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Reformist priest criticizes traditionalists

OPEN LETTER
by Father Georgi Kochetkov

6 November 1996
Russkaia mysl, 7 November 1996

To priests and laity who work at the "Radonezh" radio station and newspaper

Dear fathers, brothers, and sisters!

Once again you have set off in search of enemies, Catholics, Protestants, Archimandrite Zinon, and then me, etc. Two years ago you attacked fathers G. Kochetkov and A. Borisov, and last year you attacked eight priests who worked at the Christian Church Public Channel, and now us.

Why do you need this? Why must you all the time torment people, denounce them as apostate from Orthodoxy, and threaten them? Finally, what creates in you such blind hatred for the peace among Christians of various confessions that we have so recently at last achieved, a peace which already is producing much fruit.

Who is it that helped us, Orthodox people in Rus, to survive 75 years of Communist dictatorship? And who today has helped us to rebuild our churches, publish books, support the poor and needy, and find clothing, medicines, and food for them? Catholics and Protestants. In the children's hospital where I minister many children simply would have perished had it not been for the aid of Christians from the West and the USA, representatives of the most varied confessions. Humanitarian aid was collected not by the millionaires but in part by the poorest of people, literally two to three dollars apiece. This shows their enormous love for us and for the Lord Whom they serve devoutly. Who, finally, treats the Orthodox faith with the greatest of respect and love? Christians of other confessions whom we, for some reason, try to treat at best with condescension and, as a rule, simply with hatred, and whom sometimes we even call complete non-Christians.

There are too few of us Christians, in comparison with people who have lost or never found God and who live not by faith but by varied "ideals" that lead some to alcoholism, others to despair and complete frustration, others to crime, and still others to suicide, drugs, immorality, envy, hatred, etc. All these phenomena drive a person who knows nothing of Christ and His work into the embrace of superstition and paganism. And we Christians at the same time, instead of resisting atheism, which draws people to alcoholism, varied crimes, brutality, immorality, and thus to despair and a condition of complete ruin, instead of helping them to hear the gospel news addressed to them, we search for enemies where they don't exist, among each other, and we throw stones in idiotic polemics. And at the same time when we should be resisting evil and helping the people around us.

The Lord calls us to help people who are in trouble and not to a war among ourselves. Break off the struggle against imaginary enemies so that we can together combat the difficulties and work together in the Lord's field to which He Himself has called all of us. May he aid us and bless us on this path.

Priest
Georgii Kochetkov

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8):Otkritoe pismo


Ukrainian church conflict continues

CRITICISM OF TRANSFER OF MONASTERY PREMISES

from Ekspress khronika, 14 November 1996

KIEV (E-C correspondent K.Mishchenko) An array of Ukrainian public organizations described the directive of the Ukrainian president for the transfer of the Kiev-Pecherskaya monastery to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate as "anti-state and anti-Ukrainian." This was stated in a declaration of representatives of Ukrainian Orthodox brotherhood, the "State Independence of Ukraine" organization, the Organization of Ukrainian nationalists, the "Ukraine" society, and the Green party.

In 1992 the monastery was transferred to the united Ukrainian Orthodox Church. At present the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church function on Ukrainian territory. President Kuchma gave an order for the Kiev regional administration to transfer several blocks of the monastery to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and to evict unauthorized organizations.


Orthodox mark Archangel Michael's day

From ITAR-TASS
21 November 1996

Russian Orthodox believers march in religious procession around the Nine Martyrs church on Nov. 21st as they celebrate the Archangel Mikhail's Day.

This day is believed to be the beginning of winter weather in Russia.


Monastery-prison remembered

Ekspress khronika, 22 November 1996

MOSCOW (E-C) A demonstration in mourning of the victims of the totalitarian regime was held on 7 November at the Solovetski boulder in Moscow's Lubianka Square. Organized by the radical liberal union "Youth Solidarity," the demonstration marked the 79th anniversary of the October Revolution. It was attended by approximately 100 people, including representatives of the "Constitutional Democrat" party, the "Georgian community of Moscow," and the Frantisek Skorina Society of Belarusan Culture. Flowers were laid on the Solovetsky boulder and candles lit in memory of those who perished.

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8):Traurnyi miting u sovoletskogo kamnia


Soviet-style legislation threatens evangelical religious activity

NIZHNI TAGIL LAW ON MISSIONARY ACTIVITY
Ekspress khronika, 25 November 1996

NIZHNI TAGIL (E-C) A law "On the performance of missionary activity on the territory of Sverdlovsk region" was published on 12 November in the "Oblastnaia Gazeta" (the press organ of the regional administration). The law does not apply to the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian Old-Believers' Community, the Spiritual Department of Muslims, the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and Jewish religious organizations. All other religious associations are obliged to undergo registration and to receive special authorization for missionary activity in the region. A special expert-consultative council on questions of freedom of conscience and religion is being created under the aegis of the administration of the governor of Sverdlovsk region. It will include lawyers, specialist theologians, legislators and representatives of religious organizations. It will examine declarations submitted by organizations seeking registration, and reach an expert conclusion, on the basis of which decisions on registration will be made.

The law defines missionaries as religious associations of citizens, created with the aim of propagating their religious teaching and attracting other persons to [their] religious practices.

From Ekspress khronika, 22 November 1996


Patriarchate-state cooperation

ALEXIS II ASKED THE LORD TO BLESS BORDER GUARD

Segodnia, 19 November 1996

(Complete text translated)

On the weekend, Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Russia, completing a pastoral journey to Kirgizia, visited the command post of the group of Russian border guards which is detailed to the republic.

The Segodnia correspondent was told by the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation that the head of the Russian Orthodox church invoked the Lord's blessing on the "border troops" and on "their difficult service for securing the borders from violators and importers of drugs," which here is especially critical inasmuch as the main pathway for drugs from Afghanistan and Pakistan to the West passes through Kirgizia.

Both Alexis II and the leadership of the security service reported specifically that Orthodoxy is not an officially established religion among the Russian border guards. However, in March of this year the heads of the church and security service signed a special agreement on cooperation. Among other things it provides for the annual conduct of a special solemn prayer service "For Defenders of the Borders of the Fatherland," which is conducted in all churches of the Russian Orthodox church on December 4 at the time of the church's observance of the Presentation of the Most Holy Mother of God.

Photograph shows Patriarch Alexis II with army officers near church of Saint Alexander Nevsky
from Zhurnal moskovskoi patriarkhii, no. 7, 1966

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8):Alexis II prizval gospoda blagoslovit okhranu granitsy


State official resists Islam in Moscow region

MUSLIMS ARE OPENING MOSQUES, ALTHOUGH SOME ARE OBSTRUCTED
by Tatiana Varzanova

(Complete text translated)

Current information shows that since the beginning of 1996 fifty new mosques have been opened, belonging to the jurisdiction of the Central Council of the Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims of Russia. In just the last few days, with the participation of the supreme mufti Talgat Tadzhudin, believers have come to new prayer buildings in the village of Bogatye Saby in Tatariia and the village of Galia in Samara district. It should be noted that both mosques were built exclusively by the contributions and the hands of Muslims themselves, without support from state agencies. In all, under the jurisdiction of the central board there are about 1500 mosques and 2000 parishes.

At the same time there has been no end to the conflict between representatives of the 2000th Islamic congregation and the head of the administration of Balashikh, near Moscow, Viacheslav Ivanov. Here, for four years already, he has refused to allocate land to believers for construction of a mosque within city boundaries. The bureaucrat justifies his refusal by claiming that Islam is not traditional for this region of Russia. While ignorance has long been a distinguishing characteristic of the powers that be, in a multiconfessional and multinational country it can lead to tragic consequences.

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8):Musulmane otkryvaiut mecheti khot im poroi i meshaiut


Public opinion divided on status of Orthodox church

CONFESSIONS

Nezavisimaia gazeta, 28 November 1996

The paper reports the results of several questions from surveys conducted in Moscow. They include the following:
43.3% consider themselves Orthodox,
50.6% consider themselves believers
20.3% Muscovites attend church at least once a month
3.9% attend weekly

On the question "What position should the Russian Orthodox church occupy among other religious organizations in Russia?"
"leading position," 31.9%;
"equal position," 45.9%;

On the question: "Is it necessary to teach the Law of God in schools?"
"yes," 50.2%
"no," 26.6%

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8):Konfessii

Full English translation: Confessions


Metropolitan Kirill on Orthodox church affairs

THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH HAS NO POLITICAL AMBITIONS
by Maxim Shevchenko

Nezavisimaia gazeta, 28 November 1996

In a wide-ranging interview, the Russian Orthodox metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, who also serves as the head of the patriarchate's office of external church relations, surveyed current affairs of the church. While expressing support for the principle of separation of church and state and for the prohibition on churchmen to participate in political affairs, he spoke of a "partnership" between the Orthodox church and the Russian state. Kirill touched on the issue of reform within the Orthodox church, giving an equivocal evaluation of the work of the church's great council of the time of the revolution, which, he said, turned out to be too progressive for the needs of the church. Similarly ambivalent was his view of current relations between Orthodox and Catholics. He observed that, in principle, the two churches viewed each other with respect while he also rejected the prospect of the growth of the Catholic church on the "Orthodox territory" that comprises most of the former Soviet Union. The metropolitan also criticized the patriarch of Constantinople in the context of relations among various national Orthodox churches, including the Estonian, Ukrainian, and west European Russian churches. He spoke more sympathetically of the Armenian and African churches.

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): U RPTs het politicheskikh ambitsii

Full English translation: ROC has no political ambitions


Lebed, on visit to USA, supports, criticizes Orthodoxy

THE AMERICAN DEBUT OF LEBED
by Yuliia Goriacheva

Nezavisimaia gazeta, 27 November 1996

At the end of a long article describing Lebed's week in the United States, one paragraph reported Lebed's meeting with parishioners of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in New York, where he voiced his sympathy for Russia's Orthodox heritage.

The article treated the visit as an elaborate political campaign in which Lebed tried to build relationships with American politicians, Russian experts, and corporations. Among the leaders with whom Lebed hobnobbed, the article named Defense Secretary Perry, former president George Bush, former secretary of state James Baker, former national security advisor Brent Skocroft, General Colin Powell, several congressmen, Dmitry Simes, and members of the Russian-American Business Council, led by former ambassador to Russia Robert Strauss. In a variety of ways Lebed identified how Americans should help Russia in its present condition. He also clearly declared his intention to become president of Russia, for which he promises to organize an effective political party.

The last paragraph of the article said the following:

". . . Alexander Lebed was extremely persistent and successful in his attempt to change his image as a chauvinist that has been created by the Russian press. The general literally edited his interpreter on the run. In particular, in an informal exchange with an audience he insisted on a broader connotation of the word 'orthodox.' 'I am certainly not orthodox,' he affirmed, 'but pravoslavnyi, a baptized Russian man.' In the extremely tight schedule of his five-day visit to the USA, the general found time for a meeting with representatives of various Russian organizations. He accepted an invitation from the synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in New York, where to the joy of the parishioners he emphasized that as the future president of Russia he will distinctly recognize that 'the Russian fatherland rests upon three supports: the creative genius of the Russian people, the valor of the Russian army, and the spiritual might of the Russian Orthodox Church. If there is no spiritual support, nothing will succeed.'

'When I am president of Russia,' Alexander Lebed declared upon leaving America, 'we shall rip off its imperial mask and to the world will be revealed its smiling, slightly pock-marked face.'

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8 capacity to read): Amerikanskie smotriny lebedia

TV Reports on Lebed `Phenomenon' in U.S.
"Segodnia," Moscow NTV
November 22, 1996

An account of Lebed's visit broadcast in Moscow included a report of a harsher turn of phrase used by Lebed in New York:

". . . What was unusual were the general's sharp attacks on the Russian Orthodox church. The KOMMERSANT-DAILY newspaper reported that during a visit to the office of the expatriate Russian Church in New York, Lebed said that he sought morality everywhere, including in the Russian Orthodox Church, but he saw there that people who should be devout were greater sinners than he. Lebed said this did not concern the expatriate church but that in Russia."

English translation of broadcast Lebed phenomenon


Meeting of presidency's council of religious affairs

THERE WILL BE NO MINISTRY OF RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS
by Maxim Shevchenko

Nezavisimaia gazeta, 22 November 1996
(full text translated)

The session of the Council on Relations with Religious Associations of the presidency of the Russian Federation began with the president's chief of staff, Anatoly Chubais, after a brief monologue about general consensus, requested that the journalists leave. These journalists had been urged strongly by Chubais' staff to attend the session. This thoroughly ordinary meeting thereby took on the traits of a supersecret conference on strategic issues.

But the questions discussed by the leaders of the religious associations and government bureaucrats were publicly known. First, the activity of noncommercial organizations. According to present law, any group of citizens that wishes to avoid paying the state can declared itself a religious society and request a favorable tax status. Besides the swindlers, for whom religious problems are a matter of indifference, there are people who cloak the dangerous practice of "healing" in religious activity. One needs only to go around to the various houses of culture in the suburbs of Moscow to see how many of such "prophets" are standing in line to get at the souls and purses of defenseless Russian citizens. In a time when the angry attention of the press is directed at the financial operations of the Moscow patriarchate, incomparably greater sums are being amassed with impunity and without any benefit to the state by these esoteric cheats, who sow among the populace their troubling notions about that "something greater which their gift bestows."

There was no debate on the first question. It is clear that there must be some procedure. The second question of the agenda, "On amendments and additions to the RSFSR law on freedom of religious professions," had to evoke more lively discussion. On article 11 of the present legislation, for example, it turns out that members of the Catholic church, who are citizens of Russia and who wish to register their congregations, may register them only as a representation of a foreign religious organization, insofar as everyone knows that the center of their "organization" is outside of Russia, in the city of Rome. But members of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church are concerned not so much about Catholics, with whom at least after the second Vatican council, they can reach agreement, but about the "totalitarian sects," which on principle will not enter into conversations with the church. Metropolitan Kirill Gundiaev of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, in conversation with an observer from Nezavisimaia gazeta, noted that "when the Orthodox church raised the alarm about the danger connected with the activity of the totalitarian sects, they said that we were violated the principle of religious freedom. but the protection of the population from dangerous phenomena of religious fanaticism is not a violation of religious freedom." The Russian Orthodox church does not want restrictions in the area of religion, "from which it has suffered so much," one of the bishops declared.

The problem of religious education evoked much argument. The liberal, secular consciousness cannot be reconciled with the presence in schools of classes devoted to the teaching of religious fundamentals. This is considered a violation of the rights of nonbelievers. But representatives of religious associations put the question differently: "Is it not a violation of the rights of man to refuse believers the possibility of studying the fundamentals of religion along with other subjects of general education?" This applies specifically to the staffs of secular, public schools. Talk about "religion only in religious schools" recalls the isolation of believers in a ghetto and the separation of religion, not from the state, but from the nation. That is again a violation of the rights of man. This complicated question requires careful consideration about whether the liberal experience of European countries can serve as a model for Russia which exists in a somewhat different spiritual and legal space.

After the session Anatoly Chubais himself came out to the journalists. In response to a question from the NG reporter about what had evoked the most lively discussion in the meeting of the council, he said: "We discussed not so much concrete formulations as the approach to the problem. For example, there were various points of view on the question of the benefits of creating a state office for relations with religious associations. Various positions were expressed. But frankly speaking, the majority of the participants did not support this idea, fearing the creation of a ministry on religious affairs. History shows that this is not the best form of relationships. A council, yes. But hardly a new state apparatus."

Really, a new ministry of religious affairs cannot but evoke fears. Believers remember the soviet times all too well. And the most harmful restrictions of the freedom of the activity of religious association will strike the Russian Orthodox church, which, besides this, still preserved the memory about the woeful times of the synodal captivity in the prebolshevik epoch.

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8 capacity to read): Ministerstva po delam religii ne budet


Christ the Savior cathedral in Moscow

FACADE OF GLORY: A Potemkin Cathedral for the New Russia
by Flore de Preneuf

This is a report from the Washington Post of 24 November, which is generally critical of the project.

(excerpt)
. . .When Mikhail Possokhin was appointed to be the new architect, the construction plan was modified in at least one significant way. A Sunday school was initially included. It could have served to spread knowledge of the Bible and faith to the Moscow population, but it was traded for a high-tech media center to broadcast official ceremonies. The size of the parking garage in the cathedral's foundation is still a subject of dispute: Should there be 400 or 600 prestigious parking spaces to repay the city for its efforts?

There was one instance when Luzhkov yielded to Patriarch Alexei's choice, and that had to do with gold. The way things were decided between them is an endearing scene, almost too good to be true, but which I have from a reliable source. According to the account I was given, Luzhkov went to the patriarch with two pieces of golden metal, asking him to select the one covered with a layer of authentic gold. The patriarch, fallible after all, chose the wrong piece, which was titanium nitrate sprayed over with golden lacquer. "See! Even you can't tell the difference!" exclaimed the mayor.

If the illusion works, why dig too deep into the 53 kilos of gold offered by the Stolichny Bank of Savings a year ago, amid much publicity and good press about the "renaissance of patronage"? Why explain the difference either? . . .

So is "Golden Moscow" a fraud in this symbolic case? A restoration specialist checked a piece of metal from the dome that I brought back from a visit to the construction site and scoffed, describing the color as "revolting," and refused to call it gold, given the mere micro-molecular presence of the precious metal.

Yet, from the sidewalk and from afar, the sight of the cupolas fills the hearts of Muscovites with pride. Undeniably, there are millions of Russians who are genuinely moved by something that was unimaginable only a few years ago -- the reversal of Stalin's blind destruction. . . .

Complete English text: Facade of Glory


Orthodox academic conference reviews Russian sectarian activity

SECTS--SNARES
by O. Kuznetsov

Zavtra, October 18, 1996

On 2 October at the Krutitsy Patriarchal Extension in Moscow there was a theological applied science conference, "Religious Totalitarianism and Youth," at which all who desired were able to participate. Clergy and attorneys, physicians and parents of people who have joined sects, journalists and teachers united their efforts in opposing the furious assault of the heretical totalitarian sects which has become especially intense recently.

The speakers included the following:

Priest Oleg Steniaev, who gave information about the difficulties in the work of the Khomiakov Center for the rehabilitation of Victims of Nontraditional Religions.

Sergei Kuzmin, representative of the Expert Consultative Council on Questions of Freedom of Conscience of the state duma, who described the present law "On Freedom of Conscience" as a "law of the United States of America, operating on the territory of Russia," and he talked about a new, more liberal version, providing "freedom of children's conscience."

Lieutenant A. Khvylia-Olinter, candidate of jurisprudence, from the Center of Criminological Information of the MVD of the Russian Federation, described the links of several sects with criminal organizations and their methods of penetrating state agencies and news media.

Professor F. Kondratev, president of the Group for Preparation of the Program of Medical Aid for Victims of Sectarian Activity of the Russian ministry of health mentioned in his speech the activity of the late deputy V.V. Savitsky and compared cultic activity to cancer.

Professor Yu. Polishchuk, psychiatrist, emphasized that influential political forces back the sects and he called all sectarian activity "simply a party of the general plan for the spiritual enslavement of Russia."

Monastic priest Anatoly Berestov, a medical doctor and neuropathologist, dealt with the medical and spiritual aspects of the problem.

History professor of the John the Divine Russian Orthodox University V. Makhnach described the history of sects in prerevolutionary Russia and the early soviet years.

T. Deriabina, a representative of the Committee for the Salvation of Youth, whose daughter joined the Jehovah's Witnesses, described, besides the moral harm the JW did to their family, the financial harm they caused by buying from the daughter an apartment at a clearly low price. Many others also spoke.

The report of Orthodox historian V. Makhnach spoke pertinently to the present moment. He reminded all of us about the state of affairs for sectarians and heretics in the Russian empire. Principally, the legal basis for relations between the state and various confessions was worked out splendidly. It was constructed on the principles of a strict hierarchy of various churches and sects and it proceeded primarily from the principle of the legality of the creation and existence of various confessions and sects within Russia.

O. Kuznetsov

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8 capacity to read): Sekty--seti

Additional information on this conference: Alarm about proposed amendments to religion law
3 Oct 1996


Right to conscientious objection denied

Ekspress khronika, November 4, 1996

CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR FOUND GUILTY OF DRAFT EVASION

MOSCOW (E-C) On 24 October the Cheremushkin court of Moscow issued its verdict in the case of Aleksandr Seregin, a member of the Anti-militarist Radical Association. Seregin, a conscientious objector against military service, was charged under article 80 of the RF Criminal Code ("Evasion of the call up for military service"). He was sentenced to two years deprivation of freedom, with a three year suspension of the sentence.

Nikolai Khramov, leader of the Anti-militarist Radical Association and Seregin's public defender, insisted on a not- guilty verdict and argued: "An idiotic situation has developed. The defendant is allowed not to serve in the army, since article 59 part 3 of the Russian Federation constitution guarantees him the right to perform alternative civilian service, but he has no right to do this service, since there is no law [regulating] it."

Examining the case, Judge Ivanov did not recognize Seregin's right to perform alternative civilian service, pointing to the absence of an appropriate statute.

At a press-conference on 29 October at the Russian- American Information Press Center, Nikolai Khramov declared that "the verdict in the case of Aleksandr Seregin cannot but evoke a feeling of protest and bewilderment." Another speaker, State Duma deputy Valery Borshchyov argued that "today we are witnesses of an alarming fact - the legal path for refusing to perform military service has been blocked by the court, [and] what remains are bribes."

Other information on CO cases in Russia

Ekspress khronika


Patriarch Alexis II prayed for Boris Yeltsin

Nezavisimaia gazeta, November 5, 1996

News brief

Following the liturgy in the Kazan church on Red Square in Moscow, Patriarch Alexis II prayed for a successful outcome of the heart surgery performed on President Boris Yeltsin on November 5.

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8 capacity to read): Vchera


Russian politicians and churchmen collaborate

RETURN OF AN ICONOSTASIS

Segodnia, November 1, 1996

Last week Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Evgeny Primakov turned over in a solemn ceremony to Patriarch of Moscow and all-Russia Alexis II an ancient Russian portable iconostasis. This event was little noted in the press, and that's a shame. Not every day are national relics with such a rich history returned.

The portable iconostasis was in German territory in 1763. It accompanied the Russian army command at the time of the Seven Years' War 1756-1763. After the war the iconostasis was sent to Petersburg and then to Stockholm in connection with an intended marriage of one of the Romanov grand princes to Swedish King Gustav. The wedding never took place, and the iconostasis was left in the church of the imperial mission to Sweden. In 1901 this church was slated for renovation. At the request of the Russian ambassador to Berlin the iconostasis was moved to the church of the Russian diplomatic mission in Hamburg.

Amidst the confusion of the revolution in Russia and world wars the iconostasis would have been lost like sand in the sea had it not been for the concerns of descendants of Orthodox Russians in Germany who constituted the Brotherhood of Holy Prince Vladimir. With the support of Metropolitan Kirill of Kaliningrad and Smolensk and Archbishop Longin of the Russian embassy in Bonn, contact with the leaders of the brotherhood was made. There arose the idea of building in Kaliningrad a memorial church for Russian soldiers and to move the iconostasis there. Kaliningraders supported this idea. When President Boris Yeltsin was in Kaliningrad the cornerstone of the church was laid in the center of Kaliningrad. The plans are to have a chapel in the church memory of Russian soldiers who died in Kaliningrad territory during the Seven Years', Napoleonic, and two world wars. Kaliningraders requested the transfer to them of the iconostasis, which will occupy an honored spot in the completed church. Until construction is complete the iconostasis would be located temporarily in Saint George's church in Baltiisk where sailors of the Russian navy attend.

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8 capacity to read): Vozvrashchenie ikonostasa


Belarus president: from atheism to Orthodoxy

Reuters

BELARUS LEADER WANTS ORTHODOXY AS STATE IDEOLOGY

MINSK -- Hardline President Alexander Lukashenko said Thursday that Orthodoxy should replace communism as the new dominant ideology in Belarus and called for the restoration of Soviet-style ideological structures.

"After the break up of the former Soviet Union the system of ideological education was stupidly destroyed. But that system had been teaching nothing bad. Soviet people were down-to-earth, modest and open," he said in a speech at Minsk University. "We should restore that system but with Orthodoxy at the center rather than Marxism-Leninism."

Lukashenko, 42, won presidential elections in 1994 on a platform of fighting corruption and rebuilding ties with Russia, but his authoritarian style has since provoked domestic opposition and criticism from abroad. He has suspended trade unions, closed newspapers and sacked editors, effectively halted market reforms and jailed 200 people for demonstrating against an integration pact with Moscow. A former collective farm boss and "politruk" or political instructor in the Soviet Army, Lukashenko declared earlier this month that he "used to be an atheist but I have now become an Orthodox believer."

"I am ready to put my signature under all of the (Ten) Commandments. We have already done a lot to increase the role of the Orthodox church (in Belarus)," he said at the university. Restoration of Orthodoxy as the official state ideology would take Belarus further along this road than Russia, where the church has an increasingly high profile but is officially separate from the state. Russian President Boris Yeltsin, now awaiting heart surgery, is not a believer but has often attended church services on religious holy days, candle in hand. Metropolitan Filaret, head of Belarussian Orthodox Church, a de facto branch of the powerful Russian Orthodox Church, has begun to appear alongside Lukashenko at public events.

Earlier this year Lukashenko introduced special "political days" at enterprises, factories and farms with lectures from local bosses. A system of Soviet-era "socialist competition" was brought back to industry with red banners awarded to winners. Lukashenko abolished Belarus's post-independence national symbols last year and replaced them with those of the Soviet era. He also replaced new history books at schools and universities with old Soviet books. Belarus, which lacks its national identity after centuries of Russian domination and russification, was plunged into independence in 1991 without having sought to cut its ties with its huge fellow-Slavic neighbor. (Reuters)

The photograph above shows Lukashenko on a visit to the Orthodox seminary in Minsk
from Zhurnal moskovskoi patriarkhii, no. 8, 1996

(posted 3 November 1996)