End of the State Committee in charge of religion?
Recently President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko has declared his intention to start shortening of the state committees from the State Committee of Ukraine in charge of religion. According to Yushchenko, the government is not going to carry out special policy regarding religious confessions, since the question in what church to pray is a private affair of every individual. However, President said nothing about the further plans in this sphere.
Society treated this decision of President in different ways. Yet, the Committee-pioneer keeps silent… for there is nobody to speak.
Two-day attempts of the “RUPOR” correspondent to find out the position of representatives of the Committee failed. In the reception office he got the advice to address for a commentary to Bondarenko, the deputy chief of the State Committee in charge of religion, but Mr. Bondarenko was out. It was impossible to reach him via telephone. According to the secretary of the reception office, the deputy chief had to be somewhere in the Committee, but was probably “out of his office”, that is why he did not answer phone calls. It was impossible to communicate under the pretext that “nobody except him could answer the questions”.
An attempt to liquidate the State Committee in charge of religion, according to Taras Antoshevsky, a representative of the Religious Information Service of Ukraine, is connected with the fact that during last few years the Committee proved itself not in the best light. Mr. Antoshevsky informed that, because of the policy implemented by former government, the State Committee in charge of religion more than once exerted pressure upon religious communities.
Ruefully known presidential elections finally discredited this state body. Taras Antoshevsky said that the Committee sent the so-called “temniks” (letters in which state employees explained why one or another church had to openly support the former Prime-minister). Obedient church servants agreed even without prior discussion with the community, and the decision about the support of the “true candidate” was proclaimed on behalf of the All-Ukrainian Church Council.
Nevertheless, in Antoshevskys opinion, its unreasonable to liquidate the Committee because of the discrediting policy of the preceding government regarding it. It is necessary to observe inner and outer safety in the sphere of religion and to fulfill forecasting function.
“However, in case of final decision on liquidation, it would be expedient to create a corresponding department at the Council of National Safety and Defense as to the registration of religious communities, it is expected to be done by the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine,” – Antoshevsky supposes.
The idea of immediate and irrevocable liquidation of the State Committee of Ukraine in charge of religion is also not supported by Ludmyla Fylypovych, professor, dean of the faculty of religious processes of the National Academy of the Psychological Sciences, executive director of the Religious Information and Liberty Center.
“In general, I support the process of shortening the state committees, but it is not an apposite time to liquidate this very committee”, - she guesses.
In her opinion, at present, when the role of church in the society increases, a competent mediator is needed for achievement of stability in the religious life. “Taking into consideration the opposition of the orthodox churches, concordance is impossible without states assistance.”
It is not judiciously to pass the entire function of registration of religion communities to the Department of the Ministry of Justice, Ludmyla Fylypovych believes. In her viewpoint, registration should be carried out by specialists in this sphere in order to prevent the existence of unlawful religious organizations.
Volodymir Yavorskiy, the executive director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union of Human Rights, asserts that todays structure of the governmental bodies makes the processes in the society, in particular in the sphere of religion, uncontrollable.
The State Committee in charge of religion mostly performs consultative-advisory and registration functions. Its authorities include registration of religious centers, administrations, monasteries, religious fraternities, missions and clerical educational establishments, as well as the right to agree activities of foreign clergymen in Ukraine.
In reality, local representatives of the Committee perform only advisory functions, and their existence, in the opinion of Volodymir Yavorskiy, is absolutely inexpedient. At the same time, there is a situation when religious communities are registered by the local bodies of executive power that have nothing to do with the Ministry of Justice and the State Committee in charge of religion. “Therefore, registration of local communities entirely depends on the local officials, which in their turn, logically depend on local traditional church.”
“Thus, a priori conflict is created by legislation, when different power bodies deal in the same sphere, while there is a branchy system of special power body for religion”.
According to a representative of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union of Human Rights, the structure of this type does not contribute to realization of unified state policy in this sphere and contributes to intensification of violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
“Therefore, it seems to me that it is really useful to reform this sphere and pass the registration functions of religious organizations to the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, practically unifying the procedure of registration of religious organizations with registration of associations of citizens. As to the controlling functions, they would belong to law machinery and, in some aspects, to the Ministry of Justice”, Volodymir Yavorskiy supposes.
So far we have not obtained any explanations or commentaries from the competent persons. Probably the situation will be cleared out after the tomorrows press conference of the new Minister of Justice. Meanwhile one can only pray for… reasonable state policy in the sphere of religion freedoms.