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Oleksandr ZAIETS. Overview of church-state relations in Ukraine in 2011

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Oleksandr ZAIETS – Head of the Board of the Institute for Religious Freedom, Kyiv


The year 2011 in Ukraine was rich in events in the area of church-state relations. In the development of relations between the state and the denominations, this year was dynamic, complex, somewhat contradictory, but ultimately positive.


The main topics of the agenda in this area were the following: a dialogue between the government and denominations, the functioning of the state body for religious affairs, improvement of legislation on freedom of conscience and religious organizations, visas for religious workers – foreigners, tariffs on utilities for religious organizations, and the protection of moral values.


Functioning of the state body for religious affairs

The year 2011 for the Ukrainian denominations in fact began on December 9, 2010, with Presidential Decree No. 1085/2010 on the Optimization of the System of Central Bodies of Executive Power. The president decided to eliminate the State Committee on Nationalities and Religions and transfer its functions in carrying out state policy on religion to the newly created Ministry of Culture. In addition, the power to register religious organizations was transferred to the State Registration Service of Ukraine.


In the context of these changes, a question arose about amending the current Law of Ukraine on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations, including the procedure for registering religious organizations. On December 14, 2010, the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (UCCRO) at its extraordinary meeting analyzed this situation and planned a series of measures to prevent any developments that could negatively affect religious freedom in Ukraine.


As a result, on December 20, 2010, a “roundtable” was held on “The Dialogue Between the Government and the Denominations in the Context of the European System of Values”, jointly organized by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Ukraine, the UCCRO, and the Institute for Religious Freedom. On February 8, 2011, Razumkov Centre with the participation of members of the UCCRO, politicians, and experts held another “roundtable” that was called “Church-State Relations in Ukraine. Their Characteristics and Trends.”


As a result of these and other measures taken by the denominations, on February 17, 2011, the Minister of Culture of Ukraine Mykhaylo Kulyniak and the head of the State Registration Service of Ukraine Leonid Yefimenko met with the UCCRO. The conversation concerned the continued functioning of the state body for religious affairs with regard to the elimination of the State Committee and the transfer of its functions to the Ministry of Culture. They also spoke about the procedure for religious organizations to acquire legal status and the creation in the Ministry of Culture of a working group to prepare draft laws on freedom of conscience with representatives of denominations.


In October 2011 the Ministry of Culture created within itself a Department on Nationalities and Religions, approved its staff, and started the selection of employees.


However, due to mass layoffs of employees of the State Committee on Nationalities and Religions (February–March 2011) and the delayed approval of the structure and staff of the Ministry of Culture, religious organizations for several months had problems registering its statutes or amendments to registered statutes in accordance with article 14 of the Law of Ukraine on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations. However, other issues in accordance to current legislation, such issuing visas for foreign religious workers, religious organizations receiving humanitarian aid, advice and other issues were solved jointly by both the State Committee on Nationalities and Religions and the Ministry of Culture.

 

Dialogue between the government and the denominations

On April 21, 2011, Viktor Yanukovych for the first time as Ukraine's president met with heads of denominations in the format of the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations.


Viktor Yanukovych’s meeting with the UCCRO showed the importance of a dialogue between the government and denominations in Ukraine. The heads of the denominations raised a number of issues that may be classified as follows:

  • pressing issues of church-state relations in Ukraine (improvement of legislation on freedom of religion, restitution of church property, the educational aspect, military chaplaincy, social and humanitarian activities of religious organizations, etc.);
  • protecting and strengthening moral values in society;
  • strengthening the constitutional principles of freedom of religion and of the family;
  • contemporary social challenges in Ukraine (the widening “gap” between the rich and the poor, the problem of protecting children without parental care and the disadvantaged, rising prices for consumer goods and utilities, etc.).
The heads of the denominations also suggested to the president to establish a permanent mechanism for cooperation between his administration and the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, in particular in the form a permanent consultative body.


On June 6, 2011, President Viktor Yanukovych issued orders to central and local executive authorities after the meeting with members of the UCCRO. However, the document reflected only part of the issues that were raised by the heads of the denominations, and the implementation of this order by the relevant authorities did not result in significant changes in church-state relations in Ukraine.


At the same time, the president’s meeting with the UCCRO gave some impetus to the development of a church-state dialogue on the national and regional levels, in particular through a number of central authorities—the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Education and Science, Youth and Sports, the Ministry of Defense, and others. Also, in most regions and in Kyiv took place meetings of heads of state administrations with representatives of the denominations.


During the past year contacts and the dialogue between the denominations and representatives of parliamentary factions and groups—including the Christian Democratic Union, BYUT-Batkivshchyna, Front for Change, the Party of Regions—continued to develop.


It is also worth mentioning First Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine Andriy Klyuyev’s meeting with several leaders of evangelical churches in February 2011.


Among the problematic aspects of the church-state dialogue in 2011, the lack of a dialogue from the side of the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine with the denominations should be noted. Despite the president’s promise, in 2011 the activity of the government commission for protection of the rights of religious organizations—the last session of which took place back in 2009—was not renewed.


Legislation on freedom of conscience and religious organizations

On January 12, 2011, in accordance with Presidential Decree No. 24/2011 on the Plan of Duties and Obligations of Ukraine Resulting from its Membership in the Council of Europe, the Ministry of Culture was mandated to develop and submit to the government a new version of the Law of Ukraine on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations.


This initiative, combined with the liquidation of the State Committee, raised concerns about the religious environment. As a result, on February 17, 2011, was held the above mentioned meeting between Minister of Culture Mykhailo Kulynyak and members of the UCCRO, at which it was decided to create in the ministry a working group to prepare draft laws on freedom of conscience with representatives of denominations. Established in March of last year, the working group drew up proposals to improve this law, which consisted of the need to confirm the position of the UCCRO on the proposed legislative changes.


On July 19, 2011, the UCCRO at its meeting considered a proposal by the Ministry of Culture’s working group and expressed its position in an address to President Viktor Yanukovych. The document, among other things, stated: “the common position of the denominations concerning the raised issue remained unchanged—due to the absence of a consensus on the proposed amendments at this stage, the development of the new Law of Ukraine on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations should be delayed.”


Thus the issue of developing a new version of the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations was removed from the agenda in 2011. We remind that during the aforementioned meeting with the UCCRO, Viktor Yanukovych stated that changes to the law must correspond to a general consensus among representatives of different denominations.


How events will develop in relation to this topic in 2012 only time will tell. But given the upcoming parliamentary elections in autumn, it is likely that work on the legislative changes in this area will continue in the form of consultations between government officials and denominations.


Visas for foreign religious workers

In this article it is not possible to thoroughly investigate the issue of granting visas and the residence of foreigners in Ukraine for religious activities and religious education. Therefore, I will discuss the main difficulties encountered in this area in 2011 as a result of changes to the legislation.


On June 1, 2011, the government adopted Resolution No. 567 on Approval of Visas for Entry to Ukraine and Transit Through Its Territory, which abolished the old types of visas, including religious visa (R), and introduced two types of visas—short and long-term.


Since the implementation of the resolution (on September 10, 2011) foreign religious workers could be granted short-term or long-term visas with an invitation from a religious organization, certified by Ministry of Culture, for the sole purpose of the visit—for work in a religious organization. Long-term visas are usually valid for 45 days and given to the foreigner in order from him or her to receive a permit for temporary stay in Ukraine from the regional organs of the State Migration Service of Ukraine. In turn, the procedure for issuing the permits is stipulated by the resolution of the Ministry of Internal Affairs from 23.08.2011, No. 602.


The government’s said resolution caused many difficulties in issuing invitations and documents for long-term stay in Ukraine for foreign religious workers who came to preach without employment in religious organizations or enrollment in religious institutions.


On September 22, 2011, Ukrainian Parliament adopted the Law of Ukraine on Legal Status of Foreigners and Stateless Persons. Part six of article 4 of the law provides that the religious organization must get the state authority that registered the organization to agree to the invitation for the foreigner. The practical implementation of this amendment remains unclear: are the religious organizations supposed to apply for approval to the authorities that registered their status (Ministry of Culture, the Council of Ministers of Crimea, oblast, Kyiv and Sevastopol city state administrations), or the state registrar at the local level.


The law expanded the purpose of the visit of foreign religious workers in Ukraine. In addition to working in religious organizations, religious leaders can now visit Ukraine for “preaching, performing religious rites or other canonical activities”. This broader formulation partially solved the problems that arose in connection with the resolution of the government on 01.06.2011, No. 567.


In compliance with the law from December 26, 2011, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine with its Resolution No. 1340 amended the rules for issuing visas to enter Ukraine and transit through its territory. However, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine at the moment the law came into effective did not bring the order into compliance with the legislative changes.


As a result, in 2011, procedures for processing documents required for long-term stay in Ukraine for religious activities became more complicated for foreigners.


Tariffs for utilities for religious organizations

On June 1, 2011, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine adopted Resolution No. 869 on the Guaranteeing a Unified Approach to Calculating Tariffs for Utilities and overturned the previous government’s resolution on the establishment for religious organizations a tariff for utilities at the same level as the population (Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine from 2.24 .2010, No. 82).


The government approved this resolution despite the fact that in April 2011 during a meeting with members of the UCCRO President Viktor Yanukovych stressed the need to “solve issues related to tariffs for electricity and utilities.” However, the outcome was not in favor of religious organizations.


After considering the matter at a meeting on September 22, 2011, the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations sent a corresponding appeal to the president and the prime minister.


Then, on October 17, 2011, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine revised its previous decision and Resolution No. 1199 resumed tariffs for utilities for religious organizations at the same level as the population. This governmental resolution came into effect on December 1, 2011.


Protection of public morality

During the past year the denominations’ efforts in the protection of public morality were aimed at preserving the National Expert Commission of Ukraine on the Protection of Public Morality (NEC) and the establishment of high moral values in Ukraine.


In the mentioned Decree of 09.12.2010, No. 1085/2010 the president of Ukraine instructed the government “to resolve in the prescribed manner the issue of eliminating the National Expert Commission of Ukraine on Protection of Public Morality.” That is, the government was to draft a bill, submit it to the Parliament, and the Parliament was to make a decision as to the expediency of the existence of the NEC, as its activities were foreseen in the Law of Ukraine on Protection of Public Morality.


However, at the time under consideration in the Ukrainian Parliament was the draft law No. 6532 (authors –A. Shevchenko, Yurii Miroshnychenko, and others), which envisaged the complete annulment of the Law of Ukraine on Protection of Public Morality and thus the liquidation of the NEC. With the support of the parliamentary majority, on January 11, 2011, the bill was passed at the first reading with 324 votes in favor.


The Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, the Council of Representatives of Christian Churches of Ukraine, and the Council of Evangelical Protestant Churches of Ukraine repeatedly appealed to President Yanukovych and the government to maintain the NEC. This issue was raised also by leaders of Evangelical churches during the aforementioned meeting with First Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Andriy Klyuyev.


As a result, on May 12, 2011, the Verkhovna Rada at the second reading rejected draft law No. 6532—only 12 deputies voted for it. Thus the NEC continued its activity, although still some problems in its functioning remained.


On November 9, 2011, the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations in an address to participants of the parliamentary hearings “Status of Public Morality in Ukraine” expressed the position to support the rationale for the law on public morality, the continuation of the activity of the NEC, and the improvement of mechanisms for the protection of moral principles in Ukraine. It should be noted that the parliamentary Committee on Culture and Spirituality at the hearings provided only one representative from UCCRO the opportunity to make a presentation, which is not consistent with the principle of proportionality of speeches from various public institutions.


It should also be noted that during 2011 the Council of Evangelical Protestant Churches of Ukraine repeatedly appealed to the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Culture, and the Donetsk Regional State Administration concerning activities of the LGBT Center of St. Cornelius the Centurion. According to the heads of the churches, the activity of this organization offends the religious feelings of believers of various Christian denominations and in fact carried out religious activities which were not foreseen by the law on public organizations. The responses received from the authorities were of a formal nature.


Evangelical Churches also turned to the Ministry of Justice and the Prosecutor General's Office concerning adoption and removal from Ukraine of a child born by a surrogate mother by foreign nationals who are in a same-sex marriage. The responses received from the judiciary and the Prosecutor General’s Office showed the authorities’ formal reaction to the issues raised.


Summary

President Yanukovych’s meeting with the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations in April 2011 launched a church-state dialogue at the highest level, showed the importance of a dialogue between government and society, and gave impetus to the further development of contacts between the authorities and denominations at the central and local levels. However, the results of the meeting between the president and the leaders of the denominations lacked practical content.


As a result of the liquidation of the State Committee on Nationalities and Religions and the creation of the Ministry of Culture in 2011, there were some difficulties with the registration of religious organizations’ statutes and amendments thereto. Other issues within the competence of the state body for religious affairs during the last year were resolved in due course by the State Committee on Nationalities and Religions and the Ministry of Culture. Now within the ministry there is the Department on Nationalities and Religions, which is to ensure the implementation of state policy in the religious sphere.


The situation around the draft law amending the Law of Ukraine on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations has shown the importance of the dialogue between the government and the denominations in the modern social and political conditions, and the coordination of state policy in the religious sphere in the system of government. However, such problematic issues as the complexity of visa applications for foreigners, raising tariffs on utilities for religious organizations, the protection of moral principles, and problems with the registering religious organizations as nonprofit organizations testify to the lack or absence of a church-state dialogue from the side of the relevant ministries.


The most active subject in church-state relations in 2011 was the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations. To a large extent due to its activity and active position of a number of denominations, in the past year many challenges related to freedom of religion and of religious organizations in Ukraine have been overcome.


In addition to problems in church-state relations, however, there are serious challenges in the public sphere, which can be overcome or at least minimized only by the joint efforts of the state, denominations, and the public. In this context it is important to continue a dialogue and the cooperation between the government and denominations at all levels in 2012.


 

© 2012 The Institute for Religious Freedom Kyiv, Ukraine

www.irf.in.ua

 

Translation by RISU

Institute for Religious Freedom
irs.in.ua

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