President, Prime Minister, Speaker, SBU Head: what to expect from new power
Who of the new leadership of Ukraine the Church can expect loyalty, neutrality or trouble.
The presidency of Petro Poroshenko was marked by unprecedented government intervention in the affairs of the Church in the history of independent Ukraine. The creation of a new Church, the seizure of UOC churches, illegal and unconstitutional decisions of local authorities, unheard-of aggression against ordinary believers and the clergy – all this became the hallmark of his reign.
Therefore, believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church hoped that with the arrival of Vladimir Zelensky the relationship between the Church and the state would change. No one expects from the new government any special loyalty to the Church, much less its privileged position. All expectations are associated with only one thing – with the return of the relationship between religious and state structures in the field of the Constitution.
For us, paradoxically, the very fact of the implementation of the main law of the country will already indicate cardinal changes. After all, then the arbitrariness of officials, illegal re-registration of communities, pressure on the clergy and lawlessness of the radicals will cease.
Therefore, the camp of non-opponents of the Church can include not only those who openly support it but also those who do not oppose it. In our situation, such a position can only be welcomed. Because, as Christ said, "he who is not against us is for us".
What can believers expect from the new government?
President Vladimir Zelensky
Before taking office, the future President Vladimir Zelensky said that religion was too personal for him to bring it to the public plane: “There are things that we never discuss at the table of our family. That's what my father taught me. I never discuss them with anyone. Religious issues are number one. We never discuss things that split families and society. I never do it. But I believe in God."
Neither before nor after the election Zelensky spoke out in favour of this or that Church. Particularly indicative was his non-participation in the “prayer for Ukraine” at the St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev. Moreover, Zelensky is probably the first President of Ukraine who maintains emphasized neutrality in relation to religious organizations. You can even say that this is the first secular president of the country. And this in our case gives some hope for the cessation of that arbitrariness regarding the UOC that we have observed over the past four years.
Prime Minister Alexey Goncharuk
Doctor of Philosophy Alexey Goncharuk does not consider himself a religious person. Moreover, he declares his dislike for the Church. However, unlike Zelensky, he does not distance himself from church issues and, like former President Petro Poroshenko, considers them a matter of state security.
Here is what Goncharuk wrote on his Facebook page on December 15, 2018, the day when the so-called “Unification Council” took place:
“I am not a very religious person – I believe in God and do not really love the Church. But today is also a big day for me.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church founded.
The Ukrainian clergy demonstrated the ability to negotiate, and Filaret set an example of abandoning personal ambitions for the sake of an important matter. I bow to him.
As a citizen of Ukraine, I also thank President Petro Poroshenko, the head of the Verkhovna Rada Andrei Paruby, and thousands more who have had a hand in this important event. This is an important step towards strengthening our independence.
Yes. For me it's more about security than about religion, but this day gives me hope.
Epiphany was elected Primate, Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine. A young, educated and, hopefully, progressive person. The ideal time is to build a modern Ukrainian spiritual organization on the thousand-year-old foundation of traditions. Without post-soviet stereotypes and traumas. Without looking at Moscow.
I really hope that in Ukraine there will be the Church I want to go to.
The country is changing. Everything will be fine".
Goncharuk warmly welcomed the signing of the Tomos. At the same time, it wasn’t without stereotypes about “Moscow agents” usual for Poroshenko’s authorities: “The Tomos has been signed. Ukraine received an independent Orthodox Church. For me, this is definitely a victory. A security matter rather than religious. The influence of Moscow agents through the Church in Ukraine will decrease. And this is very good".
That is, by and large, for the current Prime Minister, church affiliation is viewed not from the point of view of religious life but only from the point of view of politics. The UOC in his mind is firmly connected with Moscow and with issues of state security. Goncharuk does not need any evidence, only deep-rooted stereotypes.
Such stereotypical thinking does not bode well for UOC believers. Therefore, we can expect anything from the Prime Minister if he does not take a firm decision to adhere to the Constitution.
Speaker of Parliament Dmitry Razumkov
Dmitry Razumkov is a person who has repeatedly stressed before the election that the rights of believers, regardless of the context, must be respected.
In 2018, before the Great Cross Procession of the UOC, which the authorities tried in every possible way to disrupt, he said: “If we have prides (LGBT parades – Ed.), then why cannot other marches take place? All should be equal here. If in wartime the state doesn’t allow to hold serious marches (with the exception of the Independence Day parade), then this is not allowed to anyone. And if allowed, then everyone is allowed.”
Already being the head of the presidential party, “The Servant of the People”, Razumkov said that “the state should ensure the interests of all, regardless of which Church you go to and whether you go at all”. If hot heads appear, and they, in Razumkov’s opinion, “are enough from both sides”, in such cases law enforcement agencies should act.
Razumkov is not enthusiastic about anti-church laws. In his opinion, they "are strange, it is necessary that the rights of all should be respected."
In one of the interviews, Razumkov spoke quite neutrally about the creation of the OCU, however, he emphasized that law enforcement agencies should stop church raiding: “May the faithful forgive me: the state has done its job, we got the local Church – that's all. Now we need to ensure the rule of law so that there is no manipulation, raiding, and something else – law enforcement officers must clearly work it out here. Attempts to earn political points on this is wrong.”
Head of the President’s Office Andrei Bohdan
Of all the newly appointed officials, Andrei Bohdan is probably the most neutral person to religion and the Church. At least he has never spoken out publicly about his faith in God or religious preferences.
The so-called “Unification Council”, the bestowal of Tomos and other events that worried the Ukrainian society in the last months of Poroshenko’s reign did not affect Bohdan – he simply did not notice the appearance of the OCU.
Therefore, we have the right to expect that he will continue to adhere to this position. However, this does not mean that he cannot proceed with tough actions against the canonical Church. It all depends on the general religious vector of Ukrainian politics.
Head of SBU Ivan Bakanov
The head of the Security Service of Ukraine Ivan Bakanov prefers to remain silent about his religious views. However, according to media reports, he personally congratulated His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry on the namesake day. The photo of guests who arrived to congratulate the Primate shows a man with flowers, very similar to Ivan Bakanov.
If so, we can hope that law enforcement agencies will finally deal with officials who systematically violate the rights of believers and engage in church raiding.
Head of the VR Committee for Humanitarian and Information Policy Alexander Tkachenko
Hundreds (if not thousands) of UOC believers spoke out against the appointment of Tkachenko to the post of head of the parliamentary committee, which also deals with religious issues. However, their opinion was not taken into account, and Tkachenko’s appointment took place.
Tkachenko is a long-standing enemy and one of the most active opponents of the UOC. Channel 1 + 1, which he headed before the election, has been releasing stories of a clearly anti-church nature for many years, and Tkachenko himself has never concealed his sympathy for the UOC-KP and later for the OCU.
The Church definitely shouldn’t expect good things from him, especially given that Tkachenko’s committee included people like Nikolai Kniazhitsky (one of the authors of anti-church bills and initiators of the Verkhovna Rada’s appeal to Patriarch Bartholomew) and Sofia Fedina (a member of Poroshenko’s party “ European Solidarity ”, a supporter of the OCU).
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In general, taking into account all the pros and cons, the alignment of forces in the new government of Ukraine, which can significantly affect the religious life of the country, is approximately the same. Roughly speaking, Alexei Goncharuk and Alexander Tkachenko can be conditionally ranked as opponents of the Church. Those who are more likely its proponents are Dmitry Razumkov and Ivan Bakanov. Those who keep neutrality are also two – Vladimir Zelensky and Andrey Bogdan.
It is clear that ultimately general orientation of Ukrainian politics rather than personal preferences of individuals will be decisive. The President received from the people unprecedented credibility, and in many ways, it will depend on Vladimir Zelensky where the Ukrainian authorities will move – towards the Constitution or towards the search for enemies who can be responsible for all political failures.
But to say that everything depends only on him is not quite right. There are many factors that can affect the position of the President and change it overnight – both in a positive and negative sense for the Church.
In the meantime, Zelensky justifies the trust placed in him. And we very much hope that this will continue in the future. Moreover, we hope that Ukrainian politicians will remember the rights of believers not only before the next election but also when a group of bandits from supporters of the “single local Church” comes to take away a village church. Such things must be stopped.
Until then, we live in hope that everything is sure to change for the better. We can’t live differently. After all, hope dies last.