Freedom of Religion: The Ukrainian Perspective



    State-confessional relations in Ukraine stand as one of the central questions drawing the attention of both Ukrainian believers and the global community. In Ukraine, violations of the rights and freedoms of believers used to happen often, but now they are on an unprecedented scale, often taking the form of raiding. On April 4, 2024, the Committee on Humanitarian and Information Policy of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine approved a government bill proposing amendments to the laws on the activities of religious organizations. This initiative aims to legislatively block the activities of the UOC and its parishes, thereby compelling the congregation and clergy to yield to political will that contradicts religious authority. The authorities in Kyiv are creating another point of tension, where they neglect the opinion of believers.

    Such an approach elicits condemnation and discontent not only within the country, but also beyond its borders.

    In February 2024, a public-theological consultation on the restriction of religious freedom in Ukraine was organized in Berlin, anticipating actions by the Kyiv authorities.

   The participating theological, religious, and political experts from Ukraine, Latvia, Germany, France and other European countries, with wide geographical and denominational representation, agreed that the religious sphere in Ukraine urgently needs a transparent monitoring system to prevent the division of the congregation and manipulation by the authorities regarding changes in church jurisdiction. In practice, most cases of transition engender division within the religious community based on politically motivated principles or result from external pressure, primarily from local administrations and civic activists previously uninvolved in religious matters, including direct seizure of churches and parochial properties from the 'wrong' church infavor of the 'national' one, often involving physical violence. Despite the actual cause, the transfer of church jurisdiction is officially presented by the Kyiv authorities as 'voluntary transition'. In the vast majority of 'voluntary transitions,' the congregations actually retain their previous jurisdiction and continue to hold regular services. Both the congregation and the clergy refuse to accept these 'transitions' and operate clan destinely. Unfortunately, this does not contribute to societal unity. Belarusian human rights advocate Natallia Vasilievich expressed her views on this situation, noting that the Ukrainian authorities are at an impasse regarding the UOC, as serious concerns have been raised by European institutions about the repression of this religion. According to Justin Panina, a French theologian and member of the Administrative Council of the Vicariate of the Gallic Metropolis of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, legally binding membership with mandatory dues could rectify the situation andensure transparency in the voting processregarding the change in jurisdiction. Even the partial introduction of such a system could provide security for the UOC's Orthodox communities from raiding.

   It is important to remember that Ukraine is a multi-confessional and multi-ethnic state. Consequently, no Orthodox Church can lay claim to the position of 'the church of the Ukrainian people,' especially since its support in such a status by the ruling authorities does not automatically entail its recognition and support among believers.

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