Belarus is known a multi-denomination country at the crossroads between Eastern and Western civilizations and two branches of Christianity, respectively. Historically, the dominating religions in Belarus were Russian Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. However, after the bans imposed by the Soviets were abolished many other religions showed rapid growth in the number of their followers during the last decade. In this respect it would be of great interest to find out how Belarusians identify themselves with respect to religion and how they regard optimal relations between various denominations. The latter is especially important in view of coming meeting of the Council of the Republic that will consider in early October the amendments to the “Law on the freedom of religion and religious organizations” that earlier generated very contradictory reactions of many political figures, religious heads and the very believers.

As we could see from Table 1, more than two thirds of the respondents identify themselves as Orthodox believers, their number for the last year and a half increased by 10%. The number of Catholics and Protestants has also grown during the mentioned period. Protestantism is often said to be the most rapidly growing religion in Belarus.

Table 1. Dynamics of distribution of answers to the question “What is you religion?”, % (open question)

It is noteworthy that the number of atheists and non-believers (being, in fact, the same) hasn’t dropped. So, that is double reduction of those who didn’t identify themselves with any religion which ensured the growth within other groups, as well as the choice of the simply Christians made in favor of this or that branch of Christianity.
It is no secret that the present Belarus authorities are known to have close relations with the Orthodox Church. In fact, they often emphasize the point. President A. Lukashenko publicly called himself an “Orthodox atheist”. Therefore, the changes and amendments to the “Law on the freedom of religion and religious organizations” adopted by the House of Representatives are said to be the attempts to legalize the superiority of the dominating religions.
These attempts are often oppositely interpreted. Thus, prominent Russian human rights activists L. Ponomarev and G. Yakunin in an open address to the members of the National Assembly pointed out that the given draft law “considerably restricts the freedom of religion for all the believers and puts religious life under the humiliating state control”. Furthermore, L. Ponomarev and G. Yakunin note that “despite the principles of a law-abiding state the new draft law empowers local departments of justice to indefinitely suspend activity of religious organizations without court decision”. According to the authors of the letter, “the draft law severely restricts possibility for a believer to spread his beliefs, i.e. even officially registered religious communities are not allowed to have their publications. Before being distributed, all religious literature should undergo a religious expertise, which in fact means the introduction of state church censorship in Belarus”.
On the other hand, the Patriarchal Exarch of Belarus, Metropolitan of Minsk and Filaret of Slutsk spoke out in favor of the draft law. In his opinion, the existing law “On the freedom of religion and religious organizations” adopted in 1992 does not respond to the real situation within society. Besides, it is inferior to the European legislation as far as preserving cultural and spiritual heritage of people is concerned. The Filaret noted that one of the sources of discontent on the part of young religious organizations formed 10–15 years ago is the preamble of the draft law stating the role of five traditional denominations in the history and culture of Belarus. The Metropolitan is confident that the new law “would not infringe upon the rights of believers but, on the contrary, ensure additional opportunities to the citizens to confess their faith”. He also pinpoints that “in general all traditional religions positively regard the draft law and have all approved it”.
Now, what do people, 90% of which are the followers of this or that denomination think of the issue?
As we see from Table 2, about 60% of the respondents stand for the parity of all churches. Only a third of the respondents supported the idea of superiority for the Orthodox Church, despite the fact that two thirds of the Belarusians identify themselves as Orthodox believers. That is a manifestation of public wisdom and tolerance of the Belarusian people as well as aversion to discrimination and disparity as far as relations between different denominations are concerned.

Table 2. Distribution of answers to the question “The Chamber of Representatives has recently adopted the new edition of the law approving “the leading role of the Orthodox Church” in our country. Some people support it believing this is fair because the majority of Belarusian believers are Orthodox believers. Others speak out against it saying the law infringes upon the rights of other religions. What do you think about it?”, %

Variant of answer
I think that the Orthodox Church shall be superior to other religions in Belarus
I think all churches shall enjoy equal rights in our country

Table 3. Attitude to parity of denominations depending on religion*, %

Variant of answer
Attitude towards the amendments to the law on religion, approving the leading role of the Orthodox Church in Belarus
The Orthodox Church shall be superior to other religions
All churches shall enjoy equal rights

* To be read horizontally, for example, 84.3% of Catholics believe that all the churches shall enjoy equal rights

As one can see, apart from the vast majority of Catholics and Protestants, the overwhelming majority of atheists and Orthodox believers are of the same opinion (See Table 3). Obviously, the figures need to be thoroughly studied in the Council of the Republic so that while considering the draft law its members take into account not only the arguments of the interested parties but also the opinion of Belarusian citizens.