Freedom Of Belief In Belarus In 2014

беларусыThe Context

Belarusian society has following characteristics of religious affiliation and practice:

weak religious activity accompanied by weak relation between religion and everyday life;

Sociology studies and public polls of Belarusian people as usually show low results for this criterion. Thus, in research made by Gallup in 2009 Belarus took 11th place of 114 countries with lowest degree of influence of religion on everyday life[1].  According to the “observations”[2] conducted in 2007-2011 by the Infromation Analytical Centre only 11.5% of population are religiously active. Judging by the number of religious organizations per capita Belarus also falls back behind such countries as, for example, Romania, Ukraine, Latvia – in Belarus there is one parish per 2887 people, while the aforementioned countries have 1014, 1321 and 1775 respectively) [3]. There is 4574 people per priest in Belarus, while Poland and Ukraine have 1242 and 2614 respectively [4].

policonfessionality with a significant dominance of Orthodox Christianity and considerable presence of Catholicism and Protestantism of Evangelist type;

Due to the lack of data about religious affiliation in the census the only reliable data is a number of registered communities. By January, 1st 2014 the Orthodox communities made 49,24% (1615) of all religious communities, Catholics – 14,88% (488) and Protestants 27,65% (907), among them Pentecostals making 15,85% (520) and Baptists – 8,75%  (287)5.

The public polls representing respondents’ self-identification without registering cult practice and connection with religious communities and values show that Orthodox worshippers make 81% of the population, Catholics 10,5%, others – 2%6 (alternative data: 78,8, 11,1 and 0,7% respectively7). Sometimes another figures are given by official sources: 80, 14 and 2% among 50% of the population relating themselves with religion 8 (i.e, 40, 7 и 1% of population in total).

Besides, the research shows an extremely high level of support of the Orthodox Church9, especially in comparison with other social institutions but the share of people trusting the Orthodox Church is at least 15% fewer than Orthodox believers that talks of a significant mistrust to the church and the low degree of ecclesiastism of the believers10.

heterogeneity of quality indicators of religiousness depending on confessional massives

The Orthodoxes being at least a nominal majority show much weaker connection with religious community in comparison with Catholics and Protestants. It is represented in the research on socioculture strategies (faith as a value, resource and identity), conducted in 2007 for the worshippers of different confessions: this connection exists among 21,1% of the Orthodox, 38,1% of Catholics and 79,6% of Protestants11. Religios activity (expressed by the regularity of church visits) also differs among the different confessions: according to the research conducted by IISEPS12 , 90,9% of Protestants visit the church more often than once in a month, 55% of Catholics and pnly 22% of the Orthodoxes.

regional heterogeneity

Religiousness and the number of communities differ depending on the region whic is first of all connected with historically heterogenous development of Eastern and Western Belarus in the first half of the XXth century: being a part of the Polish Republic during the interwar period the Western Belarus retained a great potential, diversity and infrastructure of church life despite the pressure on the part of Polish authorities when at the same time BSSR, being a part of the Soviet Union, suffered an unprecedented destruction of institution of religion during the 20s and 30s.

The researcher Ozem13  who conducted the territorial distribution of religious communities in Belarus notices that concerning large urban centres, the West-East trend loses its topicality and the territorial heterogeneity has several tendencies: for example, the Protestant cpmmunities are less popular in “Catholic” regions. There are local communities in Belarus and regions with Orthodox minorities are les prominent (e.g., several districts of Hrodna region). It is worth mentioning  the specific confessional profiles of Hrodna (Orthodox-Catholic) and Brest (Orthodox-Protestant) regions. In several large rural centres the influence of Protestant churches is domineering (agrovillage Alshany, where more than half of population (7500) are Pentecostals14).

Law context

The law context is created by the norms given by the common and special legal acts and also by legal practice that can be described as repressive legal acts providing restriction of religious activities and not corresponding to the international standards of freedom of belief. At the same time, these norms are applied/not applied selectively.

 Foreign priests

For example, the law provides following provisions in respect of foreign priests: 1) A religious orgaization may be headed only by Belarusian citizen (p.13 of Law of Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations15); 2) there is a special procedure of inviting a foreign citizen for implementing religious activity, stated in the Charter of procedure of inviting foreign citizens and persons without nationality to the Republic of Belarus for participation in religious activities that stipulates the necessity of reconciliation with the Plenipotentiary for religious and nationalities affairs and this invitation can only be “temporary”. The decision for extending of visas and permits lies fully in the competence of a single office that can ignore needs of the religious organization and is not obliged to express its decisions, which makes the process an arbitrary one.

In case of the head of Belarusian Orthodox Church Metropolitan Paul (Ponomaryov) these norms are overlooked. He a) being a citizen of the Russian Federation resides in the Republic of Belarus and is involved in religious activity b) not included in the list provided by the Charter for the foreign priests c) has a living permit for a 2 years term16 d) and is the head of a religious organization despite the direct restriction of Law of Freedom of Conscience. The authorities keep status quo in the given situation the consequences of which are not known17.


Concerning the servants of the Catholic Church, they are often refused of giving the permits for religious activity (in 2014 the permit had been refused for f. Roman Schultz, who has served for 7 years at St. Kazimir and Yadviga in Mahilyow and to the Franciscan friar who was giong to serve Ivyanets, Minsk region. After the protests of the citizens the f. Shultz’s permission was extended first till December, 20th 2014 and then till June, 20th 2015)18.



Compulsory state registration

One of the most painful elements of the existing legislation is the requirement of the compulsory state registration (p.1619). Desite the fact that the element of offence relating to the activity of a religious organization without a state permission was taken out of the 1st part of the p. 9.9 of the Administrative Code in the beginning of 2011, the administrative persecution of the unregistered organizations goes on on the basis of the other paragraphs. Thus, in 2014 the Homel city court took disciplinary actions against leaders and members of Baptist community that does not register due to its religious doctrine. Thus for holding a prayer meeting a disciplinary actions had been taken against A.A. Zalatarow (part 2 of p. 23.34 of Administrative Code – violation of of the procedure of organization and holding a meeting), O.V. Danilewsky and D.V. Sidarenka (part 1 of p. 23.34 of Administrative Code – violation of of the procedure of organization and holding a meeting)20. In December of 2014 the Jehovah’s Witness Kuzin, whose community made numerous attempts at registering, was fined for the same paragraph, after a police raid made at one of the meetings21. Despite the fact that “religious meetings” and “other meetings” are not included in the list of p.23.34 it is widely used in persecution of the unregistered communities22.

Another paragraph used for the persecution of such communities is paragraph 21.16, setting a liability for a no-purpouse usage of living premises – in 2014 Homel Baptist A.V. Tupalsky was fined by it (part 1 of p. 21-60 of Administrative Code – violation of rules of usage of living premises).

Since 2005 a criminal liability is provided for an unregistered activity (p. 193-1 of Penal Code23). Today there are no such punishments known, but there were warnings given public prosecutor’s office and cases started (later ceased). Forum 18 counts 7 such cases since 201024. Although none of these cases were finished the possibility of such measure threatens the members of unregistered communities.

Religious (un)tolerance

The topic of religious tolerance is actively exploited by Belarusian officials and in the public discourse in general: Belarusians are tolerant people, there is an interreligious peace and concordance in the country. In June of 2014 the IVth meeting of Orthodox-Catholic “Religion and cultural pluralism”25 took place in Minsk with a panel dedicated to the freedom of religion and belief and a conference “Tolerance and concordance between nationalities” took place in December at the Academy of Science26.

Although there are cases of intolerance and religion-motivated hatred. Thus, in December of 2014 a sinagogue in Homel was desecrated by antisemitic graffities27.

The representatives of religious organizations are not always examples of religious tolerance as well. For example, the new Head of BOC Metropolitan Paul during one of his speeches called for “reporting to the police” about the Jehovah’s Witnesses and called them a “totalitarian harmful sect” that “does an enormous harm to the people and to the society on the whole” and the main goals of which are “concentration of wealth and enticement of new adepts”28.

The statte officials not always use a neutral tone concerning the religious organizations. During his speech at the closing meeting dedicated to the work of the religion and nationalities affairs authorities in 2014, Leanid Hulyaka, the Plenipotentiary for affairs of religions and nationalities allowed himself to use quite rude tone concerning the leaders of the Catholic Church in Belarus29. This episode caused reaction from the Catholics30  and from the Conference of Catholic bishops of Belarus31, the latter calling the Plenipotentiary’s insinuations a “baseless insult of Catholic Church and  fomentation of religious and national hatred”.

Religious organizations and immunity to the persecutions

After adopting the “Freedom of Conscience” law in 2002 and also during the first phases of persecution the religious organizations that underwent these restrictions were prone to the law’s new mechanisms. Several campaigns supporting the freedom of beliefs were made (a campaign that collected more than 50 thousand signatures, a hunger strike of the “New Life” church in 2005, public complaints of persecution), the heads of several confessions addressed the authorities.

But with the course of time the religious organizations on the whole got used to the existing order of things and try to solve their problems using non-public mechanisms adn avoiding media32. An interesting precedent is made by the case of f. Uladzislaw Lazar being arrested by KGB under suspicion of complicity in high treason, the arrest being reported to the public by Catholic Church in Belarus only 2 months later and after public announcement of President Lukoshhenko and publication of the name of the arrested by independent media33 , with expressing a wish that “this incident will not affect the climate of trust of the Republic of Belarus  to the Holy See and its respect to the Catholic Church”34. In 2014 f. Lazar was released from custody and his case closed.

1 Crabtree, Pelham What Alabamians and Iranians Have in Common //

2 Information Analytical Centre. Public opinion on the national situation.

3 An official data on the number of religious organizations:… (Latvia)  (Poland) (Romania), (Ukraine), (Belarus).

4 Same sources.

5 Report on ethnoconfessional situation in the Republic of Belarus and cooperation with compatriots abroad in 2103. –

6 Information Analytical Centre. Public opinion on the national situation. ––situats…

7 Religion and morality of Belarusians – an IISEPS research  – 09.2010. –



10 Same source.

11 Katsuk N. On methodology of research in socioculture strategies of worshippers of different confessions – Sociology №3, 2008, с.118.


13Ozem G.Z. Territorial structure of religious field and territorial distribution in Belarus. – Abstract of dissertation – Minsk, BSU.2010

14 Ehoraw A. Small towns: who governs? – “Political sphere”, №12/2009, pp.44-55, p. 50.

15 paragraph 13 of the “Freedom of conscience and religious organizations” law of the Republic of Belarus of December 17th of 1992 № 2054-XІІ16



19paragraph 16 of the “Freedom of conscience and religious organizations” law of the Republic of Belarus of December 17th of 1992 № 2054-XІІ16




23 p. 193-1 of Penal Code of the Republic of Belarus of July, 9th 1999 № 275-З












Наталья Василевич,