- Published on Monday, 14 March 2016 09:54
- Category: Articles and Commentary
- Written by Mykhailo Cherenkov
Ukraine is moving towards a Europe which no longer exists. Similar evaluations of current developments can be often increasingly heard from Ukrainian and international experts. Eurorealism is becoming a dominant trend. It does not dispute the chosen direction - Ukraine's European integration - but clarifies the situation both here and there, providing realistic images of both Europe and Ukraine. This is very important - to see not only Ukraine, but also today’s Europe, as a flexible, changing entity; to understand how, as they move towards one another, they can change and redefine themselves; to make corrections so that this encounter can be mutually enriching and strengthening.
In the fall of 2013, when the fate of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union was at stake, the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organisations addressed the people, declaring both their support for European integration and proposing amendments to the concept of modern Europe and Ukraine’s goals in joining it. "In our opinion, Ukraine’s future is naturally guided by its historical roots as an independent state among free European nations. It is clear that modern united Europe has achieved much, but there is still much that needs to be changed or corrected as in our own Ukrainian home. Traditional religious, cultural, family and moral values, which for centuries have served as the basis for life of the peoples of Europe, are a precious treasure which we should work together to value, protect, defend and multiply. We know there are many like-minded people in Europe whom we are prepared to partner with."
It is important to hear two things in this statement. First, according to church leaders, Ukraine is Europe - historically and geographically. At the same time, Europe is not so much a certainty, but more of a set course, and it must be guided and restrained through the combined efforts of like-minded people, including Ukrainians.
What was then said, before the Revolution of Dignity on Maidan and subsequent Russian aggression, has not lost its relevance. On the contrary, it served as an introduction to the current debate.
In the fall of 2015, when the Ukrainian parliament was invited to pass anti-discrimination amendments (weakening traditional understandings of gender and marriage) in exchange for a visa-free regime with the European Union, the Ukrainian Church actively opposed such an "exchange," and suggested changes to the constitution in order to protect traditional Christian values (especially the value of life from conception to death and the value of the family as the union between a man and a woman).
Thus, the Church rejected the offer of "non-traditional values in exchange for a visa-free regime". It consistently argues that Ukraine’s moral values and spiritual traditions can be more of a blessing than a burden for Europe.
As Patriarch Filaret recently stated, "It is precisely because Ukraine is a part of Europe that we believe our people have no fewer rights than other peoples to maintain their own identity within the European family and to adhere to traditional spiritual and cultural values". In other words, Ukrainian churches combine their commitment to European integration with fidelity to their own traditions. Sometimes this combination is controversial, but it’s dynamic and aims for harmony.
Thus, Ukraine sees itself as a part of Europe. It wants to partake of the benefits of European civilisation and culture, but at the same time is not ready to sacrifice its own spiritual traditions. Of course, the essence and value of these traditions must be clarified, because Ukrainian Christianity remains largely nominal, and references to traditions and values are ambiguous. But the very question about Ukrainian traditions and the Ukrainian factor in general as something important that Europe lacks, seems very relevant.
The fact that the issue of Ukraine's relations with Europe has adopted a bilateral nature is unquestionably the work of Ukrainian churches. They determined to offer something in return, to know their own worth and share it. By contrast, the state and society see Europe as only a set of civil benefits, which they are rushing to acquire at any price, even at the cost of giving up their identity and possessions. Similarly, Europeans mostly focus on what Ukrainians can take from them and what they will have to share with their new, poorer neighbours. But they should see in Ukraine not only a recipient, but also a giver,; not only Ukraine’s deficiencies, but also its potential. And this is true not only for the religious and cultural spheres, but for all other spheres.
If anything, Ukraine is a piece of the European puzzle, without which it cannot be an integrated whole or be fully itself. This puzzle has cultural, economic, political and military importance. All of these values, defined by historical roots, became relevant again in the light of Russia’s anti-Western aggression and the growing pressure from radical Islam.
In cultural terms, Ukraine is a unique synthesis of Eastern and Western Christianity. Once freed from dependence on Moscow, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will receive recognition of its independence, and will become a key factor in world Orthodoxy. Its first steps will likely be to draw closer to the Greek Catholic Church. This convergence of Ukraine’s two largest religious traditions will have critically important implications for Russia’s and Europe’s religious contexts. This will also revitalise relations between Constantinople and Rome, whose European interests converge precisely on Ukraine’s territory. The return of Ukrainian Orthodoxy (and other traditions) into the European context will significantly strengthen and diversify the Christian component of European identity.
In economic terms, Ukraine has the chance of regaining its well-known, but, unfortunately, long-lost status of "the breadbasket of Europe." Ukrainian lands are wide and fertile, and they represent not only an invitation to invest and the future of international business, but also a guarantee of food security for the entire region. Ukraine’s revival as the "breadbasket of Europe" depends on the revival of its international transport system. Ukraine’s geography is in its favor. It is naturally a transit country, due to its location, and its sea and river ports are vital. Ukraine is a natural and necessary continuation of Europe towards the east, both in terms of geography and in terms of economy.
In the military-political realm, Ukraine has already become the border guard of Europe, bravely weathering onslaughts from the East and North-East. This is the real European frontier - culturally, historically, politically and militarily. The perception of Ukraine as Europe’s frontier is paving the way to understanding what it has in common with and what sets it apart from Europe, their points of contention and disequilibrium. Without Ukraine, Europe's borders are vulnerable, not because there is no next line, but because the next line is not a frontier, it is weak and malleable, it is more a legal formality than actually protective.
In light of the above, it is not so difficult to agree with the common phrase that "Ukraine is moving towards a Europe which no longer exists," because without Ukraine, there is no Europe. It does not exist as an integrated whole, and has no future. Because Ukraine is Europe, Europe is incomplete. With the arrival of Ukraine, Europe must change. Because Ukraine, on its path to Europe, must also change. Ukraine and Europe need each other to unite in a common purpose and be renewed.
Mykhailo Cherenkov is the vice president for strategy and education at the Association for Spiritual Renewal, Mission Eurasia’s (formerly Russian Ministries) national affiliate in Ukraine, as well as a professor at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. He is the co-author (with Joshua T. Searle) of the book A Future and a Hope: Mission, Theological Education and the Transformation of Post-Soviet Society.