Category Archives: Eastern Europe and the Balkans

The Belarusian Protests and the Orthodox Church

by Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun | ελληνικά | ру́сский

Belarus flag protest

In Russia, there is a widely spread superstition that August brings national-scale catastrophes. The mass protests in Belarus against Alyaksandr Lukashenka are seen as such a catastrophe for the regime of Vladimir Putin. Even though Mr. Lukashenka struggled to preserve some independence for his country from Russia, Belarus under his rule represented the model of a Neo-Soviet colony that Russia has tried to impose on its neighbors since Putin’s presidency began. Belarus under Mr. Lukashenka preserved many symbols and most of the ethos of the Soviet era.

The key feature of the Soviet ethos is paternalism, which means that the regime offers its subjects basic social welfare in exchange for complete obedience. The Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity in 2014 (also known as the Maidan), for example, was a revolt against this sort of paternalism. What is going on now in Belarus looks more like a revolution that started within the paternalistic framework. There are good signs, however, that eventually the Belarusian revolution will turn against paternalism as such.

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Behind Montenegro’s 2019 Law on Religious Freedom and Institutions

by Ilijana Todorovic | ελληνικά | српски

Cathedral of the Resurrection, Montenegro

[This article assesses Montenegro’s controversial religion legislation approved by parliament in December, 2019.]

The main subject of the Montenegrin law is ownership of religious property. Although every single article of the law has legal deficiencies, the most significant problems are presented in Articles 62 and 63. These two articles state that three categories of property and land owned by religious communities—1) those built with public revenue, 2) those owned by “Montenegro” prior to 1918, and 3) those built with joint investment of citizens—no longer belong to the religious communities themselves but are now considered to be “cultural heritage” of Montenegro and are, therefore, to be owned by the state.

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When Icons Make You Sick
Religious Materiality in Post-Chernobyl Contamination

by Elena Romashko | ελληνικά | Română | српски

The publication of this essay coincides with the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, Saturday, April 26, 1986.

The Savior of Chernobyl icon

In March 2020, we were asked to work from home because of the pandemic of coronavirus. We could not even imagine how quickly the situation would escalate to a global lockdown. Looking at the warm and beautiful weather my husband said, “It’s hard to believe that being outside can be dangerous—the world around looks exactly the same, like nothing has changed.”

His words stung me with a flashback: Sonja, one of my informants in Belarus, said the same about the Chernobyl disaster. She told me that it was so hard for her to comprehend that all this familiar beauty can possess danger. The world for her had turned upside down as what used to bring life became a source of mortal danger: water, food, soil, and even human bodies. Radiation, just like a virus today, was described to me as an awakened primal power, an invisible, ancient evil that suddenly started targeting humans for their irresponsibility, greed, and arrogance.

Despite atheistic Soviet policies, some resorted to another ancient power in their hope for protection and healing: Orthodox Christianity. In their anxiety many turned to the churches and relics. People were warned with the language of science not to touch objects, including religious items, as they could emit radiation, but that did not stop the believers. Neither did it stop people nowadays from queuing in churches to kiss relics and taking part in the Eucharist despite the risk of spreading and contracting coronavirus.

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Roma Inclusion in Romanian Orthodoxy: Too Little Too Late?

by Maria Alina Asavei

April 8 is celebrated worldwide as the International Roma Day. Romani people both honour their culture across the world and commemorate the centuries of persecutions and mistreatment in light of present Romaphobia and persistent discrimination against the most vulnerable ethic group in Europe. On this occasion, the Archbishop Andrei of Cluj-Napoca celebrated the liturgy both in Romanian and Romani language. Several daily magazines reported about what they call an “unprecedented event in the history of the Romanian Orthodox Church,” highlighting the fact that the Archbishop Andrei also held a religious memorial service that commemorated the Romani victims deported to Transnistria and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Although in 2009 another Orthodox service has been celebrated in the Romani language in the capital of Romania (Bucharest)—by the Orthodox priest of Romani origin Daniel Gangă—the liturgy celebrated in Cluj this year, on the occasion of the International Roma Day, brings to the fore front a commemorative practice that nevertheless acts as historical consciousness. By commemorating the Romani victims of deportations in both Romanian and Romani, the Orthodox service revealed that the painful past is not covered in oblivion. The liturgy was celebrated by the Archbishop Andrei and other Orthodox clerics, including Marin Trandafir Roz (the first Orthodox priest of Romani ancestry from Cluj). Romanian press reveals that the Roma community attended the liturgy with enthusiasm, while children received candies and other goodies from the priests. Continue reading