Election of Metropolitan of Pereyaslav and Bila Tserkva Epifaniy (Dumenko) to the post of head of the unified Orthodox Church of Ukraine - Metropolitan of Kyiv and all Ukraine, as well as the future of receiving Tomos on autocephaly – all of this will have a minimal effect on political ratings of Petro Poroshenko.
The church issue is a card that has already been played. The very receipt of the tomos by Metropolitan Epiphanius, scheduled for January 6, 2019, might be the last "Christmas Joker" Poroshenko could use. But that will be it. And in general, this will, to a greater extent, result in some media noise for a while, rather than the growth of the president's ratings.
I'll explain why. The experience of my trips across Ukraine allows me to judge that Ukrainians don't care too much about church matters - people, especially in villages, mostly don't understand the tomos thing and its significance. Instead, people are much more concerned about economic and social issues.
For Poroshenko, this is more about a political loss, because his protégé, the Metropolitan of Vinnytsia and Bar, Simeon, lost the competition for the throne in the new church
Of course, for the state to get a local church and to receive the tomos is a fateful event that restores historical justice. Although here, everything was not quite as hoped: it was supposed to be a patriarchate, but in the end, all Ukraine got was the metropolis. Thus, from a political point of view, Patriarch Bartholomew has now not only become "the first among equal", he has gained control over the largest Orthodox community on the planet and due to this became a "heavyweight" in the Orthodox world.
Personally, for Poroshenko, this is more about a political loss, because his protégé, the Metropolitan of Vinnytsia and Bar, Simeon, lost the competition for the throne in the new church. Also, the president failed to mobilize the hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate – as is known, only two representatives of the UOC-MP – Simeon and Drabynko – attended the Unification Council. So Poroshenko failed to outrun Filaret in this struggle. And eventually the Ukrainian church is now headed by Epifaniy – Filaret's "right hand". Therefore, politically, in the end, we rather see the defeat of the head of state. After all, he probably sought to have the newly formed church under his control, but did not work out.
In 10-20 years, we will look at this event differently and rethink its significance
Consequently, the "church card" has already been played, because building a campaign around the tomos and the church will not succeed. Besides, according to polls, the move did not gain much electoral support. People who are eager to vote are worried about more practical issues: gas prices, pensions, medical care, high prices, etc. The ideology and the tomos in particular are things that voters can cheer only when their fridge is full and when they're fed.
Although I totally assume that in 10-20 years we will look at this event differently and re-think its significance. But for now, the main thing for the Ukrainians is the economy.
Will other presidential candidates exploit the church issue? It's unlikely. In general, there's no need to touch upon the issue and spin it in the media. Now it is better to leave the case at the discretion of church hierarchs: let them negotiate and form new bodies. Meanwhile, politicians should not interfere in the religious sphere.
Although in fact we see that the issue is being actively politicized not only by Poroshenko, but also by the pro-Russian opposition forces. Boyko, Novinsky, Vilkul and others are actively spinning propaganda aimed at creating a schism in society around religion.
It is unlikely that the new Metropolitan Epifaniy will actively promote the agenda of political authorities
So, in order to avoid deepening the split, it is necessary to leave the matter to the church hierarchs. That's it. We'll get the tomos, and it's good. Then the authorities need to implement reforms, fight corruption, and seek out resources that can improve the financial situation of citizens.
Of course, many in Ukraine would very much like the church to become an annex of the state, promote a certain ideology and political values, and contribute to the cementing the authorities' power, as in Russia. But this will not happen in Ukraine, because it is not Russia, where there has been a long tradition of autocracy. We don't have Anglican Church and neither do we have a monarch who is the head of the church. Everything is different in Ukraine. And although Ukrainians are deeply religious people, they distinguish between politics and religion.
In addition, it is unlikely that the new Metropolitan Epifaniy will actively promote the agenda of political authorities. There have already been statements on Poroshenko's contribution to this matter - which is really important and great, since Poroshenko had been negotiating with both Erdogan and Bartholomew. But there should be a limit, to what point one can do PR and when it's better to stop, step aside and do other things. It seems to me that Poroshenko hasn't yet made this step aside.
Will Poroshenko now go for other populist issues like language in order to raise his own ratings? So far, the church is the only ideological issue on which he tries to build his campaign. Unfortunately, he was unable to achieve certain economic and market transformations, progress in reforms. Political technologists on Bankova say that this is not a sphere of Poroshenko's authority. Formally, they are right, but in reality Poroshenko controls everything: the government, the security structures, all the authorities, regulators, and state monopolies. He himself has chosen this path of concentration of power, so he is de facto responsible for everything.
Most of the Western diplomats, donors and partners are worried about the change in the agenda in Ukraine: attention has been shifted from the issues of combating corruption and the implementation of reforms to some purely ideological ones - church, language, etc. So, again, the authorities must deal with more practical things.
Anatoliy Oktysiuk is a political analyst at DemocracyHouse