Re-registration of religious organizations in ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’: mockery of freedom of conscience
Recently, it became known that in the beginning of February the self-proclaimed “LNR” adopted the new Law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations”, No. 211-II of 02.02.2018 (hereinafter the documents’ names are given in the original language to simplify search). The text of the document can be found at the link (it should be noted, however, that at the time of connection the site may work as a phishing one, so it is better to open the “saved page” in the search engine cache). At the same time, the final stage is the process of re-registration of all religious organizations within the legal framework of this unofficial quasi-state formation. The details of this process are scarce, and therefore everything looks like a banal agreement between the puppet authorities of “LNR” and a certain well-known church jurisdiction. We will try to summarize all the known facts about this event.
The process was initiated through the “Special Procedure for Official Registration of Certain Legal Entities and the Abolition of State Registration in the territory of the ‘Luhansk People's Republic’”, approved by the Resolution of the Council of Ministers of the ‘Lugansk People's Republic’ dated July 13, 2017 No. 441/17" (hereinafter - the Special Procedure), which “entered into force” on July 13, 2017 (the document can be accessed at the link). The procedure for “official registration” of religious organizations is regulated by section XI of this document “Peculiarities of the Official Registration of Religious Organizations in the territory of the Lugansk People's Republic and the Procedure for Their Official Registration”. It provides for the mandatory re-registration of all religious organizations that had been registered under Ukrainian law before May 18, 2014, as well as the newly created entities.
The first stage involves the religious expert examination of all religious organizations, which is carried out by a special “expert council for conducting state religious expert examination at the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth of the Luhansk People's Republic”. The regulatory document is called “The Procedure for issuing a conclusion of the religious expert examination on eligibility of a religious organization for official registration, approved by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth of the Lugansk People's Republic dated August 17, 2017 No. 473" (hereinafter – Procedure No. 473, which can be consulted by the link). This work of legal art was inspired by the Decree of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation dated February 18, 2009 No. 53 “On State Religious Expert Examination.”
Religious expert examination: all disloyal must go
Interestingly, while at a time when the church's structure in Ukraine routinely protested against the bills, according to which it would be compelled to coordinate some of its actions with the state authorities, the LNR was preparing the law on religious expert examination, without which it would be impossible to register any religious organization. And without registration, any activity is impossible (unlike in Ukraine, where religious organizations may operate without registration). As it follows from clause 1.4 Procedure No. 473, the objects of religious expert examination are:
- founding documents of a religious organization, decisions of its governing and executive bodies;
- information about the foundations of the religious doctrine of a religious organization and its practice;
- the forms and methods of the activity of a religious organization;
- worship, other religious ceremonies and rites;
- internal documents of a religious organization reflecting its hierarchical and institutional structure (protocols, church books, registration books);
- religious literature, printed, audio and video materials produced and (or) distributed by a religious organization;
- information and materials about a religious organization.
Consequently, if the expert council does not like someone's religious practices or hierarchical structure, it will refuse to give a positive expert opinion. Persecution, interference in the internal affairs of the Church? No, none of these.
And now let's pay attention to Clause 1.5 Procedure 473 “Objectives of religious expert examination.” The activities of religious organizations are tested for involvement in:
- committing acts aimed at excitement of hatred or hostility, as well as humiliation of dignity of a citizen or group of persons based on sex, race, nationality, language, origin, place of residence, religion, religion, as well as belonging to any social group;
- distribution of occult knowledge;
- causing harm to the physical and / or mental health of a person during the ministry;
- aiding in armed aggression against the Luhansk People's Republic;
- carrying out extremist and / or terrorist activities, as well as their propaganda;
- organization of mass riots, sabotage;
- propagation of sexual promiscuity;
- activity that is destructive in relation to family, society and state;
- realization of goals and objectives that contradict the legislation of the Luhansk People's Republic.
Honestly, I became a little envious that for the “LNR” the complicity in armed aggression against this quasi-state is the reason for the denial of registration for a religious organization, and in Ukraine, a similar activity against our state is simply a statement of our own civil position, which is not punishable. By the way, as for religious rights and freedoms, clause 2 Article 3 of the Law on Freedom of Conscience of the “LNR” reads as follows: “he right of man and citizen to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion may be limited by law only to the extent required to protect the foundations of the constitutional system, morality, health, rights and legitimate interests of man and citizen, ensuring the defense of the country and the security of the state.”
All people are equal, but Orthodox people are more equal than others.
The preamble to the Law on Freedom of Conscience states that “Luhansk People's Republic is a state that recognizes a special role of Orthodoxy in its history, in the formation and development of spirituality and culture in the state.” Moreover, it will not recognize just any kind of Orthodoxy: “Religious associations, practicing Orthodoxy, shall have a mandatory diocesan registration; the dioceses are recognized by universal Orthodoxy within the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate.”
That is, in fact, only one Orthodox jurisdiction - the UOC (MP) or the Russian Orthodox Church - can be registered in the occupied territory of the Luhansk region. This means the complete absence of the rights of believers to be Orthodox beyond the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. This applies not only to the Kyivan Patriarchate, but also to various “fragments” of the ROCOR, and other Orthodox Churches. For example, in 2015 in the Diocese of Rovenky of the UOC (MP), a cleric who “seceded” was banned, namely joining the True Orthodox Church (R). As it follows from the Law on Freedom of Conscience of the "LNR" (the word "freedom" here is tempting to put the quotation marks), such structures will complicate life very much. Or, frankly, their activity actually turns out to be “outlawed”. And this moment should be borne in mind by Ukraine’s state authorities of Ukraine, vested with the duty to protect the rights of “non-Moscovite” Orthodox believers in the occupied territories and bring to the attention of international human rights protection institutions the totalitarian nature of not only the occupying power of the “LNR”, but also of the UOC (MP), which receives a monopoly status in the said territory in a gross authoritarian way.
The Law contains transitional and final provisions. Clause 6 Article 33 "Transitional Provisions" reads: “In order to carry out activities under the provisions of this Law, the Dioceses of Luhansk and Rovenky (their administrations) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the structural divisions of the Dioceses of Luhansk and Rovenky (administrations) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church undergo the procedure for state registration in the manner, established by Article 34 of this Law.”
In turn, clause 2 Article 34 of the Final Provisions reads: “The legalization of religious organizations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which were set up and registered in the territory of Ukraine until May 18, 2014, shall be carried out in accordance with the procedure established by the Council of Ministers of the Luhansk People's Republic and Law of the Lugansk People's Republic dated October 1, 2014 No. 27-I “On State Registration of Legal Entities and Individual Entrepreneurs”. Simultaneously, other religious organizations (both previously created and newly formed) shall be re-registered only under the special Procedure (which was discussed above). It is difficult to say what the difference is. At first glance, we are talking about the fact that the UOC-MP has the right to re-register without passing a religious expert examination: “The state registration of religious organizations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church which were set up and registered on the territory of the state of Ukraine until May 18, 2014 shall be carried out on the basis of the original of the founding document (with the mark of the registration authority) and his notarized copy.” But there is also available information that the UOC (MP) is undergoing such an expert examination. Since the ‘experts’ should identify religious structures that are not loyal to the occupation authorities, it can be concluded that virtually all parishes of the UOC (MP) in the occupied territory of the Luhansk region may be considered collaborative. The "LNR" does not conceal the fact of cooperation between the UOC (MP) and local “authorities”. It is known that Andriy Litseyev, the head of the Department of Religious Organizations and Spirituality of the Ministry of Culture of the LNR is not the least significant person for the Diocese of Luhansk of the UOC (MP), and the diocesan secretary, Makariy Lyubavtsev, is not the least significant person for the Ministry of Culture of the “LNR.”
But everything is not so serene for the UOC (MP). In accordance with Article 4 of the Law on Freedom of Conscience, "LNR" prohibits the activities of religious associations whose participants, among other things, “pose a threat to sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interests of the Luhansk People's Republic”, “are involved in rendering assistance or are rendering assistance, aiding and abetting in armed aggression against the Lugansk People's Republic.” As you know, there are many priests in the UOC (MP) on Ukraine-controlled that bless the Ukrainian military to defend Ukraine, including the expansion of the “LNR”. Consequently, in fact, the religious association bearing the common name “UOC (MP)” includes the entities that “threaten the sovereignty, territorial integrity of the LNR and are aiding and abetting in armed aggression against the LNR.”
How will the occupation authorities and the UOC (MP) solve this dilemma? It depends under what name the UOC (MP) will be “re-registered” as an integral structure. The pro-Russian media shared information that the temple of Sts Gury, Samon and Aviv in Luhansk (rector Pavlo Batarchukov) has been already formally subordinated to the ROC, but it is impossible to check. Will the “LNR” grant it the legal person status, as Russia has done for the ROC? It is now clear that the UOC (MP) will now on have dual status and dual paperwork. The diocesan paper forms will be different for Ukraine and for the “LNR”. In addition, re-registration under the “laws of LNR” also means the opening of accounts with financial institutions of the “LNR” (Ukrainian banks do not operate there), and consequently – conducting parallel accounting and financial activities outside the framework of Ukrainian legislation (which is not something new: many parishes in the occupied areas are forced to use accounts in the Russian Federation, opened in the name of their priests).
However, as you know, Ukraine does not recognize any documents issued by the occupation authorities of either “LNR” or “DNR” (with the exception of birth and death certificates in accordance with the recently adopted Law on Donbas reintegration). Consequently, with a high degree of probability, the newly re-registered status of the UOC-MP in the occupied territories of Donbas will not affect the relations of this ambivalent jurisdiction with the Ukrainian state. All that one currently may predict is the problem that the UOC-MP subsequently may have with the legalization of its property acquired during the stay of Donbass under occupation (and judging by the fact that in recent times the consecration of new chapels by diocesan bishops in the occupied territory or other newly built facilities has been reported, such property is available).
Another moment. According to Article 7 of the Law on Freedom of Conscience, “the founders of a local religious organization may be at least twenty citizens of the Luhansk People's Republic who have attained the age of eighteen years and permanently reside within the limits of one administrative-territorial unit of the Lugansk People's Republic”. We do not have information on the establishment of new parishes of the UOC (MP) in the occupied territory, but the issue of “LNR” citizenship is currently not resolved only by the issuance of “LNR” passports.
In accordance with Clause 3 Article 33 of the Law on Freedom of Conscience, "Until the issues of citizenship of the Luhansk People's Republic are defined in the legal sense for the purposes of this Law, the citizens of the Luhansk People's Republic are citizens of Ukraine, whose place of residence was registered on the territory of the Lugansk People's Republic as of May 12, 2014, as well as all persons who, in accordance with the legislation of the Luhansk People's Republic, have been issued a passport certifying the identity of a person living in the territory of the Lugansk People's Republic.”
Consequently, the re-registration of the UOC (MP) in the “LNR” cannot be a direct proof of the that the leadership of the Luhansk Diocese hold the LNR passports, although according to unofficial information not verified by open sources or documents, some people do hold such passports (we do not give their names precisely because of the inability to provide evidence).
Finally, according to the occupation authorities of the “LNR”, the activities of religious groups are deliberately prohibited. A religious group is an organization of believers consisting of 5 persons, which is not structurally related to any of the traditional denominations. “Jehovah's Witnesses” are officially forbidden in the “LNR” – and guess why: “for the assistance to the SBU and the neo-Nazi groupings”.
It is now known that the Dioceses of Luhansk and Rovenky of the UOC (MP) were registered (but separate parishes are still in the process of reregistration), the Muslim association “Salam” and the Jewish charitable organization “Luhansk Oblast Charitable Foundation ‘Hesed Ner’” (the latter is also registered under Ukrainian legislation, the city of registration – Ukraine-controlled Severodonetsk).
It becomes clear all of the foregoing that the occupying power “LNR” purposefully creates a religious space under its control, where the main violin will be played by only one denomination - the UOC (MP). And in the territory under Ukraine’s control, this church structure will in every way emphasize persecution and human rights violations.