Column from Belarus: Why ultra-Orthodox activists are fighting against national culture


Christian Life

Zmicier Chviedaruk, CNE.news

The Belarusian Orthodox Church is closely linked to the regime. If Orthodox activists want to ban certain books, the regime is keen to classify them as "extremist" and ban their sale. Photo EPA, Tatyana Zenkovich

Orthodox activists are starting a strange campaign in Belarus, writes columnist Zmicier Chvedaruk. “These activists are saying that other cultures are violent and shouldn’t exist at all.”

Is there a Holy national culture nowadays like it used to be in times of the Old Testament? Ultra-Orthodox activists from Belarus are sure that the answer is “yes”. And if you are wondering what it is like, they would say it’s the great traditional Russian Orthodox culture only. The activists would add that other cultures are violent and shouldn’t exist at all.

Starting last month, local propaganda machines started a strange campaign. It is not only aimed at political opponents but also at our national identity. Could you imagine a campaign of discrimination and prohibiting classical Belarusian literature of the 19th century. Usually, you would think that political regimes are trying to create a cult of a great nation that needs one great leader to lead it.

Here, it’s very different. The regime isn’t interested in creating an idea of greatness. Propaganda tries to convince us that we are not worthy at all, we haven’t existed before the Soviet Union, and we cannot survive without Big Brother, who is for sure great Russia with its great messianic mission among nations that protects us from cruel westerns with their horrible values of democracy and LGBT. Even some Evangelicals in the country are wondering why national identity matters if it doesn’t fit Russian “traditional values”? And why should it matter if “our home is in heaven”?


Imagine that several people call themselves true Orthodox activists. They found inspiration in the ideas of Russian Orthodox philosopher Alexander Illin, who lived at the beginning of the 20th century. His books influenced Vladimir Putin a lot.

So, these activists stated that the true Christian traditional culture should be only Russian; others should have no place in society. So, they started blogs on Telegram with nearly only 500 subscribers. What do they do? They watch YouTube videos and go to bookstores looking for editions that don’t fit their worldview. Do you think that they are chasing Richard Dawkins or Karl Marx?

No. They are hunting for books that say that Belarus (which is till now an independent state) should be an independent country and special for those who, during the 19th century. They tried to fight against independence from the Russian Empire. After regular posts on their channels, these activists (the authorities) usually ban books, movies, and journals mentioned by activists for “extremist” content. And if the police would find some of those editions at your home, you would be treated as if you tried to make a homemade bomb. And it’s not a joke at all.


The biggest part of forbidden are writers from the 19th century. Mostly Roman Catholic. Most of the works were about the movement for independence and riots against the Russian Empire. For example, one of the victims was Vincent Dunin-Marcinkevich (1808-1884). He was the father of Belarusian national opera. All of his family was persecuted back then, and now his works are becoming illegal again. The most surprising is that the writer was published even during Soviet times.

Imagine that Americans would prohibit George Washington or Quincy Adams’s writings, or the Dutch would make a law that makes orange colours or paintings of Peter Bruegel illegal.

Activists are also fighting road signs and street names. For example, they stated that writing city names in Latin letters is not holy. So starting mid-November, the road works agency started removing names written in Latin letters and keeping just Cyrillic. Before that, we had both.

False image

Some evangelicals in the country say this doesn’t matter, like everything that happens in history. But there are several problems with that. The first is that some people are trying to make a false image of the Christian view on culture and sense of Christian faith. We are sure that there are no holy nations, holy cultures, or holy wars. In Christ, there is the only Holy nation - His Church that was redeemed and gathered from different nations by His grace (Ephesians 2).

Also, Reformed biblical scholar D.A. Carson, in his book “Christ and Culture Revisited”, states that by looking at creation and culture, we realise how deeply we are obliged to our God and ways of our lives should be rooted in the whole Story of Redemption. So stories from the 19th century are very valuable for Belarusians to understand how we got here in 2023 and why we still fear being Belarusians.

Apostle Paul, with his great speech in Areopagus in Acts 17 brings a broad view of how valuable it is to live by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and understand modern culture to argue and communicate with it. Not to ban everything but to show the contradiction of an ungodly worldview and mark the light of the Gospel that brings life and sense. Not to create another holy nation project but to humbly proclaim faith in the culture we live in with all its controversy and difficulties.



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