"This is the first such step in the history of Ukraine that the religious community and the Ministry of Education and Research have taken towards one another."
An interview with Yurii RESHETNIKOV, with a candidate’s degree in philosophy, assistant and counselor of a national deputy of Ukraine, member of the Board of Directors of the Ukrainian Association of Religious Freedom
The Public Council attached to the Ministry of Education and Research of Ukraine will start its work soon. Representatives of the All-Ukrainian Council of the Churches and Religious Organizations will be members of the council. This idea was discussed and approved on July 17of this year during a meeting in Kyiv of Minister of Education and Research of Ukraine Ivan Vakarchuk, Ph.D., with leaders of the Christian churches in Ukraine. RISU’s Kyiv correspondent, Svitlana YAROSHENKO, spoke with Yurii RESHETNIKOV, who has participated in discussions of the Ministry of Education and Research with the representatives of the churches since 2005, about the purpose of the public council’s creation and its influence and effective potential for future cooperation.
- [S.Y.]What is the purpose of the public council’s creation from the point of the churches and religious organizations which will work attached to the Ministry of Education and Research? At what stage is its foundation?
— [Y.R.] The decision about its foundation was made at the meeting of the minister of education and research with the leaders of the Christian churches on July 17 of this year, and it is represented in the resolution of this meeting. Now it is in the process of foundation. As far as I know the overwhelming majority of the churches and religious organizations which form the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO) have already proposed their candidates. I think that in a week or two this process will be completed. It is planned that the complement of the council and its statutes will be approved by the minister of education.
The council is being created with the purpose of organizing a more stable process of communication between the religious community and the Ministry of Education and Research. In particular, in order to solve those questions in the sphere of education which have been troubling the religious community already for many years, namely: the introduction of Christian ethics in the educational process, the status of religious-run educational institutions, the social status of their students and teachers, and so on.
- It was decided at the meeting with the minister of education that by November 1 the public council must already propose a number of suggestions concerning directions of cooperation. What do you think: Which questions in the sphere of religion and education in Ukraine are top priority questions today?
— Those questions which I have already named are important. And it is no coincidence that the religious community has raised them in front of the state authorities for many years now. Today, for some reason, these questions have not been resolved yet. Therefore, the foundation of such a council will largely stimulate the process of resolving these questions. On the other side, the point is that it is necessary to use more effectively that potential which the churches and religious organizations have in questions of education of the younger generation. How to do it properly? Actually, these are suggestions we expect to hear from religious organizations. It is worth pointing out that there is openness on the side of the Ministry of Education and Research and it is ready to hear these suggestions.
- What difficulties must these suggestions overcome, from their presentation to their implementation? I mean, where do these suggestions go, who will develop them, and who will make decisions?
- The creation of the public council simplifies this procedure, so far as this is a possibility in direct communication with the minister of education and research and the Collegium of the Ministry of Education and Research, in whose work the head of the council will participate as well. That is to say, suggestions will be presented directly to the Ministry of Education and Research. On the other hand, this gives a chance to trace the process of working on these or other suggestions and to conduct an ongoing dialogue with the ministry. Obviously, not all suggestions of the religious community will be taken into consideration, because of our legislation and other factors. But I hope this public council will start systematic dialogue in this field.
- At the previously mentioned meeting with the minister there were only representatives of Christian denominations. But what is the situation with other religious groups present in Ukraine?
- This is no coincidence, inasmuch as this meeting was initiated by the Council of Representatives of the Christian Churches of Ukraine. But when we are talking about further cooperation, in particular about the public council, which is being created exactly in the format of the AUCCRO, it will work not only for the interests of Christian communities, but other religious communities and organizations as well, certainly taking into account a tolerant attitude towards each other.
- How will believing and non-believing parents accept the foundation of such a council? What might it signal for them?
- This is a very good question… I think believers who directly come into contact with these problems will accept it positively. Possibly, unfortunately, but for many natural reasons, for many believers this fact can be out of view in general, because they are concerned by other questions, for example, the creation of a national church or some property questions, such as building a church, and other questions like that. But the question is not how the fact of creation will be perceived, but the question is, how far will this public council be effective, how far will it be able to implement, for example, those questions which anyway arise for believing parents. If it will be able to facilitate and help in that respect, certainly, it will be perceived positively. If the council will not be able to do this, it will not attain the goal of its existence.
- Is it possible now to forecast about the efficiency of cooperation with the state authorities, judging from how our legislation looks and how our governmental structures work?
- In fact, in this case the point is not so much about efficiency on the side of governmental structures, but the point is how effectively the members of this council will work and present the interests of their religious communities. That is to say, in this case the ministry took a step closer, and we welcome this step. But in the future we expect certain activity on the part of the religious organizations which have delegated their representatives to the council.
- How do you yourself estimate the fact of the founding of such a public council?
- It is positive that, in fact, it is the first such council. Up to this moment there were only individual episodic meetings of representatives of religious organizations and churches with representatives of the Ministry of Education and Research. The questions which were raised were not resolved because there was no systematic cooperation. Thus, we hope that at last a certain systematic cooperation will be established. The questions which will arise will be resolved more efficiently. This is the first such step in the history of Ukraine that the religious community and the Ministry of Education and Research have taken towards one another.
- Is it foreseen that the council will be involved in questions which do not have to do only with the religious sphere, but will also re-examine a study program, its form and content?
- Of course, the public council can embrace a wide spectrum of questions. In fact, it can present its point of view and give its propositions to all questions which refer to education. But, once again, the matter is not about the interference of religious communities in issues of education and scholarship. The point is that the public council, even on the strength of its name, should represent the interests of a significant part of the citizens of Ukraine, those citizens who are united in religious organizations. And undoubtedly citizens have the right to bring forward their propositions and remarks concerning the educational process.
- What do you think is the main experience that churches and religious organizations can share concerning the question of children and youth education?
- In fact, we all are aware of the great experience of religious organizations in the field of education. Therefore, they have something to share. Once again, the issue is something else: How far is it possible to introduce forms of church education into a school of general education? But there should be a certain search, a search for the same mutually accepted forms. Therefore, at this stage I would like to see and to hear those suggestions which will come from the religious organizations themselves.
- Thank you for the interview!
Interview conducted in Kyiv on 3 September 2008.
RISU note: “The Public Council attached to the Ministry of Education and Research of Ukraine is a consultative structure which is being created with the aim of forming effective organizing and legal conditions for the realization of the constitutional right of citizens to participate in the administration of state affairs, ensure the openness of the operations of the Ministry of Education and Research of Ukraine, take into account the public opinion in the process of preparing and organizing the carrying out of its resolutions, assist by ensuring freedom of conscience and the further harmonization of church-state relations in the field of education, conduct an ongoing dialogue with churches and religious organizations and use more effectively their potential in the educational process.” (From the Draft of the Statutes of the Public Council attached to the Ministry of Education and Research concerning questions of cooperation with churches and religious organizations).