Ukraine’s Famous Hospitality: Patriarch Kirill vs. Reporters Without Borders

29 July 2010, 14:05 | Mariana Karapinka's column | 0 |   | Code for Blog |  | 

Mariana KARAPINKA

Mariana KARAPINKAOn July 28 the plane with Patriarch Kirill and the officials of the Russian Orthodox Church took off from Boryspil international airport – the official patriarchal visit is finished.

The patriarch returned to his See at Moscow and his routine as the highest post at one of the most powerful Orthodox churches and left Ukrainians with mixed feelings: some – with hope and confidence, some – with anger and a sense of threat. Some call the visit purely political and gave Patriarch Kirill the nickname “Putin in a cassock,” others perceive it primarily as a pastoral visit and stress its liturgical component. It’s almost impossible to rest unbiased and objective and to find some kind of aurea mediocritas.

In order to find some common ground between contradicting opinions and to analyze the patriarchal visit more or less objectively, we compare it with another official visit from the other part of the world with a different purpose – the visit of Reporters Without Borders, which occurred a week before. While the patriarchal visit was widely discussed and covered by the media, the visit of Reporters Without Borders went practically unnoticed. The events with the patriarch (liturgies and interviews) were broadcasted “for free” for the church and the government used state resources to provide all that was necessary for the visit (for example, police). News coverage of the Reporters Without Borders rarely made it to primetime news.

The second difference is the attention of the authorities: journalists were welcomed by their colleagues (more or less independent ones), NGO’s, oppositional politicians, and government representatives, and practically ignored by authorities – Hanna Herman from the president's administration and Viktor Yanukovych refused to interrupt their vacations for a meeting. In the case of Patriarch Kirill’s visit, the President of Ukraine interrupted his yearly vacation to hold an official meeting. The political component was obvious – Vladimir Putin was the equal part at the meeting in Crimea although all parties deny that political issues were discussed during the meeting. The patriarch seems to have been the symbolic unity figure, an excuse (scapegoat if you want) to meet and prove to the world the religious and political unity but not necessarily referring to politics.

And the most dramatic difference is the assessment of the Ukrainian situation under  Yanukovych’s rule. The patriarch appeared to be happy with the changes going on. In his opinion, the Ukrainian society is entering a “period of stability.” “Even now we see that political stabilization, the development of the economy, better relations with the world and neighbors… I evaluate positively the Ukrainian development during the last few months (after Yanukovych’s election),” Kirill said during an interview to Ukrainian channels (chosen one).

The same stability was perceived by Reporters Without Border negatively. In his public report, the secretary general of the organization Jean-François Julliard noted the rapid degradation after Yanukovych came into power. Obviously he means press freedom, but this very freedom is regarded as fundamental for other freedoms including religious freedom. “I’ve got the feeling that in Ukraine all information that would criticize authorities is silenced," he said during the press conference.

The patriarch gave Yanukovych the medal of Prince Volodymyr (the highest distinction of the Russian Orthodox Church), reporters expressed their concern. They both promised to come back: the journalists in August to finally meet the officials and the patriarch next year to celebrate the Christianization of Rus. One delegacy was ignored by some, others protested against by the other.

This comparison is given not to make any evaluations of Kirill’s visit from the political or pastoral point of view. It serves to reveal the lack of equality in how state officials treat visitors and how they openly show their preferences. These two visits, which should both be per se marginal – one professional and another confessional – are indications for the Ukrainian authority and society.

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