Is Freedom of Conscience under Threat in Ukraine?
According to the Ukrainian Association for Religious Freedom during Viktor Yanukovych’s first year as President, observance of freedom of faith has noticeably decreased. The President, they state, demonstrates his affiliation to the Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate and this is damaging relations between the authorities and other religious denominations.
Viktor Yelensky, President of the Ukrainian Association for Religious Freedom reports that a fall in observance of citizens’ right to freedom of faith has been registered for the first time since Ukraine gained independence. During the previous two decades, he says, a balance had been developed between all religious faiths and denominations with none of them experiencing a lack of communication with the authorities and their heads.
“In 2010 this arrangement was to a large extent destroyed. The State authorities began giving privileges to only one Church. State protocol was violated. The country’s President who in carrying out his State duties does not have the right to demonstrate his preference for any particular church, began doing this publicly, demonstratively and insistently”, Mr Yelensky asserts.
The Church in question is the Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate. Vladislav Pustovy from that Church’s Press Service does not see any special treatment. “Our Church does not have the right, even, of a legal entity, does not have access to the media. It is forced to pay to be allowed to address its believers, even on the greatest festivals. Yes, there are no pilgrimages to others’ places of worship as under previous Presidents. However that depends on personal taste and convictions of the Head of State. Nobody said that the Constitution demands from a President that he make such pilgrimages at Easter or Christmas.
However the Head of the Board of the Institute for Religious Freedom, Oleksandr Zayets, says tat a reduction in the level of attention from the authorities to religious communities became noticeable immediately after the presidential elections.
“In 2010 after the presidential elections, the situation with freedom of conscience somewhat changed with a particular feature of the present stage of relations between the State and religious organizations being the reduction in dialogue. Last year in many regions the councils of religious organizations attached to the Regional State Administrations did not meet at all”, he says.
The State Committee on Religious Affairs was dissolved b Presidential Decree as part of the administrative reforms. The body which should take on the relevant powers has not yet begun working.