Members of a Minsk Protestant Church on hunger strike against arbitrary measures by the authorities
In Minsk more than one hundred Protestants have been on hunger strike for a week in protest at the decision of the Belarusian authorities to take their church and the site its on away from them. More than a thousand believers face being deprived of a church. In order to prevent this, people are keeping guard vigil in the building, while the Pastor, his parishioners and representatives of other denominations are fasting.
In 2002 the Evangelical Church “New Life” bought a cowshed from a collective farm near Minsk, carried out repairs and made the building into a place of worship. The Christian believers were in no way concerned that the building had originally housed cows, and mention that Christ was born in a manger. However last year the territory was included within the city zone and the Minsk Executive Committee decided that the building was not being used as intended, and that it, and the land it was on, needed to be returned to the state. All court levels supported the authorities position and this week the Protestants are supposed to vacate the Church. However they are refusing to do this.
Viacheslav Goncharenko, Pastor of the “New Life” Church explains:
“We dont even have a choice and we will continue to the end. We will not give up this building voluntarily and will be here while God gives us the strength, to victory, until the decision of the city executive committee is cancelled”.
Viacheslav Goncharenko has called on fellow believers throughout the world to go to Belarusian embassies with calls to support them and to speak out against the repressive policy of the Moscow authorities against Protestants in general.
”The state policy with regard to Christianity is destructive. This became obvious after the passing of recent laws which led to persecution of believers and fines”.
Among those on hunger strike is Minsk architect Vadim Prokopchik: “The authorities treat believers like people who are not completely loyal, since each of them considers God to be the highest power. The authorities therefore see this as a centre for free will and insubordination”.
Minsk political scientist Vladimr Matskevich believers that the hunger strike may force the authorities to pay heed to the rights of Protestants. He mentions that the Rumanian revolution of 1989 began with the authorities wanting to deport a reformist pastor from Transylvania. There are more than a hundred thousand Protestants in Belarus, with a strong sense of unity and they can become a real force.
“Christians are not people obsessed who as soon as theyre called immediately go out onto the squares, however once they have come out, they will struggle on, they are very committed to their faith and convictions.
At the end of October the Minsk Protestants are planning a demonstration in protest at infringements of their rights.