We are used to assessments of election campaigns in the light of numerous political science experts’ opinions. No matter how objective and independent they might be considered, they are often biased by certain sympathies. Today we offer you an interview with a man who stands outside the process, but who often offers a more accurate assessment of the developments in Ukraine than many others would. His Beatitude Liubomyr (Huzar), Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, answered The Day’s questions.
At the moment, an election campaign is going on in Ukraine. What are your impressions of it?
“I have no possibility to take a closer look at the candidates, but from what I can hear on the radio or from the people I speak with, I have a bad impression.
“There are a lot of things going on which do not guarantee us a real election, in the true meaning of this word. There are too many attempts to influence voters either through bribery or through lies. Thus an atmosphere of mistrust and a lack of transparency is created, and one gets an impression that politicians have no desire to hold this political act in the best and cleanest way.”
The candidates are trying to bribe voters in all imaginable ways. Who is to blame for this?
“Of course, most of the blame rests with those who begin such practices. Those who accept also share the blame and become responsible for their behavior. In my opinion, a normal, democratic society should make no attempts at winning the voters over by taking steep roads. Without a slightest doubt, parliamentary candidates must try to convince their voters of their merits to be elected, but they must do it in a way coherent with human dignity: presenting the situation in a true manner, trying to prove that they are ready to serve people, and that serving people for them is the ultimate good, rather than serving their own interests, or those of some other group. Being honest before people is quite natural. Actually, this is what the essence of an election campaign is about.
“Anything done through lie, bribery, or intimidation is incompatible with democratic activities.”
Why are Ukrainians so prone to sell their future for food? Are we such a starving nation?
“But people are poor! For them, a hundred hryvnias is a lot of money, that is why they are so easy to bribe. They are not wicked, they are only poor and dependent. Actually, it is our task to remind these people that it is bad to do so, because in such a way they will never get rid of their misery, both spiritual and material.
“They have no sense of political culture, and they do not see it as sin.
“Also, there are cases of intimidation, when people are threatened with sacking if they do not vote for a certain party. We must realize that fear takes molehills for mountains. Nothing else. That is why it is important to muster your courage and be able to stand up for yourself.
“Why are people afraid? Again, because they are poor.
“Ukraine has no middle class as such. If we had 60 or 70 percent middle class, we would not have to witness what we see now. Middle class is people with a sense of dignity, people who feel strong and are prepared to oppose temptations.”
The party in power has tried (and has not yet quite given up) such a trick as imprisoning journalists for “slander.”
“Slander, in itself, is nothing good, and we should not encourage it. But what do our MPs want to do? They want to criminalize journalism as a profession, and thus make it impossible to say something about someone else. Yes, each of us can make a mistake and say something which might differ from reality, but imposing such draconian punishment for it… It means that someone is very eager to suppress a very important source of information, so that people can have no way to learn the truth.
“If someone said a lie, or made a mistake (well, anything can happen), the target of it has a chance to justify himself and explain why this is not true. A wish to throw journalists behind bars is an evidence of fear, in my opinion. There is nothing new to it. This method is popular with all dictators, who feared lest someone should speak the truth of them. Such fear is a proof that someone is very uncertain of themselves.
“A man conscious of his human dignity is not afraid, even if someone says a lie about him.”
Has any lie ever been said about you in the press?
“Certainly. Many years ago, back when I lived in Lviv after my return from America, I was publicly called a freemason. Moreover, someone purportedly circulated this allegation in order to mar my repute. Then I summoned a press conference and explained that it was a lie, and why it was a lie, and where it had come from. After that, it had never been repeated.
“It takes courage to be responsible for oneself. There is no need to use law as a cover, and punish someone for what they said. It is a moral problem, rather than criminal, for the speaker: the journalist must feel responsibility for his or her work.”
Has anything struck you as very negative of late?
“I have long been disgusted by this practice of voting in absentia. It is scandalous. The speaker and the Verkhovna Rada itself let it happen, and even try to acquit it.
“The speaker was once asked why they do not pass a law to ban such voting. He replied that then the parliament would stop passing laws whatsoever, because parliamentarians will not come to sittings.
“But we pay these people for going there. It is their work. They do not have to go elsewhere and sell stuff there. Their job is to vote for or against legislation, debate, and convince. I do not have any bias concerning salaries for MPs, but they must work 24/7 during those few years they are elected as MPs.
“Every time I hear of voting for others, it hurts me so much. Why is that possible? This is a disgrace for the Verkhovna Rada and everything happening there.”
Have you had any positive impressions of late?
“Yes, when the previous government tried to attract our attention to historical truth, which has to be remembered if we want to have a better future. Everything has to be remembered, no matter if it was painful or good for our nations. This approach appealed to me.
“As for any positive impressions of late – such have not been recorded. I do not mean that nothing good is happening anymore. Simply, there has been nothing special.
“I have totally stopped recollecting such a positive thing as the Orange Revolution, which was an event of colossal importance in the history of our people and of entire Europe. I do not know if it is ever to repeat itself.”
Recently the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow initiated the procedure for a popular referendum in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus to answer a question of “reunion” of Russians, Belarussians, and Ukrainians into “one nation” – because, the Russian Church insists, these nations were disunited by the Battle of Kulikovo, and none of them can develop in a normal way.
“I have heard of this. This is a purely political initiative. Unfortunately, there are people in Russia who want these nations to merge into one, where Russians would have the major vote.
“This is nothing new. It is called Russification, and it has lasted for many years, assuming numerous shapes. It was pursued under the tsars, in Soviet time, and, unfortunately, it lasts even now.
“This policy is backed by Russia’s official leadership, both in the Kremlin and in church. This must be one of the manifestation of the much-spoken ‘Russian world.’
“The logic behind it all is very simple: merging three nations and allowing one to have an upper hand. Their arguments are groundless, since from their very origins these three nations have been distinct, and there is no point in their unification.
“They say we are ‘brother nations.’ Is Ivan the Terrible my brother, or Catherine II my sister? The same goes for Peter I. You have to know history and cherish no illusions about some utopic ‘single nation.’
“Do we have to be good neighbors? Yes, but no more than that.”
“Perhaps, in this aspect it is. Here the church is being used, and it is very consciously working for certain goals.
“The representatives of the Russian Church visit Ukraine and behave as if they were at home.”
Is it correct?
“Of course it is not, because their home is in Russia. They have people here who feel connected to the Russian Patriarchate. It would be quite normal, but these people are not Russian, and are members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. However, one gets an impression as if the Russian Orthodox Church feels at home here.”
Are there any reasons for an uprising in Ukraine?
“In the late 1920s there were about four thousand uprisings against forced collectivization in Ukraine’s eastern regions. Not in Galicia, because back then Galicia was under Poland. People were fighting for their lives, for their very existence. Did they have a right to do so? Yes, they did.
“Revolution helped America to break free from England and gain independence. Ukraine, too, had a right to independence.
“When a regime, or a government, begins a drastic encroachment on people’s rights, people have the right to defend themselves.
“Of course, this is not something that must be done on a daily basis. It requires certain circumstances, because a revolution needs not necessarily result in something good. Take the October revolution, for one – it brought nothing good.
“But there is also a positive example, our Ukrainian Insurgent Army, UPA. Its very name speaks for itself: the insurgents revolted against occupation. They fought against Nazis, but the main thing is that they fought against the NKVD. UPA arose to stand up for human rights.
“If the incumbent government continues to vex people and take their rights away, only God the Lord knows what may follow.
“God save us from uprisings: this is bloodshed and civil war. So we must try our best to change the situation peacefully. Today we are in a state when it can be done in a peaceful manner.”
Being depressed and sad – is it sin or a normal human state?
“It is a disease. Such a person needs treatment: medical, psychological, and spiritual.”
Which is your favorite season?
“This is a good question. Frankly, I love at least three seasons. As a child, when I lived in Lviv, I loved the end of the winter and the start of the spring, when snowdrops peeked from the snow, and there was this peculiar smell of the spring in the air. I loved that spring smell very much.
“And the fall. When I lived in America, I had a parish in the hills. Every week I made a nearly one-hundred-kilometer trip one way each week. That was the time when trees were changing colors. It was so beautiful! I remember the joy I felt when I looked at the woods.
“I also love the winter. Once it used to be a time for sledding and skiing, and I loved both. I was always looking forward to the first snow, when you could go sledding.
“I guess the summer is my least favorite season. I am not saying that I love the spring: I love the smell of the spring, the colors of the fall, and the snow of the winter.”