~ 29 June 2008 ~

In search of religion without a license

Karl Marx thought of religion as the opiate of the masses, but it is his offspring who have become intoxicated on the suppression of religion.

Take Belarus, for example.  The former Soviet “Republic” seems anything less than a free society these days.  Its president, Alexander Lukashenko, is known in some circles as Europe’s last great dictator, and is no friend to religious freedom.

Belarus’ government required in 2002 that all religious activity be registered — a practice not unlike the one in place during the Soviet regime.  Registration is, of course, much more than just giving a name and an email address.  Registration creates lists, and to be on a list in a country that leans Marxist is not a good thing.  It didn’t take long for violations of this law to pop up.

The past few weeks haven’t improved upon this track record:

Belarus has imposed a fine of more than two months’ average wages on a Baptist who “organised choir singing and conducted conversations on religious topics” outside Ushachi public market, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. After a plain clothes policeman told a group of Baptists from outside the area to stop, Vladimir Burshtyn replied that they were not disturbing public order and cited religious freedom guarantees in Belarus’ Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The fine is, to Forum 18’s knowledge, the highest yet imposed on Baptists for unregistered religious activity. Higher fines have been imposed on members of other communities. Olga Karchevskaya, an official who witnessed the incident, defended the state’s response and the Religion Law’s restrictions because “we need to know who’s coming to us – they could be destructive or acting against people’s interests.” In a separate incident, a Baptist congregation’s worship in Osipovichi was interrupted by officials, and the congregation’s deacon was fined about two week’s average wages for leading an unregistered religious community.

The wall has come down, the “bear” has been put to rest. Perhaps, however, some remnants of the Cold War weren’t quite as thawed as we thought…

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