Tuesday 1 June

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Christians of various denominations are continuing to express
concern about the attack on Patriarch FILARET, the head of the
Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Kiev Patriarchate, on 30 April. The
patriarch - the leader of one of the three main Orthodox groupings in
Ukraine - was attacked in Mariupol in Donetsk region by supporters of
the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate as he was
blessing a piece of land where a new cathedral of the UOC-KP is to be
built. Concerns focus around the failure of state officials to remain
neutral in the long-running intra-Orthodox dispute, the failure of
the police to protect the victims of such clashes and the failure of
at least some members of the UOC-MP to abide by agreements with other
Churches to avoid violence.

`The Russian Orthodox Church believes the two other Orthodox Churches
(as well as the other non-Orthodox Churches) have no right to exist
on Russian canonical territory, which they believe Ukraine is,' the
Lutheran pastor VYACHESLAV HORPYNCHUK told Keston News Service from
Kiev. `Even though the Russian Orthodox have signed a special
memorandum of all the largest Ukrainian denominations that was
initiated by President LEONID KUCHMA and in which all attempts to use
any political or physical power to discriminate against any religious
group were condemned, the Russian Orthodox Church - which is still
powerful in Ukraine, especially in its eastern regions - neglects its
commitments, and even the most fundamental Christian principles of
love even to one's enemies, believing that all means are good for
achieving its purpose.'

According to various press accounts in Ukraine, a mob of several
dozen people armed with metal pipes, bags with rocks and heavy
objects gathered around the site of the future construction to try to
prevent the blessing going ahead. The mob was led by the local bishop
of the UOC-MP, Archbishop ILARION of Donetsk and Mariupol. However,
they were outnumbered by the believers of the UOC-KP, so Archbishop
Ilarion called for help on his mobile phone. When the number of UOC-
MP supporters reached approximately 100 men they attacked Patriarch
Filaret, beat him, tore his ritual hat, and wrecked his car. They
also pulled down a cross that the UOC-KP had erected on the site.
While being beaten Patriarch Filaret asked people not to react at all
but to be patient in suffering. The Patriarch's Secretary, DIMITRI,
was so heavily beaten by the mob that he fell and had to go to
hospital with concussion. Dozens of the UOC-KP members were beaten
severely, according to the UOC-KP, and only the intervention of the
police prevented a possible murder.

A spokesman for the UOC-MP, SVYATOSLAV RECHYNSKY, later admitted that
members of his Church had been at the site but denied that the
attacks had been organised by the Church. He claimed that Archbishop
Ilarion, far from leading the attacks, had been trying to calm the
situation down.

The 30 April incident followed a succession of obstructions to the
UOC-KP's work from both state officials and members of the UOC-MP.
Early in April Patriarch Filaret was informed by the Donetsk regional
government, especially by the officials YANUKOVICH and RYBAK, that
his visit to Donetsk region was not desirable. The Patriarch replied
that he is a Ukrainian citizen, was born in Donetsk region, his
relatives and his 95 year old mother still lived there, he was the
Patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox and nobody could stop him from
visiting his flock.

On 23 April while travelling to Donetsk on the Dnipropetrovsk-Donetsk
regional border he was stopped by a group of some 150 UOC-MP priests
and laypeople, reportedly shouting abuse, threatening the Patriarch
and demanding that he should abandon his visit. On 25 April the same
group of people surrounded the UOC-KP Church of the Transfiguration
in Donetsk and refused to let Patriarch Filaret in. These people were
likewise shouting abuse, threatening Patriarch Filaret and members of
the UOC-KP. In the evening of 29 April, the local UOC-MP bishop,
speaking on local Mariupol TV, asked UOC-MP members to use all means
possible to kick Patriarch Filaret and the UOC-KP out of the city.
The UOC-MP has some 200 parishes in Donetsk region, while the UOC-KP
has some 50 parishes.

The Orthodox Church in Ukraine split into various competing factions
in the wake of the break-up of the Soviet Union, when Ukraine gained
its independence. Although allegiances among bishops, priests and
ordinary believers have frequently shifted, there are now three main
groups: the UOC-MP, headed by Metropolitan VOLODYMYR (SABODAN), is
the biggest, the UOC-KP, headed by Patriarch FILARET (DENYSENKO) -
formerly a member of the Moscow Patriarchate hierarchy, but which
defrocked him in 1992 - is the second biggest, with the Ukrainian
Autocephalous Orthodox Church, headed by Patriarch DYMYTRY (YAREMA)
as the smallest. The Ukrainian government has changed policy several
times. At one point the former government under President LEONID
KRAVCHUK strongly supported the UOC-KP, while the subsequent
government under Leonid Kuchma initially tried to be neutral, but has
been inclining towards the UOC-MP. Many local officials, who have
remained in office since the Soviet era, are sympathetic to the UOC-
MP and obstruct the work of the other groups.

The split within the Orthodox Church has also polarised political
parties. Many opposition and nationalist parties support the UOC-KP
and were outraged by the 30 April incident. A 1 May rally in Kiev by
supporters of Rukh and other nationalist groups condemned the assault
on Patriarch Filaret and called on the authorities to disband the
State Committee for Religious Affairs and to review registration of
the UOC-MP. A number of parties, including Rukh, the Congress of
Ukrainian Nationalists, the Republican Christian Party and the
Ukrainian Cossacks, appealed to President Kuchma on 6 May to
investigate the `brutal assault' on Patriarch Filaret and other
members of the UOC-KP.

The Prosecutor-General's Office in Mariupol opened a criminal case on
the 30 April incident under Article 89 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code
(destruction of collective property), the acting prosecutor of
Mariupol, IHOR BILOBAB, told journalists on 10 May. (END)

Tuesday 1 June

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

A Georgian parliamentary deputy GURAM SHARADZE has begun legal moves
to have the registration of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Georgia
revoked. The court in the Isani district of Tbilisi accepted
Sharadze's suit on 29 April, though the Jehovah's Witnesses did not
receive a copy of the paperwork until late May. According to ARNO
TUNGLER, the Jehovah's Witness representative in Georgia, a judge has
not yet been assigned to the cases so it is not yet known when
proceedings will begin in court.

The local Union of Jehovah's Witnesses was registered with the Isani
court on 17 April 1998 and the Representation of the Watch Tower
Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, USA, in the Republic of
Georgia was registered with the same court on 11 June 1998. Sharadze
has filed identical suits against both organisations, Tungler told
Keston News Service on 26 May. Sharadze, a deputy of the Union of
Georgian Citizens/Georgia Above All, alleges that it has become
evident to his party that the Jehovah's Witnesses undertake anti-
state, anti-national and anti-Orthodox activities. `Especially
disturbing to them is our distributing literature in the Georgian
language,' Tungler reports.

The cases were filed immediately after the Georgian State Customs
Service confiscated a six-tonne shipment of Jehovah's Witness
literature - including 20 million tracts and video cassettes - on 27
April in Vale in southern Georgia. The customs service claims the
shipment was being smuggled into the country from Turkey illegally
and the Turkish lorry driver was arrested.

Sharadze bases his case on the confiscated literature, attaching a
letter from the Secretary of the Orthodox Patriarchate (No. 108 of 2
May) to the State Customs Service. Tungler reports that the letter
includes claims about the literature based on several magazines taken
from the shipment. He maintains that there is no basis in law for its
confiscation and that the Jehovah's Witnesses had not given
permission for its contents to be opened. `We are still trying to get
this shipment back containing almost 6 tonnes of religious magazines
which were imported for the needs of the approximately 40,000 people
who are connected with the organisation of Jehovah's Witnesses in
Georgia,' Tungler told Keston.

Tungler believes there is no direct connection between Sharadze's
attempt to have the Jehovah's Witnesses' registration revoked in
Georgia and similar attempts in the Golovinsky court in Moscow (see
25 March KNS article 'Jehovah's Witnesses' Literature to be Assessed
by State Council'). Sharadze does not appear to have referred to the
Moscow case in his numerous press interviews over the past month. `It
appears to be more likely he sees this as a good chance to gain
publicity for himself and his party in view of the upcoming
elections,' says Tungler.

Sharadze has played a leading role in recent protests against plans
by the Ministry of Culture to take an exhibition of Georgian
treasures - including icons and religious art - on a tour of museums
in the United States. He has also called for all religious artefacts
confiscated by the Communist government and still in state hands to
be returned to the Church. (END)