The events of this summer have affected all aspects of life, not leaving the religious sphere on the sidelines. Churches make special and joint prayers, representatives of different confessions and priests come forward with statements, address the state authorities, visit the detained and injured during the protests, speak to the mass media. Many statements and versions appeared in the mass media on the change of the head of the Belarusian Orthodox Church. In this regard, "Zvezda" asked the analyst of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Research, the candidate of sociological sciences, associate professor Svetlana Aleinikova to answer several questions.
- What, in your opinion, are the peculiarities of the society attitude towards religion in Belarus?
The peculiarity of the Belarusian society is that we have the majority of the population (according to different measurements from 70 to 75 percent) identifying themselves as Orthodox. At the same time, we have more Orthodox than believers in God and Orthodoxy itself safely coexist with elements of paganism and spirituality, belief in UFOs, corruption, palmistry, reincarnation, etc.
This mosaic of religious beliefs of the Belarusians is linked to our history, when the religion often became a "bargaining chip" in the struggle of the neighboring countries for the Belarusian lands. This formed the hidden, implicit, but the deep nature of the "public" Belarusian Orthodoxy, which today is one of the pillars of our national identity. The Church itself traditionally occupies a leading position in the ratings of the level of public confidence. Many people connect their expectations regarding the formation of the basic values, traditions, historical memory of the society with the Church.
- How did the events of the recent weeks affect the inter-confessional and inter-religious relations in our country?
We are accustomed to the fact that the tolerance to different beliefs and cultures is a visiting card of the Belarusians, a peculiar brand of our country. The religious fabric of the society has formed for centuries, inter-religious relations in the Republic of Belarus are stable, and the confessional structure of the Belarusian society over the past five to ten years did not change significantly, indicating its maturity and stability.
How much the attitude of the society to the Church and other faiths has changed (if changed) will be fairly accurately shown by the sociological measurements, however, I’ll venture to suggest that even in the event of visible changes, these will be temporary. The society is electrified, it is experiencing constant "pumping" and manipulative impact of the information field, and therefore is prone to emotional evaluations.
Public opinion polls will allow to determine the actual role of the religion and the extent of its influence on the current political processes without attributing it the desirable, but not always corresponding to reality, features and functions. This would help not only the public, but also the Church, to understand its actual place in the modern society.
- What is the danger of the state intervention in the internal affairs of the Church?
That’s an interesting question. Depending on what to consider as interference or non-interference of the state. For example, the fact that the Church in the Republic of Belarus is exempt from property tax and land tax - is this state intervention?
Is restoration of architectural monuments, including churches by the State a state intervention? Complete disengagement of the state is an American liberal model of church-state relations, when the religious services market is absolutely free and no one (as many think) controls it. On the one hand, it seems to be attractive; on the other hand, in the mid-1990s we have treaded this path and faced an abrupt increase in sects, neo-cults and new religious movements, some of which, as we remember, were destructive, and the offices of the most of them were and are in the United States.
At the same time, according to the Law of the Republic of Belarus "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations", "the state does not impose upon the religious organizations the performance of any public functions, does not interfere in the activities of religious organizations, if they do not contradict the legislation of the Republic of Belarus". The church itself determines its structure, the order of worship, internal control, etc.
- Should and can the Church stay away from the political processes in the society?
It is better to say the words of the Church itself, the provisions of its Social Concept, which states that "in the relationship between the Church and the State the difference in their natures should be taken into account... The purpose of the Church is the eternal salvation of people, the purpose of the state is their earthly well-being". To Expect or, even more, to demand from the Church some short-term statements, adjustment to the political situation means not to understand the nature and the purpose of the Church. These are two organisms with very different objectives and vision of their roles in this world.
Any religion is a stable model of reproduction of such basic categories as the values, family, attitude to work, neighbors, etc. The Orthodoxy and the Church as a social model are the closest to the concept of the social state. Embedding this model in the strategic directions of the development of our state will contribute to the implementation of the common goals.
- How do you assess the recent change of the Belarusian Orthodox Church leadership?
There’s nothing supernatural, because we have already experienced one shift of the Patriarchal Exarch, when in 2013, Metropolitan Filaret was succeeded by Metropolitan Paul. This is a natural process for any organization, development path, movement forward. A scientist and an analyst might be interested in the analysis of the possible layouts, internal movements and upcoming reshuffle. For non-religious person, most likely, this event will generally go unnoticed, but for the believer, the main thing is the temple, prayer, the opportunity to feel in the bosom of the Church.
- In your opinion, will the development course of the Belarusian Orthodox Church change with the change of its leader?
Probably, it is too early to talk about it. The more so, on the external contour the Belarusian Orthodox Church (Belarusian Exarchate) is not an independent entity, being a structural unit of the Russian Orthodox Church, in modern language - the territorial office. And the Russian Orthodox Church is now experiencing hard times associated with the split of the Orthodox world and division of the Orthodox local churches on the issue of the Ukrainian Tomos.
At the same time, the new Patriarchal Exarch is a compromise figure for the boiling Belarusian society and his word will be significant more than ever. Taking into account that for the first time the Patriarchal Exarch of Belarus is the Belarusian native and a graduate of the Belarusian spiritual establishment, many people associate the expectations of a new stage in the development of the national spiritual tradition: issues of education, publishing activities, international recognition of the Belarusian holy sites.
- How do you predict the change in society's attitude to religious organizations after overcoming the socio-political crisis in Belarus?
We are now in the paradigm of overcoming right now, sooner or later we will return to the paradigm of development. Crisis in Greek means a turning point, the starting point of a new path. The Church has accumulated vast experience in working with the most vulnerable strata of the population, has the highest level of trust in the society and has considerable potential for volunteering. By its nature, it stands above the clashes and trenches. This may be one of the main common grounds and the "reset" of the relations between the society, the Church and the State.