KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 16 January 2002.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

I. BELARUS: RADIO CHIEF REFUSES TO EXPLAIN CATHOLIC
MASS BROADCAST HALT. The head of Belarus' first national radio
channel refused to explain to Keston News Service on 14 January why the
regular Sunday morning live transmission of the Catholic Mass from a
church in the capital Minsk was abruptly halted ahead of the 6 January
transmission. An independent Minsk paper linked the cancellation of the
broadcast to the government's efforts to protect Russian Orthodoxy and
curtail the growth of "non-traditional" religions. Father Vladislav
Zavalnyuk, who regularly led the service, told Keston he was "very
optimistic" that the "misunderstanding" would be resolved and that the
broadcasting of the Mass would resume on a regular basis.

II. BELARUS: EDITOR DEFENDS ANTI-CATHOLIC ARTICLE. The
editor of Vitebsky Rabochy (Vitebsk Worker), a newspaper owned by the
local administration in the north-eastern town of Vitebsk which carried an
unsigned article attacking the Catholic Church and calling for a halt to its
activities, has strongly defended his paper's decision to publish it. "It
wasn't religious intolerance. The article contained only facts," Vladimir
Romanovsky told Keston News Service on 16 January. A journalist at the
Vitebsky Kurier, a rival, non-state paper, told Keston the same day that
his paper had published a rebuttal of the Vitebsky Rabochy article on 4
January. "We believe their article was anti-Catholic and incited religious
hatred. We believe all denominations must be equal."

I. BELARUS: RADIO CHIEF REFUSES TO EXPLAIN CATHOLIC
MASS BROADCAST HALT

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The head of Belarus' first national radio channel, Vladimir Martynov, has
refused to explain to Keston News Service why the regular Sunday
morning live transmission of the Catholic Mass was abruptly halted ahead
of the scheduled 6 January transmission. The Belarusian-language Mass
led by Father Vladislav Zavalnyuk from the church of Sts Simon and
Helen in the capital Minsk - which has been broadcast regularly for the
past eight years � was not broadcast on Sunday 13 January either. "You
have incorrect information," Martynov told Keston by telephone from
Minsk on 14 January. "You must have been talking to Mr Zavalnyuk."
Asked why transmission of the Mass had stopped, who had ordered it and
whether his statement meant that transmission would soon resume,
Martynov refused to answer all further questions and put the phone down.
An Orthodox priest confirmed to Keston that their two weekly radio
broadcasts on the same channel are continuing.

Yelena Babak, head of cultural broadcasting at the first national radio,
also declined to say who had ordered the cancellation of the Catholic
Mass broadcast. Speaking to Keston by telephone from Minsk on 16
January, she denied that the state authorities, the KGB or the Orthodox
Church had put pressure on the station. She claimed there was nothing
special in the decision and that it was merely part of their "renewal of the
schedules". "We didn't close it down." She claimed they were working on
a new weekly 15-minute programme where a Catholic priest would give a
sermon. Asked which Catholic representatives they had discussed the new
plans with she admitted they had not discussed them with the Catholic
Church. "We're not discussing it with anyone." She admitted that her
station had received "signals" from listeners about the cancellation of the
Mass broadcast but said she had not counted how many.

Father Zavalnyuk told Keston from Minsk on 15 January that he was
"very optimistic" that the "misunderstanding" would be resolved and that
the broadcasting of the Mass would resume on a regular basis. "We hope
for a sensible solution." He pointed out that the broadcast had many
listeners among the elderly and the sick who could not come to church.
"They like to pray at home. Such broadcasts are quite normal in Western
countries and should be here also."

The first Father Zavalnyuk knew about the cancellation of the programme
was when a radio official informed him verbally on 26 December that as
of 1 January the broadcast was being halted. "They gave just childish
reasons - no substantive reasons at all," he told Keston. Asked why he
believed the broadcast had been cancelled, he declared: "I don't know. I'm
not competent to say - the decision was taken by the radio station. I could
speculate, but we have received no concrete reasons."

The independent Minsk paper Nasha Svaboda linked the cancellation of
the broadcast to the government's efforts to enforce a 1995 Cabinet of
Ministers decree that restricts the activities of religious workers in an
attempt to protect Russian Orthodoxy and curtail the growth of "non-
traditional" religions. As radio officials have refused to discuss the
cancellation openly, Keston has been unable to confirm or deny this
claim.

Father Zavalnyuk told Keston he did not know whether the decision to
halt the broadcast was linked to the anti-Catholic article published at the
end of last year in the newspaper of the local administration in Vitebsk,
Belarus' fourth-largest town (see separate KNS article).

Most broadcasting stations in Belarus are state-controlled. National
television has no regular religious broadcasts, but the first national radio
channel broadcasts regular Orthodox readings and music on Saturday
evenings. Some FM radio stations also occasionally carry Christian
programming.

Asked why he believed Catholics were the only denomination with
regular broadcast services, Father Zavalnyuk declared: "Our liturgy is
more compact - we need only 53 minutes. The Orthodox liturgy needs at
least two hours." He said the Orthodox broadcasts were currently
organised by laypeople, but that if the Orthodox Church wanted to
broadcast its services regularly he believed they would receive
permission.

Archimandrite Ioann of the Belarusian Exarchate of the Moscow
Patriarchate confirmed that his church had no regular broadcasts on
television except the Christmas and Easter liturgies. He told Keston from
Minsk on 15 January that the first national radio channel broadcast a half-
hour programme on Saturday evenings and a fifteen-minute sermon
which he gave on Sunday mornings. He said such broadcasts had
continued on the two Sundays this year and had no reason to believe they
too would be halted. He told Keston he was unaware that transmission of
the Catholic Mass had stopped.

Archimandrite Ioann said his Church had never asked for regular
broadcasts of services. "Our liturgy is too long and would need at least
two hours on a Sunday morning." (END)

II. BELARUS: EDITOR DEFENDS ANTI-CATHOLIC ARTICLE

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The editor of Vitebsky Rabochy (Vitebsk Worker), a newspaper owned
by the local administration in the north-eastern town of Vitebsk which
carried an unsigned article attacking the Catholic Church and calling for a
halt to its activities, has strongly defended his paper's decision to publish
it. "It wasn't religious intolerance. The article contained only facts,"
Vladimir Romanovsky told Keston News Service by telephone from
Vitebsk on 16 January. The newspaper article appeared just days after the
decision to cancel weekly transmission of the Mass from Minsk (see
separate KNS article).

The Vitebsky Rabochy article - entitled "Curb Catholic Expansion!" and
published in the paper's last issue of the year - claimed that Catholics
represent a serious threat to "traditional" Russian Orthodoxy, thus
affecting the "country's security and psychological health of Belarusians,
particularly the young generation." The article called on the authorities to
take "concrete steps" to protect Russian Orthodoxy, arguing that Catholic
institutions should be banned since, "in particular, they are liable to entice
our children from Orthodoxy into Catholicism."

Romanovsky refused to tell Keston who wrote the article, saying only that
the author was a journalist. He denied that the article had been written by
anyone in the local administration, the KGB or the Orthodox Church.
"The journalist wrote it himself," he declared after some hesitation. "It
was his idea to write it." Asked how Catholicism harmed Belarus' security
and the psychological health of the population, Romanovsky referred to
signatures that were currently being collected (an apparent reference to a
petition to build a new Catholic church in the town which is opposed by
some local Orthodox) but refused to elaborate. Asked how the local
administration could promote such views, he said the paper was owned by
the administration but the journalists had the right to decide themselves
what to say. He resolutely refused to discuss further the content of the
article and put the phone down.

A journalist at the Vitebsky Kurier, a rival, non-state paper, told Keston
the same day that his paper had published a rebuttal of the Vitebsky
Rabochy article on 4 January. "We believe their article was anti-Catholic
and incited religious hatred. We believe all denominations must be
equal." The journalist - who preferred not to be named - said this was the
first such article locally attacking the Catholic Church. "The local
authorities founded Vitebsky Rabochy. We are surprised they allowed the
publication of such an article."

Last year, a series of documentaries on state-owned television, entitled
"Expansion", targeted Protestants, primarily Pentecostals, as well as
Catholics, as "destructive groups" that engage in "fanatical rituals" and
"pose a threat to society". Another series shown on state television
accused Protestant churches of engaging in human sacrifices and
poisoning children. Protestant groups were called "agents of the West"
who should be banned from Belarus. Efforts by Catholic and Protestant
groups to halt these broadcasts were rejected by the authorities and the
courts.

According to the State Committee for Religious and Ethnic Affairs, some
15 to 20 percent of the Belarusian population are either Catholics or
identify themselves with the Catholic Church, making it the second
largest religious group after the Russian Orthodox. Cardinal Kazimierz
Swiatek, Archbishop of the Minsk-Mogilev Archdiocese, heads the
approximately 400 Catholic parishes. (END)

Copyright (c) 2002 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.