New project “Religious Minorities of Ukraine and State-Religious Relations” Launched in Ukraine

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Liudmyla Fylypovych
Project Director

The project, supported by the Embassy of the Netherlands, is designed for 8 months and is implemented by the Ukrainian Association of Religious Studies, whose members are a team of project executors in partnership with the All-Ukrainian Council of Religious Associations.

The aim of the project is to identify a holistic and focused representation of religious minorities in Ukrainian society, knowledge of which can improve their status and perception in Ukraine. In our opinion, the project will affect the state-denominational relations, as it will promote the realization of equal rights of religious minorities with the religious majority.

Some objective circumstances have inclined us to propose this project. We have recognized that religious minorities widespread in the religious landscape of Ukraine, often perform only a decorative function, creating a picture of Ukraine’s multi-religious society. Due to their number (over 100), the state and society are unable to take into account the interests of religious minorities, neglecting their resources and special needs. At the local level (oblast/region, cities) their rights are usually ignored. That is why there has arisen the need to identify their urgent needs, to convey the peculiarities of their interests to the authorities, to include minorities more widely in the social and spiritual structure of society, and to guarantee them real rights and freedoms that they can enjoy. In the long run, mutually beneficial cooperation between the state and religious minority communities will not only change the intra-Ukrainian atmosphere of interreligious dialogue, but also develop relations with countries of origin of ethnic and religious minorities to improve Ukraine’s international image.

The relevance of the project is growing due to the fact that Ukraine holds itself out as a multi-religious and multi-ethnic country, where there is no discrimination against believers and their communities on religious or ethnic grounds. Although the interests of minorities are generally protected by Ukraine’s legal system, in fact the rights of religious and ethnic minorities often remain secondary. Meanwhile, religious minorities have their own specific needs and special conditions for their implementation, which should be taken into account by a democratic state. To join the EU, Ukraine should stop possible hot spots of confrontation between minority and majority religions.

The project envisages a large-scale survey of both representatives of religious minorities and public officials and experts in the field of state-denominational relations. During the Google survey we plan to get acquainted with the status and needs of religious minorities in various spheres of their lives. We will also investigate how well their basic and additional religious needs are met, their relations with state authorities, dangers and possible conflicts in educational, media, property and other spheres. After summarizing the results of the survey in the form of analytical notes, its content will be presented to public authorities in order to establish (de facto) equality of religious minorities in their representation in Ukraine’s official structures and advisory bodies, mass media and social charity. The project should and will actualize the existing religious minorities in the life of Ukraine, making them effective participants in democratization of society.

An important part of the project is the analysis of the legal framework – both international and domestic ones – which determines the presence and activities of religious minorities in Ukraine. It is envisaged to affirm and strengthen the principle of the rule of law.

Existing laws do not provide a proper legal basis for the participation of religious minorities in public life, especially in areas such as chaplaincy either military, medical, penitentiary or educational; volunteering; presence in the educational and cultural spaces, etc. There is a public demand for legal understanding of the new principles of interaction between the state and religious organizations. This requirement should be legalized through the reform of the 1991 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations or the adoption of a new law that will help improve the cooperative (partnership) model of state-denominational relations in the new conditions of pluralization and democratization of religious life. The availability of a new legal framework for successful governance of religious minorities in the Ukrainian context will improve state-denominational relations.

The proposed project is in line with international and national human rights strategies. Its results are aimed at implementing the decisions of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on Ukraine’s application for EU membership. Guarantees of freedom of conscience, religion and belief are among the mandatory clauses of international treaties.

Many international bodies that monitor Ukraine’s commitment to its membership in the United Nations, the OSCE and the Council of Europe on the protection of human rights in the field of religion are constantly keeping a close watch on the country’s progress in this field. The project will confirm Ukraine’s intention to take into account the interests not only of individual believers, but also of their communities belonging to religious minorities. That is why EU countries, in particular the Embassy of the Netherlands, actively support such initiatives as this project. “Promoting freedom of religion and belief” is one of the priorities among the mentioned areas.

Ukraine is already actively putting international human rights standards into practice of socio-religious relations as well as state-denominational ones. This project will particularize this activity, focusing on inconsiderable in number and, therefore, little-known religious minorities.

Donors, such as the Adenauer Foundation, sponsor the Religion and Power project in Ukraine, but it covers only a predominantly religious majority. Paying special attention to the rights and needs of religious minorities will deepen the understanding of the peculiarities of the relationship between the state and religious minorities.

We believe that in Ukraine our project will be needed by:

  1. first of all, the minorities themselves, who should realize the importance of their presence in society,
  1. the state that is interested in improving state-denominational relations
  2. other religious organizations, the so-called majority religions, with which interreligious dialogue is already under way, but requires developing and improving.
  1. all citizens of Ukraine who are building the Ukrainian political nation – a modern component of the civilized democratic world.

We consider our project to be innovative because of the following:

  • This is the first research that will focus on religious minorities, who (although less than 5% of the total number of religious communities in Ukraine) are the ones who show the diversity of our society.
  • The project will focus on the interests and needs of the minority part of religious life, emphasizing its specific needs.
  • Researchers will communicate directly with representatives of religious minorities, interview them, update their problems, which will be voiced and transmitted to society in modern forms.
  • The state will pay attention not only to the decorative, but also to the real presence of religious minorities in the life of Ukrainian society, whose activities are determined by specific beliefs and practices, and also by inclusion in Ukraine’s public life.
  • Recommendations for the improvement of state-denominational relations in their implementation in the state policy in the field of religions will indicate concrete steps of Ukraine towards EU membership.

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