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06KIEV2123, UKRAINE: GOVERNMENT’S POINT MAN ON RELIGION OFFERS

June 1, 2006

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06KIEV2123 2006-06-01 14:54 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Kyiv
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 
------- 

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

 

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