April 26, 2012

Speech of O.B. Feldman on April 25, 2012

Dear friends! 

Let me, by the right of the organizer, welcome all the guests and participants of the today’s event, who gathered in the capital of Ukraine for the annual international conference of the Kyiv Interconfessional Forum – our distinguished guests from the United States of America, Great Britain, Israel, Russia, Jordan, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia and the countries of the European Union. I am glad to welcome the ambassadors of the states, deputies of the Verkhovna Rada and the members of the government to be present here. 

When I speak about the dialogue between religions, I think of the old oriental parable. It tells about a pilgrim in a desert, who suddenly notices terrible and fearful monster approaching him. Naturally, he is very scared. This monster gradually approaches and the pilgrim sees it more clearly, and notices that this was not a monster but a human. The traveler gradually sees him better and better and understands that a man is not at all terrible. Finally, when he sees his eyes, he recognizes his brother. 

In the days when people fewer consider opinions of other people, we gathered here in order to propose the sound alternative. Some people burn their bridges, whereas we gathered to build them. To build, listening to the voices of the Christians, the Muslims, the Jews, the Buddhists and even skeptics. And we understand the main thing – respect for other people does not require that their belief to be similar to ours.  

My religion, Judaism, gives me the possibility to put any questions. To be a Jew for me means not to stint myself, but to free myself, as the belief harmonizes the deepest my urges and makes this releasing my best emotions. 

I say this for a reason. I have something to compare to. I became the believer at a mature age. You know perfectly well about the attitude to religion in the Soviet Union, the country where I grew up and developed. 

As a politician, and as a believer, I realized that my freedom of religion depends on my readiness to protect struggle of other people for the right to practise their religion. 

Exactly that is why I established and support the Institute of Human Rights and Prevention of Extremism and Xenophobia, and one of the main projects of which is the Kyiv Interconfessional Forum. 

Exactly that is why I would like to propose our conference to address to the United Nations with the proposal of carrying out of the international forum for the rights of religious minorities in the countries of the Middle East and Africa. 

Our concern is caused by the situation of Coptic religious community, oppressions of Christian population in Libya, bloody conflicts on religious grounds in Nigeria, Sudan and Iraq. We are concerned with worsening of interconfessional conflicts among the Muslims of Iraq, Yemen and Syria. 

The armed conflict between the Christians and Muslims rises. We became witnesses of attacks to the Christians in Egypt; it takes only to think of unceasing attacks to Christian churches in Iraq; of decades of conflicts in Sudan, where the Arab Muslims of the north slaughtered in total million of black-skinned Christians from the south. During the recent years, the world community insistently protested against the unceasing genocide in Darfur, and now we may hope that the new state Southern Sudan will be able to provide its citizens with the greater level of stability. 

As a parliamentarian representing the country, which during many generations was the witness of oppressions and internal conflicts, I firmly believe that the struggle against hate must be in the centre of universal attention. Too much of blood was shed to think that this question does not consider the attention at the highest level and is not of the highest care.  

Nobody will deny that most of all people learnt to hate the other ones exactly in the name of religion. Starting from the statement that the Jews killed Jesus and finishing with the modern calls to jihad against the West in the name of Islam, millions of people died because of hate stirred up by religion. 

How the Gospel of love in Africa could turn into the gospel of hate to the fellow citizens? How Islam – the religion of peace – could turn into the mandate of murder in Iraq, Sudan, Nigeria and other states? 

The answer is simple: religion, which is wrongly used for political purposes, turns into the combustible mixture eroding the fundamentals and values of this religion and leading to mass loss of life. 

My native country – Ukraine – became the witness of horrible conflicts, during which millions of people died, including the conflicts of religions grounds. However, I should note that during the years of independence, during the recent 20 years, we were able to construct the harmonious society, where the religious freedom is the standard. Churches, temples and synagogues forfeited during the Soviet rule were returned to believers. The All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations works at the national level. The Council represents all religions and confessions existing in Ukraine in relations with the state. We live in the time of the relevant tranquility, though some tragic cases of violence happen up to the present time. I would like to mark the immediate and tough reaction of the President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych to the recent severe attack to the student of the Jewish religious educational institution in Kyiv. Thankfully, he has already recovered consciousness and currently undergoes treatment in Israel. 

However, no statements of politicians can replace the dialogue between religious leaders and common believers. 

I sincerely believe that religion may be the part of the solution, but not the reason of the conflict. The Muslims, the Christians, the Jews and the Buddhists together are the biggest part of the population of the world. There cannot be any meaningful peace in the whole world without peace and justice between our religious communities. The future of the world depends on the peace between the Christians, the Muslims and the Jews. 

The basis for this peace and mutual understanding already exists. It is the part of fundamental principles of our religions: love to the One God and love to a neighbour. These principles may be found again and again in the holy texts of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. The One God, the necessity of love to Him, the necessity of love to a neighbour are the common basis of our beliefs. 

For me, as well as for others, the example of tolerance and interconfessional mutual understanding is the personality of the metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, who headed the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church during the World War II. It is widely known that he saved about 150 Jewish children during the Holocaust. But the Metropolitan Sheptytskyi has still not been awarded the title “Righteous gentile”, which is usually awarded to every person, which saved at least one Jewish life during the Holocaust. 

I consider this the great injustice and want us on behalf of our conference to address the State of Israel in order this injustice to be eliminated and the name of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky to be forever included into the list of the Righteous gentiles. 

The today’s dialogue between our communities, our religions, the demonstration of our common values and desires, our positive historical experience and mutual tolerance must become the example of the effective dialogue and intellectual exchange. 

I would like to invite all the present to take part in the next, third Kyiv Interconfessional Forum, which will take place in spring 2013. In addition to religious leaders it will be attended by politicians, who are guided by religious values in their activity.  

So, hope to see You next year in Kyiv!