Protest over religious discrimination in the Crimea

Volodymyr Prytula reports that 100 well-known Ukrainians from the Crimea have called on President Yanukovych to protect the Ukrainian population of the Crimea from religious discrimination. Their appeal says that the Simferopol authorities are carrying out an anti-State policy with regard to religion and provoking inter-ethnic and inter-denominational conflict in the region. They ask the President to take resolution of the issue of land allocation in the Crimea for Ukrainian Churches to build churches under his personal control.

Archbishop Kliment of the Simferopol and Crimean Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate [UOC KP], says that he and other believers were stunned to learn of the refusal by the Simferopol City Council to allocate land for a Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Simferopol. In 2008, he explains, deputies gave permission for a land site to be allocated, and over the years the Church management organized all the permits, plan etc. All of this was hugely expensive with the money coming through donations from people in the Crimea and other regions.

Finally, in February 2010 the Church received the Act confirming the choice of land site and agreement of the documentation with all bodies. No legal complaints or reservations were presented, he says.

Andriy Shchekun from the Public Committee for the Protection of Ukrainian Orthodox Believers says that the Council’s refusal is all the more unfounded since at the same Council session another Orthodox Church received 6 land sites. He asserts that in all the years since Independence the Ukrainian Crimean Eparchy of the UOC KP has not received a single land site for building churches.

He calls the attitude of the local authorities to Ukrainian churches and other parishioners is contemptuous and discriminatory. He asserts that over the last few years the authorities have de facto created an alliance with one of the denominations which “is more and more turning into the State Church”. They are therefore planning public protests.

People within the Executive Committee say that the permits were revoked in accordance with the General Plan of Simferopol which was changed last year in autumn. This plan concerned all religious communities in Simferopol besides the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate.

Archbishop Kliment says that the local authorities are using the General Plan as a pretext, and are inciting conflict on inter-ethnic and inter-faith grounds. The Deputy Mayor, he asserts, explained the refusal to allocate land for churches as being because there were a lot of land sites which Crimean Tatars have squatted. He told the Church to agree getting some of this land from them, which the Archbishop calls “dangerous and unintelligent”, that inspires more prayers for peace and understanding in the Crimea.  He says that believers are prepared to take decisive actions and that they will take their example from the Crimean Tatars who fought for their right to build the Soborna [Assembly] Mosque in Simferopol and did finally win. 

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