Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Minsk-Mohilev, who has been blocked from returning to Belarus, said Tuesday that he was “very much surprised” by being stopped at the Polish border.
“I have been traveling often … so I was surprised very much yesterday when I was stopped at the border when I was coming back home from Poland,” the archbishop told CNA Sept. 1.
He added that such things “never happened”.
Belarus has seen widespread protests in recent weeks following a disputed presidential election. Protests began Aug. 9 after president Alexander Lukashenko was declared to have won that day’s election with 80% of the vote. Lukashenko has been president of Belarus since the position was created in 1994.
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz, who has been visiting Poland, was stopped by Belarusian border guards at the crossing between Kuźnica and Bruzgi Aug. 31.
In a message to the Catholics of Belarus, the archbishop said the decision to deny him entry to Belarus was “absolutely incomprehensible”, “unreasonable and illegal”.
According to the state-owned Belarusian Telegraph Agency, Lukashenko addressed the incident involving Kondrusiewicz Sept. 1, saying that he did not possess full information about the event. He suggested that the archbishop might be a citizen of more than one country.
“We are looking into the matter. I do not claim it. We want to study the issue. If everything is according to the law, we will act accordingly. It does not matter whether he is the main Catholic, the main Orthodox, or the main Muslim. He has to live by the law. If you mix church and politics and call for believers, Catholics, who are wonderful people, there is double responsibility for that,” Belta quoted him as saying.
Bishop Yury Kasabutski, an auxiliary to Archbishop Kondrusiewicz, said the archbishop’s citizenship status was clear.
“Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz has only one citizenship — Belarusian, and according to the law, his right to enter cannot be restricted in any way,” Bishop Kasabutski stated.
The archbishop was born in 1946 in Odelsk, in what was then the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (part of the USSR), to an ethnic Polish family. The Byelorussian SSR was succeeded in 1991 by the Republic of Belarus.
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz told CNA that “In Belarusian law, a citizen of Belarus has a right to travel, has a right to leave the country and to come back. About leaving, it’s written they can stop sometimes, but to come back is a right without any restrictions. So I don’t know what happened.”
He added, “today I was accused that I received from Warsaw some instructions, or something, but I didn’t visit Warsaw.”
The archbishop said he visited eastern Poland to celebrate the First Communion of a relative; he is now in Białystok.
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz wrote an email to Belarus’ special border committee Sept. 1 asking for an explanation of his refused entry, and is awaiting a reply.
The archbishop has spoken in defense of protests following last month’s presidential election.
He demanded an investigation last week into reports that riot police blocked the doors of a Catholic church in Minsk while clearing away protesters from a nearby square.
He met with Interior Minister Yuri Karaev Aug. 21 to express his concerns about the government’s heavy-handed response to the protests.
He prayed outside a prison Aug. 19 where detained protesters were reported to have been tortured.
Protests have taken place across Belarus since the August election, and thousands of protesters have been detained. According to the BBC, at least four people have died in the unrest.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the election “was not free and fair,” citing “severe restrictions on ballot access for candidates, prohibition of local independent observers at polling stations, intimidation tactics employed against opposition candidates, and the detentions of peaceful protesters and journalists.”
Electoral officials said that the opposition candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, earned 10% of the vote. She was detained for several hours after complaining to the electoral committee, and has fled to Lithuania.
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz told CNA that “at the present time, we are asking for prayer, not only for the Catholic Church, but for a peaceful solution for the situation in Belarus because I’m very much afraid of civil war. The situation is very, very difficult, very critical.”
He expressed appreciation “to Catholics around the world for their solidarity, for their prayers, for their moral support in this very critical time for my nation.”
Luke Coppen contributed to this report.