Thursday, September 4, 2003

Belarus: Resuscitating the Soviet Machine.

Date: Thursday 4 September 2003
Subj: Belarus: Resuscitating the Soviet Machine.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


- President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

In a 27 March 2003 speech, Lukashenka said, "Ideology for a state is what the immune system is for a living organism. If the immune system grows weaker, any infection, even the slightest one, turns deadly." He added that the inculcation of an official state-controlled ideology into the country's citizens was essential to protect Belarus from any possible "infection".


President Lukashenka has determined that he will impose his "official Belarusian ideology" on the people of Belarus. The official ideology is to be taught in schools, universities and workplaces; through the media and the Orthodox Church. (President Lukashenka describes himself as an "Orthodox atheist".)

According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), "Lukashenka said the Belarusian state ideology should incorporate the 'basis' of the Soviet-era ideology." (RFE/RL Newsline14 Aug 2003) He has also described the Soviet system as good and something that should not have been abandoned. (Link 1)

On 13 August 2003 Lukashenka convened a conference to discuss a draft presidential decree "On the system of state governing bodies and other organizations carrying out ideological work in the Republic of Belarus". The Belarusian Review reports, "On the practical side, Lukashenka said he has already made the necessary appointments to put the entire ideological machinery into operation. Lukashena advised rectors of both state-run and private universities to get rid of professors and lecturers who oppose government policies or are 'wavering' in their opinions regarding the government's course. 'If you do not accept the ideas declared by the government and the president, do not apply to a state university for a job,' Lukashenka said explicitly." (Link 1)

On 1 September 2003, the new mandatory subject - The Basis of Belarusian Ideology - was introduced to all Belarusian state-run and private Universities.

Belarus' new official ideology will also be taught in the workplace. "Reaching man's soul and mind is a great art and a hard work," said Lukashenka, stressing that no unit of the society can do without a deputy director for political instruction. Lukashenka plans to employ several thousand ideological instructors to work on staff in all enterprises and organizations with more than 300 employees, and every state-run farm with more than 150 farmers. He says that in some cases, directors will combine the jobs of an ideologist and a leader.


Taras Kuzio has written an article for the Foreign Policy Association entitled "Belarus: Consolidated Authority" (Link 2). In it, Kuzio comments on the symbiotic relationship between the Orthodox Church and the State.

Kuzio writes, "Along with the very evident attachment to the Soviet and Belarusian Soviet past and attitudes, is Lukashenka's eastern Slavic ideology. In this ideology, religion and language are critical--and both lead to Russia. As in Russia, the state church in Belarus is the Belarusian (i.e. Russian) Orthodox Church. Its Metropolitan, who answers to the patriarch in Moscow, regularly praises Lukashenka for his Russophile and pan-eastern Slavic ideology. And indeed, in January, Lukashenka described his state ideology not as Communist, but as 'Orthodox Christian'. He praised the Belarusian Orthodox Church for opposing 'destructive forces', cooperating with the authorities, and contributing to stability.

"'Numerous benefits' have been conferred on the church, and the state in return enjoys its cooperation. As Prime Minister Gennady Novitsky said after a new agreement with the church was signed on 15 June [12 June - EK], 'cooperation between the state and the Orthodox Church' has now been placed 'on a systematic level'."

Forum 18 has reported on this Church/State agreement. "An 'Agreement on Co-operation between the Republic of Belarus and the Belarusian Orthodox Church' was signed on 12 June by Prime Minister Gennadi Novitsky and Metropolitan Filaret (Vakhromeyev) of Minsk and Slutsk, who reportedly hailed it as 'a blank cheque to develop co-operation programmes with all branches of power'."

According to Forum 18, "the agreement endorses collaboration between the Orthodox Church and the Ministries of Education, Culture, Health, Labour, Information, Internal Affairs, Defence, Natural Resources, and the Ministry for Emergencies. The most significant (concept) is in Article 1, in which the state guarantees the Orthodox Church 'right of ecclesiastical jurisdiction on its canonical territory'." (This means that the Orthodox Church will have rights over all things religious in all of Belarus.) Church and state bodies will now work together in their common fight against "neo-cultic doctrines" and "pseudo-religious structures". (Link 3)


Kuzio also comments on the effect Lukashenka's pro-Soviet ideology has on Belarus' Jewish community. "The Soviet authorities in Soviet Belarus were particularly noted for their 'anti-Zionist' propaganda crusades, which were little more than thinly veiled anti-Semitism. Lukashenka's support for Arab rogue states is an outgrowth of his anti-Israeli ideology. Belarusian newspapers and publishers have also achieved a reputation for publishing anti-Semitic literature, including the notorious tsarist forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Russian fascist parties, such as Russian National Unity, have been allowed to operate openly in Belarus and have been involved in violence against the opposition. The effect at street level is that the worst desecration of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues and expressions of race hate in the Commonwealth of Independent States have been in Belarus."


At his August ideology conference, Lukashenka emphasized the significant role of radio and television in this "struggle of ideologies". (Link 1)

On 2 September, RFE/RL reported that a media crackdown was underway in Belarus. "Zhanna Litvina, head of the Belarusian Union of Journalists, told RFE/RL she sometimes feels as if she is living in a time warp. Over the past two years, half of the country's independent media outlets have been shut down. Even Russian television and radio broadcasts, heavily watched due to their more balanced news coverage and better entertainment features, are having their local air time cut.

"'It would have been hard for me to imagine, say eight years ago, that this propaganda machine could be resuscitated to such a degree and that the methods used in communist times could be so easily taken up again. Belarus is an example of how easily this can be done, and it is dangerous,' Litvina said." (Link 4)

In an attempt to draw attention to their plight, Belarus's remaining independent journalists will stage a walkout on 19 September 2003 - the International Day of Solidarity With Journalists.

Not all those in Belarusian media are upset. Some agree with Lukashenka that the state alone should determine a citizen's ideology. Kuzio reports, "Ryhor Kisel, the head of State Channel 2 (and former head of State Channel 1), reportedly explained: 'We cannot allow the privatization of ideology, or subjects and objects of ideology. This should remain under the state's influence'." (Link 2)


RFE/RL reports, "Zhanna Litvina (head of the Belarusian Union of Journalists) believes that Lukashenka, now midway through his second term, is laying the groundwork for eliminating a constitutional ban on seeking a third mandate. 'It means that the president is very keen on controlling public opinion, to control the consciousness of the 10 million citizens of this country,' she said. 'There must be no dissent because at some key upcoming point, perhaps a referendum or a new presidential campaign, citizens will have to be obedient. And a person cannot make an informed choice when he or she is deprived of information.'" (Link 4)

According to RFE/RL, Tatsiana Protska, at the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, also believes the motivation is political. Opposition deputy Valery Frolov told Belarus Today, "Lukashenko is trying to subordinate the country so there will be no different opinions." (Link 5)


The language of this campaign is toxic and ominous. Ideologies not in line with Lukashenko's will surely be deemed "infections", anti-state and dangerous. There will be campaigns against "privatisation of ideology" and friends of "liberal terrorists". ("liberal terror" - see link 1).

That this Soviet machine, which was once considered dead and buried, could be resuscitated so quickly is truly frightening and exceedingly dangerous nationally, regionally and possibly globally. Perestroika (openness) and the fall of Communism in Europe saw the subsequent embrace of freedom and growth of the evangelical Church. This resuscitation, which really amounts to national degeneration, is a world-class tragedy.

Elizabeth Kendal


1) Returning to Good Old Ideology
By Jan Maksymiuk. Belarusian Review. 2 September 2003
archived in RFE/RL (April 2003, Volume  5, Number  12 - second article)

2) Belarus: Consolidated Authority
Foreign Policy Association 20 June 2003

3) BELARUS: New concordat gives Orthodox enhanced status
Forum 18 News Service. 24 June 2003
By Geraldine Fagan, Moscow Correspondent
Belarus, Orthodox Church sign deal boosting Church's standing
MINSK June 13, 2003 (AP),%20Orthodox%20Church.htm

4) Belarus: Authorities Launch Further Crackdown On Independent
Media, NGOs
By Jeremy Bransten. Prague, 2 September 2003 (RFE/RL)

5) Lukashenko Orders Belarus Workers to Ideology Class
Belarus Today. 19 Aug 2003