KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 5, Article 10, 9 May 2000
Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
Tuesday 9 May 2000
BELARUS: STAND-OFF OVER CATHOLIC PRIEST CONTINUES
by David Goldman, Keston News Service
More than three weeks after being instructed to leave the country by the local
authorities of the western Belarusian region of Brest (see KNS 18 April 2000),
Father ZBIGNIEW KOROLYAK continues to insist that he does not intend to
leave his parish, citing instructions from the head of the Catholic Church in
Belarus, Cardinal KAZIMIERZ SWIATEK. `Cardinal Swiatek has instructed
me to stay in the place I serve, and I intend to carry out his instructions,' he told
Keston News Service. He maintains that his decision to remain in the parish -
the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in Brest - is the only correct and possible
course of action. `I should not and cannot leave the parish so long as the
parishioners want to see me as their spiritual pastor.'
Currently Father Zbigniew is in a situation that is almost unlawful, but he is
accompanied everywhere by representatives of the church committee, which is
determined to stick up for the much-loved priest. Father Zbigniew argues that
the authorities' position is in direct contravention of the Belarusian
Constitution, according to which the church is separated from the state and the
latter should not and may not interfere in the process of appointment, transfer
or promotion of clergy.
This view is echoed by the lawyer IGOR KABALIK, who has been advising
the church committee on legal questions for about eight years. He says that
recent amendments to the law regulating the activity of foreign clergy in
Belarus (see separate KNS story) are in direct contravention of the constitution
and the 1992 law on religion. He believes that the leadership of the country `is
being given inaccurate information' by officials and advisers, who to this day
think in terms of the `Cold War'. It is a pity, Kabalik declares, that the tendency
towards confrontation takes precedence over reason. Kabalik told Keston that
he has advised Father Zbigniew to avoid making comments to the media, as
such comments only arouse further displeasure on the part of the authorities.
After an initial refusal, the court in the Leninsky region of Brest, under whose
jurisdiction the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross falls, has now
undertaken to study a complaint by the church committee and Father Korolyak
about the priest's unlawful detention and fine and the unprovoked use of force
by members of the security forces last month. Kabalik said that the complaint
was accepted after a direct order by a higher court to which the believers had
appealed. He also expressed his amazement and disappointment at the position
taken by the Polish consulate in Brest, which, in his opinion, has reacted to the
conflict with utter inertia. Kabalik told Keston that the Polish ambassador in
Belarus, who had recently visited Brest, instructed the consulate staff to take a
more active role in the case. In his opinion, the conflict has not yet entered the
`power phase', only because recent and impending holidays are `hindering' it.
In mid-May, Kabalik believes, events may be expected to develop rapidly.
Cardinal Swiatek is also avoiding any kind of contact with the press. Sources
close to him report that he is doing everything possible to stop the conflict from
turning into an open confrontation between the authorities and the Catholic
Church. However, the same sources add that the situation is approaching a
point at which the Cardinal, despite his own preferences, will have to indicate
his position publicly in some way. In April alone, the Cardinal twice appealed
to the governor of Brest region, VASILI DOLGOLEV, to meet in connection
with the `Korolyak affair'. The governor replied that a meeting is only possible
on condition that Father Korolyak's case is not raised.
According to the deputy president of the State Committee for Religious and
Ethnic Affairs in Minsk, IVAN YANOVICH, there can be no other decision
other than the one already adopted. We support the idea of a `clean page',
Yanovich told Keston. `This means that the priest must leave Belarus, after
which we are ready to discuss future steps with the believers and with the
leadership of the Catholic Church.'
Asked by Keston why such a harsh position has been adopted in Father
Karolyak's case, a source at the Council of Ministers in Minsk who wished to
remain anonymous responded harshly. `Many clergy who work here in Belarus
conduct themselves quietly and calmly, demand nothing and do nothing,' the
source told Keston. `We do not have, and cannot have, any problem with them.
But we do not need priests like the Polish priest Korolyak, who always and
everywhere poke their noses in and stir up the people with their feverish
activity. We will send such agitators out of the country.' This statement is
similar to what confidential sources close to Cardinal Swiatek say the
government authorities think. They maintain that the authorities are displeased
with Father Zbigniew because he does not just perform the church sacraments,
but tries to improve the life of his parishioners and others. Father Zbigniew has
organised a soup kitchen and has tried to set up a pharmacy for the poor.
Sources who declined to be named told Keston that the 5th Directorate of the
Belarusian KGB - which in Soviet times `was in charge of' religious
communities and clergy - has been given an order to `sort out' Father Zbigniew
and also to `work on the cases' of all other foreign clergy in the country. This
order was reportedly issued at the beginning of May, and now employees in the
directorate are wondering how to carry it out given the likely public impact.
No-one wants to break the law, and the KGB employees understand well that
any violent acts against priests would be unlawful, the sources stressed.
On 29 April, Cardinal Swiatek went to the State Committee for Religious
Affairs in Minsk for a meeting with its head, ALEKSANDR BILYK, and the
vice-president VLADIMIR ZAMETALIN, who is the government official
responsible for all issues relating to ideology. At the meeting the issues of a
visit by Pope JOHN PAUL II to Belarus and of Father Zbigniew were raised.
Yanovich confirmed to Keston that the position of the State Committee and the
Council of Ministers as a whole had been formulated definitively, and had been
made known to Cardinal Swiatek: Father Korolyak must leave Belarus, and
only after this, `after some time', the authorities would be ready to `return to the
question of the work of Mr Korolyak in our country'. However, he noted that
no-one intended to use force. Asked to comment on the possible involvement
of the KGB, Yanovich said that he personally knew nothing about it. It was
suggested to the Cardinal that he `look at the possibility' of sending Father
Zbigniew away from the parish he headed. Yanovich refused to comment on
the possibility of a visit by the Pope, saying that he was not present at the
meeting. Bilyk told Keston that unfortunately he too had nothing to say on this
Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.