KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 7, Article 11, 14 July 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

Summary
BELARUS: MINSK AUTHORITIES BAN CATHOLIC PROCESSION
Following the repeated ban on holding a procession to mark the feast of Corpus
Christi, the Catholics in the Belarusian capital Minsk have now given up the
attempt. The procession was revived in 1991 and held along the same route for
nine years without problems from the government. The official who signed the
ban declined to speak about it, the Committee for Religious Affairs and the
KGB denied having anything to do with it, but the parish priest believes the
reason was �political�.

Friday 14 July 2000
BELARUS: MINSK AUTHORITIES BAN CATHOLIC PROCESSION

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Following the repeated ban on holding a procession to mark the feast of Corpus
Christi, the Catholics in the Belarusian capital Minsk have now given up the
attempt, declaring that it is `too late'. The feast day fell this year on 22 June,
and the Catholics had intended to hold the procession as usual on the following
Sunday, but the city
authorities banned it. An attempt to reschedule the procession for 9 July also
encountered a refusal from the city authorities. A Catholic priest involved in
organising the procession described the decision to ban it as `political'. The
chairman of the State Committee for Religious Affairs and Ethnic Minorities
told Keston News Service from Minsk that the decision to ban the procession
was taken by the city authorities and that his office had nothing to do with it.
He denied that there had been any political motivation for the ban. A KGB
official denied that the KGB had been involved in the decision. A
spokeswoman for the city authorities denied that the ban was targeted at the
Catholic community, claiming that the authorities were
`frightened' that with so many people present at once there might be a
repetition of last year's tragedy; during a rock concert/street festival a sudden
burst of rain drove people to seek shelter in an underpass on the main street and
more
than 50 people died. She was unable to explain whether it was coincidence that
Corpus Christi processions were banned in at least two other locations in
Belarus.

Father ALEKSANDR TARASEVICH, a priest at the Cathedral of the Blessed
Virgin Mary where the Corpus Christi procession was due to end, told Keston
by telephone from Minsk on 13 July that the Catholics had first applied to the
authorities back in May. The procession - which generally attracts about 5,000
Catholics - was planned to follow the usual route from the Church of the Holy
Trinity on Zalataya Horka Street to Victory Square to the Church of St Simeon
and St Helen on Independence Square to the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary.
Unexpectedly, the Minsk City Executive Committee objected to the route,
apparently because it went through the city centre. The first refusal cited an
Executive Committee decision dated December 1999 which bans all
processions on the city's main thoroughfares, whether state-organised
or private. In their reply to the Executive Committee, Father Tarasevich
reported, the Catholics pointed out that they have been taking the same route
for the procession since 1991, when the practice of Corpus Christi processions
in Minsk was revived. `We asked the authorities what believers would say if
we were forced to change the route and go along the backstreets.' The Catholics
were then told verbally and unofficially that the response would again be
negative.

The organisers then agreed to postpone the procession until 9 July and
proposed an alternative route, involving neither Skaryna Avenue nor
Independence Square. Nonetheless, their application was rejected again. This
time, the city authorities cited the organisers' failure to state the expected
number of participants and the exact time of the procession. `We regarded the
notification of the new route as merely
an extension of the original application, which had given all this information,'
Father Tarasevich told Keston. `The only thing that was different from the
original application was the route.' He complains that a `formal flaw' was used
as an excuse to ban the procession and believes the reason was `political'. `We
have always asked permission each year. No-one paid attention to every last
comma in the applications before. Now the situation is different.' Father
Tarasevich confirmed that the refusals were all signed by the deputy mayor,
VIKTOR CHIKIN. He declined to speculate who was behind the decision to
ban the procession.

In a telephone interview with Keston on 13 July, ALEKSANDR BILYK, the
chairman of the State Committee for Religious Affairs and Ethnic Minorities,
told Keston from Minsk that the decision to refuse the Catholics permission to
hold the procession had nothing to do with his committee. `The decision was
taken by the Minsk City Executive Committee, you should speak to them.'
However, he asserted that the decision to ban the procession was purely a
technical question to do with traffic and crowd control and routing of the
procession. `There are no political factors or nuances,' Bilyk declared. `I
request you not to draw any negative conclusions from this or whip up a
scandal.'

An official of the State Security Committee (KGB) for the central district of
Minsk declared to Keston by telephone on 13 July that the KGB had nothing to
do with the ban. `The KGB was not involved, nor even were the local militia or
the district authorities,' insisted the official, who declined to give his name. `All
such decisions on processions and demonstrations are taken by the City
Executive Committee.' Several officials in Minsk City Executive Committee -
including deputy mayor Chikin, who had signed the letters to the Catholic
community banning the procession - declined to speak to Keston about the ban,
referring enquiries to the mayor, MIKHAIL PAVLOV. His office told Keston
on 13 and 14 July that he was too busy to talk to Keston. However, the
Executive Committee's spokeswoman, YELENA AVRINSKAYA, who had
been briefed by Pavlov, told Keston on 14 July that the main reason for the ban
the first time round was that the authorities feared that too many people on the
city centre streets might provoke another tragedy. She asserted that the second
application had been `not properly formulated', but denied that the repeated
refusals, even after the Catholics had changed the proposed route, reflected an
anti-Catholic bias. Although Chikin had signed the letters denying permission,
Avrinskaya insisted the decision had been a `collegial' one by the whole
Executive Committee. She insisted that Catholics are an `equal denomination'
(she did not say with whom) and said future processions `will be allowed'.

Although he declined to discuss the particular ban on the Minsk Corpus Christi
procession further, Bilyk claimed that religious processions `can in principle
and do take place in Belarus'. He explained that they are governed by the
presidential decree on mass processions, although he stressed that it is the local
authority that takes the decision on whether such religious processions can take
place. Bilyk claimed that such processions are held regularly by various
religious groups, citing in particular the Orthodox and Catholics. He declared
that the Catholics had held such Corpus Christi processions this year in a
number of towns `with no problem', although he declined to name any specific
places.

Catholic sources report that as well as in Minsk, the Corpus Christi processions
in the town of Zhlobin in south eastern Belarus and in a village in the western
Brest region were also banned this year. Ironically, the Corpus Christi
procession took place this year for the first time in the western Belarusian town
of Baranovichi. When the current mayor of Minsk, Pavlov, was mayor of
Baranovichi, he never permitted the Catholics to hold Corpus Christi
processions, but since his transfer to the capital the new mayor of the town is
much more open towards the Catholics. (END)

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.