Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ukraine and secularism

Here is a link to my Russian language blog on http://www.pik.org.ua/ website published last week – just during the celebration of 1020 years of the Christianization of Kyivan Rus.

The name of the blog article – Questions on Religion Studies. I wrote that I have only five questions concerning the celebration (which was organized at the highest state level with the participation of President and first-level officials of secular country Ukraine in all the events of the celebration, including public worship), and also concerning the visit to Ukraine of ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople.

Question 1. Did the ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew know that for three days he will become the central figure of political PR campaign in Ukraine?

Question 2. Did somebody informed the ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew about hundreds of giant bog-boards with collaged portrait of him and President of Ukraine, signed with something like “Ukraine is the cradle of Orthodox religion”?

Question 3. Does Viktor Yushchenko know that His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew came to Ukraine – on the first place – at the invitation of Alexy, patriarch of Moscow? (Russian Ministry of Foreign affairs has recently published a note that states that the patriarch of Moscow was humiliated by Ukrainian authorities during the celebration and I can say that it is an 80 percent truth).

I would like to quote a press release of the Saint Sinode of Orthodox Church (to prove the information of question "3" :
During its regular session, held on June 23-25, 2008, The Holy and Sacred Synod reviewed the invitations of His Beatitude Alexy, Patriarch of Moscow, requesting a Patriarchal Delegation to attend the festivities of the 1020th anniversary of the Christianization of the Kievan Rus and of His Excellency Viktor Yushchenko, President of Ukraine, to His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to personally lead the aforementioned festivities.

Having evaluated the invitations of the Church, Nation and the Ukrainian people, and in honoring their feelings, the Mother Church – as the one who originally guided the Ukrainian people into baptism – decided to respond to the aforementioned invitations through the sending of a Patriarchal Delegation under the personal leadership of His All Holiness.
At the Patriarchate, 2 July 2008From the Chief Secretariat of the Holy Synod.

Question 4. Do the President’s entourage understand that the participation on Mr. Yushchenko (President of secular and multi-religious Ukraine) in the Orthodox-church event as one of the main "personages" is not very good idea - at least for his image?

Question 5. And what if the answer for the question “4” is “yes”?

Here I have to remind that Ukraine was Christianized by St. Volodymyr in 988. Under Soviet rule, churches and religion were officially divided from a state, and unofficially prohibited. That situation ended in 1991, when Ukraine gained independence.

More than 20% of the population claim to be atheists. Of those who believe in God, more than 90 percent are Christians, the majority Orthodox. The Orthodox Church in Ukraine is divided into three denominations: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate), and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

As of 1 January 2008 (official report http://www.risu.org.ua/text/2008ua.xls), around 67.6 % of Orthodox Communities belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate [UOC-MP] (more than 11.5 thousand communities, 173 monasteries, 9.2 thousand of priests). About one fifth (24 %) of Orthodox communities belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate [UOC-KP] (4 thousand communities, 44 monasteries, 2.9 thousand of priests). About 7.1% of the Orthodox communities whose statutes are registered according to current legislation belong to the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (1.2 thousand communities, 6 monasteries, 661 priest).
There have been considerable disputes between members of these groups. In 1997 leaders of major religious denominations and churches signed a memorandum on the nonviolent resolution of religious conflicts drafted by the government. Nevertheless, problems remain.

Less than 10% of the religiously active population of Ukraine are members of the Ukranian Greek Catholic Church. Roman Catholics claim about one million members and are largely concentrated in the formerly Austro-Hungarian and Polish western territories. The country's Jewish population numbers between 250,000 and 325,000 people (thought some Jewish leaders claim the number is closer to 500,000). Other Christian denominations, including Baptists, Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, represent 2% of the country's populace.

The head of the Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of Ukraine estimates that there are as many as two million members of the nation's Muslim community. Islam is practiced mainly by the Tatar population of the autonomous republic of the Crimea.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Terry Davis: Instead of talking about early elections, Ukrainian politicians should concentrate on promises they made

This interview will be published in Ukrainian "Narodny Deputat" (ukr. Member of Parliament) magazine, in Ukrainian language.

Terry Davis: Instead of talking about early elections, Ukrainian politicians should concentrate on promises they made
- Mr Secretary General, every time we meet, I ask you for your opinion about the political crisis in Ukraine: last year we were talking about the Ukrainian crisis, as well as the year before. In your opinion, what’s happening in Ukraine now, and what can we, as Ukrainians, do to change the situation for the better?
- I think that sometimes it is a mistake to exaggerate the difficulties. I myself never use the word “crisis” when I’m discussing the political situation in Ukraine. Yes, it is a very difficult political situation, it’s a very complicated political situation, and there are lots of difficulties there. But this is not a crisis in my book. A crisis is something much worse. So, I’m glad that it is not a crisis by my definition. I have seen it suggested by some people that there might be another election…
- Yes, they are talking about next March…
- Well, that is for Ukrainians to decide - whether there should be another election. It’s not my business. But I must say that I find difficult to understand what people think a new election would bring. If there is an election, we must wait for the result…
- But isn’t it too often to have an election every year?
- As I know, in many countries elections took place twice in the course of two years. But there are two reasons why I think this is something to be avoided, if possible. First of all, it distracts attention from the real problems of the country and the real difficulties of the people of Ukraine. Secondly, in every democracy people may say: we don’t want to be voting every year, we elected these people, please, get on and do the job you are elected for. It damages democracy, when people think: the politicians can’t agree, they are just squabbling, fighting among each other, arguing… That actually damages the reputation of politics and democracy. Election is an essential part of democracy, but not every week.
- Is the Council of Europe planning to give some official advice concerning the situation in Ukraine? Are you going to meet with Mr Yushchenko and Ms Tymoshenko again?
- I have visited Ukraine several times during the last two years. I know that some people – people not from Ukraine, but from other countries – think that I should not visit Ukraine too often. They say: you should also visit us. There are several reasons why I take a special interest in Ukraine. It is not only because of the people of Ukraine, for whom I have great respect and affection. I think that Ukraine – like Belarus – has been neglected in the past by people like me from Western Europe. So, I try to compensate that a little bit by giving a lot of attention to Ukraine.
Ukraine is a very big country; it has a lot to offer to the rest of Europe. Also it has a very rich history. I have a lot of sympathy for the people of Ukraine, especially because of that period of 1932-33, which you call Holodomor, when so many people died.
- Ukraine is campaigning now for world recognition of Holodomor.
- It must have been a terrible period. This is not a case of being anti-Russian, it is a historic fact that millions of people did die in Ukraine. If I can just give you another example: I came from the United Kingdom, and our neighbouring country is the Republic of Ireland. In Ireland they still have the memory of the great famine which took place 160 years ago. They still remember it, talk about it. It takes a long time for such events to fade in a memory of the people. In Ukraine this memory is also very live.
That is not to blame people, not a case of who is responsible – this is a very difficult matter to judge history. But I can understand why Ukrainians are still so concerned and so upset about this tragedy.
- That’s why Ukraine asks the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly to condemn Holodomor as genocide against the Ukrainian nation.
- It is a matter for historians to argue, whether it was genocide or not. To me the most important thing is that millions of people died. Personally I pay respect to the people of Ukraine, and I try to encourage Ukrainians of today to build a better future for Ukrainians of tomorrow.
- To do that and to stop – not crisis, but problems – in Ukraine all the main political forces are thinking about a Constitutional reform. But the changes proposed differ from each other completely: from a strong presidential model to a pure parliamentary system. In your opinion, is it the right time for Ukraine to change its Constitution? Which way should we move?
- Of course, this is a matter for Ukraine to decide which system you should adopt. There are advantages and disadvantages in both systems. What I would say, as a friend of Ukraine, is that it would be in the interest of the people of Ukraine for the politicians to settle this issue as quickly as possible.
- Do you think it is possible to find a quick consensus in this situation?
- I think the situation has to be settled. If I were an Ukrainian, I would be more concerned about the school for my children or grandchildren, I’d be more concerned about being able to buy clothes and food for my family, and I’d be more concerned about the house or apartment in which we live. I’d be concerned about the quality of the air we breathe and of the water we drink. These are really important things – it is a standard of living and a quality of life. People are not very interested in whether it is the parliamentary system or the presidential system. What they want is results.
- So, the reform in Ukraine should be done very soon?
- My strong wish is that the politicians of Ukraine should settle this issue in the interest of the people of Ukraine as quickly as possible. And then start discussing, even arguing, about the policies to be followed by the government in terms of schools, hospitals, housing, and the essential things of life. That’s what people want to hear.
- Politicians just have to start to work…
- I think it is very much in the interest of democracy for the debates in Ukraine to move away from a constitution onto the political issues. I don’t know what this policy should be – in a democracy that is for politicians and for the people of Ukraine to decide. Politicians should propose ideas about policy. It’s true that the best way to decide this is an election. But you do not have an election every year...
It’s like a sailing: you have to decide on a course you are going to follow. That does not mean you simply go ahead regardless of the fact that there is an iceberg in front of you. But you should not keep changing course, you should not keep changing a captain of a ship.
- Talking about the captain of the ship, some Ukrainian politicians advise to have an early election not only of the Parliament, but also of the President of Ukraine. Do you think it is a good idea to change everything in one day?
- Well, it’s a matter for Ukraine, not for outsiders. Of course, Ukraine is a very important member of the Council of Europe, but as a Secretary General of the Council of Europe I do not tell Ukrainians what they should do and when they should have an election.
- The next big problem for today’s Ukraine is its aspiration to become a member of NATO. This trend of Ukrainian foreign policy has already worsened our relationship with Russia. What tone of conversation should Kiev choose in dialogue with Moscow, in order not to spoil our bilateral relations, but to move towards NATO membership?
- You have so well educated and experienced diplomats that I do not think Ukraine needs any lessons in this field. But if I were Ukrainian, I would say to Russians: I ask you to think, why we want to join NATO. Russians should think themselves, why does Ukraine want to join NATO, why does Georgia want to join NATO. And I told that to Russians…
- What did they answer?
- They were surprised because they haven’t thought about that.
- What is your opinion on this issue? Should Ukraine join NATO?
- I am not going to express my opinion about whether Ukraine should join NATO for one very good reason: I know that it is a subject of intense political debates in Ukraine. I never get involved in domestic politics. That’s a matter for Ukrainians to decide.
- Moscow has warned Kiev that if Ukraine joins NATO, or Membership Action Plan (MAP), it will apply some serious sanctions. Will you and the Council of Europe get involved if Russia keeps this promise?
- It depends on what these sanctions are. For example, the price of gas is not a matter for the Council of Europe.
- And if it will be the withdrawal of the Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership Agreement with Ukraine?
- I do not know the terms of the Friendship and Cooperation Agreement. One thing I can say is you cannot force someone to be your friend.
- Lets talk about the issue you know very well – it is the election of the Ukrainian judge of the European Court of Human Rights. Why this process is so long? I know that there is some misunderstanding – or something else – between the President of Ukraine, his Secretariat and the Council of Europe. Can you explain what’s happening and what is the future of this issue?
- You are absolutely right – I agree with you – it just takes for too long to settle this issue. When I visited Kiev last time, I had discussions about it, in particular, with people in the Secretariat of the President. Based on these discussions –they were private discussions – I think there was a lot of misunderstanding. I have done my best to clarify the situation and the rules for the Ukrainian authorities. If there is goodwill on their side, this issue should be settled within the next few weeks.
- I hope so. But what if the problem will not be settled? What next?
- What I’m saying about the political difficulties – not crisis, but difficulties – in Ukraine is that they distract attention. They draw attention away from the real problems of the people of Ukraine. There is an argument from Ukrainian authorities that because there is a political tension, they focus on other issues. But the important issue of the election of the judge should be settled – the quicker, the better for the people of Ukraine.
- It seems to me that the monitoring process concerning Ukraine will not be finished in the near future…
- I will be surprised if the monitoring process is finished in the near future. I would like it to finish, but I do not think it will be finished, until Ukraine has made more progress in keeping its promises. So, I repeat: instead of talking about an early election, instead of talking about when you will have presidential elections, instead of talking about getting your judge elected, it would be a very good thing if the politicians of Ukraine concentrated on the outstanding promises which they made on behalf of Ukraine, when it joined the Council of Europe. Then I would celebrate with the people of Ukraine the end of the monitoring process.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In 2009 gas prices may rise to $700 and more

Today I have read very interesting article in FT. Basing on the axiom “Gas prices follow the pri+ce of oil with a lag about 9 months”, the experts of Cambridge Energy Research Associates (Cera), a US-based consultancy, predict the “gas price rising (in Europe – T.V.) from about $350 per thousand cubic metres at the start of the year to about $730 by April 2009”.

Ukraine has declared that its intentions to move to market-rules-based relationship with Russia, the main oil and gas supplier of Ukrainian economy. So, in 2009 Ukrainian businessmen and citizens may face the price around $600-700. Even $500 is deadly price for most Ukrainian enterprises that produce some goods.

Dramatic rise of gas prices will be dramatic for Ukraine and its independence.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Former MP’s to discuss participatory and representative democracy in Europe

In the middle June the delegation of our Ukrainian MP’s Club “Parliament” took part in the sitting of the Bureau of the European Association of former Members of Parliament of the member states of the Council of Europe or the European Union (FP-AP). It was the first FP-AP sitting where Ukraine took part as full member. Ukrainian MP’s Club “Parliament” joined the FP-AP in March 2008, on the sitting of the General Assembly of the Association.

We became the first MP’s Association from post-Soviet country who started to work in the European Association of former Members of Parliament of the member states of the Council of Europe or the European Union.

During the bureau sitting the text of the Athens Declaration was discussed. This declaration, Presented by Mr Jacques Chaumont from France, will be approved at the European Colloquy which takes place on 18 October 2008 in Athens. The document analyses representative and participatory democracy in Europe. Here are a couple of quotations from its provisional draft:

The concept of participatory democracy has developed in recent years as the crisis of representative democracy has become full-blown. The malaise of representative democracy reflects a twofold frustration. First, that of the elected representatives who feel increasingly stripped of their prerogatives owing to the predominance of governments and their experts, and also to transfers of sovereignty in the wake of the European Treaties, the growing influence on the economy of globalised multinationals escaping all control, and the predominant role of the media in conveying the political discourse. The other frustration and not the lesser is that of citizens themselves. They feel that elected representatives have less and less influence which explains the high abstention rates at elections and they no longer accept the confiscation of their power which would result from a lack of any consultation in the interim between elections.

This gap between public opinion and elected representatives is also worrisome at European level as the citizens of the European Union are not sufficiently informed of the positions and votes of MEPs. This situation is worsened by television channels which tend to nationalise problems to the detriment of the European debate. A common information area, the indispensable prelude to the emergence of a genuine European public opinion, is therefore struggling to get established.

In the new context of the multiplication of information and communication channels: media, opinion polls, blogosphere, etc..., the classical representative system can no longer, alone, channel the demands and aspirations of public opinion. A permanent opinion-based democracy is gaining ground, alongside traditional representative democracy and is tending to compete with it supported by the media power. However this opinion-based or even emotion-based democracy does not have the legitimacy conferred by universal suffrage which expresses the general will. The influence of the opinion-based democracy should not be underestimated because, following an overhyped trivial event, legislation may be amended as a matter of urgency.

All these changes must now take account of the Web revolution which is creating a new interactive area where everyone can express themselves all the time and on all topics, which is not without danger for the protection of personal data. The digital revolution, in other words the convergence of data processing, of radio and television, and of telecommunications, and the new notion of collective intelligence pose fearsome problems. However, neither politicians nor economic decision-takers have yet set in place a genuine strategy to assess the consequences of this deep, uncontrolled transformation on democracy and its impact in emerging countries.

If there is a recurrent topic of criticism against the European institutions, it is indeed that of the democratic deficit. European citizens too often feel that decisions are taken in Brussels by anonymous authorities, whence the need in particular to strictly apply the subsidiarity principle so as to clearly establish what is a matter for the Community level and what should be decided nationally or regionally. What is challenged is the absence of a clear image of the Union, the insufficient communication of governments on their European policy and often even the practice they adopt of condemning at the national level the application of Community directives which they themselves supported at the Council of Ministers in Brussels. The very high abstention rate at European elections is therefore no surprise.

Main proposals of the Association of former Members of Parliament of the member states of the Council of Europe or the European Union:
1. Permanent forums be set in place in which would participate citizens, associations, universities with the support of the European Parliament, national parliaments, Associations of former Members of Parliament, and Economic and social councils.
2. The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly should organise a major political and ethical debate on the consequences of the digital revolution on the exercise of democracy, in the spirit of its 1995 Symposium on electronic democracy.
3. National parliaments should start to consider together the elaboration of codes of good practice of local participatory democracy guaranteeing in particular the rights of citizens to the broadest and most objective information.
. The debates of the European Union Council of Ministers should be public when they concern a draft piece of legislation as has been the case at the European Parliament since its creation and at a time when the Council is considered as the second Chamber of the European Union.
5. The European Parliament should deepen the idea of implementing the referendum procedure at European Union level.
6. The strengthening of democracy within the Union must be facilitated by extending the powers of the European Parliament as regards the legislative initiative over which the Commission has a monopoly.
7. The Association of former Members of Parliament encourages Ukraine's efforts to intensify its economic, social and cultural relations with other European countries, especially with Poland and Germany, in order to accelerate its development.