“After Maidan a new era for the church has begun”
Interview with Mikhail Cherenkov
8 April 2014 by Mikhail Cherenkov
Featured in the 26th edition of Христианский Megapolis
In this interview with “Christian Megapolis”, Dr. Mikhail Cherenkov explains what happened in Ukraine from November 2013 to March 2014, and how these events have changed the church and society.
Mikhail, what happened in Ukraine? How is it that before we could turn around so much took place in Ukraine: Euromaidan, Maidan, conflict with Berkut, the fleeing of (former president) V. Yanukovich from the country, the loss of the Crimea. Many of these events took us by surprise. What are the reasons behind these events? How do you evaluate what has happened?
These events, in fact, developed very rapidly. There was much that happened unexpectedly, but this does not mean that there was not some sort of plan or guiding will behind all of these events. It began with the political move: The government of Ukraine, on the eve of the Vilnius Summit, announced that it was not going to sign the association agreement with the European Union. This was intentional, even the decision by V. Yanukovich and his team to use force, annulling everything that had been declared and accomplished earlier. If earlier there had been hope that the criminal regime, for the sake of their own business interests, would adapt to the demands of the EU and integrate into the civilized world, and in doing so open the possibility even for simple people to live and work in Europe, now after the turn away from Europe to Eurasia meant that the “light at the end of the tunnel” had disappeared. The people were ready for difficulties for the sake of hope. When hope vanished the middle class, students and journalists went out to European Square and began “Euromaidan”.
After the dispersal of the students on 30 November 2013, the people stood up no longer for the association agreement with the EU, but against the use of violence from the side of the authorities. Further it developed incrementally – treacherous storm of Maidan by the law enforcement agencies, implementation of dictatorial laws on January 16, 2014, the confrontation on Grushevskogo Street and the all-out, bloody war. It appears that even the law enforcement agencies were not prepared to support the path of violent attacks on protestors, and therefore the regime did not have anyone left to lean on. When the pro-presidential coalition in parliament began to unravel, when the number of victims began to grow into the hundreds, yet the all the people continued to stand, V. Yanukovich lost his nerve.
Now it has become clear that everything that happened was part of the plan of Russian president, V. Putin, to destabilize the country and to take complete control over her. What didn’t work out? Ukrainians turned out to be strong and unified which, for Chekists (KGB affiliates), is not possible to understand: Why do they stand? Why don’t they run? Why aren’t they afraid? It also turned out that the regime of Yanukovich was weak. With all of his desire to, he was unable to act more viciously – scoundrels and butchers, it turned out, were few and far between. And there was one more factor which knit the people together and gave them strength: the position of the churches which prayed and stood with the people together to the end.
The events in Kyiv developed quite rapidly. From Euromaidan everything went over to the Maidan, then the confrontations with the Berkut. You present in the middle of these events. What was the influence of Christians on the Maidan? Why, in the end, was the principle of non-violent protest discarded? What led to the radicalization of the protests?
The Christians on Maidan were witnesses to God, to His power and love, mercy and goodness. If they had not lifted up the authority of Christ, people would have focused on the authority of Taras Shevchenko and Stepan Bandera – preachers of “evil versus evil”. Christians were together with the people, but served their people both as protectors and peace-makers at the same time. I am certain that if it had not been for the active participation of Christians, the protests would have quickly denigrated into a senseless and merciless revolt.
The principle of non-violent protest was in effect until the point when peoples’ lives were in danger. When they began to shoot the injured, to beat and kill people off, the protestors began to defend themselves. This is a natural human reaction. I don’t justify the times when radicals provoked law enforcers and attacked them. Unfortunately there were also present such hotheads. But I do justify the resistance that was put up when the law enforcers attacked peaceful and defenseless people. This is my strong internal conviction: you may not attack, but you also may not not defend those standing behind you.
How do you understand the term “nationalism”? Is it possible to speak of “healthy nationalism”? What, in your opinion, does it mean to be a “Ukrainian”?
Nationalism is a love of one’s own people, while Nazism is a hate of all others. Healthy nationalism is oriented to the positive – on working for the good of your nation. Unhealthy nationalism is tilted toward Nazism and focuses on the negative – on the search for enemies and fighting them.
To be a Ukrainian it isn’t necessary to have Ukrainian blood or even to speak Ukrainian. It is enough to recognize that this land and this people are yours, that God put you here not by chance, that you carry a responsibility for the peace and development of people. I never tire of repeating to those who accuse Ukrainians of extremism: On the Maidan there were 30 to 50 percent Russian-speakers, and nobody made an issue of that. Solidarity in work during peaceful times and in problems during hard times – this is the marker of unity. That is, today “Ukrainian” is not an ethnicity, but a socio-political understanding. Ukrainians are ethnic Russians, Crimean Tatars, Jews, Greeks, and all of those who can say, “This is my country, these are my people, I respect and love their history, I recognize myself as a part of them and am ready to serve their general good.”
What do you think, does the West understand what has happened in Ukraine? I’ve come to think that their understanding is very superficial. Turning now to readers in the West, please share what you think people there need to know about the situation in Ukraine.
For people in the west it is hard to understand because you have to get into the conflict and sacrifices in order to stand up for what is written in black and white in the constitution. Often westerners display a surprising naiveté: Why don’t you just wait for the next elections? Why don’t you take them to court? Why don’t you write a complaint to the police? The problem is that in our country all the laws have long been trampled on, and any hope for a natural change of power and return to a legal realm has long been lost. The west must understand that the post-soviet area is a grey zone in which the people (according to the constitution the “source of power”) from the very beginning have been alienated from power; in which “might makes right” rules and not the power of the law; in which life takes play according to “the law of the jungle”. That is why we see here the “real politic” of brute force and deception. This is a world with a democratic window-dressing, but a jungle inside.
Who is Mr. Turchinov (Parliamentary speaker and interim acting president)? Some say that he is the pastor of a Baptist church in Kyiv, others that he isn’t a Christian at all. What is his role during this difficult time for Ukraine?
Alexander Turchinov attends a Baptist church where he sometimes preaches, but is not the pastor and doesn’t have any other responsibilities in the church. This is natural considering his political activities. I don’t idealize him, but see a certain sincerity in his faith. His connection to Protestants doesn’t win him anything except problems and accusations of sectarianism. During this trying time the very important role of the anti-crisis manager of the government has fallen to him – and the fate of 46 million people depends on what he does. Sometimes it seems to me that he lacks decisiveness, but at the same time I understand the costs of possible mistakes and the necessity of restraint in extreme situations. For now I see that he is in his place and is dealing with his responsibilities well.
Are you surprised by the reaction of so many Russians to the things going on around Crimea? How about the reaction of believers? How strong is the influence of propaganda on the consciousness of the residents of Russia?
The reaction of Russians isn’t simply surprising, it’s shocking. While having access to alternative sources of information, they choose those which warm the primitive feelings of national exclusivity, imperialistic grandiosity, false messianic complex, xenophobia and anti-western sentiment. Government propaganda turned out to be very effective, but it does not explain the massive “blindness and zombification”. I suspect that there was already some sort of virus in the Russian blood that makes them susceptible to the “national sickness”. It’s a terrifying thing: we’re talking about the work of national demons, about possession and provocations of the anti-Christ. If from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok everyone applauds the president-aggressor, if the churches grant their blessing, if the intelligentsia justifies it – it’s more than the result of propaganda; one could say that the nation is possessed.
Peter Deyneka’s Russian Ministries (in the countries of the former USSR “Association for Spiritual Renewal”) has come out with an announcement condemning the Russian aggression. What do you think: should local congregations or church unions/denominations clearly express their positions concerning these current events, or would it be better for them to stay out of politics?
If churches do not condemn war it means that they support it. Being apolitical is the position of an ostrich, and not a person. A person always stands before a choice: either help the victim or participate in the crime.
How have the events surrounding the Crimea impacted the relationships between Christians in Russia and Ukraine? How come the idea of organizing a meeting of the leaders of evangelical churches in these two countries fell apart? What, in your opinion, is the real reason for the lack of dialogue?
Dialogue is impossible because Russian church leaders see Ukrainians as rebels against the authorities, give legitimacy to the current leadership of the country, speak of the sinister plans of the west, etc. In other words, the Russian church shares the view of the Kremlin and want to meet in order to push this view. That is why they summon the Ukrainian church leaders to meet as one summons a criminal to hear their verdict. Understandably, this is no dialogue. Ukrainian church leaders have already taken their positions alongside the Ukrainian people, and it is highly unlikely that they will turn on them for the sake of doubtful diplomatic successes.
What do the events in Ukraine mean for the evangelical churches? Do you think that there will be a fundamental shift in the understanding of Christians in Ukraine about what the church is and what her role is in the life of the country? How do you see the future of Ukrainian evangelical Christianity?
After Maidan a new era has begun for the church. We discovered simple truths: without solidarity with the people there will not be openness to the good news. The church in Ukraine and the Ukrainian church are not necessarily one and the same. We are learning to serve people in their actual needs and in doing so we are learning to be who we are; being faithful to our real calling. Here is one example. Pastors of evangelical churches visited military bases on the border with the Crimea and offered to tell them about God. The soldiers replied that they were very busy. They needed to prepare their positions by digging up the bare steppe. The pastors grabbed shovels and worked alongside them for a few days. After that the officers said, “We see that you are one of us, that you love your people and that you truly are worried about us. Build a prayer tent here and we will pray together with you.” I was at that place and prayed together with Protestants, Orthodox, Catholic and armed soldiers. This is the miracle of our day – a miracle of unity and openness. And it’s also a miracle of peace: we didn’t pray for the Ukrainian weapons to destroy the enemy, but for there to be no need to use them at all.
The future of Ukrainian Evangelical Christianity is tied to believers understanding their responsibility to the people, the country, the times. Why are we living here? How can we serve our people? How can the church transform society? “To find favor with all the people” (Acts 2:47) – this example of the apostolic church can be a good orientation for us. Then we can build up a worthy relationship with Russians. We chose loyalty to the people while Russians chose loyalty to the authorities. If they see a strong church in Ukraine using love and authority amongst the people, they will come to use, be friends and learn. And God himself will rejoice in such a church.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.