero, originally mentioned in that capacity by Vatslav Lastouski, the author of the first Belarusian history text (1910) couched in the Westernizing tradition. However, to those culturally leaning toward Russia, Kalinowki has always been too Catholic and too Polish, although the Soviet historiography attempted to paint Kalinowski in class terms, as a defender of downtrodden Belarusian peasants.

The reburial of Kalinowki in November 2019 was attended by not only many representatives of Belarusian Catholics but also an official delegation from Minsk headed by Deputy Prime Minister Igor Petrishenko. The presence of Belarusian government officials was primarily attributable to tensions at that time between Minsk and Moscow; until recently, only Belarusian Westernizers, particularly Catholics, had recognized the significance of Kalinowski for Belarus. Indeed, in a notable public dispute, Orthodox Archpriest Sergius Lepin expressed the views of the Orthodox Church, characterizing Kalinowski as an outsider, while historian Vasily Gerasimchik expressed the Westernizers’ traditional standpoint on the 19th century figure—describing him as a national hero of Belarus.[52] These discussions reflected the seriousness of the religious and cultural differences within Belarusian society, not just political orientation, since both Lepin and Gerasimchik are firm supporters of Belarusian statehood. Such cleavages become seemingly insurmountable obstacles to some iconic historical figures’ ability to play a unifying role for the Belarusian nation.

Also, in 2019, two more Catholic priests who are citizens of Poland were not extended their visas: Pavel Knurek, who had served in Vitebsk for 15 years, and Sobieslav Tomala, who had served for 20 years in Soligorsk. Following numerous solicitations by the parishioners, Tomala received a six-month extension, but Knurek did not.[53] Several requests to establish new Pentecostal churches were denied as well.

Following the August 9, 2020, presidential election, the more active and consistent stand against the authorities’ repressions was taken by Belarusian Catholics. Already one week prior to the election, they announced the action “A Catholic does not falsify.” In the context of the campaign, it was clear that this slogan was directed against Lukashenka. After the rigged results of the vote were released and the first protest rallies began, the chair of the episcopal conference of Belarus, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusevicz, addressed the community. In particular, he called for negotiations and said, “May your hands, created for peaceful labor and fraternal greetings, not raise weapons or stones.” Vitebsk Bishop Oleg Butkevich put it even more bluntly: “The regular elections caused a crisis in our society, which led to an aggravation of the electoral campaign and yet to not entirely correct counting of votes… Systems based on blood have never been strong in history, and Justice has always been done in regard to those violating all human (not to mention God’s) standards.” In addition, Catholic priests in the city of Zhodino took to the streets together with the protesters.[54] On August 21, Archbishop Kondrusevicz met with the then–minister of internal affairs, Yuri Karayev, and expressed his concern about police brutality.[55]

The initial stand of the Orthodox Church could not be more different. On August 10, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and the head of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Pavel, “whole-heartedly congratulated” Lukashenka on his victory in the August 9 elections. After a wave of indignation from Orthodox parishioners, Metropolitan Pavel called a press conference. However, in his remarks to journalists, he did not say anything of principle that might elucidate his position. In fact, his message could be interpreted as a desire to please the protesters but at the same time not to spoil relations with the authorities. Some of the clergy and believers nonetheless united with Catholics by joining an impromptu group united against falsification. The first multidenominational procession was held on August 13. Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants took part in it. The first two groups carried icons in their hands, and the rest carried the Bible. The Belarusian Orthodox Church publicly denounced the procession. This angered quite a few believers, who wrote an open letter to Metropolitan Pavel. The next day, he joined them and also called on the authorities to do everything possible to end the bloodshed. He added, “At the same time, I urge our citizens not to provoke [law enforcement].” “Our citizens” sounded ironic, as Metropolitan of Minsk Pavel (born Georgy Vasilyevich Ponomarev) is a citizen of the Russian Federation.

Shortly thereafter, Metropolitan Pavel apologized for his premature congratulations of Alyaksandr Lukashenka on the latter’s victory in the presidential election. The press secretary of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, Sergei Lepin, said that the hierarch had seen the video recordings of the arrests and they “upset and angered him.” The next day, August 25, it was announced that the head of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Pavel, was appointed to head the Kuban Metropolitanate in Krasnodar, Russia, where he replaced Metropolitan Isidor, who died after being infected with COVID-19. Certainly, such an abrupt transfer must have derived from the displeasure of the Belarusian authorities and Lukashenka personally. The new head of the Belarusian Orthodox Church is Veniamin, who continues to also serve as the top cleric of the Borisov Eparchy. Veniamin’s secular name is Vitaly Ivanovich Tupeko. Born in Luninets, Brest Oblast, he is an ethnic Belarusian, unlike his two predecessors. Subsequently, Sergei Lepin, the press secretary, resigned too, after President Lukashenka criticized him for expressing outrage at the government for removing an improvised memorial devoted to a person fatally mistreated by the authorities.[56]

The government’s actions against the head of Belarusian Catholics, Tadeusz Kondrusevich, is arguably worse than what befell Pavel, although some may see the outcomes pertaining to both faith leaders as identical. On August 31, 2020, Kondrusevich, a Belarusian citizen, was denied reentry from Poland, where he had spent several days.[57] Despite the solicitation of the Pope through Cardinal Paul Richard Gallagher, who visited Minsk for four days in mid-September and held talks with Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei,[58] the issue remained unresolved for months. The official explanation for denying entrance to a citizen of Belarus is bizarre and boils down to a statement that his Belarusian passport is not valid. One possibility is that, when applying for his Belarusian passport, Kondrusevich might have concealed his other citizenship, presumably Polish. Kondrusevich was born near Grodno, Belarus to ethnically Polish parents; he received his secular education in St. Petersburg, Russia, and worked as a priest in that country for an extended period of time. Finally, on December 22, it was announced that Lukashenka would honor the request of Pope Francis and allow Kondrusevicz’s return to Belarus. This request was probably passed on to Lukashenka by the Apostolic Nuncio in Great Britain, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, who paid a visit to Minsk on December 17 and spoke with the Belarusian president.[59]

 

Conclusion

Belarus is a moderately religious and predominantly Eastern Orthodox national community with a strong Roman Catholic minority and increasingly notable presence of Protestant groups. Historically, no religious denomination promoted Belarusian nationalism. Rather, the Orthodox-Catholic contest which religion would play a dominant role in Belarusian lands ended up promoting the national causes of Russia and Poland, respectively, and did not offer a niche for Belarus as such. For a long time, Belarus was effectively a cultural borderland. The existence of a fuzzy and unstable border between Catholicism and Orthodoxy across this territory resulted in unusually frequent changes in religious allegiance on the part of the ancestors of today’s Belarusians, motivated by shifting geopolitical factors.

With the passage of time, however, the Catholic minority began to play an active role in the Belarusian national movement, whereas the Orthodox Church remained the major symbol of cultural proximity to Russia. The protest movement in the wake of the August 9, 2020, presidential elections may have shattered this symbolism as some Orthodox priests and even the head of the Church showed a willingness to castigate the government’s response to the street demonstrations. The initially loose relationship between religion and Belarus’s national cause, including the country’s sovereignty, appears to be tightening across the board. Now, not only Catholics but a growing majority of the Orthodox, as well, are firmly in favor of Belarusian statehood.

Yet ample reason exists to believe that the future of Belarus, including the resolution of its current political crisis, will be largely conditioned by factors external to Belarus’s religious landscape and even to its lasting position as a civilizational borderland. In the past, when inhabitants of what is today’s Belarus switched from one denomination to another, they were adjusting to the dominant political force in control at that time, not because their spiritual preferences had changed. This time, however, the fate of constitutional reforms, a change at the helm of power, as well as the circumstances of that change are unlikely to result in any major changes in the religious allegiance of the populations. That said, the ever more noticeable support for democratic rule emanating from within various religious communities inside Belarus bears watching closely. Likewise, Belarus’s ability to demonstrate increasing cultural dissimilarity from its larger neighbors will be key to maintaining this country’s unique and independent place in Europe.

 

Notes

[1] Sergei Poltarzhitsky, “Skolko belorusov veryat v Boga?” Zautra Mayei Krainy, October 24, 2018, https://zautra.by/news/news-29385#:~:text=%D0%A2%D0%B0%D0%BA%2C%20%D0%BF%D0%BE%20%D0%B8%D0%BD%D1%84%D0%BE%D1%80%D0%BC%D0%B0%D1%86%D0%B8%D0%B8%20Pew%20Research,12%25%20%D1%81%D0%B2%D1%8F%D0%B7%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%8B%20%D1%81%20%D0%B4%D1%80%D1%83%D0%B3%D0%B8%D0%BC%D0%B8%20%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%BD%D1%84%D0%B5%D1%81%D1%81%D0%B8%D1%8F%D0%BC%D0%B8.

[2] “Belorusy otmechayut spokoinuyu i bezkonflictnuyu situatsiyu v sfere mezhkonfessionalnykh otnoshenii,” Belta, February 7, 2019, https://www.belta.by/society/view/belorusy-otmechajut-spokojnuju-i-beskonfliktnuju-situatsiju-v-sfere-mezhkonfessionalnyh-otnoshenij-iats-335726-2019/.

[3] How religious is your country? Pew Research Center, December 5, 2018; https://www.pewresearch.org/interactives/how-religious-is-your-country/.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Yevgenii Rosenblat and Irina Yelenskaya, “Linamika chislennosti i rasseleniya belorusskikh yevreyev,” Demoscope, № 105–106, March 17–30, 2003; http://www.demoscope.ru/weekly/2003/0105/analit03.php.

[6] Itogi Perepisi 2019: Kakiye Natsionalnosti Zhuvut v Belarusi, Belmir, September 11, 2020, http://www.belmir.by/2020/09/11/%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%BE%D0%B3%D0%B8-%D0%BF%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%BF%D0%B8%D1%81%D0%B8-2019-%D0%BA%D0%B0%D0%BA%D0%B8%D0%B5-%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%86%D0%B8%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%B0%D0%BB%D1%8C%D0%BD%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%82/.

[7] Informatsiya o konfessionalnoi situatsii v Respublike Belarus, Upolnomochennyi po Delam Religii i Natsionalnostei, 2020;  https://belarus21.by/Articles/1439296790.

[8] Józef Dębiński, “Kościół katolicki na Białorusi na przełomie XX i XXI wieku,” Folia Historica Cracoviensia, Vol 14, 2008: 23–48.

[9] Pivnoi bar, tyurma i spirtzavod: vo chto kommunisty prevratili belorusskie khramy, Tut.by, December 13, 2019, https://news.tut.by/culture/664647_print.html.

[10] Ty z Zakhodniai, ya z Uskhodnei Belarusi. Verasen 1939–1956. Minsk: Belaruskaya Navuka 2009: Volume 1: 5,228–5,235.

[11] Nina B. Mečkovskaya, Belorusskii yazyk: Sotsiolingvisticheskie Ocherki, Munchen: Verlag Otto Sagner, 2003, 28.

[12] Alexander Tsvikevich, Belarus: Politicheskii ocherk, Berlin: Izdaniye Diplomaticheskoi Missii BNR, 1919: 24–25.

[13] Nina Mečkovskaya, op. cit.: 58.

[14] Victor Korbut, “Raskrylas taina proiskhozhdeniya osnovatelya belorusovedeniya Yevfimiya Karskogo,” Belarus Segodnya, June 10, 2015, https://www.sb.by/articles/taynoe-stalo-yavnym-11062015.html.

[15] Pavel Tereshkovich, “Obshchestvennye dvizheniya v sovremennoi Belorussii: kratkii kommentarii k dokumentam,” in Grazhdanskie dvizheniya v Belorussii: dokumenty i materialy, 1989–1991, Moscow: TSIMO 1991: 28, 31.

[16] Interview by Veniamin, Exarch of Belarusian Orthodox Church, September 14, 2020; http://borisoveparhia.by/intervyu/mitropolit-minskiy-i-zaslavskiy-patr.html.

[17] Grzegorz Gudaszewski, Struktura narodowo-etniczna, językowa i wyznaniowa ludności Polski. Warszawa: 2015: 109.

[18] Grigory Ioffe, Jurij Drakochrust, “Zycie na pograniczu: Polska mniejszosc narodova na Bialorusi,” Polacy na Bialorusi  od Powstania Styczniowego do XXI wieku, Tom IV, Warsaw: Studium Europy Wschodniej Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, 2020: 641–664; “Białoruś: kościoły bez polskich księży,”Onet, February 4, 2019,  https://wiadomosci.onet.pl/swiat/bialorus-koscioly-bez-polskich-ksiezy/xq9y3je.

[19] Aleg Latyshonak, “Belaruski natsionalizm i sutyknenie tsivilizatsii,” Arche, 7–8, 2007; https://xn--d1ag.xn--e1a4c/pub/arche/html/2007-07/latysonak707.htm.

[20] Vladislav Makarov, “Kult proklyatykh soldat ili kak Polsha udobryayet semena neonatsizma v Belorussii,” Ritm Yevrazii, October 29, 2015, https://www.ritmeurasia.org/news–2015-09-07–kult-prokljatyh-soldat-ili-kak-polsha-udobrjaet-semena-neonacizma-v-belorussii-19478.

[21] Yury Shevtsov, Obyedinionnaya Natsiya: Fenomen Belarusi, Moscow: Europa 2006: 44.

[22] On July 16, 1054, Patriarch of Constantinople Michael Cerularius was excommunicated from the Christian church based in Rome, Italy. Thus, the main faction of Christianity became split into two divisions, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox.

[23] Nontrinitarianism, historically also referred to as Antitrinitarianism, is a form of Christianity that rejects the doctrine that God subsists as three distinct but coequal persons indivisibly united in single substance of the Holy Trinity.

[24] Grigory Ioffe and Vitali Silitsky, Belarus Historical Dictionary, Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield 2018: 100.

[25] Zakhar Shybeko, “Novaya i noveishaya istoriya Belarusi: Vazhneishiye sobytiya i osnovnye tendetntsii,” Russikii Vopros 2, 2004, at http://russkiivopros.com.

[26] Viacheslav Nosevich, “Belorusy: Stanovleniye etnosa is ‘natsionalnaya ideya,’” in Belorussiya i Rossiya: Obshchestva i gosudarstva Moscow: Prava Cheloveka, 1998: 11–30.

[27] “Uniatstvo mozhet vnov obyedinit belorusov,” Belorusskii Partizan, January 10, 2014, https://belaruspartisan.by/life/253656/?__cf_chl_captcha_tk__=d8bd66ec5163270fba15b468dc09dd1706eee5e8-1604066916-0-AbXix9nXQdrXl593pVBpILmJOk3NYGbH4GP–F6gjrRUVUFMeF69SiIhNPgp4xqCBqoM8gUNxNQnGWleThUMsaJddkjXLvfXSdUgIkH8fMyMxItvIycRmUyu2IgR2A7_G1uAM3mTobEy0HuwLEG946KY6bzWoRfGRjVE16BMvV2_9hIgzucWaerX8IJAgkKgfPb4zkP88hyCxkiUpCAK3IcBRL6V-yYKlmT7FvVE21ADSVl9UexhNp2xuqXbCCGg1EW_5cmOrM48PpjvsCWVf_Rm5EWej1EvHcdXG1fgEbqfztrxwSOVioGmAi_zbGNBCl-U7y0pFOzR8OwGs-dJXzDwkc9VDNNjqVDiQOe8k5obx0kGJpXuBvVa1Nkj–EJxS0H8jNaOChcq-_8gIo41raB5njWCUCIAmmHfVKMA_a2rHQQxmVHuGnY_B3JpLRL0T1r-n0zp919gofew4MImL7nrL-Wt93IOcRiHg1eRSlmmLG8LVaz4z33F-78WCZRX_QrjcrXq9gUh4p9vdZBLd4QzGM1ATrzSgREuhJm2aN4g0N6eomnf1aS1UzDsW9TwQ.

[28] Pavel Tereshkovich, “Pogranichye kak soudba: Metamofozy identichnosti v vjstochnoyevropeiskom pogranychye,” Ab Imperio. 2009. №1: 191–226.

[29] Ibid: 214–215.

[30] Ibid: 215.

[31] Ibid: 217.

[32] Valer Bulgakov, Istoriya Belorusskogo Natsionalizma, Vilius: Institut Belarusistiki 2006: 154.

[33] Pavel Tereshkovich, op. cit: 218–219.

[34] Ibid: 219.

[35] Ibid: 220.

[36] On April 30, 1905, Tsar Nicholas II signed a decree for religious tolerance. In this decree, the rights that were once exclusively reserved for Orthodox citizens were now extended to other religions.

[37] Ibid: 223–224.

[38] Ibid: 224.

[39] Terry Jordan, The European Culture Area, New York: HarperCollins 1996: 88.

[40] Samuel Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 72, No. 3 (Summer, 1993): 9.

[41] Piotr Eberhardt, “The Concept of Boundary between Latin and Byzantine Civilization, in Europe,” Przegląd Geograficzny 76, no. 2 (2004): 169–88.

[42] Ne privedi Bog videt russkiy bunt, bessmyslennyy i besposhchadnyy! Iz povesti (gl. 13) “Kapitanskaya dochka” (1836) A. S. Pushkina (1799–1837). Though this phrase, from his novella “Kapitanskaya Dochka,” specifically refers to Pugachev’s Rebellion—a peasant Cossack uprising, between 1773 and 1774, headed by Yemelyan Pugachev—in fact, Pushkin’s words are meant to symbolically allude to how Russians rebel in general.

[43] Grigory Ioffe, “Showdown in Belarus’s Kuropaty Forest,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, Volume 15, Issue 95, The Jamestown Foundation, June 20, 2018, https://jamestown.org/program/showdown-in-belaruss-kuropaty-forest/.

[44] “Tadeusz Kondrusevich prizval srochno prekratit snos krestov v Kuropatakh,” Tut.by, April 4, 2019, https://news.tut.by/economics/632586.html.

[45] “Viadomyya liudzi pra znosy krastou u Kurapatakh,” Svaboda, April 5, 2019, https://www.svaboda.org/a/29868643.html.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Vstrecha s chlenami Sviashchennogo sinoda Russkoi Pravoslavnoi tserkvi i sinoda Belorusskopi Pravoslavnoi tserkvi, October 15, 2018, http://www.president.gov.by/ru/news_ru/view/vstrecha-s-chlenami-svjaschennogo-sinoda-russkoj-pravoslavnoj-tserkvi-i-sinoda-belorusskoj-pravoslavnoj-19696/.

[48] Grigory Ioffe, “Autocephaly of Ukrainian Orthodox Church Spotlights Belarus’s Growing Geopolitical Importance,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, Volume: 15 Issue: 151, October 24, 2018, https://jamestown.org/program/autocephaly-of-ukrainian-orthodox-church-spotlights-belaruss-growing-geopolitical-importance/

[49] “Diyakan Kuraeu: Tsarkouna-praunaya baza dlya Belaruskai autokefalii uzho podrykhtavanaya,” Svaboda, October 16, 2018, https://www.svaboda.org/a/29546796.html.

[50] Grigory Ioffe, “One More Standoff in Kuropaty: Slow-Motion Social ‘Civil War’ Rages on in Belarus,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, Volume 16, Issue 49, The Jamestown Foundation April 8, 2019, https://jamestown.org/program/one-more-standoff-in-kuropaty-slow-motion-social-civil-war-rages-on-in-belarus/.

[51] Valer Karbalevich, “Navoshta Minsku rolya instrument u gulniakh Maskvy?” Svaboda, October 15, 2018, https://www.svaboda.org/a/29545040.html.

[52] Lepin’s standpoint is described in: “Ya prestupnik ne po ubezhdeniyu,” Tsarkva, December 9, 2019, Tsarkva, https://churchby.info/rus/articles/kalinovskiy-ya-prestupnik-ne-po-ubezhdeniyu; Gerasimchyk’s standpoint is described in “Kryvazherny Kalinowski?” Svaboda, November 29, 2019, https://www.svaboda.org/a/30297251.html.

[53] Alexander Shramko, “Religioznaya sfera: Period neopravdavshikhsya nadezhd i ozhidanii, Belorusskii Yezhegodnik 2019, https://nmnby.eu/yearbook/2020/page17.html.

[54] “Religioznaya karta Belarusi i tserkovno-konfessionalnaya reaktsiya na protest,” Argument, August 25, 2020, http://argumentua.com/stati/religioznaya-karta-belarusi-i-tserkovno-konfessionalnaya-reaktsiya-na-protesty

[55] Piotr Rudkowski, “Tsarkva, yakaya vycherpala limit astsiarozhnastsi,” Nashe Mneniye, October 28, 2020, https://nmnby.eu/news/analytics/7249.html.

[56] Tut.by, November 20, 2020, https://news.tut.by/society/709331.html.

[57] Grigory Ioffe, “Belarus at Moscow’s Mercy All Over Again,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, Volume 17, Issue 122, The Jamestown Foundation, https://jamestown.org/program/belarus-at-moscows-mercy-all-over-again/.

[58] “Sviatoi prestol nastaivayet na razreshenii arkhiyepiskopu Kondrusevichu vernutsya v Belarus,” Naviny.by, September 15, 2020, https://naviny.media/new/20200915/1600176396-svyatoy-prestol-nastaivaet-na-razreshenii-arhiepiskopu-kondrusevichu.

[59] “Lukashenko meets with special envoy from Pope Francis,” Belarus.by, December 17, 2020, https://www.belarus.by/en/press-center/news/lukashenko-meets-with-special-envoy-from-pope-francis_i_122872.html; “Makey zayavil, chto Lukashenko poshel navstrechu pape rimskomu po povodu vozvrashcheniya v Belarus Kondrusevicha,”Tut.by, December 22, 2020, https://news.tut.by/economics/712383.html.