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"The political leadership of the country makes much effort to further harmonize church-state relations and to facilitate the spiritual elevation of Ukrainian society"

21.11.2005, 12:40
"The political leadership of the country makes much effort to further harmonize church-state relations and to facilitate the spiritual elevation of Ukrainian society" - фото 1
Interview with Ihor Volodymyrovych BONDARCHUK, director of Ukraine’s State Department on Religious Matters

bondarchuk.jpgInterview with Ihor Volodymyrovych BONDARCHUK, director of Ukraine’s State Department on Religious Matters

— Ihor Volodymyrovych, could you describe today’s religious situation in Ukraine?

— It is known that Ukraine has a favorable legal environment for the functioning and development of churches and religious organizations. National legislation on freedom of conscience and religious organizations is one of the most democratic in the world. It provides for the equal status of existing denominations and for the realization of citizens’ right to freedom of worship. The political leadership of the country makes much effort to further harmonize church-state relations and to facilitate the spiritual elevation of Ukrainian society. This can be seen from the results: the quantitative and qualitative development of the network and activities of churches and religious organizations in Ukraine.

As of today, there are 30,000 religious organizations in Ukraine. This includes 29,731 religious communities of 55 denominational trends, 67 centers and 227 departments, 378 monasteries, 298 missions, 75 brotherhoods, 173 spiritual educational establishments, and 12,039 Sunday schools.

The tendency to growth of the number of religious organizations is still continuing. For example, in the last year, the total number of them increased by 1020. Religious matters are dealt with by 27,902 ministers. The publication of church printed media is growing actively. As of today, there are 351. Religious organizations hold worship services in 20,607 religious or adapted buildings. In 2004, with the assistance of the state, 369 church and prayer buildings were built and 2445 religious buildings are being built.

A high level of activity is shown by traditional denominations and, accordingly, the Orthodox churches, which have 15,387 parishes, which constitute 51.2% of the total number of religious communities of the country’s believers.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church [-Moscow Patriarchate] is the strongest of all denominations (with more than 10,000 parishes, or nearly 69 % of all Orthodox parishes of the country). In addition, it includes 158 monasteries, 5 missions, 36 brotherhoods, 3879 Sunday schools, and 106 periodicals. The number of communities of that church is growing in all regions of Ukraine, except the Lviv region.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate has 3484 parishes, 36 monasteries, 24 missions, 8 brotherhoods, 1092 Sunday schools and 31 periodicals. The number of parishes is growing in most regions of Ukraine, but most of them are concentrated in the center and west of Ukraine.

The network of religious institutions of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church retains a clearly regional character and includes 1172 communities, 5 monasteries, 7 spiritual educational establishments, 7 missions, 2 brotherhoods, 361 Sunday schools and publishes 7 periodicals. Over 70 % of the total number of the communities of this church are concentrated in the western area: the Lviv, Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk regions.

Catholic churches are concentrated mainly in the western and central regions of Ukraine. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church ranks second after the UOC[-MP] in number (3500 parishes). Today, the network of the UGCC is larger even than it was before the war.

There is quite a dynamic development of the infrastructure of the Roman Catholic Church, especially after the visit of [Pope] John Paul II to Ukraine. There are 870 communities of the RCC in Ukraine today. Most of them (65.7%) are concentrated in the Vinnytsia, Zhytomyr, Transcarpathia, Lviv and Khmelnytsk regions. The center of the RCC, or its metropolitanate in Ukraine, is located in Lviv.

Protestantism is represented in Ukraine by 38 churches and trends. The share of Protestant organizations in the whole network totals 8179 centers (27.5%), including 8057 registered communities (28.3 % of the whole network). In addition, 1163 communities function without registration, which is not illegal. The All-Ukraine Union of the Association of Evangelical Baptists, the All-Ukraine Union of Christians of the Evangelical Faith-Pentecostals, and the Ukrainian Union Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Churches remain the most numerous among Protestant churches. The number of religious communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses continues to grow.

As for non-Christian religions in Ukraine, the most numerous is Judaism, with 274 centers (nearly 1 % of all religious organizations in the country). Judaism is represented by several institutional structures and trends. The largest, the Chabad Lubavitch-affiliated Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine, has 115 communities, the Association of Jewish Organizations of Ukraine has 76 communities, the Religious Union for Progressive Jewish Congregations of Ukraine has 50 communities, and the All-Ukrainian Congress of Judaic Religious Organizations has 12 communities.

[RISU note: According to its website, the number of communities of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine is 188, not 115 as stated above. All of these communities are listed on the FJC site at www.fjc.ru/communities/communities.asp?aid=80062. According to the site editor, smaller communities which have not undergone official registration are not included since official registration with local authorities is a pre-requisite for FJC membership.]

Islam in Ukraine is represented by three independent centers: the Spiritual Direction of Muslims of Ukraine (Kyiv), the Spiritual Center of the Muslims of Ukraine (Donetsk), and the Spiritual Direction of the Muslims of Crimea (Simferopol).

Most of the Muslim religious organizations are concentrated in the Crimean Autonomous Republic (80% of the total number in Ukraine). This is because of the return of 300,000 Crimean Tatars from their long years of exile.

One should mention that sociological research in recent years and the realities of modern religious and church life vividly show the increasing role and authority of the church in the social life of Ukraine.

— Many people are interested in the situation of Ukrainian Orthodoxy. What is the situation, in your opinion?

— As of 1 September 2005, there are 15,387 parishes of three Orthodox jurisdictions in Ukraine, namely, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [-Moscow Patriarchate], the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. As already mentioned, of the three of them, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [-MP] includes the largest number of religious organizations (over 10,000).

That church shows a high level of activity concentrating its efforts on active missionary work, development of socially significant activity, extension of the network of spiritual educational establishments, training and advanced education of clergy, and so on.

The UOC-Kyivan Patriarchate aims its strategy of activity at proving the organic character of the church with respect to Ukrainian society through the adaptation of the Liturgy, services and church language to the national context. Theologians of that church translated the Bible, “God’s Law,” church books, and basic Liturgies and rites into Ukrainian to be served in all parishes of the church. Also, it is extending its charitable and educational activities and strengthening its missionary strategy in all regions. The main objective of the church for the nearest future is to legitimize its present status in the canonical and legal field, in particular through the extension of interchurch contacts and increasing its position in the religious life of society.

As for the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, one can state that, as of today, it is virtually divided in two parts, of which one recognizes Metropolitan Mefodii (Kudriakov) as its head, and another supports the church initiatives of Archbishop Ihor (Isichenko).

While marking, on the whole, the positive tendency of animation of the activity of the Orthodox churches, which ensures the dominant position of Orthodoxy in the country’s religious and spiritual life, one cannot, however, fail to note that, unfortunately, the present character of inter-Orthodox relations contains a danger for the stable development of Ukrainian society. This was indicated by President V. Yushchenko more than once, in particular at the meeting with the heads of the churches and religious organizations on 14 June of this year.

The conflict has recently been made more complicated in the socio-political sphere and at the parish level. The participants [in the conflict] began to enter into blocs with political parties and associations of deputies and to look for mutual tactical and strategic interests. We are talking of the simultaneous process of religion becoming politicized and politics becoming more “church-oriented.”

The Orthodox churches are not proposing mutually-acceptable initiatives for overcoming inter-Orthodox confrontation, their positions on that differ substantially, and the conflict is getting noticeably sharp. Therefore, the process for negotiating a settlement of the conflict situation assumes a special significance. One should note here that the parties have different visions of the timing and extent of the changes to be made. There is no unity between them with respect to the very mechanism of granting the canonical-legal status sought by the Orthodox of Ukraine. It appears that practical, positive progress is impossible without a clearly defined program and lines of cooperation with the negotiation parties and mediatory efforts of the state institutions of Ukraine and without state interference in the internal matters of the Orthodox and other churches.

As for the unification processes between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, the development thereof is ambiguous. Despite the fact that the date of the unification sobor [assembly] has been set, different opinions on the desirable steps and timing of the process are expressed in Orthodox environments.

— On what principles is the government’s current policy on religion, the church and religious organizations based?

— The policy is based on the principles which were stated by President V. A. Yushchenko more than once. Namely: the principles of openness and transparency, consistent adherence to the principle of freedom of worship, non-interference in the internal affairs of churches and religious organizations, ensuring free development of all religious communities whose activity is not contrary to current Ukrainian legislation, an impartial attitude of the government to all religious trends, facilitation by the state of socially significant activity of religious organizations, a search for mechanisms of cooperation between government and religious institutions for the sake of overcoming severe social problems (in particular, children’s homelessness, the spread of drug and alcohol addiction, and so on) and their prevention in future, not tolerating the instigation of interreligious hostility and intolerance, settling problematic questions between state and church and in interchurch relations solely by way of constructive dialogue, the introduction of spiritual values into the educational process, spiritual-educational work in the armed forces, police force, and so on, and the creation of conditions necessary for partnership between the state and religious communities in the interest of the whole of Ukrainian society.

In the context of the implementation of the data of the basic provisions, the Ukrainian government firmly maintains the constitutional norm about the separation of church from state (Article 35 of the Constitution of Ukraine), the law of Ukraine “On freedom of worship and religious organizations,” and facilitates in every way the activity of religious institutions aimed at the spiritual growth of society and the organization of large-scale actions which are intended to form a moral and ethical worldview and the patriotism of the nation’s citizens.

— What do you think is the reason for the liquidation of Ukraine’s National Committee on Religious Matters and the establishment of a new governmental body, the State Department on Religious Matters?

— The liquidation of the National Committee on Religious Matters and the establishment, on its basis, of the State Department on Religious Matters is a visible proof of the attention paid by the leadership of the state to issues of the further harmonization of church-state relations. For the changes were made primarily in the interest of exactly this harmonization.

Ukraine today undoubtedly is going through a processes of transformation and renewal in all areas of life. The area of church-state relations is no exception, for these relations also require a certain correction. It is only natural that positive changes in the state policy on religions and the church also require certain adjustments of the activity of respective state bodies. Therefore, the changes made are quite understandable in this context. The establishment of the State Department on Religious Matters is the result of the consistent aspiration of the top political leadership of the state and, personally, President V. A. Yushchenko, for maximally transparent, open and public policy on churches and religious organizations and for prevention of any forms of interference of the civil authorities in the activity of religious organizations.

We are aware of the fact that the process of the revival of the church and establishment of a civilized and democratic mechanism of church-state relations is not going without difficulties. There were mistakes and miscalculations in the past. Therefore, there is an urgent need both to correct them and to prevent them in future. At the same time, we also see positive things done by the former Committee on Religious Matters, especially with respect to provision of favorable conditions for the activities of religious organizations, realization by all citizens of their constitutional right to freedom of worship, equality of religious organizations before the law, and so on. Therefore, we would like to use all the positive aspects of the experience of activity of the National Committee on Religious Matters and develop them in our work.

On the other hand, the re-organization is a result of the consistent implementation of the European vector of development of Ukraine, which, among other things, requires bringing the structure of state bodies in line with European standards in the process of administrative-territorial reform. (It is known that there are no state institutions like state committees in Europe, but there are departments that are part of ministries).

Talking about changes, I wish to stress that the state’s course for confirming freedom of worship and equality of churches before the law remains unchanged.

— What do you believe to be most important in your work?

— I believe the most important thing is clear and consistent adherence to current legislation on freedom of worship and religious organizations; assisting churches and religious organizations in their many-sided, socially important activity for the welfare of Ukrainian society; and fulfillment of the tasks defined by the state’s leadership as priorities in the work of the State Department on Religious Matters. Namely: promotion and strengthening of agreements between religious organizations of different denominations; generalizing the practice of implementation of legislation in the area of church-state relations; development of proposals on its further improvement; ensuring the registration of statutes (regulations) of religious organizations; assistance in solving problems regarding the transfer of former religious buildings and other church property to religious organizations; facilitation of the participation of religious organizations of Ukraine in international movements and forums.

I am convinced that it is only possible to fulfill the tasks of the state department using the principle of cooperation with churches and religious organizations, which requires further development of the dialogue between the state department as a governmental body and religious institutions, especially using the possibilities of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations.

I consider promotion by the department of the socially-important activity of churches and religious organizations and protection of their rights and equality to be the priority task.

— In what way does the State Department on Religious Matters plan to cooperate with the mass media?

— In view of the extraordinary delicacy of matters of freedom of worship, the activity of religious organizations, and interdenominational relations, we consider it expedient to accredit journalists of the printed and electronic mass media by creating a pool from among representatives of the media who specialize in religious studies themes, inviting them to scholarly-practical conferences and other events organized by our department, and, with their help, to shed light on both current questions in the development of the religious environment of Ukraine and also our work. It is planned to include in the pool representatives of information agencies (Ukrinform, UNIAN), newspapers (“Presidential Herald” [“Prezydentskyi visnyk”], “Government Courier” [“Uriuadovyi kyrier”], “Voice of Ukraine” [“Holos Ukraiiny”], “The Day” [“Den”], “Mirror of the Week” [“Dzerkalo tyzhnia”], “Young Ukraine” [“Ukraina moloda”],), magazines (“Religious Panorama” [“Relihina Panorama”]), national TV and radio companies of Ukraine (1+1, Channel 5, TRK, Era, NART), Internet editions (Religious Information Service of Ukraine), and so on.

In addition, in order to raise the professional level of the journalists who cover issues of church-state relations and the activity of religious organizations, and for them to develop an unbiased and tolerant approach to various aspects of the mentioned themes, we consider it expedient to organize and hold training seminars for this category of media representatives and to engage them in discussion of the problems of covering questions of religious life by the mass media during scholarly-practical conferences, round tables, and so on.

— Thank you for the discussion.

Interview conducted in Kyiv on 18 November 2005