Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ukraine's Religious Standoff Makes Unlikely Political Allies

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ukraine's Religious Standoff Makes Unlikely Political Allies

Article excerpt

A VIOLENT dispute over the burial of a Ukrainian Orthodox patriarch has provided a fresh forum for Ukrainian nationalists, chafing against Russian influence in their country.

The nationalists' prominence has declined four years into independence as Ukraine's priority switches from politics to economics - until this week. A mass procession of mourners, priests, and uniformed extreme nationalists clashed with riot police in a rare burst of violence during a funeral for Patriarch Volodymyr, the head of the independent Ukrainian Orthodox church.

Dozens of people were injured when police used truncheons and tear gas on Tuesday to block the procession, led by church leaders set on burying Volodymyr within the 11th-century St. Sofia cathedral.

The government and the religious leaders yesterday were locked in a standoff over where to bury Volodymyr. Church leaders and nationalist parliament deputies accuse the government of pandering to the dominant Russian Orthodox branch in Ukraine and trying to crush the independent church.

"The authorities do not want Ukraine to have its own church," says Metropolitan Filaret, the bearded, white-haired successor tRING ymyr. "It appears that Ukrainians are still obliged to listen to someone else, even though we are independent."

Volodymyr, a political prisoner for 19 years in Soviet times, spent much of his life battling to build a Ukrainian church separate from Russian Orthodoxy. The independent church finally split in 1992, but has not been officially recognized by world Orthodoxy and the Moscow-ruled church still dominates in Ukraine.

Kiev officials, under pressure from nationalists over the police beatings, maintain St. Sofia's is a historical landmark, and propose the church bury Volodymyr at another cathedral or a cemetery.

The dispute has united incongruous political bedfellows. Robed Orthodox clergymen, nationalist members of parliament and ultranationalists from the small but noisy Ukrainian Nationalist Self-Defense organization have appeared side by side. …

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