Viktor Yelenskyi's column

April: On the Church and Government

04.05.2011, 16:46
April: On the Church and Government - фото 1
Out of all that was written or said about religion, society, and the state in April, I was personally most blown away by the Ukrainian president’s annual address to the Verkhovna Rada “Modernization of the Country: Our Strategic Choice.

Viktor Yelenskyi”His “religious” subsection (the section I cover here) is, without any exaggeration, shocking. Every position he expresses is basically an antithesis to the policy that was implemented in the religious sphere in the last 14 months.

The part in bold about the necessity for the Ukrainian state to have an equal relationship with all the churches and religious organizations stands out against the background of preference, which the current government and the president in particular has given to only one church.

The accusations in italics against those who impose “an image of Ukraine as a civilized heterogeneous and torn country,” glaringly clash with the steps directed to deepen the division in the country and the malevolent attempts to strain the nerves of the national dignity and historical memory.

The eulogy directed at the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations clashes with the actual demonstrative neglect throughout the entire year.

The call to dialogue with representatives of the denominations clashes with the actual freezing of this dialogue.

Warnings against “using the interdenominational differences as a pretext for interfering in internal affairs of Ukraine” clash with the encouragement by international hierarchs, who exaggerate these differences.

The dissonance is striking, which – even considering that the president doesn’t write his own messages – allows us to make two conclusions. First, the government understands that its policy in the religious sphere is neither legitimate nor moral nor justified in terms of national interests. That to put pressure on believers so that they join the church preferred by the government, to greet one church and ignore the rest on holidays, to listen to foreign hierarchs and not local ones is, to put it mildly, wrong. This was understood from the very beginning, but, in fact, only now recognized. It is recognized not openly, without apologies to the offended, but it is recognized. It is recognized – and this is second – not because the government has become more law-abiding and moral, but because this policy has failed. The blitzkrieg, which was supposed to break the “schismatics” and change the entire system of church-state relations and the success of which was promised by the president, was a failure. Due to, foremost, church and public opposition, and because the clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate sees its church as the “leading” one and is not even against registering this primacy in legislation; but it is unwilling to share with the government the responsibility of discriminating against others.

How will the policy in the sphere of religious freedom and church-state relations continue to develop? We can get some idea from the initiatives formulated in the presidential address. They eloquently suggest there will be if not a complete return to the previous position, then a tendency to such a return. One should not rush to welcome this return. The initiative to adopt the ready Conception of Church-State Relations the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations has been pushing for years. Of course, the most curious ones make one think about the question: What hindered and what hinders the pro-presidential majority in the parliament from doing this?

Or another “initiative” – “securing religious organizations the right to establish secondary education institutions.” These religious organizations have been petitioning the government about this for years. Why does the organizer of voting of the presidential fraction in the Verkhovna Rada National Deputy M. B. Chechetov not give his famous parliamentary “dissuasions” after which his supporters hastily vote? Do they not have enough time? Are there other more pressing bills that affect the existence of the Ukrainian state? It is entirely possible. But for the bill that authorizes doing business without an identification number in relation with religious convictions there was enough time! The parliamentary majority adopted it in the first reading despite the entirely understood position of Orthodox theologians and conclusions of the church synodal commission, which ten years ago concluded that hysteria around identification numbers is contrary to church doctrine. In other words, the pro-government majority is not ready to support the academic and educational mission of the church, but prefers to support obscurantism and superstitions that have nothing do with Orthodoxy but instead create many opportunities for financial abuse.

From the same serious of questions: Why is the president initiating in his address “enablement of diplomatic mechanisms for the protection of national interests in the religious-church sphere,” and not simply applying these mechanisms? Like, for example, the Russian Federation, whose diplomatic service works so hard to establish the interests of the Moscow Patriarchate from Paris to Antarctica and, now, to discredit and block Ukrainian church aspirations in the international arena?

What overall prevents the president, who has acquired the most power in the entire history of independent Ukraine, from resolving problems whose existence is recognized by both the state and the churches, and which all governments promise to overcome? Most of these problems have been extensively worked on, including in terms of legal technique, and there exists a huge and diverse international experience in their resolution. Also, no one and never has there been a head of state who thought the steps to fulfill the desires of the churches was harmful for Ukraine, that, for example, secondary education institutions established by religious organizations will produce poorly educated boys and girls, and the institute of chaplaincy would undermine the country’s defense capability. Why do church figures from year to year have the same request?

Because, obviously, government corruption is not inclined to give anything that it feels is its own away for free. Prohibitions, permissions, and problems are powerful resources, with which one can receive many useful things and services. And if someone learns to survive with these problems, they should be deepened, sharpened, or new ones should be created. Otherwise, there will be no reason to resolve them and entire groups of them can appear superfluous. One can put pressure on a religious community, and then weaken it; interrupt the work of one of the commissions, which deals with important issues in church-state relations, and then later renew its work.

Thus the government shows a real interest in church needs during election campaigns, an interest that lasts only until they are over. Rates for heating churches and water supply, which are decreased before elections, eventually return to their previous values and steadily increase. Therefore, the church must, of course, seek a just resolution to political, legal, and economic problems, which makes it more possible to fully realize its own mission. But it should be remembered that the successes that have been “accomplished” can easily become unimportant until the government stops serving and instead tries to serve itself.