Russian Model of Church-State Relations in Terms of Having One Privileged Church Is Being Duplicated in Ukraine

21.12.2010, 11:34


Introduction to the roundtable “The Dialogue Between the Government and the Denominations in the Context of the European System of Values”


1. If we are talking about the European system of values for the dialogue between the government and the denominations, we must consider a few basic things:

— Most European countries saw no need for a regulatory body for church-state relations because these relations fit into the system of relations between the state and civil society organizations;

— However, almost all European countries clearly monitor violations of legislation on freedom of conscience and have effective means of influencing the situation in case these freedoms are violated (court, decision of line ministries, changes to current legislation, etc.).

— There is an international mechanism to guarantee human rights in the sphere of freedom of conscience in the United Nations (Commission on Human Rights of the Economic and Social Council, Human Rights Committee, etc.), in European institutions (European Commission of Human Rights, the European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights), and in national agencies (Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor of the U.S. State Department, which annually monitors religious freedom worldwide, ombudsmen, line ministries)

2. In the future we must understand that Ukraine's European integration involves coordinating basic principles of national legislation with those of Europe. And at some point it was necessary to start parting with the state body for religious affairs. But Ukraine's problem is that in the 19 years that have passed since the adoption of the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations," there have been no measures taken to change the basic regulation of solving problems related to violations of freedom of conscience. We have not even come close to calculating the actual number of believers of various churches, which allows for manipulation and the financial privileges of certain churches.

3. Ukraine is not ready for a system of monitoring violations of freedom of conscience or and, above all, practical steps for non-administrative responses to these violations. Representatives of churches and religious organizations, I think, will give dozens of examples of how the police (security forces in general) or the courts have consciously avoided solving interchurch or church-state conflicts (especially property disputes). Or they accept "the right to force or quantity," forgetting that the law guarantees equal rights for all active communities. And in actuality the State Committee on Nationalities and Religions dealt with solving the "hottest" issues in the current legislation.

4. In this context, the anxiety of most churches about the urgency and method the State Committee on Nationalities and Religions was removed from the administrative arena – liquidation – is understandable. Consequently, unqualified people with no work experience can part take in solving matters. As the posts in the ministries are being reduced by 30%, the transition of officials from the State Committee to the ministry will be difficult.

Furthermore, separating the duty of registering religious communities (Ministry of Justice) in practical work with churches (Ministry of Culture) contradicts the current legislation (Law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations") and may lead to unpredictable consequences. This is because of the benefits received from obtaining the status of a religious organization (lower prices for natural gas, reduced rental rates, charity support, etc.). Who will check the accuracy of the information and general nature of the religious community? In the United States, for example, the revenue service deals with issues of religious exemptions.

Additionally, this could lead to more religious takeovers, when a small part of the community registers independently and then takes property claims to court.

5. The developments in the field of freedom of conscience in 2010 show that there is no dialogue between the government and the denominations in Ukraine. We see, however, conditions being created to duplicate in Ukraine the Russian model of church-state relations, which privileges one church (a sort of state church), and only occasionally takes the other churches into consideration when implementing public initiatives.

Let us recall the events of the past 10 months: out of all the churches, only the UOC-MP has participated in government activities. Even in unifying events (Independence Day commemoration, Chernobyl events, Christmas tree lighting ceremony, etc.) only one church represented the society's religions. The president never met with representatives or heads of the AUCCRO or the largest churches. Taking all this into consideration, the words of a senior official that the president cannot only meet with representatives of other churches instead of the one where he is a parishioner sound quite cynical. Presidents of many countries light Hanukkah candles or participate in a presidential prayer breakfast without changing their faith. This is, above all, respect for believers and recognition of their contribution to the development of the country...

In recent months, outright physical and moral pressure on representatives of Orthodox communities outside the jurisdiction of the UOC-MP has increased in many oblasts (attempts to take over UOC-KP churches in the Donetsk Oblast, representatives of the UOC-KP being banned from cemeteries in Kyiv, etc.). On the other hand, only the UOC-MP receives funding from the state budget (annually for the Kyiv Cave Monastery, once 11 million from the budget of Kyiv to build a cathedral, etc.) and lobbies for legislation to lift the tax burden during construction of its churches, and so on.

Evidently, a similar fate awaits other churches and religious organizations. Currently the levels of influence of the UOC-MP, how far they go until they meet organized resistance, are being examined.

6. Conclusions. In the current conditions, churches and religious organizations, of course, continue to seek a meeting of government leaders with the AUCCRO and will push for them to stop ignoring religious organizations that are not the UOC-MP. And this is important and correct. It is also important to preserve the state body of Ukraine for religious affairs in the form of a committee or central executive body (with the powers that it had prior to the liquidation of the committee). But, in our opinion, even if such meetings are held, they will not justify hope of the churches.

Experience has shown the current government's reluctance to accept a bilateral relations model, which for years was the base of church-state relations (the guarantee of equal conditions for all churches to develop because of the activity of a special state agency for religious affairs). Focusing on the Russian experience (with one "right" church that has direct access to the government) is too strong now. Only time can show the mistakes of taking this course, as it was during the presidency of Leonid Kuchma, or even Yushchenko, who also began with projections to eliminate the state agency for religious affairs and later created the committee for religious affairs, or some sort of social rally must occur (а conflict, an unsolved problem to flare up, etc.).

The self-organization of churches and religious organizations will now have a much greater effect than this forced attention. For example, the importance of joint efforts and the resolution of fundamental issues – especially those related to legislative initiatives – in the court will grow.

The AUCCRO, in our view, should take a coordinating role in interchurch initiatives and monitoring in the field of freedom of conscience violations. For this the council needs to gradually expand and take into account other interchurch entities: the Council of Evangelical Protestant Churches of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Interchurch Council, and others.

At this stage it is important to promote the adoption of the “Concept of Church-State Relations," which was prepared jointly by the major denominations and experts, which the AUCCRO has repeatedly supported. And only once that has been accomplished should attempts to make fundamental changes to the Law of Ukraine "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations" be controlled. In another scenario, if the new version of the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations" is accepted it may, with the help of our Muscophile deputies, turn in a copy of a similar Russian law, which was criticized by practically all human rights organizations.

Certainly, the role of the Ukrainian churches in cooperating with international organizations and institutions engaged in issues of freedom of conscience will grow.

But most important are the efforts of churches to unite and their daily work with all institutions, which will regulate the issue of freedom of conscience (the courts, law enforcement agencies, NGOs, etc.). For this to happen many churches need to change their current philosophy in interacting with the outside world – the churches need to become more open and communicative. And this will be the churches' and the society's most important step in reaching the European system of values.