Speaking to the parishioners of the Minsk Church of St. Optina Elders on Christmas Day, Lukashenko, according to his press service, «spoke, among other things, on a number of issues relevant to the nation and on events in the region and the world.»
The ecclesiastical issue in neighboring Ukraine was raised in a geopolitical context as the preservation of sovereignty in «close connection with our closest friends and brothers» Russia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. And if in Kazakhstan Lukashenko sees himself engaged in ending the «fratricidal war» and establishing peace through the «peacekeeping forces» of the CSTO, then he is going to assist Ukraine in the field of religious politics, without mentioning, however, which peacekeeping forces he will use:
«We need to do everything possible to return Ukraine to the bosom of our true faith. And there, even in religious areas, such a split has occurred that it will be very difficult to overcome. This is what they wanted to present to us in 2020 – autocephaly, the splitting of our church, and so on and so forth. You know all this. We circumvented it, and I would not want this to happen to our neighbors.»
By itself, this paragraph is full of contradictions and resembles the level of comprehension of the essence of «Bykov’s poems» and «Skorina in St. Petersburg.» First Lukashenko says that Ukraine has already experienced a challenging split «along religious lines,» that is, autocephaly, which «they wanted to present to us in 2020,» but «we circumvented it.» And then he continues in the future tense and in the subjunctive: «I would not want this to happen to our neighbors.»
What exactly happened and which neighbors are we talking about? If we are talking about Ukraine, then what should not be repeated there? The split «along religious lines» that «we circumvented» has already happened? Another autocephaly? If other «neighbors» are meant, then which of them is Lukashenko going to save from autocephaly? Poland? The Orthodox Church has been autocephalous there since the 1920s. Maybe Russia? But even there the church has been autocephalous since at least the 16th century.
Yes, and Belarus he saved from «autocephaly» was an imaginary one that exists only in the minds of propagandists for the sake of whipping up moral panic in a narrow circle of Orthodox believers, forming in their eyes a heroic image of him as a defender of the faith and the church. Inventing non-existent threats and then defeating them is a convenient strategy, since you do not need to make any effort to win but can still take credit for maintaining the status quo. The only thing is that in imagined versions it is more difficult to stick to the legend, which leads to inconsistencies. Just as he is now preventing autocephaly, last May the leader of Belarus saved the city of Vilnius from an imaginary terrorist attack by «Hamas soldiers» intent on blowing up a Ryanair plane. Instead of a letter from Ahmed Yurlanov, propagandists must dig up incomprehensible texts in caches somewhere, bestowing authenticity on them by pasting a photo of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.
The level of plausibility of fake stories is comparable. Moreover, since there is not enough evidence, propagandists must resort to undermining directly and falsification.
The fake story regarding autocephaly has been launched by the propaganda machine with enviable regularity, and not only in Belarus. The article «Signal button of Belarusian autocephaly» considers a several such informational occasions and lays out the reasons why a non-existent threat becomes so convenient for propaganda.
The constant pushing of the subject of autocephaly results in justifiable alarm. If the regime talks about a kind of threat, it means that someone is going to be arrested, searched, persecuted, or somehow restricted. This is how the Hamas threat arose to justify the landing of a Ryanair plane and to take journalist Roman Protasevich hostage. The threat of coronavirus is used by the authorities when it is necessary to limit the possibility of visiting a lawyer in prison, the presence of observers at polling stations, and the travel of citizens abroad. The threat to rehabilitate Nazism is launched to ban protest symbols, e.g., the white-red-white flag and the anthem «A Mighty God.» The threat of extremism is promoted so that it becomes possible to imprison any person for a comment or a repost.
Since there is no real movement towards autocephaly in Belarus, there is no obvious group that could be subjected to targeted persecution. It should be noted first, however, that among believers and in society, dissatisfaction with the hierarchy of the Belarusian Orthodox Church (BOC) is really growing in connection with the current political crisis, and the level of trust in the BOC is declining at a catastrophic pace. This has been confirmed through various sociological studies. Second, among believers and clergy of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, there is indeed a high percentage of those who are dissatisfied with the existing regime and the level of violence and lawlessness in the country, along with those who have stated their dissatisfaction openly. Even though this has nothing to do with the movement for autocephaly, still it is on such people that an additional label is hung, allowing the regime to play it safe.
Since there is no real movement for autocephaly in Belarus, there is no obvious group that could be subjected to targeted persecution. However, it should be noted that, firstly, among believers and in society as a whole, dissatisfaction with the hierarchy of the Belarusian Orthodox Church is really growing in connection with the current political crisis, and the level of trust in the BOC is declining at a catastrophic pace, such dynamics are recorded by various sociological studies. Secondly, among the believers and clergy of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, there is indeed a fairly high percentage of those who are dissatisfied with the existing regime and the level of violence and lawlessness in the country, and not only those who are dissatisfied, but also openly declared this. Despite the fact that this has nothing to do with the movement for autocephaly, nevertheless, it is on such people that an additional label is hung, allowing you to play it safe.
The persecution of these priests is already in full swing and on a broad scale. They burst into the apartments of priests with searches, priests are summoned for interrogation to the KGB or to local ideologists, they are threatened, criminal cases are initiated against them, and they are forced to sign non-disclosure agreements so that information about the persecution does not come out. Because otherwise, instead of the image of a «defender of the true faith» desired by the regime, the image of a «persecutor of the church» may take hold.
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