Ukraine on the EARS dashboard
78% of this month’s news items in the EARS dashboard relate to tension. What is the role of religion in Russia’s invasion and the war in Ukraine?
The EARS dashboard is a collection of summaries from European media articles on religion and society. In the first 2.5 months of 2022, we have added 677 summaries to the dashboard. The word cloud below shows the most commonly occurring words in these summaries. As can be seen, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the following war between the two, have been extensively covered.
All articles covered in the dashboard relate to the topic of religion in some way. Therefore, let’s take a look at the role of religion in the current conflict, and how it was covered on the dashboard.
A religious war?
Russia’s attack on Ukraine seems to be strongly intertwined with religion. The invasion does not just have a political focus, according to Professor Vandenhoeck from the KU Leuven. She states that together with President Putin, Patriarch Kirill – the head of the Russian Orthodox Church – “dreams” of creating a large, Russian Orthodox empire. In fact, Putin and Kirill believe that Russian Orthodox faithful in Ukraine need to be ‘saved’, since a part of the church in Ukraine separated from the Orthodox Patriarchate in Russia a few years ago.  Back in 2018, Putin already expressed his discontent about the schism, claiming that it might lead to bloodshed.
Patriarch Kirill has regularly appeared in European media recently. He was mostly covered after giving a sermon favouring the Russian war in Ukraine, speaking of a conflict that has not only political meaning, but is a battle between good and evil. In his comparison, the West is seen as evil, corrupted by sin. Kirill blamed liberal western values, especially gay pride parades, for the invasion.  
Condemnation and support
Many religious leaders and institutions have condemned Russia’s invasion and the war. The dashboard shows examples from all over Europe. For example, key religious figures urging for an end to the war are the patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I,  Polish Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, Pope Francis, and many more.   Some of them directly addressed Patriarch Kirill or Russian President Putin. The Metropolitan and Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine has also called on all religious leaders to condemn Russian aggression in Ukraine. He specifically asked Russian Patriarch Kirill to call for peace.
Religious institutions from around the world voiced similar concerns. For instance, the representatives of the Federal Interfaith Dialogue in Belgium expressed their deep regret over the suffering of the Ukrainian people. They call believers of their communities not only to help the victims and refugees, but also to put pressure on the government to keep fighting for dialogue instead of using violence. On the dashboard, we see that similar calls were made by the Interreligious Council of Albania and representatives of the Evangelical Church in Germany.
Besides urging for an end to the war, religious institutions are also offering help to Ukraine. This ranges from Dutch parishes collecting money for aid, to Belgian communities organising prayers, and Finnish communities launching an emergency fundraiser to help affected families.
Support for Ukraine from Orthodox leaders
As described above, the Russian Orthodox Church is heavily tied into the war. Nevertheless, several Russian Orthodox communities have explicitly distanced themselves from Vladimir Putin, or denounced the Russian attacks on Ukraine. For example, the Russian Orthodox community of the Protection of the Virgin Mary in Bonn, Germany, has done so.
In addition, over 200 priests and deacons of the Russian Orthodox Church have signed a petition against the war. Even though this is not the Church’s official position, it is an indicator that Putin does not have full support of the institution.  In the World Council of Churches, voices are even rising to temporarily exclude the Russian Orthodox Church because of their ties with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
What is next?
We see that media coverage of topics such as tension and democracy under pressure has gained importance in the past weeks. To illustrate, 78% of all summaries added in March until now relate to the topic of tension in some way, a huge increase from earlier months. With the war between Russia and Ukraine still going on, these topics may remain important on the dashboard over the next weeks or even months.
Learn more on the EARS dashboard
The EARS dashboard allows you to gain insight into a large number of topics, including tension and democracy under pressure. It is a free tool that enables you to make similar connections as described above, and to find out about new relationships between interesting subjects across Europe. Please visit the dashboard to learn more.