The Catholic Church as the Engine of Protests in Belarus

Now many people talk about the role of different countries in the Belarusian protests, but much more significant is the factor of the Catholic church’s activity both in Belarus and abroad. It is the “Holy fathers” who, under the guise of preachers, take advantage of their special status in society, actively interact with the protesters, incite intolerance in society and hatred of the authorities.

Let’s take a look at how the situation has developed and what the prospects are.

Long before the election, it was precisely the Catholic figures who started their most active activities, the purpose of which was to support and unite those who were hostile to Lukashenko, and to suppress those who supported him.

As part of this activity, Artem Tkachuk launched the campaign “A Catholic does not falsify” at the beginning of July this year.

The idea was that Catholics should join the fight against electoral fraud. When I heard about this, as well as that the Catholic hierarchs called for prayers for a fair election, I immediately wrote on my Facebook that it was heading to a Maidan, since similar actions were already being worked out within the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in 2004 before Maidan. The idea of these actions is precisely to agitate the state of people before the election, and the goal is to allow the subsequent manipulation of people’s moods. After all, at all times and in all countries, you can find violations in elections. In some places this is more apparent, in others it is less, but it is almost everywhere. And this kind of pressure before elections is a tool to bring people to a state of high expectations, and then point out violations to people and say: well, we have been praying against violations all this time, and now we can’t accept it. After that, it is possible to directly steer the negativity of the people in the right direction.

Do these actions of Catholic hierarchs and activists speak of honesty and decency? I doubt it. When the Uniates started to pray for a fair election before Maidan in 2004, it looked like a farce and a comedy. This can only be compared to the nativity scene if an elderly prostitute was posing as a virgin. The fact is that two years before, Ukraine held a Verkhovna Rada election. As part of the election campaign, Viktor Yushchenko visited the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Lubomyr Gusar, in Lvov. And two days after Yushchenko’s arrival to the leadership of the Uniates in Lvov, the head of the Lvov regional branch of the Election Commission of Ukraine Roman Koshovy was forced to make a statement about the priests who openly campaigned in support of candidates in the election directly during services. He said that he was aware of many such cases. According to Ukraine’s Religious Information Service website, “according to Koshovy, such campaigning costs from $60 to 300. The amount obviously depends on the number of parishioners. (A priest is paid to run a campaign.) ‘In fact, this is not a violation of the law, since every citizen of Ukraine has the right to conduct a political campaign,’ Koshovy stressed.”

At first, the head of the Uniates, the American Guzar, tried to deny such statements, point out that all of this is yellow press slander, etc. But when the election ended, and the people who paid for the services of priests received the status of deputies, then this farce ended: under the pressure of facts, the head of the Uniates admitted that his priests participated in corruption frauds and used the status of priests to trade political services, apologised to voters, and said that he would deal with such cases and punish those responsible. Naturally, there were no statements about depriving such deputies of the mandate of the people’s will, and no cases of punishing corrupt priests were mentioned later. The head of the Uniates decided that it was enough to apologise for electoral bribery and fraud.

And naturally, this did not prevent the Uniates two years later, just before the “Orange Maidan”, to play the role of fighters for fair elections and saying that their conscience does not allow them to look calmly at violations made during elections. At the same time, as some politicians pointed out, “representatives of the UGCC force believers to vote for certain candidates”. Of course, the word “force” is not quite correct in this case – obviously, it meant that certain manipulations were carried out in order to inspire believers with sympathy for some candidates and hostility to others.

It is the same in Belarus: all of this activity was not apolitical and unselfish. For example, it is possible to see that the same Artem Tkachuk, who launched the campaign “A Catholic does not falsify”, was a trusted person in the election campaign of presidential candidate Viktor Babariko and conducted appropriate political propaganda.

But it didn’t end there. On his page, we can find notes on how even before the election, harassment developed even against clerics who spoke at least a little positively about the rule of Lukashenko. All of this immediately took the form that “some priests are telling the truth, and some are lying”.

Of course, Tkachuk also mentioned that the opposition even before the election started to promise Catholics various handouts, which were interesting both for the hierarchy and for ordinary believers.

It is no less interesting that Tkachuk, if to pay attention to the screenshots above, indicates that his place of permanent residence is the Polish city of Poznań.

But, all of this, as is said, was flowers. Berries began to appear after the election, although, apparently, this is not all the “surprises” that Catholic clerics prepare for Belarusians. The first reaction of representatives of the Catholic church appeared immediately after the election.

For example, the Brest newspaper indicates: “The Brest Greek Catholic priest Igor Kondratev is probably one of the most recognisable participants of the protests in our city. Tall, dressed in a black cassock, he goes out every day after August 9th to support people at rallies, girls in chains of solidarity, and those who are waiting for their loved ones in the pre-trial detention centre… ‘I am deeply convinced that it’s not possible to deceive. And to cheat in elections is a terrible sin,’ the interlocutor said. ‘This is a violation of at least two commandments.’ … All week after the election, the priest went every day from early morning to late evening along Sovetskaya Street, along Masherov Avenue, met various people, policemen, OMON officers, and tried to talk to them.”

But maybe this is just the only case when a cleric decided to take part in the protests and tried to demoralize the security forces? Alas, this is in fact the position of a huge number of clerics of the Catholic church, who not only supported the protests, but are already acting as leaders of the protests. In the previous article, I pointed out that the methods of representatives of the Catholic church in Belarus on many points exactly copy what Catholic clerics did during the Maidan in Ukraine. Here I wanted to show these manifestations of this activity.

For example, on August 9th, clerics started sheltering protesters in churches in Grodno. At the same time, it was pointed out that churches were also opened in Minsk to protect the protesters.

On the same day, two clerics in Baranovichi, who were present in secular clothes at rallies, were among others taken to an isolation cell. It is noteworthy that despite the fact that they were no different from others, it is indicated that they did not receive any injuries, although the opposition insists that the police severely beat everyone they could. After they were released on August 16th, Bishop Aleksandr Yashevsky of the Russian Orthodox Church said that priests have the right to be with their people. Of course, this is a cynical manipulation. If one of the protesters has a spiritual need to communicate with a priest, no one prevents him from walking 10-15 minutes to the nearest church and doing so. In addition, when clerics put on the symbols of the protesters (in this case, they walk with white-red-white flags), they themselves demonstrate that they do not perform so much pastoral functions as they are participants in the protests, and therefore bear the same responsibility before the law as other protesters. Although, as will be discussed later, even these clerics are not satisfied with simple participation and in some cases already take over the functions of local leaders.

Let us consider all these cases on their merits.

On August 11th, a photo appeared with the caption that Catholic clerics were with the protesters, but not even to protect them from violence, but to implement the protest – when OMON asked to stop the unauthorised rally without any violence, the clerics refused, realising that this was a blatant provocation and if violence was used against the clerics, it would cause a surge of indignation in society.

Warming up the mood of the protesters, the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church Oleg Butkevich made a statement on August 12th, speaking against violence, and immediately declared that in the presidential election “the vote count is not quite correct”, which, of course, supported the protest mood among the protesters.

In Lida on August 12th, a protest was held near a Catholic church with the participation of clerics.

And on August 13th the situation in Vitebsk: at first, a rally was held near the temple with singing of songs and prayers, clerics distributed white balloons, and then, when the security forces arrived, the clerics immediately hid everyone in the temple.

And Maladzyechna. And again the protests of the faithful near the church.

Clerics went to support the protesters in different localities to support them.

On August 14th, a message appeared on the official page of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which published photos of protesters and a message saying that the head of the Uniates supports the people of Belarus.

On the same day, a protest was held in Lida. And this action was led by Uniate and Roman Catholic clerics. In the video, which was filmed live by clergyman of the UGCC Andrey Buynich, he emphasised that first the priests are coming, and then the believers.

On August 16th, the Conference of Catholic bishops of Ukraine under the leadership of Polish Bishop Mieczysław Mokrzyckiexpressed words of support and prayerful unity with the Belarusian people.

On August 16, in Lida, the protesters initially gathered directly near the Catholic church (the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy cross), and then the crowd went to the city, and again it was led by the same clerics. It should be noted that near the temple, demands were also voiced: the dismissal of a significant number of ministers from their positions, after which another presenter said that it was necessary to start a strike.

Naturally, many clerics joined the protest actions over the weekend.

For example, in Polotsk, a Uniate cleric with a family and white-red-white symbols.

And here is a photo where it is seen that this cleric on the same day headed a column of protesters together with the Roman Catholic cleric Vyacheslav Barok. Naturally, this was presented as a procession with a prayer for Belarus, but the clergy told the audience that now there is a struggle between good and evil – a kind of Belarusian apocalypse, that the election was not fair, etc. I.e., under the guise of prayers, they carried out appropriate political propaganda, manipulating the religious feelings of believers for this purpose.

It is noteworthy that Barok in 2017 talked about a revolution and the transfer of power in the country.

And in Minsk, the Press Secretary of the Catholic conference of bishops of Belarus Yury Sanko.

Many ordinary clerics, representatives of the Jesuit order and other monastic orders also took part in the protests.

At the same time, in order to avoid this violent activity of the Catholics being conspicuous, they held several ecumenical prayers. To some extent, they even managed to involve the Orthodox in their activities. For example, in Grodno, which is located on the border with Poland and is characterised by increased nationalist and Russophobic sentiments, even an Orthodox Bishop spoke in support of the protesters. Although, apparently, outside of the Grodno diocese, such moods among the Orthodox are rare. And this is not because clerics do not sympathise with protesters or security forces injured during clashes – it is just that participating in protest movements is usually alien to the mentality of Orthodox clerics.

Naturally, under all this activity of the protesters, there are already ideological justifications in the Catholic environment. Do you remember how the clergy of the Catholic church christened the Maidan in 2013? “Revolution of Dignity”. At the same time, they voiced many phrases saying that this was not a coup, but a struggle for values, for freedom, for human dignity. All these attributes have been put into circulation since the first days of the Belarusian protests. For example, Capuchin monks talk about protests in the context of conversations about dignity.

Of course, all of this talk about dignity and peaceableness only surprises the depth of cynicism, deceit, and manipulation on the part of the preachers of the gospel, which says that the father of lies is Satan. After all, everyone knows that from the first days of the protests, the protesters showed aggression towards the security forces: stones and sticks were thrown at police officers, and they were hit by cars. The video published by the Press Service of the Belarusian Interior Ministry shows only a small part of what happened on the streets of Belarus.

Naturally, the security forces call these people criminals, while the opposition tries to say that they are all white and fluffy political prisoners. At the same time, some of the detainees cause quite a natural reaction. For example, the Press Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus published a video about a detainee whose phone contained correspondence before the protests. In this correspondence, it was indicated that he has experience of participating in the Maidan in Ukraine, and that he is ready to stand in the front ranks if necessary. The Interior Ministry released photos in this video that show the participation of this man in the Maidan in Ukraine and in the protests in Belarus, where he is really in the forefront of the protesters who show aggression. And then in the same video shows a joint photo with Mariya Kolesnikova, the coordinator of the staff of the same Viktor Babariko, in support of which Tkachuk worked – as the initiator of the action “A Catholic does not falsify”. It is no less interesting that this person in the correspondence indicates that he personally knows Pavel Severinets – an oppositionist from the Catholic environment.

Of course, the police publish these videos not only for ordinary citizens to understand that the protests were not all with peaceful intentions, but also for representatives of the opposition themselves to condemn the radicalism of some of the participants. What is the reaction of Catholic clerics to such statements?

In relation to the authorities, they clearly built a line that they do not need any apologies or proceedings – they need a change of ruler and repression of dissenters. And all this is expressed in a very brutal form.

With regard to the last picture, I would like to draw attention to the fact that the cleric in this case uses not only Lukashenko, but also the official flag of Belarus as a symbol of connection with fascism.

Further, I would like to note that if before the election there was harassment of dissenters on the Internet by ordinary citizens and clerics, now representatives of the Catholic church have switched to officials and security forces. For example, clerics share posts that call to make a “people’s tribunal” against officials – simply put, to punish them.

Some clerics share posts that publish the home addresses and phone numbers of security forces and accusations that they are allegedly involved in illegal actions, and captions in the style of “let everyone decide what to do with it” or “you know what to do with it”.

I would like to emphasize that this is not done by an ordinary believer or a radical from the street, but by a Catholic priest. And, of course, no real facts of involvement of these people in any crime are given. All of this is done in order to, on the one hand, develop hatred for the security forces among believers, and on the other – this is a very specific incitement to terrorise these people and their families via someone else’s hands. Moreover, when asked in the comment section of this cleric for what purpose he does this, he talks about a tribunal, and that the alleged violence shown by individual security forces justifies his actions. It was pointed out to him that, in fact, the guilt of these people has not been proven, and he is not engaged in calling for a tribunal, but instigating lynching.

In fact, other posts made by the same cleric clearly show that he acts as an instigator of illegal actions.

Other clerics act in the same spirit of hate propaganda.

Interestingly, according to his Facebook page, Aleksandr Gelogayev is working for the main Catholic resource of Belarus “”.

And he is not only meeting with the Catholic leadership.

Gelogayev is known for the fact that many of his publications and initiatives are perceived as attempts to rewrite history, where the rehabilitation of Nazism is carried out within the framework of Russophobia. This was directly written by many media outlets both in Belarus and abroad. It is noteworthy that on the website of “Belsat TV”, which operates in Poland, and its employees are directly connected with the coordination of protests in Belarus, it is possible to find many of Gelogayev’s publications.

It is also very interesting that on his page, Gelogayev, trying to undermine the central government in the face of protests, calls for local governance.

In all this case, it should be noted that many clerics of the Roman Catholic Church are Poles. And clerics of the Uniate church in Belarus receive priesthood in Ukraine from the hierarchs of the UGCC, and they often receive their education in Poland. This is exactly the situation that occurred with the cleric Andrey Buynich, mentioned above, who publicly appealed to the Poles for help in relation to protests.

As for Ukraine, a huge number of clerics, hierarchs, and activists of the Roman Catholic Church and UGCC joined this process in the most active way. I wrote in a previous post that in some cases, Ukrainians are involved in foreign actions to support Belarusian protesters. But sometimes it even comes to the point that Ukrainian organisations act as organisers of these actions.

In turn, clerics from Ukraine do not even hide their beliefs. For example, the director of the Catholic website “Credo”, Nikolay Myshovsky, who actively participated in the Maidan in 2013, writes that he stands in solidarity with Belarusians and hopes that steam in Belarus will not dissipate.

But it is important to ask the question: what else can the the Roman Catholic Church and UGCC offer to the protesters in Belarus besides prayers and propaganda?

And here, in fact, everything is not as simple as some may think. The fact is that both structures played a key role in the overthrow of the government of Yanukovych in 2013-14. It is the clerics of the UGCC who are the confessors of the radicals from the Trizuborganisation of Stepan Bandera. They became the core of Right Sector – the organisation that fought against the security forces during Maidan. At the same time, the “Trizub” members have been actively cooperating with the UGCC for decades. They are the ones who annually organise security during the annual mass events on the territory of the Uniate church complex Zarvanytsya.

And it should be noted that a month before the start of the Maidan, the Uniate cleric Petr Burak called on “Trizub” radicals to seize power in the country with weapons in their hands, which they subsequently began to do.

Apparently, the use of radicals from Ukraine and other countries – this is not a narrative detached from reality. After radicals were replaced on the squares and streets of Belarus by peaceful protesters who pointedly dress in white and walk with balloons and flowers, the fuse of the protests is weakened. During the last major rally in Minsk, there were hardly more than 100,000 participants, despite the fact that the population in Minsk is approaching 2 million people. I.e., less than 5% of the population came to the protest, while opposition leaders are trying to convince everyone that almost everyone voted for Tikhanovskaya.

Due to the fact that the participants refuse to go to work, etc., many of them will soon be forced by the financial crisis or pressure from relatives to return to work and leave the protests. This means that if there are no additional provocations, the protest movement will become smaller and become a marginal movement. In view of this, people working with the protest mass from Poland are already pointing out that the protest is likely to develop into a violent confrontation and it is necessary to prepare for this right now. This kind of text, for example, was posted on August 19th by Natalya Radina editor-in-chief of Charter 97, an opposition-type information resource that works with the Belarusian audience from Poland.

At the same time, Radina notes that in Belarus itself, protesters are demanding the legalisation of the “Charter 97” website.

In this light, many questions are raised by the fact that Ukrainian (and in fact, probably American) special services immediately before the elections in Belarus orchestrated the situation with detained mercenaries from the Russian Federation. This raises the question of goals. Of course, the first and simplest answer is: they wanted to spoil relations between Russia and Belarus. But it is worth considering that in a number of countries during the protests, Washington and the Vatican closely cooperated (this is Brazil, Ukraine, and the protests in Hong Kong). For example, in Brazil, Pope Francis personally encouraged young people to take to the streets. In his speech Francis said: “May the bishops and priests forgive me if the youth cause trouble, but this is my advice”. Immediately after this statement made by Francis, the bishops of Brazil publicly aligned themselves with the protesters, as many Catholic websites wrote.

At the same time, the NSA was wiretapping Brazilian officials to put pressure on them during the protests. When this was discovered, the President of Brazil issued a denunciation of this impudent interference by the American intelligence services in Brazilian affairs.

Given all this, and if we consider that even many Ukrainians say that the Ukrainian special services themselves would not have thought of such a provocation and they probably were helped by the Americans, then the question of goals involuntarily arises. I do not exclude that initially it was supposed to introduce a couple of hundred militants from Ukraine and Poland to the territory of Belarus, who would commit sabotage and terrorist attacks, and write it all off on a story that allegedly Russian mercenaries were supposed to take part in the overthrow of Lukashenko. Let’s agree, this is a very convenient story to cover for the activities of radicals.

In these circumstances, on August 19th, President of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko ordered to strengthen the borders. It is obvious that this is not an idle decision, since it is very likely that both right-wing radicals and representatives of Polish radical organisations can enter Belarus through Ukraine, Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania with the purpose of participating in various illegal actions. Although, given the fact that the special operation with mercenaries from the Russian Federation was developed long before the election, I do not exclude the possibility that the militants from Ukraine and Poland were also imported in advance and simply do not show themselves until a certain moment, when they are given the appropriate signal.

Looking at all this activity of Catholics in the attempt to implement another Maidan, as well as what they lead Ukraine to with their Maidan, one can’t help but remember the words from the New Testament:

¹What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? ²You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. ³When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. ⁴You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (James 4: 1-4).

Is this not the source of the malice, meanness, abuse, and cynicism of Catholic clergy – that they are striving not for self-improvement in God, but for political games, seizing secular power, striving to dominate and suppress dissent?

Aleksandr Voznesensky

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