Belarusian president warns against singing of decades-old hymn

Belarusian president warns against singing of decades-old hymn Father Yuri Sanko. Photo: CNS

A Belarusian bishops’ spokesman downplayed a police raid on Minsk’s Catholic cathedral, although a prominent lay Catholic warned arrests elsewhere suggested the move could signal further police action.

“We don’t really know what the police were seeking,” Father Yuri Sanko, spokesman for the Minsk-based bishops’ conference, told Catholic News Service July 8, four days after police arrived at Minsk’s Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral after the main Sunday Mass.

“Although they spoke with the cathedral clergy, no one was arrested and nothing confiscated, and we haven’t heard of other similar incidents.”

On July 3, President Alexander Lukashenko had warned Catholics against singing a hymn, Magutny Bozha (Almighty God), which has been a symbol for anti-regime protests.

In a July 7 Facebook post, Auxiliary Bishop Yury Kasabutski of Minsk-Mohilev said police officers had complained “some norm of law had been violated” by the hymn, but had appeared not to “understand themselves” what this meant.

The bishop added that the hymn, composed in 1947, was “first of all a prayer for homeland and people”, and had been proposed as a new national anthem in 1993 by a parliamentary commission.

However, an online editor from Belarus’ Eastern Catholic Church said the director of a church choir had been arrested with at least 20 others in the western city of Brest after singing the hymn.