Religious Organizations highlight Present Challenges to Fragile Inter-faith Harmony and Equality
A roundtable on Dialogue between the Authorities and Faiths within the Context of a European Value System, sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, was held in Kyiv on 20 December. It was attended by members of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, the Institute for Religious Freedom, representatives of the authorities and experts.
Its Resolution stresses that Ukraine is a deeply religious and multi-faith society. It notes that according to surveys, around 90% of Ukrainians consider themselves believers, either identifying with a particular denomination or remaining unaffiliated. According to figures from the State Committee on Nationalities and Religious Affairs, at the beginning of 2010 there were over 35,000 religious organizations in Ukraine.
There are 55 different faiths or denominations, with the predominance of particular faiths varying between different regions.
“Diversity of faiths and the legal backup for this are a unifying factor in society.
European experience demonstrates that a refusal by the State to ensure equal oppositions for representatives of different religious communities disregards the unifying potential of diversity of faiths and leads to a sharp increase in inter-faith enmity, misunderstanding and can ultimately result in open confrontation on religious grounds”.
The Resolution states that over the last 15 years a fragile balance has been achieved, to a large extent thanks to the current Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations, as well as the Constitution. No less important a contribution has been from the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations which represents over 95% of Ukraine’s religious network.
“Contemporary challenges for religious freedom and inter-faith harmony in Ukraine
- The lack of clarity over the last year regarding dialogue at the highest State level with the religious community which is most broadly represented by the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations.
- In 2010 there were a number of instances where inter-faith relations became more difficult according to ordinary existing points of conflict which had been in a latent state. This was often due to the representatives of the local authorities acting in the interests and to the benefit of only one denomination and without dialogue with the others.
- The dissolution of the State Committee on Nationalities and Religious Affairs as part of a process of administrative reform regrettably took place without prior consultation with representatives of the religious community. This is not in keeping with European democratic practice of public participation in decision-making.
- Given the complicated relations in Ukraine between denominations, the rejection by the State of a profile body of power which according to the Law has the task of “promoting the strengthening of mutual understanding and tolerance between religious organizations of different faiths” seems unwarranted.
- The administrative reform begun has led to diffusion of the functions of the State Committee on Nationalities and Religious Affairs between the Ministry of Culture and the State Registration Service. In view of what is already the fourth restructuring in 5 years will clearly lead to a reduction in the professional level and viability of the State body, and also create grounds for amendments to the current Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations.
- In present conditions any moves regarding basic legislation and State policy in the area of freedom of conscience could have unforeseeable consequences.
Taking into consideration the multi-faith nature of Ukrainian society developed over centuries and the present challenges, WE CALL ON the President, the Cabinet of Ministers and Verkhovna Rada to:
- Make further real steps towards establishing regular and constructive dialogue with representatives of various faiths, implementing the principles enshrined in Ukraine’s Constitution and laws of freedom of conscience and equality of religious organizations before the State and law.
- At the present stage not to make amendments to the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations without agreeing these with the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations in order to maintain the present balance in inter-faith relations and a high level of religious freedom.
- Pay heed to the need for a united State policy in the area of religious, ensuring equal rights and opportunities for all faiths in Ukraine as is guaranteed by current legislation on freedom of conscience and religious organizations, and in the spirit of the draft Convention of State-religious relations in Ukraine, drawn up by representatives of academic, religious and government parts of Ukrainian society in 2003. For this purpose within the framework of the administrative reform, we propose retaining a single State body on religious affairs, including registration of religious organizations, the existence and tasks of which are set down in the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations.
- Retain the National Expert Commission of Ukraine on the Protection of Public Morality, and also ensure its proper funding and functioning, since the development of society is impossible with the affirmation in it of high, universal moral values.”