by Hilary White
MINSK, Belarus January 6, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Good news is hard to come by in Belarus since the country declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1990.
The country is still ruled by Soviet-era dictator Alexander Lukashenko, whose human rights violations have resulted in many international sanctions against his government. It has also retained closer political and economic ties to Russia than any of the other former Soviet republics and the government retains majority control over most of the economy.
Additionally, the fertility rate of Belarus is among the lowest in the world, with 1.25 children born per woman.
But while most in the pro-life movement in North America regard as disastrous the situation in Europe in general and in former Soviet countries in particular, there are pockets of good news.
In 1994, four years after Belarus declared independence from the Soviet Union, the abortion rate in the country had reached an unimaginable high of 65.8 percent of all pregnancies. Since then it has fallen steadily to 28.2 per cent in 2008, according to figures issued by the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis and the Ministry of Health.
Some of this success may be attributable to a growing pro-life movement, which is doing everything it can to make sure that those numbers continue to drop. According to the pro-life education group, The Open Hearts Foundation, the Belarus pro-life movement had a very busy year last year.
In July, Foundation volunteers attended a pro-life "festival" in Moscow that "gathered many active defenders of life and family values from Russia" from both the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
In August, Foundation volunteers gave talks to participants at the interdiocesan pilgrimage of families to the sanctuary of Virgin Mary "Queen of Lakes" in Braslav, organized by the Belarusian Catholic Church. They also attended the 5th annual World Day of Prayer for Life in Rome, organized by Human Life International.
In September the Orthodox Brotherhood organized a seminar to support young pro-life advocates in Brest. Also in September, lecturers from the Foundation gave talks on the life issues to audiences of about 4000 in Catholic Churches of Glubokoe and Shumilino. Students heard talks on family, chastity, the harms of contraception and abortion, and "a way out of the demographic crisis."
In October, volunteers from the Orthodox churches in Brest organized "incessant" prayer and fasting for the protection of life. "This good practice unites many cities of Belarus," the Foundation said. "Such spiritual support is really necessary in this uneasy business."
The Foundation also helped to organize a conference in defense of life and family in the town of Gomel. Lecturers spoke on "Abortion and its consequences for Church and society," "Contraception and IVF: the truth and myths. Christian Response," "Motherhood and service to God," "Netherlands: clinical death for mentally ill," and "In Vitro Fertilization: Children for sale."
As well, there are the daily prayer vigils being held outside the Vitebsk abortion facility.
The Foundation's organizer Oksana Makeenko said that "during the long years of Soviet power we were instilled [with] a strange fear of pregnancy and childbirth, so women and men today simply do not know what to do with children, and do not want for themselves this 'burden.' Selfishness more and more captures young people."
This fear, she said, combines with "negative attitudes of medical staff and many other [issues to] stop modern moms and dads from birth."
The goal of the conference they organized, she said, was to show "that to be parents [is] not terrible, and a family with many children is not a defective one, but is a blessing, pleasure and honor, the duty of every family."
John Smeaton, director of the UK's Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) told LSN that the secret of Belarus pro-lifers' success is "joyfulness."
"A spirit of detached endurance in pro-life work helps us to be joyful, and that joyfulness bears real fruit in the pro-life battle," he said.
"Despite the fact that the Soviet era left a legacy of a high abortion rate, pro-lifers in Belarus are joyfully getting on with proclaiming the sanctity of human life to new generations. So there is no reason for Western pro-lifers to be despondent, as we have good friends in eastern Europe making progress often in harder conditions."