Religion and Revolution

Adrian Karatnycky of Freedom House describes an overlooked dimension of the Ukrainian crisis.

What They Believe (Wall Street Journal)

[Viktor] Yushchenko, who typically ends his speeches with “Glory to Ukraine, Glory to the Ukrainian People, and Glory to the Lord, Our God,” is a devout Orthodox Christian from northeastern Ukraine who regularly takes confession and communion. His faith is reinforced by his American-born wife, Katya Chumachenko, who last week told the Chicago Tribune: “We’re strong believers in God, and we strongly believe that God has a place for each one of us in this world, and that he has put us in this place for a reason.”

Such sentiments echo the way that President Bush has spoken of his own faith. And like Mr. Bush, Mr. Yushchenko is careful to sound an ecumenical tone in his public remarks. At a Dec. 6 interfaith gathering, Mr. Yushchenko observed that “the spiritual harmony that rules among religious leaders on the platform is an image of the spiritual harmony present in Independence Square.”

As a result of such careful balancing, Mr. Yushchenko’s cause has strong backing from two influential religious leaders: Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and Cardinal Lubomyr Husar of the Ukrainian Eastern Rite Catholic Church, who on Dec. 6 declared that “at the root of the crisis is an immoral regime which has deprived Ukrainian people of their legitimate rights and dignity.” A leader of Kiev’s Jewish community, Anatoly Shyhai, has told pro-Yushchenko protesters that Jews see the Ukrainian state as “an independent, democratic and European country at the apex of rights and interfaith amity.” Thus religious values have become an important part of Mr. Yushchenko’s moral appeal and his campaign to cleanse Ukraine of high-level corruption and crime.

Supporters of the government-backed candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, have also sounded a religious note. Moscow did its part to boost Mr. Yanukovych’s standing by influencing the Kiev branch of the Orthodox Church to support the prime minister. Mr. Yanukovych, who served two terms in prison while in his late teens and early 20s, has presented himself as a man of faith to allay concerns about his criminal past and current links to shady oligarchs. In rounds one and two of the presidential race, the Moscow-linked Orthodox Church engaged in active campaigning by distributing campaign literature and by delivering sermons that would make Jerry Falwell or Jesse Jackson look nonpartisan.

This is unsurprising, given the role that religion has played in other freedom movements, like the one in Poland. Still, it’s good to read about the specific details of the Ukrainian case.

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Robert Garcia Tagorda
About Robert Garcia Tagorda
Robert blogged prolifically at OTB from November 2004 to August 2005, when career demands took him in a different direction. He graduated summa cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and earned his Master in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.