Jesuit writes from Ukraine

 David Nazar, SJ, a Canadian Jesuit working in the Ukraine sends the following account. I was in Kyiv for the Election Day, November 21, and for the first two days of demonstrations. I was with the crowds on the famous Independence Square in the heart of Kyiv. The Central Election Committee fulfilled their role in the narrowest sense. They counted the votes and published what they counted. They chose not to comment on questions of falsification, leaving that to the Supreme Court. They took the easy way out in the sense that they have 15 days in which to declare their position. There are claims already before the Supreme Court, listing up to 11,000 election violations. The Election Committee could have easily waited for indications from the court and even addressed the question of irregularities -- they chose the Pontius Pilate motif. However, their conclusion does not constitute the declaration of a president, only the results of their counting. Power cannot be transferred by this decision and in fact must await the decision of the Supreme Court since irregularities have been filed. The people are educated and have always cherished education. Their articulate desires for justice, transparency and rule of law come from within, although obviously informed by what happens in other countries. Certain western countries are often referred to as having elements worth emulating. They look to the EU and US for political support, rather than cultural role modelling. It would be wrong to construe their view of the West is a naive pining for its benefits. In short, Christian values dominate local hopes with an educated understanding of the world and its possibilities. In principle, much hinges on the present moment. However, only in principle. That is, if there is not a social victory at this moment, it will come next time around. This election is the last gasp of the old powers and they seem to know it. They simply could not control and manipulate as they had hoped, despite massive and expensive efforts. Ukrainian culture, at its best, has a strong spirituality and sense of solidarity, especially with the suffering. There is no sense at the moment that Christian witness stands against Ukrainian culture, only against the powers and principalities that have darkly ruled for so long. The more moving question is why this people, who know what has been happening all along, did not resort to violence, but chose peace and patience with hope through many years of long-suffering. In that sense, the moment represents the victory of Christ alive within the heart of the people. As for the church, one must keep in mind that the Orthodox Church is divided precisely on nationalist grounds. The largest church in Ukraine, for historical reasons, is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate. The Patriarch is in Moscow and cannot easily visit Ukraine nor even speak about it since he is Russian. Half of his church is in Ukraine, where religious practice is strong (up to 30%), as contrasted with Russia (about 1% by Orthodox estimates). So Ukraine is very important to the survival of his church. The Moscow Patriarch is regularly on record as saying that he wants the return of all the former Soviet countries back into one federation under Russia. You can imagine how badly that is received in former Soviet Republics like Ukraine. There are two other Orthodox churches of significance: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church--Kyivan Patriarchate and the Autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church. These two would share the same perspective on Ukraine as the Greek Catholic Church and the Latin Rite Church: democratic principles, rule of law, transparent government, international standards and so on. On political issues these churches would be at one -- and a fair number of the Moscow Patriarchate parishes would be on this side of the fence, though not the hierarchy. Hence, any question of negative affect on inter-church relations by these elections is not an issue. The Ukrainian based churches would be united, and the more so in the current situation. In this context, the presence of a Catholic patriarch in Kyiv, has no relation to the political questions. The only vague thing one might deduce is that the favoured candidate of the old-guard powers favours stronger relations with Moscow, which plays into the Moscow Patriarch's hand, though the very same position loses support quickly among Ukrainians. The "eastern-western Ukraine" thesis is overstated and thus a simplification. For example, the opposition candidate who, by all accounts except the official one, won by a substantial majority, is from northeastern Ukraine. Western and Central Ukraine, including Kyiv, support him overwhelmingly. He has strong support in southern Ukraine, and weak but real support in southeastern Ukraine. Southeastern Ukraine is the most densely populated and owes its livelihood to the old-guard powers going back to soviet days. There are 500 local coalmines all supported heavily by $500 million of annual government funding -- only 7 of mines make a profit. >From the point of view of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, this is an impediment to further loans for economic development. From the point of view of the politicians in power, they cannot survive without coal region's votes. The current president and the prime minister (who is the president's choice for the next president) are both from that region. Since the local people see no other source of income, their votes are for the preservation of their jobs, as they will readily say. <>Because of the consequent strength of the government in this region, this is where the most significant vote falsification took place: by some counts 101% of the population turned out for the vote and 100% of them voted for the government candidate. The voting lists suggest that many rose from the dead briefly to vote. The complaint in the country is not east against west, but corruption against fairness. The international community, whether expatriate or not, plays a very significant role in Ukraine. I am always surprised by how much. The country cherishes the connections for historic and economic reasons. When the West speaks, whether Canada, USA, Britain, Germany or the EU, it is news here that gives the government pause. The current president sought to change the constitution six months ago to extend his term in office. The West objected publicly, even threatening to cut off aid if he tried. He dropped the issue literally overnight. Likewise with the elections. As the West is doing at the moment, calling for a review of the elections and for transparency according to international standards has significant importance in Ukraine. Several national leaders and local ambassadors have spoken admirably on this theme. The expatriate community also generally plays the right cards. If they alone speak, it has limited effectiveness. Their best role is to pressure their local government to speak up about the situation in Ukraine. For the most part, the Ukrainian Jesuits, like the general population, feel these issues very deeply. They evoke a whole century, even several centuries, of various forms of repression. People cannot eat or sleep. You can see on every face the stress of the moment and all it takes is an opening for them to speak and vent their feelings. Yesterday, I was in two taxis, two apartments, two stores, with a work crew renovating our residence, and had perhaps 15 phone calls. Every one of them included a lengthy conversation about the situation, rather like "How long, O Lord, must we live in injustice." The inclination of the people is not toward violence. People feel their common unity beyond political divisions. However, the general frustration with lies and obfuscation at the highest level, coupled with crowd psychology make for a dangerous situation. No signs of violence to date. People remain focussed. However, one wrong move by either side, even accidental, could be the spark that ignites. It should be added that this is a praying country. Churches and monasteries have been praying in vigil since Saturday through to today. People commonly say how much they are praying for a just and peaceful resolution. May it be so. Source: Jesuit Media Office

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