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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
06KIEV2123
2006-06-01 14:54:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Kyiv
Cable title:  

UKRAINE: GOVERNMENT'S POINT MAN ON RELIGION OFFERS

Tags:   PHUM  PGOV  PINR  SOCI  SCUL  KIRF  UP 
pdf how-to read a cable
VZCZCXRO4843
PP RUEHDBU
DE RUEHKV #2123/01 1521454
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 011454Z JUN 06
FM AMEMBASSY KIEV
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9656
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE
						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 KIEV 002123 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/01/2016
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PINR SOCI SCUL KIRF UP
SUBJECT: UKRAINE: GOVERNMENT'S POINT MAN ON RELIGION OFFERS
RESIGNATION

REF: 05 KIEV 4676

Classified By: Political Counselor Aubrey Carlson for reasons 1.4 (b) a
nd (d).

Summary
-------

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 KIEV 002123

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/01/2016
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PINR SOCI SCUL KIRF UP
SUBJECT: UKRAINE: GOVERNMENT'S POINT MAN ON RELIGION OFFERS
RESIGNATION

REF: 05 KIEV 4676

Classified By: Political Counselor Aubrey Carlson for reasons 1.4 (b) a
nd (d).

Summary
--------------


1. (SBU) The Ukrainian government's point man on religious
issues, the State Department for Religious Issues (SDRI)
chief Ihor Bondarchuk, told us June 1 that, for a variety of
reasons, he had tendered his resignation. Bondarchuk
criticized the Yushchenko administration's "unprofessional"
handling of religious matters and lamented his department's
lack of authority and chronic underfunding. He asserted that
Yushchenko's well-intentioned April 2005 decision to abolish
the Soviet-legacy State Committee for Religious Affairs had,
in retrospect, been a mistake. With no oversight from Kiev,
local politicians were in many cases bowing to the wishes of
their constituents and protecting the interests of the
dominant local religious organization -- to the detriment of
other religious groups. The SDRI, Bondarchuk complained, was
powerless to intervene. On broader religious freedom issues
within Ukrainian society, Bondarchuk related that his office
had received many complaints about the haphazard
implementation of ethics courses in Ukrainian schools. He
also disputed assertions that anti-Semitism was rising in
Ukraine, noting that the country's Jewish community was in
the midst of a post-independence renaissance; anti-Semitism
in France, he argued, was far worse than in Ukraine. End
summary.

"Get Somebody Else"
--------------


2. (SBU) During a June 1 meeting, the director of the State
Department for Religious Issues (SDRI), Ihor Bondarchuk, told
us that he had tendered his resignation to Prime Minister
Yuriy Yekhanurov. Bondarchuk blasted the Ministry of Justice
and the Presidential Secretariat for handling religious
issues in an "unprofessional way," complained that his
department was chronically underfunded and essentially

powerless, and said he was "tired of being personally
criticized" by senior government colleagues for attending
services in a parish of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow
Patriarchate (UOC-MP). Bondarchuk said he had told
Yekhanurov to "get somebody else."

"A Big Mistake"
--------------


3. (SBU) Bondarchuk asserted that President Yushchenko's
April 2005 decision to abolish the State Committee on
Religious Affairs (SCRA) and replace it with the SDRI had
turned out to be "a big mistake." Yushchenko's move had been
well-intentioned; the SCRA was a deeply corrupt Soviet-legacy
organization whose abolition was largely welcomed by
Ukrainian religious organizations. The problem, Bondarchuk
explained, was that the SDRI was placed under the
jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice and given no power
over religious matters in the regions. Local-level
Departments for Religious Issues (DRI) now answered directly
to governors and mayors -- and no longer to Kiev.

"Lie to My Face and Laugh behind My Back"
--------------


4. (SBU) The results, Bondarchuk sighed, were predictable:
local politicians, bowing to the wishes of their
constituents, had generally protected the interests of the
dominant local religious organization to the detriment of
others, especially minority groups. When pressed for
examples, he related that a UOC-Kiev Patriachate priest
headed the DRI in western Ukraine's Rivne Oblast, and had
authorized the illegal seizure of UOC-MP churches in Ostroh
(reftel) and elsewhere. Conversely, in the major eastern
Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, where the UOC-MP was strong, the
local mayor and DRI chief had publicly said they would "speak
about religious matters only with the UOC-MP and provide land
plots for the construction of churches only to the UOC-MP."
While Yushchenko spoke eloquently in Kiev about religious
freedom and tolerance, inter-confessional tensions in the
regions were actually worsening, Bondarchuk claimed. "It
reminds me of the first year of Perestroika in Ukraine,"
Bondarchuk grimly joked, during which "local Communist Party
chiefs would report to Comrade Gorbachev that they had
'successfully implemented' Perestroika and that all was well."


5. (SBU) Throwing his hands in the air for emphasis,
Bondarchuk claimed he was "powerless" to curb the excesses of
local officials. He related that he recently attempted to

KIEV 00002123 002 OF 002


mediate a dispute in Zhytomyr Oblast in which the oblast
government was refusing to register a parish of the Russian
Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA). Bondarchuk said that the
Zhytomyr DRI chief "lied to my face" about the matter and
then "laughed at me behind my back" because the DRI chief
"knows that I have no authority to make him comply with the
law." Bondarchuk related that he had submitted a proposal to
Yekhanurov to place the SDRI under the prime minister's
authority and give it power over local DRI offices; the
proposal had been actively opposed by the Ministry of Justice
and the Presidential Secretariat and "went nowhere."

Complaints about Christian Ethics Courses
--------------


6. (SBU) Turning to broader religious freedom issues within
Ukrainian society, Bondarchuk said that his office had
received "a lot of complaints" about haphazard implementation
of ethics courses in schools. In some schools, which he said
were in eastern Ukraine but did not further identify,
Bondarchuk asserted that young children "studied Marxism at 1
p.m. and then the fundamentals of Christianity at 4 p.m.";
the kids were "confused," and their parents were "really
angry." Bondarchuk cited Kharkiv for "getting things right"
by allowing parents to have the final say on whether or not
their children attended ethics classes.

Anti-Semitism: France is "Far Worse"
--------------


7. (SBU) Bondarchuk disputed the assertion of some members of
Ukraine's Jewish community that anti-Semitism was on the
rise. Noting that the SDRI had "excellent" relations with
the leaders of all major Ukrainian Jewish organizations,
Bondarchuk stressed that Jewish life was continuing its
strong post-independence renaissance. While acknowledging
that "in a nation of 47 million people, there are some
anti-Semites," Bondarchuk claimed that anti-Semitism was a
far greater problem in France than in Ukraine "despite the
fact that France is a wealthy democracy with a strong legal
system."

Comment
--------------


8. (C) If his resignation is accepted, we will miss
Bondarchuk as an interlocutor. He has been accessible,
candid, and technology-friendly, overseeing the creation of
an SDRI web site praised by religious organizations of many
faiths. Bondarchuk's characterization of Yushchenko's
decision to abolish the SCRA is one increasingly shared by
religious organizations here, especially minority ones like
the Mormons and charismatic evangelical Protestants, who
depended on the SCRA to mediate disputes at the local level.
Gwaltney