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06KIEV583, UKRAINE: IN THE MIDDLE OF ODESA, A PRESBYTERIAN

February 14, 2006

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06KIEV583 2006-02-14 07:45 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Kyiv
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 KIEV 000583 

SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/14/2016 
TAGS: PHUM
SUBJECT: UKRAINE: IN THE MIDDLE OF ODESA, A PRESBYTERIAN 
CHURCH 

REF: A. KIEV 578 

     B. 05 KIEV 1712 
     C. 05 KIEV 1794 

Classified By: Ambassador for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 

Summary 
------- 

1. (C) Two leaders of Odesa's small Presbyterian community 
asserted to us February 8 that the local actors guild had 
enlisted political help in an effort to seize the city's 
historic Presbyterian church.  The actors wanted to turn the 
church, which has just gone through a 1.2 million USD 
renovation, into a private theater, according to our 
contacts.  After filing a lawsuit challenging the 
Presbyterian community's claim to the property, the guild 
allegedly paid bribes to Mayor Hurvits and M.P. Les Tanyuk to 
influence the court's handling of the case and produce a 
"favorable" verdict.  The guild has also been aided by the 
local head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow 
Patriarchate (UOC-MP), who reportedly chastised Hurvits for 
"allowing Protestants to have a church right in the middle of 
Odesa."  While characterizing themselves as supporters of the 
Orange Revolution, our interlocutors expressed disappointment 
that under President Yushchenko their church's situation had 
not improved.  End summary. 

Property Restitution "Success Story" Gone Bad 
--------------------------------------------- 

2. (SBU) The leader of Odesa's small Presbyterian community, 
Pastor Valeriy Babuinin, and the director of the Odesa-based 
Evangelical Reformed Seminary of Ukraine, Dr. Clay 
Quarterman, told us February 8 that the municipal actors 
guild was enlisting political help to seize the historic 
Odesa Presbyterian Church.  The church, which was built in 
1896, confiscated during the Soviet era, and then legally 
restituted to Odesa's Presbyterian community in 1999, has 
just undergone a five-year, 1.2 million USD renovation, 
transforming it from a dilapidated, graffiti-covered homeless 
hangout into a modern church building with a state-of-the-art 
pipe organ. 

Actors Get Help from the Mayor, an MP... 
---------------------------------------- 

3. (C) Our contacts asserted that, once the renovations were 
completed, the Odesa Actors Guild filed a lawsuit challenging 
the Presbyterian church's right to the property; guild 
members also began "squatting" in the church's first-floor 
office space in an apparent effort to establish a claim to 
ownership.  Babuinin related that the Actors Guild wanted to 
turn the renovated facility into a private, for-profit 
theater.  To achieve that goal, the pastor claimed, the guild 
had paid significant bribes to Odesa Mayor Eduard Hurvits and 
M.P. Les Tanyuk, a famous actor who serves as the head of the 
Rada's Committee on Culture and Spirituality, to favorably 
"influence" the local court's handling of the case.  Our 
contacts speculated that Hurvits and Tanyuk may have been 
promised a percentage of the future theater's receipts in 
exchange for their "assistance."  The trial is currently 
postponed, with no trial date set. 

...And the Moscow Patriarchate 
------------------------------ 

4. (C) The guild has also reportedly enlisted Metropolitan 
Angafangel, the local leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox 
Church-Moscow Patriarchate (the local name for the Russian 
Orthodox Church), to support the eviction of the 
Presbyterians from the church.  According to Quarterman and 
Babuinin, Angafangel recently paid a call on Mayor Hurvits, 
during which he allegedly berated Hurvits for "allowing 
Protestants to have a church right in the middle of Odesa." 
With Angafangel's blessing, the guild also used Odesa's 
vociferously pro-Russian media to slander the Presbyterian 
church, Babuinin said.  Media outlets refused to allow the 
Presbyterians to respond, the pastor added.  While describing 
themselves as supporters of the 2004 Orange Revolution, our 
contacts nonetheless criticized President Yushchenko. 
Echoing similar comments by Odesa's Roman Catholic Bishop 
(ref A), Pastor Babuinin said in the last 12 months "things 
have gotten worse for us." 

Comment 
------- 

5. (C) We would note that while the situation for minority 
religious groups in Odesa is troubling, it is not 
representative of the country as a whole.  From Czarist 
times, Odesa has been an unruly, crime-ridden port that, as a 
city, has set hair-raising standards for corruption and 
mismanagement (refs B-C).  What is happening to Presbyterians 
in Odesa, as well as Roman Catholics, may be an unintended 
consequence of Yushchenko's April 2005 decision to abolish 
the State Committee on Religious Affairs (SCRA).  While badly 
flawed and widely criticized, the SCRA did help protect the 
interests of minority religious groups in Ukraine.  Despite 
our contacts' disappointment that their situation may have 
worsened in the last year, blame for their worsening 
predicament should not be laid at the feet of the central 
government in Kiev, but rather to apparent UOC-MP hostility 
to the presence of other churches. 
HERBST

 

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From → CONFIDENTIAL

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