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The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church as an agent of national emancipation? Some directions for future inquiry.

The interplay between political and religious spheres before and after 1918 in electoral processes of nowadays Western Ukraine, which was a part of Austro-Hungarian Empire, is a fascinating topic. The relationships between religious and legal-political institutions, as well as important societal cleavages, based on region, ethnicity and political preferences in Galicia were not sufficiently attended to in the past, and thus require more systematic investigation. These could probably contribute to the explanation as to the roots of the post-1991 activism of Western Ukraine´s citizenry in the nation-building, policy-shaping and protest activities.

In the face of significant Polish and Jewish presence the Ukrainian church and religious organizations always played considerable role in public and political life of Eastern Galicia. New public-church-political dynamics in the region was acquired by the middle of the 19th century. The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church became actively engaged in politics from 1901 to 1944 when Andriy Sheptyckiy was its Metropolit. Thanks to him the Ukrainian population of Galicia began to develop national-political consciousness, as displayed by electoral processes and outcomes. Thus, the priests acquired authority and popularity both among simple population and intelligentsia (whose voting preferences and activism were partially formed and instigated by religious institutions), as well as politicians, who sought support of the church.

In this context the promising exploration fields could be many. The influence of Austro-Hungarian Empire´s heritage on the post-1918 events and processes in nowadays Western Ukraine needs to be closely examined. It should be verified whether the dynamics and outcomes of the politics-church-population interaction (laid down during Austro-Hungary´s existence) was a decisive factor for further formation of Ukrainian nationalist movement, political activism and eventually, armed struggle, which was based on ethnic-cultural-political-religious divisions. Which factors of this heritage contributed to a qualitatively new continuation under the new, post-1918 circumstances? What role in these processes was plaid by religious institutions?

Indeed, the functions performed by the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC) in bringing about national consolidation, developing of nationalism as ideology and praxis, preaching patriotism and Ukrainisation in cultural, political and religious spheres before and after 1918 need thorough consideration. The investigation into the dynamics of church development should place it into the socio-political context of its time.

The traces and dynamics of parlamentarism in Western Ukraine in the first half of the twenty´s century require thorough analysis, whereby the role played by the Metropolit of Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church Andriy Sheptytskiy (he also was a Parliamentary deputy in Vienna and Sejm´s deputy in Lviv) and the degree of his influence on various processes should be assessed.

To what extent could the UGCC, in the absence of national Ukrainian state structures, play the role of a quasi-state framework, exercising not only religious, legal, political, cultural and identity-related functions (as a source of identification), but also economic and as a means of interest articulation vis-à-vis other dominant state-ethnic groups?

Indeed, how did the pre-1918 Ukrainian political movements in Galicia condition the “what” and “how” of political activities of Ukrainian pro-independence political movements after 1918? What foundations have been laid by political parties at that time and how did they serve the Ukrainian cause afterwards? To what extent is it safe to state, that relative liberalism and traditions of activism in political, religious, cultural and societal sense in Austro-Hungarian Galicia contributed to emancipation of Ruthenians into Ukrainians after the WWI and in the interwar period? To what degree the capacities accumulated by the UGCC during the Monarchy contributed to the upholding and defense of Ukrainian afterwards Ukraine, when the former governing infrastructure collapsed? ´

What was the UGCC´s official position towards the new Polish state, the German occupation, and proclamation of Ukraine´s independence on 1 July 1941 in Lviv? What was the relationship between the UGCC and the Ukrainian Central Committee (1939-45), which sat in Cracow and represented Ukrainian interests before the Germans?

What was Sheptytskiy´s reaction to mutual antagonisms in Galicia between Polish and Ukrainian communities, which deteriorated further, whereby ethnic divisions coincided with religious, political, social and territorial ones? What was the position of the UGCC towards inter-ethnic fighting between Poles and Ukrainians in 1943-44 in Volyn and Galicia (as a result of which some 100.000 people are assumed to have perished)? In this context the reasons, temporal and qualitative dynamics of Polish-Ukrainian interaction and eventual violent conflict also require analysis. The role of the UGCC in the context of the war between young Polish and Ukrainian states after WWI, an unavoidable conflict of territorial interests, “pacification” of Ukrainian population in Poland in the 1930s and ethnic cleansing of Polish and Ukrainian minorities from contested territories during and after the WWII have to be clarified.

What was the relation between the UGCC, prominent national movement leaders Konovalets, Melnyk, Bandera, Shukhevych, Kubiyovych, etc., the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) established 1929 in Vienna, its military arm – the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and the Ukrainian SS-Division “Galychyna”? Why did the OUN with its extreme form of nationalism developed exactly in Galicia? How can the reconciliatory position of Metropolit be brought together with the fact that hundreds of UGCC clergy fought within the ranks of UPA and supported it otherwise? Why and how was the UGCC abolished by Stalin by 1949 through the “pseudo-assembly” and unified with Moscow´s Patriarchy? Can the underground, “catacomb” period of UGCC´s existence (1949-1989) be attributed to the legacies of Austro-Hungarian Empire and the experience of survival under foreign rule? How could the church reconcile morality, nationalism and engagement into politics? To what extent could the roots of Metropolit´s personal virtues, such as brave, patriotic and independent behavior be seen in the dominant values of Austro-Hungarian elite?

What is also important, is that Metropolit Sheptytskiy, when looking at the conflicts through the prism of Christian doctrines, always considered the use of force as impermissible for the achievement of political ends. The UGCC condemned unlawful and often brutal acts of the Polish state (e.g., so called “Pacification of Ukrainians” in 1930, closing down of 150 Ukrainian churches in 1938, etc.), the Nazi and Soviet crimes.


A. Svetlov

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