The Exhaust Fumes of Stalinism

15.01.2014, 14:55
The Ukrainian government threatens the Greek Catholic Church.

The Ukrainian government threatens the Greek Catholic Church. 

The UGCC and its clergy, the archbishop continued, were not “participant in political processes.” But the Church could not “stand aside when its faithful requested spiritual support.” Those Greek Catholics, “together with other Ukrainian citizens,” had “peacefully expressed their vision of Ukraine’s European choice on the basis of Christian and common human values.” And if the people of Ukraine wanted to pray publicly as part of their expression of that vision, “no governmental approval is needed.” Moreover, “when there is a lack of dialogue between the government and people,” public prayer is essential: “prayer for peace in our country, for an end to violence and to attempts to trample the dignity and constitutional rights of Ukrainian citizens.”

On January 14, President Yanukovych, perhaps calculating that he was losing this round (despite Western inattention to the Ministry of Culture’s gambit and Metropolitan Shevchuk’s strong response), was quoted by the presidential press service as saying that “people should have the right to pray where they wish,” and proposing that the law on religious associations be changed. Yanukovych’s formulation was not altogether reassuring, suggesting as it did that the “right to pray” was something conceded by the state, rather than being an essential part of a fundamental right of religious freedom that any just state is bound to acknowledge and protect in law. Thus, while the immediate pressures caused by the Ministry of Culture’s letter to Metropolitan Shevchuk may ease, the situation will continue to bear close monitoring.

This entire episode, however, is a powerful reminder of the deeper level of the struggle that is underway in Ukraine. The EuroMaidan protests have emphasized the imperative of rebuilding the moral and cultural life of Ukrainian society, so that elementary decencies are observed in public life as a matter of habit, not as concessions from the state. The crude attempt by the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture to threaten the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in a way that inevitably evoked memories of the Church’s liquidation in 1946 was a sharp reminder of the fundamental problem the EuroMaidans face in Ukraine: the exhaust fumes of Stalinism, and their corrosive effects on state policy, civic culture, and politics.

George Weigel is distinguished senior fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

George WEIGEL,

National Review Online, 14 january 2014