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End of the State Committee for Religions?

Recently President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko has declared his intention to start shortening of the state committees from the State Committee of Ukraine for Religions. According to Yushchenko, the government is not to carry out a special policy regarding religious confessions, and it’s up to each individual in what church to pray. However, President said nothing about the way everything will be performed further.

Community treated this decision of President differently. But the Committee-pioneer keeps silent… for there is no one to speak.

Two-day attempts of the “RUPOR” correspondent to find out the position of the Committee representatives have failed. In the reception one advised to address for a commentary to Deputy-Chief of the State Committee for Religions, for Mr. Bondarenko himself was out. It was impossible to reach him via telephone. According to the secretary of the reception, the deputy-chief should have been in the Committee, but was probably “out of his place”, that’s why he didn’t answer phone calls and to communicate with someone else was impossible, for “for there is no one except for him.”

An attempt to liquidate the State Committee for Religions, according to a Religious Information Service of Ukraine representative Taras Antoshevsky, is connected with the fact that during the last few years the Committee proved it not in the best light. As Mr. Taras informed, because the former government implemented a corresponding policy, the State Committee for Religions representatives repeatedly exerted pressure on religious communities.

The last event that finally discredited this state body, as it is known, became the ruefully known presidential elections. Taras Antoshevsky said that from the Committee to the proper individuals the so-called “temnyks” were sent – letters in which state employees explained why one or another church needs 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 “appropriate candidate” was proclaimed on behalf of the All-Ukrainian Church Council. 

Nevertheless, due to the discrediting policy of the preceding government regarding the Committee, in Antoshevsky’s opinion, it’s unreasonable to liquidate it. There is to be someone to observe inner and outer safety in the domain of religion and fulfill forecasting function.

“But in case of final decision of liquidation, it would be expedient to create a corresponding department at the Council of National Safety and Defense, as to the registration of the religion communities, it is expected to be carried out by the Ministry of Justice of  Ukraine,” – Antoshevsky supposes.

The idea of immediate and irrevocable liquidation of the State Committee of Ukraine for Religions is also not supported by Liudmyla Fylypovych, professor, dean of the faculty of religious processes of the National Academy of the Psychological Sciences Institute, executive director of the Religious Information and Liberty Center. 

“Generally I support the process of shortening the state committees, but it’s not an apposite time to liquidate this very committee”, – she guesses.

In her opinion, at present, when the role of the church in the society increases, to achieve stability in the religious life a competent mediator is needed. “Say, in current opposition of the orthodox churches, concordance is impossible without the state’s assistance.”

To entirely give the function of religion communities registration to the Department of the Ministry of Justice is not enough judiciously, Liudmyla Fylypovych believes. In her viewpoint, registration is to be carried out by specialists in this field, to prevent lawful existence of unlawful religious organizations. 

Volodymyr Yavorsky, executive director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union for Human Rights asserts that today’s structure of the governmental bodies makes the processes in the society, particularly in the sphere of religion, uncontrollable.

The State Committee for Religions mostly performs consultative-advisory and registration functions. Its authorities includes registration of religious centers, administrations, monasteries, religious fraternities, missions and clerical educational establishments and also the right to agree activities of foreign clergymen in Ukraine in these organizations.  

Its representatives locally perform only advisory functions and their existence, in the opinion of Volodymyr Yavorsky, is just unintelligible. At the same time, there is a situation when religious communities are registered by the local bodies of the executive power that have nothing to do with the Ministry of Justice and the State Committee for Religions. “Consequently, registration of the local community entirely depends on the local official, who in his turn, logically depends on the local traditional church.”

“Thus an a priori conflict system is created by legislation, when different structural power bodies deal with the issues of the same sphere while there is a branchy system of the special power body for religions”.

According to the representative of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union for Human Rights, the structure of this kind doesn’t contribute to realization of unified state policy in this sphere and contributes to increasing of human rights and fundamental freedoms violation.

“Therefore it seems to me really useful to reform this sphere and pass the registration functions of religious organizations to the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine and practically unify the procedure of religious organizations registration with association of citizens. As to the controlling functions they would belong to law machinery and in some aspects to the Ministry of Justice”, – Volodymyr Yavorsky supposes.

So far there were no explanations or commentaries from the competent persons. Probably the situation will be cleared out after the tomorrow’s press-conference of the new Minister of Justice. Meanwhile one can only pray for… reasonable state policy in the domain of religion liberty.

Olena Holiuk
RUPOR   

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