Religion and the Orange Revolution

20.12.2004, 18:57
What They Believe By ADRIAN KARATNYCKY Wall Street Journal, 17 December 2004

What They Believe
Wall Street Journal, 17 December 2004

Ukraine's Orange Revolution (named for the color adopted by the country's reformist opposition), is a broad-based movement that brought millions of citizens into the streets to press for free and fair elections. Now it is on the verge of a dramatic victory. In just nine days, on Dec. 26, this nonviolent people-power movement will likely make pro-Western reformer Viktor Yushchenko the country's next president.

On the surface, the Orange Revolution has had a secular look, with students, members of the middle class and workers rising up against corrupt rule. The movement has on its side the sexy Ukrainian girl group Via Gra, Eurovision song-contest winner Ruslana and the Klitschkos, Ukraine's boxing brothers. Not to mention Sting and Gerard Depardieu.

But there is another side to Ukraine's peaceful revolution. Interspersed with earnest youths, families and grandmothers who braved subzero temperatures at daily rallies for Mr. Yushchenko were nuns bearing orange sashes, proto-deacons and priest-monks.

The scene at Kyiv's Independence Square was part political rally, part rock concert and part fireworks display. But it was also a religious experience. Each day's protest opened with prayer. On weekends, religious leaders held liturgies and prayer services for Orthodox Christians (whose adherents represent more than 60% of the population), Eastern Rite Catholics (10%), Protestants, evangelicals, Jews and Muslims. (Some 25% of Ukrainians say they are nonreligious.)

Mr. Yushchenko, who typically ends his speeches with "Glory to Ukraine, Glory to the Ukrainian People, and Glory to the Lord, Our God," is a devout Orthodox Christian from northeastern Ukraine who regularly takes confession and communion. His faith is reinforced by his American-born wife, Katya Chumachenko, who last week told the Chicago Tribune: "We're strong believers in God, and we strongly believe that God has a place for each one of us in this world, and that he has put us in this place for a reason."

Such sentiments echo the way that President Bush has spoken of his own faith. And like Mr. Bush, Mr. Yushchenko is careful to sound an ecumenical one in his public remarks. At a Dec. 6 interfaith gathering, Mr. Yushchenko observed that "the spiritual harmony that rules among religious leaders on the platform is an image of the spiritual harmony present in Independence Square."

As a result of such careful balancing, Mr. Yushchenko's cause has strong backing from two influential religious leaders: Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate and Cardinal Lubomyr Husar of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, who on Dec. 6 declared that "at the root of the crisis is an immoral regime which has deprived Ukrainian people of their legitimate rights and dignity." A leader of Kyiv's Jewish community, Anatoly Shyhai, has told pro-Yushchenko protesters that Jews see the Ukrainian state as "an independent, democratic and European country at the apex of rights and interfaith amity." Thus religious values have become an important part of Mr. Yushchenko's moral appeal and his campaign to cleanse Ukraine of high-level corruption and crime.

Supporters of the government-backed candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, have also sounded a religious note. Moscow did its part to boost Mr. Yanukovych's standing by influencing the Kyiv branch of the Orthodox Church to support the prime minister. Mr. Yanukovych, who served two terms in prison while in his late teens and early 20s, has presented himself as a man of faith to allay concerns about his criminal past and current links to shady oligarchs. In rounds one and two of the presidential race, the Moscow-linked Orthodox Church engaged in active campaigning by distributing campaign literature and by delivering sermons that would make Jerry Falwell or Jesse Jackson look nonpartisan.

The role of faith in Ukraine's Orange Revolution is hardly surprising.Religion has been on an upswing in Ukraine since the collapse of communism, not least among the young. While both candidates have sought to identify themselves with faith-based values, Mr. Yushchenko's emphasis on ethical principles, dignity and clean government is trumping Mr. Yanukovych's claims to piety and the outreach efforts of his Moscow-backed clerics.

Mr. Karatnycky is a scholar at Freedom House, which has helped to fund Ukraine's nonpartisan election monitors.