Ukrainian religious and government officials review problems


RISU, 17 May 2016


On 16 May a discussion was held under the chairmanship of the senior bishop of the Ukrainian Christian Evangelical Church, Leonid Padun, with the participation of the director of the Department for Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Culture, Andrei Yurash, and former directors of the governmental apparatus for religious affairs, Viktor Bondareno, Yury Bogutsky, Yury Reshetniov, Alexander Sagan, and people's deputy Viktor Elensky, the Institute of Religious Liberty reports.


On the agenda of the meeting were three questions: 1) prevention of conflicts in the inter-confessional environment; 2) improvement of the registration of religious organizations; 3) correction of the situation regarding taxation changes affecting the non-profit status of religious organizations.


Archbishop Evstraty of the UPTs of the Kiev patriarchate emphasized that dialogue is important not for the sake of formality but it should be filled with meaning. He thinks that the introduction of taxation changes requiring reregistration of all religious organizations is a blatant case of incompetence in the composition of law, since the changes were adopted without taking into account the specifics of religious organizations and without consultation with them.


He is convinced that there also should be achieved a golden mean in the activity of an office for religious affairs. "This office should not be turned into a chief procuratorship, and on the other hand a system of administration in the sphere of religion should not be developed, particularly with regional peculiarities in the application of existing legislation," the archbishop noted.


Major Archbishop Sviatoslav of the UGKTs emphasized that a state-confessional dialogue should be formulated on principles of equality so that all confessions would be left equal among themselves, regardless of changes in the political situation. "The state should not support or favor any one church and the law should be identical for all," he said.


The head of the UGKTs expressed an opinion regarding the civil position of religious organizations: "Churches do not intervene in politics, but they are active in civil society, since people expect certain moral guidance from churches. However it is important to understand how the government perceives the role of churches in the construction of the state. We want to develop cooperation on partnership principles: to build a partnership relationship with the government but not to control the government."


The head of the Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims of Ukraine, Mufti Akhmed Tamim, emphasized that the activity of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations will help in the development of harmony and peaceful coexistence of various confessions, despite differences in doctrinal and certain views and it also convincingly testifies that Ukraine is united.


The head of the Expert Council of Matters of Freedom of Conscience and the Activity of Religious Organizations under the Ministry of Culture, Viktor Bondarenko, urged that positive developments of past years not be rejected. In particular, he thinks it appropriate to revive the Commission on Matters of Ensuring Exercise of the Rights of Religious Organizations under the cabinet of ministers of Ukraine, which showed itself to be an effective inter-agency body.


At the same time, an advisor to the Ukrainian president, Yury Bogutsky, suggested further development of a dialogue between the religious community and experts in order to facilitate overcoming existing and preventing new conflicts in the inter-confessional environment.


At the same time, expert Yury Reshetnikov noted that several inter-confessional conflicts have been exacerbated because of the appearance of contradictory legislative initiatives that have been introduced in the parliament without informing the religious community and without proper consultations with the Council of Churches. He is convinced that there should be direct dialogue of representatives of various branches of government with the religious community.


Returning to the problem of taxation changes, attorney Gennady Biloritsky, an aide to the chief rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine, stressed the necessity of rescinding the taxation changes that require the reregistration of all religious organizations before the end of the year.


"Subpoint 133.4.1 of the tax code of Ukraine placed all religious organizations outside the law since their main mission is to help their faithful, which now is effectively prohibited. This is a time bomb that will explode on 1 January 2017," the representative of the United Jewish Religious Organizations of Ukraine thinks.


He added that the code and the special law on religious organizations should consolidate the non-profit status of religious organizations with appropriate requirements regarding their activity and inclusion in the Registry of Non-Profit Organizations should occur automatically.


Speaking about issues of improvement of the registration of religious organizations, a representative of the UGKTs, Archpriest Oleksa Petriv, voiced the position of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches. It consists of the introduction of a universal registration of religious organizations in offices for religious affairs (not lower than the provincial level) instead of several disparate procedures and also the prevention of any obligatory reregistration of religious organizations.


The director of the department, Andrei Yurash, assured representatives of the confessions that just such an approach will be the basis of the legislative process, which has already been begun in the Ministry of Culture. (tr. by PDS, posted 18 May 2016)

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