|Monday, 22 April 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 4, No. 202, 00-10-18
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 4, No. 202, 18 October 2000
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REINSTATES PARLIAMENT SPEAKERResponding to a request by President Robert Kocharian, the Constitutional Court ruled on 17 October that the 26 September parliament vote to remove speaker Armen Khachatrian from his post was accompanied by serious violations and thus unconstitutional, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Khachatrian himself had refused to acknowledge the validity of the ballot, but the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian regarded it as binding and accused Khachatrian of "illegally" clinging to his post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 September and 2 and 3 October 2000). The chairman of the parliament's Commission for State and Legal Affairs, Viktor Dallakian, said after the Constitutional Court ruling that those 63 deputies who on 26 September voted in favor of Khachatrian's resignation may now call for a vote of no-confidence in him, Noyan Tapan reported. LF
 ARMENIAN PRESIDENT TO UNDERGO MEDICAL CHECKUP IN EUROPEPresident Kocharian traveled on 17 October to an unnamed European country to undergo a medical checkup, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported, quoting presidential spokeswoman Hasmik Petrosian. Petrosian denied that Kocharian, who is 46, is suffering from any illness, and said he will return to Armenia within three days. LF
 ARMENIA, RUSSIA SIGN PROTOCOL ON VISA-FREE REGIMERussian ambassador Anatolii Dryukov and Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Levon Mkrtchian signed a protocol in Yerevan on 17 October on visa-free travel between those two states by their respective citizens, Noyan Tapan reported. Dryukov said the protocol is "not a bureaucratic agreement," but is intended to ensure the rights of Russian citizens living in Armenia and Armenian citizens resident in the Russian Federation. LF
 KARABAKH AUTHORITIES REJECT AZERBAIJANI STATEMENTThe Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has responded to a 9 October statement by the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry that condemned as a violation of Azerbaijani and international law a cooperation agreement signed five weeks earlier between the Armenian and NKR governments, Noyan Tapan reported on 17 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September and 10 October 2000). The Azerbaijani statement also criticized the Karabakh authorities' decision to replace some Azerbaijani toponyms in the enclave with earlier Armenian names. The Karabakh response noted that even before the demise of the USSR such decisions were within the competence of the leadership of the (then) Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast. The Karabakh Foreign Ministry termed Azerbaijan's policy vis-a-vis the economic development of the NKR "openly hostile." It said Azerbaijani actions run contrary to the Azerbaijani leadership's stated readiness to establish peace in the region. LF
 AZERBAIJAN SIGNS AGREEMENT ON OIL PIPELINE FEASIBILITY STUDYAzerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR signed an agreement on 17 October in Baku with a group of seven international oil companies that have undertaken to finance a $25 million feasibility study on construction of the planned Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline, Reuters and Turan reported. To date, no investors have expressed readiness to fund construction of that 1,730 pipeline, which will have an initial annual throughput capacity of 17 million tons, eventually rising to 50 million tons. The estimated cost of construction, which will begin in late 2001 and take 32 months, is $2.4 billion. David Woodward, head of the Baku office of BP-Amoco, which has a 25.41 percent stake in the feasibility study, told journalists at the 17 October signing ceremony that "we all believe that the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline will be commercially viable and competitive." LF
 AZERBAIJANI OFFICIALS CONDEMN U.S. MOVES ON ARMENIAN GENOCIDE RECOGNITIONPassage by the U.S. Congress of a non-binding resolution urging U.S. presidents formally to designate as genocide the killings of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey would cast doubts on the U.S.'s ability to act as an objective and fair mediator in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev said in Moscow on 17 October. "We do not support any sort of discussion like this in Congress," Reuters quoted Guliev as saying. He added that discussion of the genocide should be left to historians. Speaking in Baku the previous day, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev condemned the discussion of the resolution in Congress as "a great injustice," according to Turan. LF
 AZERBAIJAN TO WRITE OFF DEBTS OF STATE-OWNED ENTERPRISES?Opening a brewery near Baku established as an Azerbaijani-French joint venture, President Aliev suggested on 16 October that writing off the debt of state-owned enterprises could encourage foreign investors, Turan and Interfax reported. Aliev admitted that unnamed forces in Azerbaijan seek to create problems for foreign companies operating in Azerbaijan and condemned what he termed "illegal" checks of their economic activities by law enforcement agencies. Aliev said only the Tax Ministry is empowered to conduct such checks. LF
 GEORGIA TO CHALLENGE AGREEMENT ON SOVIET DEBTS, ASSETSGeorgia will demand, at a meeting in Tbilisi next month of the Georgian- Russian economic commission, a revision of the 1993 agreement whereby Georgia forfeited all claims on former Soviet assets while Russia assumed responsibility for all Soviet debts, Foreign Ministry spokesman Avtandil Napetvaridze told Interfax on 17 October. The Georgian parliament has never ratified that agreement, "Izvestiya" noted on 18 October. President Eduard Shevardnadze said during his weekly radio address on 16 October that Tbilisi intends to demand its share of the assets of the former USSR. Former Georgian Premier Tengiz Sigua, who negotiated the 1993 agreement, said that it would be "unrealistic" for Tbilisi to demand billions of dollars from Moscow, but that the two countries could instead agree to cancel their mutual debts. The Russian Foreign Ministry has recently accused Georgia of failing to begin repayments on its $179 million debt to Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2000). LF
 NORTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENT ARGUES AGAINST RUSSIAN VISA REQUIREMENT FOR GEORGIANSAleksandr Dzasokhov told journalists in Moscow on 17 October that he sees no urgent or important reasons for the introduction of a visa requirement for Georgian citizens wishing to enter the Russian Federation, ITAR-TASS reported. Russian officials have argued for the past year that persons entering Russia from Georgia should have valid visas in order to exclude Chechen and international terrorists. Dzasokhov objected that the introduction of a visa regime "does not meet the interests of two friendly countries either strategically or in the medium term." He added that such a regime would hinder communication between his republic and the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia in neighboring Georgia. LF
 KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY SETS CONDITIONS FOR PARTICIPATING IN 'NATIONAL DIALOGUE'Leading members of the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan said in Almaty on 16 October that they will not attend meetings of the roundtable planned by the Kazakh government unless the party's chairman, Akezhaan Kazhegeldin, is permitted to return from exile to participate, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. Kazhegeldin, who is a former prime minister of Kazakhstan, said a year ago he is prepared to mediate a dialogue between the government and opposition to discuss the problems the country faces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 1999). LF
 KYRGYZ CENTRAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION REJECTS CANDIDATES' CRITICISM...Kyrgyzstan's Central Electoral Commission (CEC) issued a statement on 17 October rejecting the claim made three days earlier by three opposition candidates in the 29 October presidential poll, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The three candidates--Almaz Atembaev, Omurbek Tekebaev, and Melis Eshimkanov--accused the commission of creating obstacles to electioneering by opposition candidates and of preparing to falsify the outcome of the ballot in favor of incumbent President Askar Akaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 2000). The CEC further accused unnamed NGOs engaged in training election observers of lobbying on behalf of those three opposition candidates, according to Interfax. Members of Tekebaev's campaign staff issued a further statement on 17 October repeating earlier claims that the CEC is denying opposition candidates access to premises to conduct election rallies. That statement also noted that opposition candidates face problems trying to secure TV air time. LF
 ...WARNS ONE OF THEMAlso on 17 October, the CEC issued a separate statement warning Eshimkanov that he had violated election regulations by publishing criticism of the current political situation in Kyrgyzstan in the 14 October issue of the newspaper "Asaba," which he owns. LF
 INDEPENDENT KYRGYZ NEWSPAPER FINEDA Bishkek district court on 17 October fined the independent newspaper "Res Publica," the paper's editor and one of its journalists a total of 25,000 soms ($5,000) for an article it published two years ago, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. That article criticized the Ministry of Justice's decisions to revoke the registration of the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights in September 1997 and to register in 1998 an alternative body with the same name that was loyal to the government. LF
 TURKISH, TURKMEN PRESIDENTS MEETVisiting Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer held talks in Ashgabat on 17 October with his Turkmen counterpart Saparmurat Niyazov, Reuters and Interfax reported. The two men focused on trade and economic issues, primarily implementation of the 1999 agreement whereby Turkey will buy 16 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas annually beginning in 2002. That agreement is contingent on construction of a Trans-Caspian gas export pipeline. AP quoted Niyazov as saying a new energy agreement with Turkey will be signed during a summit of Turcophone states to be held in April 2001. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 MACEDONIA ANNOUNCES BALKAN SUMMITA spokesman for Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski said in Skopje on 18 October that the heads of state and government of seven southeast European countries will meet with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica in the Macedonian capital on 25 October. They will discuss changes in the region following Kostunica's recent replacement of Slobodan Milosevic as Yugoslav leader. Participating countries will be: Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, and Romania, Reuters reported. EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten and Stability Pact Coordinator Bodo Hombach will also attend. It is not clear whether Montenegro or Kosova will be represented, or whether other members of the international community--including individual EU states, the U.S., Russia, or Turkey-- will participate. PM
 KOSTUNICA LEAVES MONTENEGRO EMPTY-HANDEDMontenegrin President Milo Djukanovic told President Kostunica in Podgorica on 17 October that he and his For a Better Life coalition will not take part in the new federal government, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Djukanovic does not recognize the elections that brought Kostunica to power. He stresses instead that the Serbian and Montenegrin leaderships must first redefine the legal basis of the relationship between their two republics. Djukanovic also met with Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic and parliament speaker Svetozar Marovic. Montenegrin officials gave Kostunica a reception "on a very low level of protocol," the broadcast added. PM
 NO QUICK SOLUTION BETWEEN SERBIA, MONTENEGRO IN SIGHTKostunica said in Cetinje on 17 October that there will be no meeting of the Supreme Defense Council for some time to come. The body has not met in two years because Djukanovic, who is a member, does not recognize the current federal authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2000). In Belgrade, Democratic Opposition (DOS) leader Zoran Djindjic said that representatives of the DOS will meet in about 10 days with officials of Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists to discuss future relations between the two republics. Djindjic added that "serious talks" between Belgrade and Podgorica are still several months away, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Voters will elect a new Serbian government on 23 December. PM
 POWER STRUGGLE IN MONTENEGRIN PARTYA contest for leadership has begun in the Socialist People's Party, which until recently was loyal to Milosevic, "Danas" reported on 18 October. Outgoing Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic wants to maintain the alliance with Milosevic's Socialists. Podgorica-based leader Predrag Bulatovic favors a deal with Kostunica and wants a party congress to set a new policy, "Vijesti" added. PM
 MILOSEVIC'S DEFENSE MINISTER RULES OUT YUGOSLAV COUPYugoslav Defense Minister Dragoljub Ojdanic, who is a staunch Milosevic backer and indicted war criminal, told Studio B television that the army will not seek to remove Kostunica from office. The general asked rhetorically: "How could a military coup now follow after [the military leadership has] stated that somebody had been elected by the will of the people?" Ojdanic stressed that the military obey the constitution and consider the president their supreme commander (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2000). Under Milosevic's rule, the army leadership lionized the president as "our commander in chief," even though, as the weekly "Vreme" pointed out, that title is not mentioned in the constitution. PM
 GERMANY CONFIRMS KNOWLEDGE OF HIDDEN SERBIAN FUNDSGermany's deputy foreign minister, Guenter Pleuger, told InfoRadio Berlin- Brandenburg on 18 October that Milosevic and several of his close associates are "criminals" who have deposited well over $100 million in ill- gotten funds abroad. He confirmed recent press reports that the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) has concluded in a report that Milosevic has stored away a fortune in Russia, China, Cyprus, Greece, Lebanon, and South Africa, Reuters reported. The former Serbian leader and his clique are believed to have $100 million in Switzerland alone. Pleuger stressed that "such accounts will be confiscated if they are found." The report noted that there is "considerable evidence indicating that Milosevic and his entourage constitute an OC [organized crime] structure and are engaged in drug dealing, money laundering, and other criminal acts." PM
 MILOSEVIC'S SERBIAN BANKER OUSTEDShareholders in Beogradska Banka, which is Serbia's biggest bank, voted on 17 October to oust Borka Vucic as chairman, "Danas" reported. Petar Cvorovic will replace her until more permanent changes are introduced. Vucic ranked as one of Milosevic's closest collaborators. Opposition economist Mladjan Dinkic is preparing an extensive reform of the banking system. PM
 MILOSEVIC TO BE DUMPED FROM SERBIAN PARTY?A group of founding members of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia issued a document in Belgrade on 17 October calling on Milosevic to quit as party chairman. Signatories included Milorad Vucelic, Borisav Jovic, Zoran Lilic, and Mihailo Markovic, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM
 SERBIAN ELECTRIC COMPANY NEEDS MONEYThe management of Elektrodistribucija Srbije said in a statement in Belgrade on 17 October that the company needs $100 million to keep Serbia's shaky power grid functioning through the winter. The statement added that debtors owe the company $72 million, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM
 MACEDONIA HIKES FUEL PRICESThe government announced a 7.5 percent rise in fuel prices to keep up with price changes on the international market, Reuters reported from Skopje on 18 October. The government took the decision at the request of the management of the OKTA refinery, who complained that low prices are causing them big losses. PM
 SLOVENIAN GOVERNMENT IN A MONTH?The Ljubljana daily "Dnevnik" reported on 18 October that the leadership of Janez Drnovsek's Liberal Democrats hopes to form a new government by mid- November. Protracted negotiations aimed at building coalitions are part and parcel of Slovenian politics, and not only after elections. PM
 MAJOR CORRUPTION TRIAL OPENS IN CROATIAThe trial of Miroslav Kutle and 12 others opened in Zagreb on 17 October. Kutle was a member of the political and business establishment close to the regime of late President Franjo Tudjman and is accused of having embezzled some $5.5 million from the Tisak publishing company. All 13 men pleaded not guilty, "Jutarnji list" reported. In related news, Justice Minister Stjepan Ivanisevic announced the formation of an anti-mafia prosecutor's office and the preparation of stiff anti-mafia legislation on the Italian model, "Vecernji list" reported. PM
 CROATIAN EDITOR SACKEDIgor Mandic has been ousted as editor in chief of the 61-year-old Zagreb daily "Vjesnik," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 17 October. He served for less than a year. Mandic succeeded in turning the paper from being a mouthpiece of the Tudjman regime into a serious daily but failed to boost circulation and make the paper profitable. PM
 BOSNIAN FEDERAL PARLIAMENT BALKS ON KEY LEGISLATIONThe Bosnian federal legislature on 17 October rejected pension reform legislation for the third time. The proposed law specifies that no more money can be paid out than is actually on hand. Daniel Besson, who is the deputy high representative of the international community, told "RFE/RL Newsline" in Prague recently that passage of the legislation is crucial if Bosnia is to get on a sound economic footing. Failure to pass the law, he added, could undo much of the progress already made. PM
 SOCIALIST WINS IN BITTERLY CONTESTED ALBANIAN MAYORAL RACEThe Socialist party candidate won in the southern Albanian seaside town of Himara with 1,870 votes to 690 votes for a rival candidate backed by the ethnic-Greek Human Rights Union Party (PBDNJ), Reuters reported on 16 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2000). Ethnic Albanian parties united behind the Socialist slate in a rare display of unity. The ethnic Albanian politicians accused the Greek party of trying to buy votes by promising that development aid and investment would come from nearby Greece if the PBDNJ won. Spokesmen of that party denied the charge, saying that the PBDNJ is simply trying to broaden its base into ethnic Albanian areas. The PBDNJ also denied charges that it is trying to increase Greek influence in the border region, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tirana. PM
 ISARESCU REPORTS TO ROMANIAN PARLIAMENTPrime Minister Mugur Isarescu, presenting a report to parliament on 18 October on his government's activity, warned against "populist measures" before the elections, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He said that the legacy he inherited was one of political crisis, a 14 percent drop in the GDP, an 11.5 percent unemployment rate, and an inflation rate of 54.8 percent. In its 10-month tenure, the cabinet managed to generate a 1.5 percent rate in economic growth (the first positive rate registered in 3 years), to treble the country's hard currency reserves, and improve its gold reserves. Isarescu noted that the cabinet failed to reduce inflation to 27 percent, as it had intended, but noted that the rate for 2000 will under no circumstances be above 40 percent. MS
 ROMANIAN SENATE CALLS FOR DISBANDING PRIVATIZATION AGENCYWith a vote of 86 for and 28 against, the Senate on 17 October passed a resolution calling for disbanding the State Ownership Fund (FPS), which is in charge of the country's privatization. The resolution approved a report of an inquiry commission into the FPS's activity, which accuses the agency of underevaluating companies for the purpose of selling them, of favoring certain buyers, and of breaking bidding laws, AP reported. The report also calls for dismissing FPS head Radu Sarbu and for the government and the Justice Ministry to launch an investigation into the FPS's activities. Addressing the Senate, Sarbu rejected all accusations as unfounded. MS
 ROMANIAN LOWER HOUSE EASES PROCEDURE ON LIFTING PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY...The Chamber of Deputies on 17 October decided that the parliamentary immunity of its members can be lifted by a simple (50 percent plus one vote) majority, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Under the previous rules, lifting the immunity needed the backing of two-thirds of deputies. The new procedure is to apply to the chamber that will be elected on 26 November. MS
 ...AND HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS RETURN TO DEBATESDeputies representing the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) in the chamber ended on 17 October their boycott of the debates following the decision to give priority to debating laws on local autonomy and the organization of local administration, Mediafax reported. Last week, the UDMR deputies decided to boycott the debates in protest against the chamber's procrastination on deliberating those laws. Also on 17 October, Fokion Fotiadis, chief EU Commission representative in Romania, said in Cluj that the way the Romanian cabinet treats the country's Hungarian minority "can serve as a model for other countries." MS
 ROMANIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES SPEAK UPIon Iliescu, leader of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), said at an electoral gathering in Giurgiu, southern Romania, on 17 October, that even if the PDSR receives an absolute majority of 51 percent and more in the November parliamentary elections, it would still form a coalition with other parties. Iliescu said that "the country needs a strong government, solidly backed by a majority of at least 65 percent," Mediafax reported. Also on 17 October, National Alliance presidential candidate Marian Munteanu announced that his supporters have already gathered the 300, 000 signatures needed to back his candidacy in line with the election law. MS
 RUSSIAN COMMUNIST LEADER DEPLORES WEAKENING OF TIES WITH BULGARIAGennadii Zyuganov, on a visit to Sofia to attend the launching of one of his books, said on 17 October that he is "concerned" over "the weakening of contacts with our traditional ally Bulgaria," ITAR-TASS reported. Zyuganov said that during his stay he will discuss bilateral relations with parliamentary chairman Yordan Sokolov and intends to "continue the dialogue" with Socialist Party chairman Georgi Parvanov. The communist leader will also meet Patriarch Maxim. MS
 DANISH QUEEN IN BULGARIAQueen Margaret of Denmark and her husband Prince Henrik began a three-day visit to Bulgaria on 17 October--the first ever by a Danish monarch. The royal couple met President Petar Stoyanov, who said the visit was "an important symbol and a signal for the integration of Bulgaria into the rest of Europe," dpa and AP reported. MS
[C] END NOTE
 UKRAINE'S DIVIDED ORTHODOX CHURCH LOSING BELIEVERSBy Lily Hyde
A spate of church-building since independence seems to indicate a spiritual rebirth in Ukraine. The newly rebuilt Uspensky (Assumption) cathedral in the capital, Kyiv, stands on its original ruins like a phoenix risen from the ashes. But controversy surrounds the reconstructed church's future. Ukraine's divided Orthodox churches are at loggerheads over who should use it, and the building has come to symbolize the increasing identification of Orthodoxy with political and national divisions.
A recent poll by the Ukrainian Center for Economic and Political Studies found two-thirds of Ukrainians consider themselves Orthodox. But the study shows that Protestant and other religions are growing fast to rival Ukraine's traditional faith, even outstripping Orthodox communities in some regions.
One major reason for the growing popularity of other confessions, the study suggests, may be conflicts within the Ukrainian Orthodox church, which divided in 1992. The then Metropolitan, Filaret, split off from the original church, which is led by the Moscow Patriarch, and declared himself head of a Kyiv Patriarchate.
A third church, the tiny Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, renewed its activities in Ukraine in 1990. Neither the Kyiv Patriarchate nor the Autocephalous Church is officially recognized by either the Russian or Greek Orthodox Church.
All three Ukrainian Orthodox Churches hold identical beliefs, and the conflicts among them are the result of political, not spiritual considerations. According to the survey, most believers are not interested in the schism. More than two-thirds of those who said they were Orthodox could not or would not specify to which branch they belonged.
But adherence to the Kyiv or Moscow patriarchates increasingly is becoming attached to the idea of support for the independent Ukrainian state or for closer relations with Russia.
Kyiv Patriarch Filaret tells our correspondent: "The Kyiv Patriarchate and the [Ukrainian] Autocephalous Church support Ukrainian statehood, that is, they hold the position of the Ukrainian state. We have a common platform: Ukrainian statehood. Their position is based on state principles, from political interests, and ours from church interests--but we stand with the government, for Ukrainian statehood. Whereas, the Moscow Patriarchate, not all, but a significant part, takes the position of union with Russia."
For its part, the Moscow Patriarchate says the question of patriotism has nothing to do with which church people attend, and that the breach with the other Orthodox Churches is a problem of ecclesiastical rules that can only be resolved by the breakaway churches returning to the Moscow Patriarchate. The Kyiv Metropolitan vicar of the Moscow Patriarchate, Mytrofan, says: "We can't talk about union, but only about a return of those who left, a return to the fold. And the only way they can do that is through repentance. This isn't just a whim of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church or a whim of Moscow, it is clearly stated in Church rules. If we're true believers, we should not negate Church rules, but should carry them out. We are for a single Church in Ukraine, and [that Church] should be independent. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is practically autocephalous at present. We have our own synod, we decide our internal questions without Moscow. Our Church practically has independence, which needs to be legalized."
Division of Church property is also a cause of strife. Although the Moscow Patriarchate remains the dominant Church, with over 8,000 parishes to the Kyiv Patriarchate's 2,500, it is steadily losing church buildings and even whole parishes to its rival and to the Greek Catholic Church in western Ukraine.
Still, the Moscow branch holds part of the country's most important monastery, Pechersky Lavra. It was given to them by verbal agreement with former President Leonid Kravchuk, while the upper part, which contains the Uspensky cathedral, remains a state museum.
The Uspensky cathedral, destroyed during the war, has been rebuilt by the Kyiv city council and by state and private donations. The Moscow Patriarchate claims it as its cathedral church. But because of the cathedral's prominent historical and architectural value, whichever Church gains control of the building would appear to be the dominant Church of Ukraine.
When President Leonid Kuchma allowed the Moscow patriarch to bless the Uspensky Cathedral on Ukrainian Independence day, 24 August, it provoked demonstrations from nationalist groups. The group responsible for planning and raising funds to rebuild the cathedral is the Honchar foundation. Its executive director, Valentina Irshenko, says the fund wanted to rebuild the church as a symbol of the rebirth of Ukrainian culture and not of religion. She told RFE/RL: "As long as this conflict between confessions continues, the Uspensky cathedral will remain a state possession. After a united and single Orthodox Church is recognized, we will decide whether to hand it over to the Church or keep it under control of the state as a museum. That will be decided when the Church finds a common language. I can guarantee that, until then, neither confession will get this cathedral."
Few expect that to be soon. President Kuchma has spoken out in support of church unification, and the Patriarch of Constantinople has also said he would like to see an independent Ukrainian Church. But the Russian Church has refused even to consider the idea.
So, while the outer building is finished, the interior of the Uspensky cathedral is still awaiting completion. It remains a beautiful shell without an owner, less a symbol perhaps of Ukrainian cultural rebirth than of its modern-day crisis of national identity. And Ukrainian believers continue to turn to alternative Churches.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty