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Churches split over Belarus election result

13 August 2020

Widespread clashes as Lukashenko’s victory is disputed

pa

Women hold flowers on Wednesday in support of those detained and injured after protests against the election results

Women hold flowers on Wednesday in support of those detained and injured after protests against the election results

ORTHODOX leaders have welcomed the declared victory of President Alexander Lukashenko in Sunday’s disputed election in Belarus, as other Churches appealed for dialogue to halt violence between security forces and protesters.

“Compatriots place great hopes in you to protect the sovereignty of Belarus, while preserving our nation’s spiritual and cultural heritage,” Metropolitan Pavel Ponomarev of Minsk & Slutsk, the Patriarchal Exarch of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, told President Lukashenko in an open letter.

“Further work on our state system will be carried out with the participation of all healthy forces of society, on the basis of eternal spiritual and moral values formed in the bosom of the Christian tradition.”

The Metropolitan wrote as thousands were left injured and arrested by continuing nationwide violence over the disputed ballot.

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow also sent “heartfelt congratulations” and wished President Lukashenko, who is 65 and has been in power since 1994, “blessed success” in maintaining “fruitful interaction” with Orthodox Christians.

“For many years, you have striven to protect your country’s national interests, caring for its socio-economic development,” Patriarch Kirill told the President. “It is gratifying to note you invariably pay attention to the spiritual and moral state of the people — to the establishment of enduring ideals of mercy, peace, goodness, and justice in society.”

But the Archbishop of Minsk & Mahilyow, Mgr Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, president of the Bishops’ Conference of the minority Roman Catholic Church in Belarus, deplored the “unprecedented tensions” and “spilling of blood in active confrontations”, and offered to mediate.

“For the first time in Belarus’s modern history, brother has raised hand against brother,” the Archbishop said in a Facebook appeal on Tuesday.

“To overcome the crisis, I propose immediately convening an emergency round table to decide the future fate of our fatherland, not on barricades.”

Belarus’s official electoral commission declared President Lukashenko the victor, with more than 80 per cent of votes, against his closest rival, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old teacher, who was said to have won 9.9 per cent.

But the outcome of the ballot, from which international monitors were barred, was rejected by Mrs Tikhanovskaya’s supporters, sparking nationwide protests.

The independent Belsat TV, based in neighbouring Poland, said that armed police, backed by troops and tanks, had used tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades against demonstrators in Minsk, the capital. The BBC reported that beatings and cries of help could be heard as protesters were thrown into police vans.

On Tuesday, the Lithuanian foreign minister, Linas Linkevicius, said that Mrs Tikhanovskaya had taken refuge in his country after appealing for an end to protests, in a video filmed in police detention.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia and leaders from China and several former Soviet republics also congratulated President Lukashenko on his sixth election win, although the United States and the European Union expressed concern over the poll’s fairness and the police crackdown.

Radio Liberty reported that at least 30 Orthodox priests had demanded truthful results. Lay Roman Catholics launched an internet campaign, “Falsification — a grave sin”.

In a website appeal last weekend, Belarus’s United Church of Christians of the Evangelical Faith urged members to “unite in fasting and prayer for fair elections”, and the Full Gospel Church announced a “prayer marathon” until 30 August.

A Minsk-based pastor with the New Life Church, Vyacheslav Goncharenko, told his congregation that the election campaign, during which several opposition candidates had been arrested, had “plunged him into shock”, but that he was confident that “winds of change will come”, Belsat TV reported.

Internet connections with several minority denominations remained unavailable this week in what the online monitor NetBlocks described as a “significant disruption”.

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