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Unburied Baby Case, Unqualified Ukrainian Prosecutors and Protests Against Church

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St. Volodymyr's Cathedral in Kiev, the UOC-KP's Mother Church

Criminal case for non-recognition of schismatic sacraments demonstrates unacceptable unprofessionalism of Ukrainian law enforcers. The Incompetence manifested by Ukrainian law enforcement officials in the matters of Church-State relations testifies to excess of their authority.

It has turned out that public prosecutors in Zaporozhsky region are not only unaware of basic teachings of the Orthodox Christianity which is the largest confession in Ukraine but are also ignorant of guideline documents of religious entities they are trying to strictly control. What is worse, law enforcement officers do not understand the core principles of Church-State relations in the secular state and do not know where their own authority has a limit.
Nevertheless, Ukrainian law enforcement organizations mindlessly and overtly interfere in Church affairs, thus bringing forth incidents unthinkable for the European society.

On January 11, 2018 an announcement under the headline “Law enforcers began to investigate the facts of deliberate acts committed by certain representatives of the UOC-MP and the “Orthodox Union Radomir” aimed at inciting ethnic, religious hatred and enmity, as well as insulting citizens’ religious feelings” was published on the official website of the Zaporozhsky Regional Prosecutor’s Office.

The text of this report could be read as stating that there is a proven or a possible guilt of specific individuals who are representatives of the Zaporozhsky eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC-MP). However, at the current stage of merely prejudicial inquiry such statements seem to be premature and violating the presumption of innocence. As the cases of Allenet de Ribemont vs. France and Andrew Butkevicius vs. Lithuania show us, the ECHR follows this very approach.

As to the matter of the announcement, the investigation was initiated because a priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church denied to perform the burial service for a tragically deceased baby that had been christened by the self-proclaimed Kyivan Patriarchate. The boy’s father was so morally destroyed by the accident that he attacked the clergyman. However, Prosecutor’s Office of the Zaporozhsky region noticed only the priest’s behavior and so accused local UOC-MP clergy of practicing “a selective approach to the exercise of religious rites” and “providing benefits to those who underwent a baptismal ceremony with the UOC-MP”, which allegedly offends religious feelings of other citizens.

However, “a selective approach to the exercise of religious rites” is established religious practice throughout the world. It is consistent not only with the current Ukrainian legislation but with the international law as well. International legal practice recognizes and respects the right of believers to observe the rules of faith and cult practice. Ministers of various churches usually deny sacraments to those who are members of other denominations. Moreover, according to the ECHR decision on the case of Siebenhaar vs. Germany (No. 18136/02), a religious organization can provide benefits to some individuals in matters of employment and other civil rights related to the teaching of their faith. Besides, the second part of Article 180 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine establishes responsibility for compelling a clergyman to perform a religious rite and states that the participation of all parties in the rite should be voluntary. That is, according to the Ukrainian legislation it is the father of the deceased infant who might face criminal charges.

Ukrainian nationalsists’ protests against the UOC-MP (photo: uoj.org.ua)

In spite of these facts, the man leaked the story to the press. The story about the Zaporozhsky infant and the hard-hearted priest was broadly covered by the media and got full of new controversial details. In turn, that has triggered several incidents and a lot of accusations against the UOC-MP though some of them were fake. All this aggravated the situation further. A wave of protests, insults and threats against the UOC-MP continues up to this day.

The message of the Zaporozhsky Regional Prosecutor’s Office about inciting hatred and hostility also states that “these persons condemn the communication of representatives of the Church in Ukrainian language” and “allow statements for the unity of the Slavic Orthodox peoples under the spiritual guidance of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC)”.

The Zaporozhsky Prosecutor’s Office’s announcement also claims that “the European direction of development of Ukraine and ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operation – author’s note)” are condemned among the parishioners of the churches, moreover “the aggressive actions of the Russian Federation towards Ukraine” are justified and even “information about the need to unite Ukraine with Russia is disseminated”. It remains unclear what connection there is to religious feelings of Ukrainian citizens and why such serious allegations aren’t investigated separately.

I whole-heartedly support the European choice of Ukrainian people that have finally managed to escape from Moscow’s grasp. However, actions of the Zaporozhsky Prosecutor’s Office make me acknowledge that country’s authorities aren’t ready to truly follow the European path of development. If the violation of the presumption of innocence and the biased allegations were caused by the incompetence of Ukrainian officials, it is appalling to have such unprofessional officers in the civil service. It would be even worse if the employees of the Prosecutor’s Office were executors of a well-planned political act, provoking religious riots and deliberately violating their own country’s law as well as international regulations. Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely that we can exclude this scenario here.

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Eastern Europe

Will Russia serve the old wine in a new bottle?

Angela Amirjanyan

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Nowadays, one of the main features of global political developments are non-violent or color revolutions. These revolutions are brought about by wide-spread corruption, poverty, unemployment and a deep gap between masses and the ruling elite with the latter being the biggest political risk for the ruling party. Most analysts argue that these factors are combined also with outside support, which can culminate in the revolution. However, what happened in Armenia after a few weeks of peaceful demonstrations, the Velvet revolution, that brought down the regime and has exercised true people power, is considered to be unprecedented for it didn’t owe its origin to the external assistance or wasn’t an attempt by ‘‘US to export democracy’’ in Armenia. The geopolitical factor was initially excluded.  In fact, Russia has traditionally had negative attitude towards color revolutions and has seen them ‘‘as a new US and European approach to warfare that focuses on creating destabilizing revolutions in other states as a means of serving their security interests at low cost and with minimal casualties’’.This means that Russia, desperate to maintain its own standing in the Caucasus, was likely to intervene in the events unfolding in Armenia. However, the Kremlin didn’t view turmoil in Armenia as a Ukraine-style revolution. Asked if Russia would intervene, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the matter was “exclusively an internal affair” and Russian action would be “absolutely inappropriate”. Moreover, after Armenia’s unpopular leader Serzh Sargsyan’s resignation, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called Armenians “a great people” and wrote, “Armenia, Russia is always with you!”

The prospect of a Russian intervention was low for 2 key reasons

One of the possible reasons behind Russian inaction was that Moscow didn’t regard the revolution in Armenia as a threat to its geopolitical prerogatives, but rather as an opportunity to make a strategic move through a global panic over Russia’s continued warlike behavior. Satisfied that this is genuinely an internal Armenian issue directed at an incompetent and ineffective government, Russia proved with its muted response to Armenia’s color revolution that Kremlin embraces the policy of non-interventionism.

Secondly, a rapid spread of pro-Western sentiment among local journalists, civil society representatives and youth was prevalent in Armenia in the past decade. This process only accelerated after Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan unexpectedly decided in 2013 to join Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) over EU Association Agreement.Yerevan’s decision of September 3, 2013 to involve in Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) was mostly conditioned by Moscow’s ultimatum imposition, which left a deep track in the perception of Armenia-Russia relations and formed a comparatively new cliché. Anti-Russian sentiments were on rise in Armenia in recent years due to major levers of influence that Russia maintained over Armenia: Armenia’s corrupt oligarchic system and the military threat coming from Azerbaijan. Civil society and the opposition in Armenia viewed Russia as the sponsor of the autocratic, oligarchic system of governance in Armenia. They have traditionally criticized the government for having closest ties with the country which provides 85 percent of arms export to Azerbaijan-a country which is in continuous conflict with Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh.  This anti-Russian sentiment reached its apex in 2016 when the intense fighting broke out in Karabagh known as Four-Day War. This drew the public attention to the Russian-supplied arms which played a role in the deaths of dozens of soldiers.

Both opposition leaders and civil society members demanded not only Armenia’s exit from the EAEU, but also an end to the Russian military presence in the country. The anti-Russian rhetoric was useful for both the Armenian government and the opposition to alert Russia not to take Armenia for granted.Hence, in one way the April Revolution in Armenia was a test for Russian-Armenian relations, and Russia viewed it as a new impulse for mutually beneficial relations aimed at restoring the damage of Russia’s protective image among Armenians.Needless to say,Armenia is important to Russia, as losing Armenia would cause fundamental changes in Moscow’s influence in the South Caucasus. Furthermore, Armenia can’t cherry-pick among its closest allies because its landlocked position limits the freedom to maneuver in its foreign policy and its economic and defense imperatives dictate a close alignment with Russia. This was reaffirmed by new prime minister and protest leader of Armenia, Nikol Pashinian, who not only supported maintaining the current Russian-Armenian relationship but also suggested a “new impulse” for political and trade relations during the meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Sochi on May 14. During another meeting a month later, Armenian PM expressed his hope that ‘’the relations will develop more effectively on the basis of mutual respect for the best interest and sovereignty of the two States’’.

On the whole, Armenia will continue to pursue its “Complementarian” or multi-vector foreign policy, which means that no radical change in the realm of foreign policy is expected to take place.  Yet there is no strong anti-Russian current in Armenian political and society rhetoric. The recent civic movement was significant in realizing the potential of Russian-Armenian mutual relations for economic development and security. Undeniably, Russia should adopt new approaches towards Armenia and it should realize that under new circumstances the backward-looking policies are destined to be counter-productive. In Armenia people hope that Kremlin wouldn’t serve the old wine in a new bottle.

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Eastern Europe

Lithuania deserves better life

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The latest expressive headlines on delfi.lt (the main Lithuanian news portal) such as “Gender pay gap increased in Lithuania”, “Sudden drop in EU support pushes Lithuania into middle income trap, finmin says”, “Lithuanian travellers spent EUR 186.5 mln abroad this year” and “Lithuania’s Jan-May budget revenue EUR 14.3 mln below target” clearly demonstrate difficult situation in the country. The only positive thing in this fact is Lithuanian authorities do not try to hide the social problems or they just cannot do it anymore.

While in the international arena Lithuania continues to be very active and promising, the internal political and social crisis as well as decrease in living standards of the population make Lithuanians worry about their future. Idleness of the Lithuanian authorities makes the country poorer.

The most acute social problems today are emigration of young people, unemployment rate, increase in the number of older persons and poverty. The appalling consequences of such phenomena are alcoholism and suicides of the Lithuanians.

According to Boguslavas Gruževskis, the Head of Labour Market Research Institute, in the next 5-6 years, Lithuania must accumulate reserves so that our social protection system can operate for 15 years under negative conditions, otherwise serious consequences are expected.

Over the past two years the level of emigration has grown by more than 1.5 times. In 2015 the country left about 30,000 people, in 2017 – 50,000. This is a social catastrophe, because, in fact, the country has lost the population of one Lithuanian city. And the situation with depopulation cannot be corrected by an increase in the number of migrants coming to Lithuania. Their number is too small because Lithuania cannot afford high living conditions for newcomers like Germany or other European countries and may serve only as transitory hub.

As for unemployment rate and poverty, in Lithuania, 7.1% of the population is officially considered unemployed. The more so according to the Department of Statistics for 2016, 30% of Lithuanian citizens live on the verge of poverty, which is 7% higher than the average European level.

One of the most profitable sectors of the economy – tourism, which allows many European countries to flourish, Lithuanian authorities do not develop at all. Even Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis plans to spend his summer vacation in Spain. This fact speaks for itself. Skvernelis notes that spending vacation in Spain is cheaper than in Lithuania. Thus, he is lacking the will or skill to do something with the situation as well as other high ranking officials. He is named one of the main presidential candidates but does nothing to improve the distressful situation.

At the same time, Lithuanian President wants more foreign troops and modern weapons, increase in defence budget and uses all her skills to persuade her NATO colleagues to give help. Probably, she is afraid of her own people, which is tired of helpless and indifferent authorities, and wants to protect herself by means of all these new weapons and foreign soldiers?

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Eastern Europe

Spoiled Latvia’s image in the international arena

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Latvia is actively preparing for one of the most important political event of the year. Parliamentary elections will take place in October 6, 2018. Submissions of the lists of candidates for the 13th Saeima elections will take place very soon – from July 18 to August 7, 2018. But the elections campaign as well as all political life in the country faces some problems which require additional attention from the authorities. And these problems spoil the image of Latvia as a democratic state which might respect the rights of its people.

This is a well-known fact, that the image of the state is composed of several components: it heavily depends on its foreign and domestic policy directions. The more so, internal events very often influence its foreign policy and vice versa.

Latvia considers itself a democratic state and tries to prove it by all possible means. But all attempts fail because of a serious unsolved problem – violation of human rights in Latvia.

It is not a secret that about one third of Latvians are ethnic Russians. Their right to speak and be educated in their native language is constantly violated. This problem is in the centre of attention of such international organizations as OSCE and EU. This fact makes Latvian authorities, which conducts anti Russia’s policy, extremely nervous.

Thus, the Latvian parliament recently passed in the final reading amendments to the Education Law and the Law on General Education under which schools of ethnic minorities will have to start gradual transition to Latvian-only secondary education in the 2019/2020 academic year. It is planned that, starting from 2021/2022 school year, all general education subjects in high school (grades 10-12) will be taught only in the Latvian language, while children of ethnic minorities will continue learning their native language, literature and subjects related to culture and history in the respective minority language. This caused

Hundreds joined a march in the centre of Riga in June to support Russian-language schools in Latvia. The event was held under the slogan: “For Russian schools, for the right to learn in native language,” as the government wants to switch the language of the education system to Latvian.

The European Parliament deputies called for support of Russian education in Latvia. 115 people have signed the joint declaration that will be forwarded to the Latvian Sejm and government. The declaration is signed by representatives of 28 EU countries, and almost all parliamentary factions. Every 7th deputy supported the necessity of the Russian school education in Latvia. The document authors marked that this is unprecedented expression of solidarity towards the national minorities, especially Russian residents of the EU. Authors of the letter sharply criticize the education reform that takes away from children of national minorities the right to study in their native language.

On the other hand the parliament contradicts itself by rejecting a bill allowing election campaigning only in Latvian.

The matter is in parliamentary election will take part not only Latvians, speaking Lantvian, but Latvians, who speak Russian. Their voices are of great importance either. The authorities had to recognize this and tempered justice with mercy.

After years of oppressing Russian speaking population and violating their rights Saeima committee this month rejected a bill allowing election campaigning only in Latvian.

It turned out that politicians need ethnic Russians to achieve their political goals. They suddenly remembered that Campaigning Law should not promote discrimination because publicly active people should not have problems using the state language.

“Wise” deputies understand that Russian speaking children are not going to participate in the elections while Russian speaking adults can seriously damage political plans. Only this can explain the controversy in the Parliament’s decisions.

In Russia Riga’s decision to transfer the schools of national minorities to the Latvian language of teaching considers as unacceptable and could cause introduction of special economic measures against Latvia as well as condemnation by the international community.

So, Latvia’s on-going war against its residents also could become a reason for deterioration in attitudes not only with Russia but with EU and OSCE that will have unpleasant economic and political and even security consequences for Latvia. It is absolutely clear that making unfriendly steps towards own citizens and neighboring states, Latvia can not expect a normal attitude in return.

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