Offences against UOC recorded in UN report: Truth or Kremlin provocations?
The recent UN report for 2018 documented en masse violations of the UOC believers’ rights. Yet, the Ukrainian government says there are no violations. Who is right then?
In the novel "1884" George Orwell perfectly described the totalitarian state, in which constant perverted lies ruled and reigned. In this state, white was called black, hatred was called love, and war was called peace.
Orwell’s novel is a dystopia. And when you read it, it seems that this simply cannot be that everything the writer is talking about is the fruit of his perverted fantasy and fiction. But then you close the book, return to reality, and catch yourself thinking it’s getting even more difficult to distinguish Orwell’s imaginary world from the world in which you are living. Especially here, in Ukraine.
In order to narrow the body of evidence, we’ll take the area that interests us most of all – religion, or rather, religious freedom. What are we going to see here?
Atmosphere of intimidation and animosity
The latest UN report “Public Space and Fundamental Freedoms on the Eve of Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Elections in Ukraine, published a few days ago, has already been dubbed by Ukrainian journalists and political analysts "devastating." The low level of civil liberties, the atmosphere of intimidation and hostility, the increased impunity and the threat to freedom of thought and religion are just some of the theses of this document, really sharp in relation to the Ukrainian authorities. A special place in it was dedicated to the position of the UOC.
For instance, the report noted that "During the reporting period (January 2018 - January 2019), 10 cases of threats and acts of intimidation against clergy and parishioners of the predominantly Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate were documented."
In addition, it is underscored that the political situation in Ukraine only provokes the aggravation of the situation around the UOC, which in turn does not contribute to respect for the rights of Ukrainians to freedom of religion and belief. Also, the speakers draw the attention of the world community to the fact that after the UOC refused to join the newly formed religious structure of the OCU, the SBU opened a number of criminal cases against the canonical Church on charges of inciting religious hatred.
In this array, mass questionings of clergy and searches were reported both in the dwellings of individual priests and bishops of the UOC. As UN analysts note, “many of those questioned qualify these actions as pressure on them. Despite the absence of direct threats or coercion, they consider these actions as attempts to influence their position regarding autocephaly.”
The law on forced renaming, as UN experts believe, is directed primarily against the UOC communities. They particularly emphasized the fact that “restrictions on the access of priests of such organizations (UOC – author’s note) to the premises of the Armed Forces of Ukraine for reasons of national security ... contradicts article 18 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, because security is not is a valid basis for restricting freedom of religion or belief.”
Interestingly, in one of the notes to the text, UN representatives write that the UOC "is often called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate to distinguish it from the UOC KP, but according to the official registration (data received in January 2019), this is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will be referred to exactly in such a way in the future.” This point should also be taken into account by domestic “experts” and “analysts” who speak of the Church in their printed texts or oral presentations.
On “peaceful transitions” from UOC to OCU
Therefore, as we can see from the document, the UN is firmly convinced that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church can be called the main target for discrimination and restriction of fundamental rights and freedoms in the religious sphere of the country. However, this position of international observers is fundamentally at odds with the position of both the President of Ukraine and representatives of state authorities and those church structures they favor.
For example, as early as December 18, 2018, before the Tomos was received from the hands of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, in the political talk show "Pulse" on 112 Ukraine TV channel, head of the Department of Religions and Nationalities of the Ministry of Culture Andrei Yurash announced thousands of peaceful transitions from the UOC to the OCU: “There will be peaceful transitions and there will be thousands of them. Today we have received a call from 6 regions that dozens of communities are already gathering for a meeting and preparing to move to the OCU. A diocesan meeting is being organized also in one of the southern regions, there are some obstacles, but they are even given room to do this. It means if we want peace, the main thing is to accept the realities. Starting from Saturday we have been living in different social and church realities. This must be realized, accepted and instead of predicting, designing, creating and waging any war, including religious one, one had better design a model of dialogue, a model of mutual understanding.”
As it is known, for almost two months since Tomos was granted, there can be no talk of any "thousands". Because for all this time, a little more than three dozen parishes were voluntarily transferred from the UOC KP to the schism (mainly to the UOC KP), and in as many as one transition was officially registered by the OCU. At the same time, domestic media claim that such “transitions” are already about half a thousand. Moreover, according to representatives of Ukrainian political arena, they all occur in an absolutely peaceful way.
For example, quite recently, during his visit to Ivano-Frankovsk region, Petro Poroshenko said: “Within one month of this year, more parishes have passed to the OCU than in previous years ... It is very important that no one forces anyone. In vain did Moscow await bloodshed, storms of temples, seizures of monasteries. It didn’t occur because our church is settling down with faith and love. And people appreciate it.”
He is echoed by the head of the newly created splitting structure Epiphany: “We heard long ago from the Russian side that once Tomos on autocephaly were given (to Ukraine – Ed.), it would cause serious resistance, bloodshed. But we see a completely peaceful process of parishes joining the new Church and we will do our best to keep that effort.”
At the same time, “metropolitan” Epiphany, without any doubt, ascertains the fact that “the community that came up with its jurisdiction sometimes cuts off locks at the church it built, since from the juridical perspective they made a decision and chose their Ukrainian church.” At the same time, the head of the OCU does not notice that in another place it contradicts himself when he declares that the creation of the OCU did not lead to confrontations and the transitions of communities to the new structure occur peacefully and smoothly. Should conflicts arise somewhere, they are “provoked by the Moscow Patriarchate. It sets up groups of people who go to hot spots, convince, corrupt, and intimidate.”
Are there no persecutions of the Church in Ukraine?
We consider it superfluous to speak about the spiritual motivation of those who cut locks in Orthodox temples – everything is crystal clear. The same “metropolitan” Epiphany asserts that “now the Church is the last outpost of the aggressor state, tentacles that penetrate the souls of Orthodox Ukrainians. We are called to cut them.”
So far they’ve been cutting them with the help of chainsaws and grinders. But you must admit that a grinder in the hands and hate speech instead of Christ preaching, which have become common tools for “peaceful accession” to the OCU is not exactly what the Gospel and the elementary norms of human society are all about.
Representatives of our Church could not but draw the attention of international human rights organizations to this situation. In fact, back in 2017, Bishop Victor (Kotsaba) of Baryshevka at an OSCE meeting in Warsaw told the audience that since 2015, Ukraine’s most numerous religious denomination has had to regularly declare critical situations at OSCE conferences and meetings on religious freedom and the protection of human rights about violations of the rights and freedoms of believers. At the same time, human rights activist Oleg Denisov, president of the NGO Public Advocacy, confirmed that the report of the head of the Representation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to international organizations Bishop Victor (Kotsaba) of Baryshevka, presened at the OSCE meeting in Warsaw, contains verified and unbiased information.
These statements found a response in the world community and the OSCE started speaking about inciting religious hatred in Ukraine. However, neither the recommendations of the representatives of the Council of Europe nor rather a tough position of the European legal organizations regarding the situation in Ukraine convinced the Ukrainian authorities that the problem really existed. Moreover, Andrei Yurash, already mentioned above, in 2017 stated that “Europe can only dream of the level of religious freedoms in Ukraine”. And the head of the OCU, "metropolitan" Epiphany, is sure that "international organizations after having studied this issue to the end ... will make the right decisions."
They studied and made. Moreover, long before the UN report cited above. For example, back in 2017, at a meeting of the Universal Periodic Review working group at the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, international non-governmental human rights organizations appealed to the authorities of Ukraine to end discrimination against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Today, the UN expert group also joined these non-governmental organizations.
One will have to give an answer in any case
In his address to officials of the UN, OSCE, EU and other countries due to the facts of large-scale violations of human rights in Ukraine and the real threat of escalation of religious conflicts, the head of the Representation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to European International Organizations, Bishop Viktor (Kotsaba) of Baryshevka underlined: “For the past few years, we have been informing the international human rights mechanism ... about the facts of violations of the rights of believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and we will continue to do so. ” This means that the incidence of raider seizures of temples, the violence accompanying those seizures, all cases of threats of physical violence and violations of the law and the norms of the European community are carefully recorded. And sooner or later the time will come when those guilty of all these offenses will be held accountable – both in the courts of Ukraine and in European courts of human rights. It is safe to say that not a single cut-off lock from the door of the temple, not a single tear caused by the offense will go unpunished. And it’s not only about the judgment of man but rather the judgment of Christ.