In the first days of December 2022, the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi signed Decree on putting into effect the decision of the National Security Council, which refers, in particular, to banning the activities of religious organizations affiliated with centers of influence in the Russian Federation. Therefore, in the next two months, the Cabinet of Ministers should prepare and submit to the parliament a draft law on making it impossible to operate in Ukraine religious organizations affiliated with centers of influence in the Russian Federation. However, if you look carefully at the exact wording of the NSDC’s decision, it does not refer to “impossibility of the activities of the UOC MP”, although it is clear that they will have the most questions.
It is worth noting that legislators will have to clearly spell out in the future law what exactly is meant by the term “impossibility of activity”.
It will not work to ban the activities of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine
Ban? This is a very interesting legal term. The decision of the National Security Council clearly states that the law must comply with the norms of “international law in the field of freedom of conscience and Ukraine’s obligations in connection with joining the Council of Europe.” Based on these norms, it should be understood: it will not work to ban the activities of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine in the sense that they will completely lose the opportunity to stay in our country and hold religious services.
Ukraine is a legal state. And today, the current legislation does not contain a clear and working tool for banning this or that religious organization. There is only the possibility of removing the church from state registration. But this does not mean that this organization cannot continue to carry out its religious activities.
Moreover, according to the current legislation, a religious organization may not have the status of a legal entity at all. That is, it can only inform the state that it is conducting its activities in Ukraine.
The authorities are changing their policy regarding churches
However, the main thing at the moment is the very fact of such a decision of the National Security Council. If we abstract from the content of the document, then the decision is a clear signal to society that the authorities are changing their policy regarding churches that have a management center on the territory of the Russian Federation. That is, it is a very important and very serious message.
From December 1, 2022, we clearly understand that the protectorate of the authorities does not work for the UOC MP.
But, unfortunately, getting involved in the epic with the new law, we lose at least six months. Although it is not important to Ukrainians which law will prohibit the activities of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, the main thing is the result.
Only the Moscow Patriarchate currently needs to delay time. This will allow religious organizations to change the initial conditions. For example, the Old Believer Church also had to make changes to its statutes, since it has its administrative center in the Russian Federation. They recently changed their name, severing relations with the Moscow center. Thus, today they continue to exist in Ukraine in the same structure and with the same people. But we can no longer have legal issues with them…
The State Service for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience has been tasked with conducting a theological examination of the Statute on the Administration of the UOC for the presence of a church-canonical connection with the Moscow Patriarchate. However, it is not at all a fact that the State Service for Ethnopolitics will be able to reach this conclusion. After all, from September 2022, the head of the institution appeals to the fact that from May 27 there is no connection between the UOC and the Moscow Patriarchate. If it is recognized otherwise, it will mean lobbying by this church. If we accept the same, it will turn out that the decision of the National Security Council has no relation to the UOC MP…
In addition, we are talking about only one statute “on management”, which is part of the church’s internal documents and is not even registered with state authorities.
However, with regard to the normalization of the situation with the UOC MP, there is still a legislative basis for this in Ukraine. And a long time ago. It just had to be done.
Contracts concluded between state institutions and churches can be terminated now, without adopting a new law. The state has the opportunity to do this, because religious organizations have not complied with the current law on amendments to the statutes.
In Ukraine, there are enough opportunities to limit the activities of the UOC MP
That is, if the above-mentioned law is not adopted, there are enough other opportunities in Ukraine to limit the activities of the UOC MP. What measures can these be, apart from the termination of contracts and the implementation of the law on amendments to the statutes? It is at least about the fact that the religious organizations of the UOC-MP in Ukraine should eventually be depoliticized, as well as deprived of their paramilitary (paramilitary) structures.
Oleksandr Sagan, religious scholar