Zelensky opens up church front by expelling Orthodox Bishops

10:06 29.03.2023 •

By expelling the Orthodox Church from their traditional holy enclave, Ukraine President Zelensky maybe igniting a fire which will spread to the Balkans. It is a risky gamble considering that he is Jewish. After me - the deluge. Is that his call? But first the facts, writes Saeed Naqvi, a well-known Indian journalist, television commentator and interviewer.

The 980 year old exquisite Pechersk Lavra complex of monasteries in Kyiv, capital of Ukraine, will soon be emptied of its distinctly robed Bishops and Priests. Even though the compound has provided the backdrop for many a piece-to-camera by western TV anchors, the exodus of the Priests will not make for a lead story.

It was an intriguing announcement made by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky: “One more step towards strengthening our spiritual independence was taken this week.” The step was to expel the Priests.

What is the implication when 35 million or 80 percent of the population is Orthodox? Only 10 percent or 1.5 million are affiliated to the Catholic Church. Is a clash between them being manufactured?

Zelensky and some of his supporters have accused the ancient Ukrainian Orthodox Church of taking instruction from the Russian Orthodox Church thereby undermining Ukrainian unity and slyly siding with Moscow.

The Orange revolution of 2004, the Euro Maidan disturbances of 2014 simulated bursts of patriotism and induced a specific Ukrainian nationalism. The idea of a Church independent of Russia germinated. Zelensky and groups clustered around the far-right Azov battalion saw promise in a purely Ukrainian Church independent  of  Moscow. In recent months, congregations grew, riding on the back of nationalism.

At this juncture in the war when Ukraine is in the process of being reduced to rubble, ecclesiastic matters cannot be uppermost in Zelensky’s mind.

Contrary to keep-the-chin-up coverage in the Western media, Zelensky is nowhere near winning this war. Indeed he is very much on the back foot. Western arms and treasure are no longer a torrent. Europe, particularly Germany, is in all manner of economic and political difficulties. A symbol of growing German distress is the bankruptcy declared by the prestigious Eisenwerk Erla Steel works founded in 1380. It is like losing a crown jewel.

Disbanding the Orthodox clergy could destabilize the Balkans, barely settling down after the breakup of former Yugoslavia. It has the potential of opening many fault lines. The Southern Slavs of Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia have a strong ethnic and religious affinity with 80% Russian population.

Should the region flare up again, an “unfinished” business discussed in the capitals of Serbia and Croatia namely Belgrade and Zagreb, is to “rationalize” Bosnia, sandwiched between them.

Zelensky’s ouster of the Orthodox Church is provocative even beyond Ukraine, stresses Saeed Naqvi.


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