Will Yurii Reshetnikov Defend Freedom from Religions?

7 May 2009, 15:16 | Analysis | 0 |   | Code for Blog |  | 

Hennadii DRUZENKO

Vice-President of the Institute of European Integration (Poland), member of a work team preparing the new wording of the Law of Ukraine “On the Freedom of Worship and Religious Organizations.”

Recently, someone who is sincerely committed to the ideals of religious freedom was appointed head of the State Department of Ukraine on Matters of State-Confessional Relations for the first time in the history of the Department. But will the new director, Yurii Reshetnikov, be able to uproot the supervisory-repressive spirit of this body, which can be traced back to the position of the Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod at the time of the Russian Empire, and which is a direct successor of the Council on Matters of the Russian Orthodox Church (later, Council on Matters of Religions attached to the Council of Ministers of USSR) that was established by the general of MGB, Georgii Karpov?

The question is of a fundamental character since it addresses the very presence of a special state body on matters of religions in the structure of executive power (the existence and legal status is stipulated in Article 30 of the current Law of Ukraine “On the Freedom of Worship and Religious Organizations”) that envisages certain supervision of religion by the state. Ukraine does not have a state body for matters of public organizations, matters of political parties, or charitable or other voluntary associations. Therefore, the very existence of the Department on Matters of State-Confessional Relations and Ensuring of the Freedom of Worship promotes the latter to prove its usefulness and seek work for itself.

This assumption is indicated by the very structure of the department, which, judging from the names of its sub-departments, is called to:
- maintain relations with religious organizations;
- register and take statistical accounts of religious organizations;
- promote social and humanitarian activity of religious organizations;
- engage in scholarly and expert activities.

In principal, except for the registration of religious organizations (or rather, those religious organizations, which wish to assume the status of a legal person), the lines of activity of the department fall under foreign responsibility. For instance, the scholarly-expert work should be done by the Department of Religious Studies of H. Skovoroda’s Institute of Philosophy (which does fulfill it successfully) and bodies related to university departments, while statistical accounting should be done by the State Committee of Statistics. The humanitarian and social activity can be managed by the churches themselves provided that state officials do not obstruct the process.

The artificial character of existence of the department is also not directly indicated by the fact that it is part of the State Committee on Nationalities and Religions, whose umbrella competence is be based on the principle that there is one state body for all (except for sexual) minorities. Because if joining the problems of national minorities and migrants (absolute majority of which do not belong to such minorities) is natural, religion (if it is not considered a strictly national attribute) is not fitting here at all.

Anyway, in reality, despite the rather limited space for maneuver (the Department on Matters of State-confessional Relations is one of the seven structural subdivisions of the State Committee on Nationalities and Religions, four of which have the status of a department), the new leader, in my subjective opinion, is entrusted with a task that can, without exaggeration, be called a mission. I would formulate it as a stand in defense of the religious freedom from encroachments [on the part] of religious organizations. However seditious it may sound, this was not a slip of my pen.

A “religious oligarchy” in Ukraine was formed long ago for the “traditional” Ukrainian churches. To defend a religious community—which built their church brick by brick with their own money—from property encroachments of a semi-criminal hierarch, who wears a golden diamond-decorated panagia and drives an upscale car without declaring a cent of his income… To allow the community to change its affiliation to a particular religious center by a simple parish meeting decision, even if the head of that center drinks cognac with top officials nearly every day… To make the churches receive licenses and other permits before they start trading jewelry… To register communities wishing to be called Orthodox or Catholic without being subordinated to the “spiritual” centers…

What I have expressed above will undoubtedly seem to the “true” church figures, patriots, statesmen, and whoever else as a call to anarchy. But, in reality, it is just “religious freedom.” And this freedom in modern Ukraine requires protection much more than any of the religions do.

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