The Kremlin is attempting to create the illusion of tensions between Catholic and Orthodox believers in Belarus allegedly fueled by the United States, despite the fact that there is no evidence that religion is playing a divisive role in the current political crisis in Belarus. These claims by pro-Kremlin officials in Russia are trying to fan further suspicion that the West is meddling in Belarus affairs, as well as turn the attention away from the real problem — the lack of trust regarding the legitimacy of Belarusian President Alyksandr Lukashenka.
On September 29, 2020, Sergey Naryshkin, director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, was quoted on the service’s website that the United States is planning a clash between Belarus Orthodox and Catholic believers by encouraging protests and staging a provocation targeting a Catholic priest to spark further anti-governmental unrest. The Catholic Church in Belarus, whose Archbishop Tadeush Kandrusevich has been denied entering Belarus since August 31, responded to the claim by saying that it is “total nonsense, fake information, lies that has nothing in common with the truth.” Later, a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church backed Naryshkin’s claim, saying that protests in Belarus may take the form of religious divide among Catholic and Orthodox protesters. Multiple Kremlin-owned and pro-Kremlin media, as well as Belarusian state and independent media outlets, reported Naryshkin’s statement. Meanwhile, many media outlets, including Kremlin-owned RIA Novosti,alsopublished the Catholic Church’s response.
Since the beginning of protests, Lukashenka has taken the role of religion in Belarus protests seriously. Catholic Archbishop Kandrusevich, who strongly condemned police violence against protesters, has been denied returning back to Belarus after his trip to Poland, with Lukashenka vaguely accusing him of receiving “tasks” during his visit. Additionally Russian Orthodox Church approved the resignation of Metropolitan Pavel, the head of the Belarus Orthodox Church, after Pavel called Lukashenka to stop the violence and visited a hospital to see injured protesters. The newly appointed leader, Metropolitan Venyamin, is considered to be loyal to Lukashenka.
Orthodox Christians are the largest religious group in Belarus. Belarusian Catholics mostly live in the west, where Polish influence was historically significant.
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