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from issue no. 03 - 2005

AFTER THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS. A meeting with Cardinal Lubomyr Husar

Distant from Moscow but not enemies

«During the elections the messianic temptation to say “This is the candidate of God”, surfaced. But by now it’s water under the bridge». An interview with the senior archbishop of the Greek-Catholic Church

by Gianni Valente

Lubomyr Husar, left in the photo, embracing the new Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko

Lubomyr Husar, left in the photo, embracing the new Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko

Perhaps it is still early to evaluate what the long-term geopolitical effects of the Ukraine “Orange revolution” will be. That mix of colored demonstrations and international pressure that at the end of 2004, during the presidential elections, crippled Viktor Yanukovich, the candidate designated by the nomenklature for succession to President Kuchma and favored by Ukraine’s powerful neighbor Russia, and lent wings to the feet of Viktor Yushchenko. For sure the change in geopolitical relations may also have repercussions for the complicated religious geography of the country. And if anything moves in the fragile balance of nationalisms and denominational identities that characterize the whole area, the first to know will be Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, senior archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, head of the largest Church of Eastern rite in communion with Rome. 30Days met him at the Theological University of Santa Sofia, in Via Boccea, the outpost of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholics on the western suburbs of Rome established through the efforts of the heroic Cardinal Josyp Slipyj, under the pontificate of Paul VI.

So, Your Eminence, they have had an “Orange revolution” in the Ukraine … how did you view it?
LUBOMYR HUSAR: We have been free for less than fifteen years but all those in positions of power, and also all the others, went to school with the Communists. They grew up, that is, in a system that favored a ruling group, a sort of oligarchy cut off from the people. And where the idea was to mould obedient subjects, little used to taking initiatives. In recent years there was a certain freedom of expression. There were elements of a democratic society, so to speak, not very much developed. Last year a group of about twenty families, not more, who controlled 80% of all of the national machinery, bet on Yanukovich as their candidate. During the electoral campaign he was the only one to be seen, while all the others were blacked out.
A sort of single candidate, in short…
HUSAR: Yes. However, from the first round, discontent at government manipulations began to spread among the people. Those in charge were thinking: people will be a bit angry and then as usual everything will calm down. Instead, with the second ballot on 21 November, the anger exploded. But everything happened in a non-violent and, I would say, very expressive way…
Radio Free Europe, in its analysis of the voting, mentioned the Greek-Catholic Church itself as among the bedrock supporters of the winner Yushchenko.
HUSAR: No. We as a Church tried not to take sides with anybody. We only said that it was important to go out to vote and we prayed not for one or the other candidate but for elections to be just. At the start people took to the streets not so much in favor of Yushchenko but against the lying they saw represented by Yanukovich. Then things became concrete, they didn’t stay up in the air, and Yushchenko became the symbol of the so-called Orange revolution. And certainly, the majority of our faithful were in his favor.
But priests and nuns were also seen at the demonstrations…
HUSAR: We explicitly requested, also putting out an instruction, priests not to enter politics. When we learned that some priests engaged in propaganda, we asked them to stop. But especially in the western part of the country it happens that people ask the priest and even more the bishop for whom they should vote, so the temptation was great… We strove however to remain neutral, in so far as it was possible in such a situation.
But you also, in a letter written to priests after the elections, exhorted them not simply to be good pastors but also civic leaders.
HUSAR: You have to remember that the western part of the Ukraine has spent over two hundred years under various occupations. In all that long time the Church was the single factor in national awareness. As well as being pastors, bishops and priests became points of reference in civilian life. We harked back to that tradition, but only to invite priests to encourage the people to set to work, not expect everything to drop down from the sky. Directing, hopefully, the desire to do something seen during the elections toward the daily duty that is everyone’s business.
Did you have meetings with Yushchenko in person, before or after his victory?
HUSAR: I’d already met him when he was prime minister, because during a visit to Leopolis he also came to our church. After his election as president I saw him at the moment of ecumenic prayer on Monday 24 January, at the beginning of his mandate. And then on 16 February when he again paid a visit to Kiev, I received him in the Cathedral, where he rendered homage to the heads of our Church, my predecessors, who are buried in the crypt.
What Church is he close to?
HUSAR: He’s Orthodox.
But in the Ukraine Orthodoxy is divided. There is the Orthodox Church bound to the Patriarchate of Moscow. And that led by Philarates, who broke off from Moscow and declared himself patriarch…
HUSAR: I don’t think that Yushchenko makes great distinctions. When he is in Kiev he attends the church of Saint Michael, near his home, which is under Philarates. But when he goes to visit his mother who lives in a village near Sume, there is the church under the patriarchate of Moscow and he joins in their liturgy without batting an eyelid. He is certainly a believing person. During the prayer of Monday 24 January we watched the way he makes the sign of the cross. And afterwards everyone said: it’s not the first time that he does it…
Ukrainian priests in prayer during the demonstrations against the electoral fraud that at first gave victory to Yanukovich

Ukrainian priests in prayer during the demonstrations against the electoral fraud that at first gave victory to Yanukovich

Bigger geopolitic stakes were involved, however, in the outcome of the elections in the Ukraine. For example, there was talk about help given to the Orange militants by US lobbies, such as people like Soros.
HUSAR: Undoubtedly there was help, how much I couldn’t say. But Europe, for example, only realized that something important was happening after the beginning of the popular protests. That’s why I judge not according to the money that arrived (something certainly arrived), but from the surprise I registered in the people who came as observers to check the election. I myself met the Polish observers who arrived on Christmas Day itself, making a sacrifice that was not insignificant for them.
What now, according to you, is the policy to pursue with the Russians?
HUSAR: I don’t know if it’s a general feeling, but many are for peaceful coexistence with our Russian neighbors, they want to negotiate with them on a level footing as regards the economy, culture, religious life. Some feel great resentment, but that is certainly not general. I hear on the radio a lot of comments from Russians living in eastern Ukraine. They too say: we don’t want to construct a Russia in the Ukraine. We are citizens of this country. We only want to live as good neighbors with Russia. If the desire for parity in relations is respected by the Russians, as I think it will be, there won’t be excessive difficulties.
The arrest warrant issued by the Russian judiciaty for the new premier Yulia Thimoshenko doesn’t seem a good start…
HUSAR: I don’t know her. I met her only once, but when she was part of the government; she did well. She’s a very intelligent woman, very active, and they are afraid of her because she knows how these so-called oligarchic groups function.
It’s a fact that the elections highlighted a split in the country that is partly geographical.
HUSAR: Almost all countries have their divisions: north and south in Italy, the Prussians and the Bavarians in Germany… for Christmas itself, the University of our city, Leopolis, invited more than two thousand students from the eastern regions. They spent Christmas with our students, guests in their families. Very many of these students from the east were most impressed by this coexistence and have already invited ours to go and visit them. The cultural, linguistic difference is certainly great but it has been fomented by the politicians. I have no fear of a real split in the country, if the new government behaves properly.
The religious map of the Ukraine is very complex. At the time of the elections the other Churches were even more visible than you…
HUSAR: The Church of the Patriarchate of Moscow officially took sides with Yanukovich, even if it seems that many priests did not follow the indications. The Patriarchate of Kiev, on the other hand, was clearly on the side of Yushchenko. Every now and then the messianic temptation to declare «This is the candidate of God», came to the surface. But now it’s water under the bridge. The new president, on his visit to Russia, met the Patriarch of Moscow, Alexis, who asked him to treat all the Churches in the same way. And Yushchenko replied that parity of treatment, without discrimination, was already set out in our Constitution.
There was talk in the past of political pressure in the Ukraine to unite the different religious groups to form a national Church with strong chauvinist features. Will the new presidency also move in that direction?
HUSAR: I hope there will be no political pressure for enforced unification. I hope that a Council of the heads of the Churches will be set up, to which the president can turn when he has need to consult.
But such a Council already existed in the Ukraine…
HUSAR: The one that existed was manipulated by the State and we left it. We said: we want to be free in our relation with the government. Should the president need to he may convoke us as representatives of the Churches, and not as his vassals. We refused to sign certain documents produced by that Council and signed by other Churches. Documents that were of clear political import.
How are the relations between the Greek-Catholic Church and Philarates?
HUSAR: They’re fairly good.
Is there no danger of seeming to offer a direct affront to the Orthodox Churches, jealous guardians of the canonical validity of their own apostolic succession, by having relations with Philarates, who is considered a schismatic and is not recognized by any of the Orthodox Churches?
HUSAR: We must make a distinction. Apostolic succession there is in the Church of Philarates. There is no canonical recognition of his Patriarchate. But the Patriarchate of Moscow, after it was formed in 1589, was not canonically recognized by the Patriarchate of Constantinople for 150 years. It existed, however.
It remains a fact that Philarates has become a reference point for a lot of odd people: religious cliques, pseudo-bishops who wander around the world…
HUSAR: He’s a politician from way back, from Soviet times. Up to a certain point he denied our existence. But I spoke to him ten days ago, and it was a very friendly and also important talk…
he Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko embracing Orthodox Patriarch Philarates

he Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko embracing Orthodox Patriarch Philarates

In Eastern ecclesiology political events affect the structures of the Church. You too, in an important letter, reaffirmed that recognition of patriarchal status for your Church would be the adequate response to the consolidation of the independence of the Ukraine. Will the latest disengagement of the Ukraine from Russian influence now favor the recognition of the patriarchate for the Greek-Catholic Church?
HUSAR: Everything depends on what one wants. Those who are afraid of our existence as a patriarchate fear that it could block the way for certain interferences. Those who are more rooted in the eastern ecclesial tradition, aside from any political manipulation, see in such recognition a natural step and are not afraid of it. Because by being recognized as a patriarchate we will certainly not be some extraterrestrial rarity.
And Yushchenko? Will he have any opinion on the matter…
HUSAR: He seeks what is useful for our country. I have never spoken to him about this, we must speak about it certainly. From what I’ve read and heard, I think he would be favorable, because he sees in this a positive fact for the country.
So in some way he could be a political support.
HUSAR: Yes. His election could entail positive political consequences.
There are some who sustain the idea of a unilateral self-proclamation of the patriarchate, that perhaps at the beginning would not get recognition from Rome, but then, in time, things could be arranged themselves. How do you view this?
HUSAR: That, too, has been suggested to me. I am absolutely against that way of proceeding. The law exists and it must be respected. A true patriarchate is something sacred, something that regards the life of the Church. And with these things, to proceed in political fashion, to try to force people’s hand, certainly does’t bring blessings.

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