Religion, Church, and State in the Post-Communist Era: The Case of Ukraine (with Special References to Orthodoxy and Human Rights Issues)

By Yelensky, Victor | Brigham Young University Law Review, January 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Religion, Church, and State in the Post-Communist Era: The Case of Ukraine (with Special References to Orthodoxy and Human Rights Issues)


Yelensky, Victor, Brigham Young University Law Review


I. RELIGION,, CHURCH, AND STATE IN UKRAINE ON THE EVE OF THE FALL OF COMMUNISM

A. Communist Religious Policy

Up to the beginning of Gorbachev's reforms in Ukraine,1 there were over six thousand officially functioning religious communities (one-third of the religious organizations in the Soviet Union). This number included four thousand Orthodox parishes (65% of the religious communities in Ukraine), more than eleven hundred communities of Evangelical Christian-Baptists, about one hundred communities of Roman Catholics, and eighty communities of the Church of Reformation of Trans-i Hungarians and others.

The "Regulations Concerning the Religious Organizations in the Ukrainian SSR" defined the legal basis for the activity of religious organizations in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.2 This law, which mainly reproduced the Stalinist legislation of 1929, was issued in 1976. In addition, a great number of special instructions existed that led to an even more severe attitude towards churches. The violation of the minimal set of rights granted to believers was an ordinary phenomenon.

The number of official church institutions in no way reflected the real religious needs of the Ukrainian population. The authorities artificially restrained the increase of church institutions; the Communist party and state organizations concentrated their efforts on reducing IMAGE FORMULA5

the religious activity of the population, setting up harsh and comprehensive control over the church, and limiting the church's functions to only ritual practice.3

Most religious communities in Ukraine worked unofficially.4 In fact, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church existed underground, where despite difficult conditions it managed to preserve its bishops, monks, clerics, and continuity of tradition.5 The communities of Jehovah's Witnesses and Reformed Baptists,6 and a significant part of the Pentecostal Christians, survived in a similar manner.7 The structures, parallel to the official ones, occurred in Catholicism, Judaism, and many of the Protestant denominations.8

Moreover, at times during the past twenty years, the populations of many cities and villages (mainly in western Ukraine) have petitioned for permission to open Orthodox temples. In 1985, these petitions came from 173 Ukrainian towns; however, none of the petitions were granted.

At the same time, the Soviet state implemented an extensive anti-- religious propaganda campaign as a part of the political indoctrination of the people. A solid infrastructure contributed to the effectiveness of this effort. The farther from Moscow and the closer to the provinces, the more intensive the propaganda was.9 Disagreements about the limitations on churches may have existed between: (a) the pragmatically disposed, foreign economic departments, including the KGB's cultural apparatus and (b) the propagandist services and local party organizations. Yet, these disagreements were usually solved in IMAGE FORMULA7favor of the group that stood for uncompromising limitations of religious activity and, especially, for manifestation of national and religious distinctiveness.10

B. Religiosity in Ukraine Before the Great Transformation

The achievements of the Ukrainian Communist administration in its efforts to substitute some secular ersatz-religion for religiousness were much more humble than was officially declared.11

Unfortunately, no reliable data is available to characterize the religious identification of the Ukrainian population in the 1970s and 1980s. Several factors render the sociological research from that period unreliable. These factors are: (a) a lack of trustworthy data accumulated by Soviet sociologists of religion; (b) peculiarities of the Marxist-Leninist view of religion, as described sometimes in empirical material; (c) the self-isolation of Soviet society and inclination of many faithful in the Soviet Union, particularly highly-educated persons who held social positions, to anonymously withhold their viewpoint, which presumably meant religiousness was higher than reported in this area; (d) subordination of religious studies to sociological methods with the aim of overcoming religion; and (e) outspoken "understatements" in the interpretation of the existing data. …

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