Jan 13, 2005

Interreligious relations in multireligious society: problems and tasks

Ayder Bulatov
The Vice-Head of the Committee on Religion of
The Council of Ministers of Autonomous Republic of the Crimea

During the years of independence religion has been taken a significant place in the life of a modern Ukrainian society. For long years of former Soviet Union peoples living in conditions of extreme militant atheism when the totalitarian communistic regime severely pursued for dissidence when freedom of conscience and religions were replaced with antidemocratic system of unconditional acceptance of an existing regime and worshipping a cult of one person, - the bases of cultural values of the society have been seriously deformed. Regarding deported peoples, we can say that, despite prosecutions, the religion for deported peoples (especially for the Crimean Tatars), during all years of stay in conditions of special settlements, was one of the factors, not only keeping originality of people, but also promoting its consolidation in struggle for returning to the historical native land.
Today, after returning to the Crimea, the issue concerning revival of ethnic religions on the historical native land was raised and the fact that the report with such theme is included in the program of the seminar, speaks about great value of the issue.
The issues on interreligious relations became rather urgent during construction of the democratic society in Ukraine. They appeared to be the most burning in the Crimea. The specific character of the issue for the Crimea consists in the fact that, unlike Ukraine where the percent of the Christian organizations in the general state religious network constitutes 96,5 %, in the Crimea the share of the Christian religious organizations constitutes about 60 %. For today a religious network of Autonomous Republic of the Crimea includes more than 1180 religious organizations of 46 religions, trends and doctrines.
One of the most numerous religions in the Crimea by the number of the registered communities, are Orthodoxy and the Islam.
According to ethno-religious features there are about 370 registered and functioning religious organizations represented as follows:
Islam is represented by more than 340 religious organizations and is on the second place after the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The Religious Directorate of the Moslems of the Crimea, created in 1991 became the organized religious structure of the Crimean Moslems. There are 180 mosques, 52 of them are newly constructed, at disposal of the Muslim communities. 16 mosques are being constructed, basically due to sponsor's means of coreligionists from the Muslim countries.
There are 4 Muslim religious educational institutions (Madrasah) in the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea, where about 200 students receive religious education.
There are 5 German communities included in Synod NELTS (Odessa), and also 6 independent communities.
A small ethnic group of the Crimea - Karaites - has 6 communities incorporated under the Religious Board of the Karaites of the Crimea.
The smallest ethnic group of the Crimea – Krimchacks - are incorporated into one religious organization in Simferopol. The Armenian Apostolic Church of the Crimea is incorporated by 6 communities which are provided with cult buildings. Clerics, as a rule, are invited from Armenia and conduct divine services in the native language that is a distinctive feature of Armenians, who kept the native language in many respects.
National minorities of the Crimea, Bulgarians and Greeks of orthodox creed are in structure of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and use its temples for their religious needs, orthodox Greeks of the Crimea have their own temples and in Yalta, Feodosiya, Simferopol and Belogorsk area.
Formed structure of a religious network appeared to be one of the complex and specific not only on territory of Ukraine, but also on the post-Soviet space. Therefore those religious actions which in various regions of Ukraine take place as ordinary, without any complications, are complicated in some cases in the Crimea. It concerns, for example, the placing of worshipping crosses in settlements of the Crimea.
For example, more than 50 worshipping crosses were established in Zakarpatye area in honour of the 2000-anniversary of Christ’s birth, and neither public, nor the religious organizations made any critical remarks. There were 12 crosses established here; however you remember, what events took place around of this action.
I gave this example only to emphasize that fragile balance existing between religions in the Crimea.
Though no big conflicts on the interreligious ground were observed in the course of Islam and Christianity existing in the Crimea, however the most conflicting, as I see it, are relations between Orthodoxy and the Islam. As experience of last years has shown, in terms of domination of one religion above another, the Muslim party most painfully perceives such actions of the orthodox party as placing of worshipping crosses on high places, at entrances to settlements and so on, that is, outside of its cult objects; the established publicity boards, with texts «Crimea is a cradle of Orthodoxy» and a choice of some platforms for construction of temples and chapels also caused a negative attitude.
As events around Zindzhirli Madrasah and Saint Uspensk monastery in Bakhchisaray have shown, the occasions for involvement into interreligious conflicts were also the economic reasons: use of tourist routes, selling places, parking places and other commercial objects. The conflicts provoked on this ground, reached that dangerous line when it involved, except for the conflicting parties, the inhabitants of other regions of the Crimea, the Cossacks and special divisions of militia, therefore heads of all religions should realize the responsibility for taken decisions, and to esteem their results long beforehand.
Certainly, the essence of appearance of some conflicts in many respects is explained by complexity of solving the social and economic problems connected, on one hand, with return and resettlement of the deported citizens, and on the other, with religions of many ethnic groups establishing on the peninsula.
It is necessary to note, that nevertheless the features of both harmonization of interreligious relations in the Crimea, and, in my opinion, solidarity and mutual support at interaction of religions with the governmental bodies have lately appeared
. We can give such examples of recent events, as the joint statement of Simferopol and Crimean Metropolitan Lazar and Mufti of Moslems of the Crimea Hadzhi Emirali Ablaev on prospects of the future mutual relations, a joint mass demonstration of representatives of Muslim communities and Karaite leaders of Evpatoria with appeals about returning the former religious property, and also the joint appeal of all large religions of the Crimea to the governmental bodies of the with the appeal to prohibit the construction of a rope-way ???????? roads in Mariampolsk gorge where Orthodox, Muslim and Karaite sacred places are located. Supporting this appeal the President of the Foundation for Research and Support of Indigenous Peoples of the Crimea Mr. Nadir Bekirov addressed the Council of Ministers of the Crimea.
As it is known, some mass-media persistently try to relate the Crimea to one of the potentially explosive regions where interethnic and interreligious conflicts are possible. Recently the idea has been strenuously laid in minds of ordinary Crimean inhabitants, and also exaggerated by foreign mass-media. The mass-media picture various scripts of the ethno-religious conflict with catastrophic consequences, by examples of Lebanon, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Chechnya. Scientists and analytics are even more often questioned: how obvious is such threat in reality?
I wouldn’t like to belittle the role of the Interreligious council «World is God’s gift», but in its contemporary state, the efficiency of its work is really considerably reduced. There is the necessity of creating the ethno-religious center in the Crimea which would involve both religious figures, scientists, theologians, workers of education sphere and governmental bodies with a view to elimination of potential conflict, elaboration and realization of the mechanism of constructive dialogue in the religious environment. Certainly, additional financing is required. However we should realize that preserving peace in the Crimea is stability in the Ukrainian state as a whole. Therefore, the economy of means now, can turn out as huge losses for the Ukrainian community in future. I consider as the priority of this body the deep studying of the appeared religious trends in the Crimea, definition of the reasons of their occurrences and distinctions in ideologies and in stated tasks. The ethno-religious center would become a body able to guarantee, if necessary, the mutual understanding and open dialogue between the religious centers and directorates not only in the Crimea, but also in Ukraine as a whole.
During last 5 years, when the social role of religion steadily grows, representatives of some religions, including the largest in the Crimea: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Muslim, raise a question on teaching the bases of the doctrines in general educational institutions.
Experiments on introducing the similar subjects in the educational school process have already taken place in a number of the western areas of Ukraine. At the same time, teaching of such subjects as «Bases of Christian ethics» was carried out at absence of due legislative base which would establish rules and norms of introducing additional subjects in educational process.
The indisputable fact is that it is necessary to bring up a generation, able to coexist in the society with other individuals, on the basis of some values. At the same time, there are arguments as for the values on the basis of which the generation is to be brought up. And if it is based on religious moral values, then what religions will be chosen.
It is difficult to dispute the statement, that in the process of educating a rising generation we should rely on our history, its cultural and pedagogical traditions. And moral values of previous generations were based first of all on the moral values of traditional religions: Orthodoxy as a whole across Ukraine, an Islam in the Crimea, in particular.
Using the historical experience of the previous generations living in the Crimea, taking into account the conflicting character the problem in question, it is necessary to show serious and a responsible approach to this problem and to find the solution acceptable to all society.
Speaking about historical experience of generations, I could not but cite an example of Evpatoria where the seminar is carried out. This city, justly named a small Jerusalem, absorbed history and traditions of many peoples, inhabiting the Crimea where during the cult buildings of all religions professed by peoples living in this city peacefully coexisted for many centuries and on the limited territory in the historical city centre.
In the contemporary Crimea, in the period of establishing of young Ukrainian democracy, we witness complex ethno-religious transformations, simultaneous process of revival of national consciousness, culture, spirituality of all nationalities inhabiting the Crimean peninsula.
How tolerantly this process will take place, how it will be remembered by the future generations: it depends on what will relations in the Crimean community between the religious organizations and associations will be in the nearest future. There are all bases to believe, that it will be made on principles of mutual respect, a commonality of long-term interests, without infringement of religious traditions, national dignity and honor of every people.
I think, that we have enough experience and wisdom to solve all those problems existing now and arising in the future, without any sympathies or antipathies to any religion; and then peace and consent will always reign on our peninsula.