Activities of the Parliament of Ukraine of the 5th Convocation in the Area of Freedom of Conscience and Church-State Relations
Yurii RESHETNIKOV,candidate of philosophical studies, Institute of Christian Democracy
At the end of May it was one year since the beginning of work of the Parliament of Ukraine of the 5th convocation. This apparently allows one to sum up and evaluate the results of its yearly activity, especially in the area of the freedom of conscience and church-state relations.
Unfortunately, there are no grounds to talk about any positive achievements of Parliament in this regard. One can only talk about what has not been done or about negative examples of activity of the supreme legislative body in the mentioned area. For instance, during the year of its work, Parliament did not manage to pass a single normative act in the interests of further harmonization of church-state relations, but it managed to reject as many as four respective bills: two bills on granting religious organizations the right to permanent use of land lots of the lands of state and communal ownership (Bill № 1101 of 30.06.06 and № 2260 of 04.10.06 by V. Stretovych and O. Turchynov, respectively); V. Stretovych’s bill on granting religious organizations the right to establish general educational institutions (register № 2020 of 30.08.06); and a bill on introducing a moratorium on privatization of property intended for religious purposes which is in state or communal ownership (register № 2758 of 15.12.06; authors: О.Bodnar and О.Тurchynov).
The activity of Parliament’s Committee on Matters of Culture and Spirituality headed by Volodymyr Yavorivskyi proved to be absolutely non-constructive as to the harmonization of church-state relations. It was this committee which recommended Parliament reject the two above-mentioned bills on granting religious organizations the right to permanent use of land and another similar bill (register № 2426 of 30.10.06; authors: national deputies of Ukraine R Lukianchuk, O. Turchynov, Y. Sukhyi) (by the way supported both by the Committee on Matters of Agrarian Policy and Land Relations and by the State Committee of Ukraine on Land Resources) and V. Stretovych’s bill on granting religious organizations the right to establish general educational institutions.
The mentioned committee probably felt the inadequacy of such “fruitful” activity and did decide to support the bill on introducing a moratorium on privatization of property intended for religious purposes which is in the state or communal ownership (register № 2758 of 15.12.06; authors: О.Bodnar and О.Тurchynov). However, the bill was not supported by the Committee on Economic Policy, which in this case acts as a profile one. This committee argued that the bill allegedly does not envisage a mechanism for its realization. Let us note that this position of the mentioned committee is identical to the conclusion of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine on that bill.
The rejection of the bill at the session meeting on 11 May was a logical consequence thereof. Let us note that the consideration of the bill was not stopped even by the absence of its developers in the hall, despite the fact that Speaker O. Moroz admitted that their presence might have a positive effect on the support of the bill by the deputies. Consideration of the next bill, developed by Yan Tabachnyk, was postponed exactly due to his absence in the hall. Such actions undoubtedly are an indication only of the factional bias of the vast majority of coalition deputies and not of their true position as to government matters. In the meantime, former religious buildings, including even ones appearing on the list of buildings to be returned to religious organizations of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, are being actively privatized, which makes virtually impossible their return to the former lawful owners, from whom they were once unlawfully confiscated by the Soviet state.
There are grounds to assume that a similar unenviable lot will fall to another two bills which have not yet been considered in the session hall: the bill on granting religious organizations the right to permanent use of land and another similar bill (register № 2426 of 30.10.06; authors: national deputies of Ukraine R Lukianchuk, O. Turchynov, Y. Sukhyi) (already the eighth one in this respect, starting from 2003) and another bill on granting religious organizations the right to establish general educational institutions of various levels (register № 3160 of 12.02.07; аuthors: V. Stretovych, V. Marushchenko, O. Bodnar, V. Malyshev) The fate of the latter is to a great extent conditioned by the negative position on granting religious organizations the right to establish general educational institutions of the parliamentary Committee on Matters of Science and Education headed by K. Samoilyk, which, however, is quite in line with her Communist beliefs. Let us note that a similar official position in this respect is held by the Ministry of Education, headed by Socialist S. Nikolaienko, who is ideologically close to K. Samoilyk.
One can probably consider the most successful today V. Marushchenko’s bill on making alterations to the Criminal Process Code in order to ensure the secrecy of the sacrament of confession (register № 2895-1 of 25.01.07), which was supported by the profile Committee on Matters of Justice.
Especially striking is the fact that such an attitude to solving urgent problems of church-state relations is seen both against the background of a declaration by the leadership of all the parliamentary parties of their readiness to assist the activity of churches and religious organizations in Ukraine or their support of certain churches and meetings of members of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations with the head of Parliament, O. Moroz, the leadership of the parliamentary factions BYT [Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc] and the Party of Regions in October-November of the last year, where they were assured of understanding by the leadership of Parliament and respective factions of the need for further development of church structures in Ukraine and readiness to assist in solving respective problems.
Let us note that on the eve of the consideration of bills on granting religious organizations the right to permanent use of land and to establish general educational institutions, members of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations approached the leadership of Parliament and parliamentary parties with a written request to support the mentioned bills. In particular, respective addresses were forwarded by the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church[-Moscow Patriarchate, UOC-MP] Metropolitan Volodymyr [Sabodan] and the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate [UOC-KP], Patriarch Filaret [Denysenko]. However, they had no influence whatsoever on the position of the deputies even of those factions which declare support of those respective churches. For instance, despite support by the UOC-KP of bills granting religious organizations the right to permanent use of land, many influential figures of the faction bloc Our Ukraine continue to think that these bills meet only the interests of the “Moscow Church,” and, therefore, strongly object. Many of the deputies, especially, of Our Ukraine, do not distinguish between the notions “right of ownership” and “right to permanent use” and express groundless concern that, in the event of approval of a respective bill, such lots would pass to the ownership of the Moscow Patriarchate and will be lost for the Ukrainian state. Part of the faction of the Party of Regions, which declares support for the UOC[-MP], despite the support of the same bills by Metropolitan Volodymyr, is also convinced that they serve the interests of only modern religious trends, to which the deputies mostly hold a negative attitude.
As of today, one can define several existing positions of deputies on church-state matters: absolute ignorance and indifference to them (in that case, the deputies are inclined to heed the leaders of their factions and their authoritative members), real ignorance combined with self-confidence and considering oneself to be an expert in all matters, distinct denominational preoccupation and a negative attitude to other churches (which does not stop them from ignoring even the opinion of the leadership of “their” church), or a post-Soviet atheistic attitude and negative attitude to religious organizations in general.
At the same time, calls to set up a work team to elaborate the new wording of the basic law of Ukraine “On freedom of conscience and religious organizations,” in particular from the leadership of Parliament, remained unrealized. However, in view of the fact that last year’s development of a similar bill by the Ministry of Justice showed all the complexity in approaches to this issue in the context of state-political questions and interdenominational relations and in view of the persistent desire of some deputies to use the corresponding law of the Russian Federation, which by no means can be considered the peak of perfection and democracy, this may be for the better. Let us note that we already have had a first attempt at borrowing the mentioned Russian experience in the form of a bill of O. Feldman (BYT) “On making alterations to the law of Ukraine ‘On freedom of conscience and religious organizations’ regarding abuse of the right to the freedom of worldview and expression of faith (register # 3035 of 26.01.07), aimed at limiting the right to freedom of conscience. In his explanatory note added to the bill, the author of the bill specifies clearly that the respective experience of the Russian Federation was used in the development of the bill.
In view of the above, one can state that, unfortunately, the present composition of Parliament has proved worse than the previous one in its understanding of the needs of churches and religious organizations, and that a scornful attitude to the position of religious figures and communities does not depend on the factional allegiance of deputies.
It is, to a great extent, this “fruitful” work of the present convocation, especially the majority, that conditions the positive attitude of at least part of the church environment to the president’s position on the dismissal of Parliament and extraordinary elections which found its reflection in the known address of leaders of six Christian churches. At the same time, there are no special grounds to expect the new composition of Parliament to be better than this one in the context of understanding urgent problems of further development of church-state relations. Unless the regular “defender of canonical Orthodoxy” N[atalia] Vitrenko [head of the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine] contributes to this. However, would the “canonical church” and all the rest benefit from that?..