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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Ukraine’s statehood in the 18th century

As seen by the Cossack intellectuals in the 1730s through 1750s
7 July, 2009 - 00:00

Unlike their parents, the generations of Cossack intellectuals of the late 1720s through the late 1750s lived in a new political situation and different intellectual atmosphere. They remembered Hetman Mazepa’s “betrayal,” the “unfortunate Swedish year,” the Battle of Poltava, and the proclaiming of Peter I as the “Father of the Fatherland.” They, however, feared no capital punishment for defending the traditional rights of their homeland and started using the concepts that were generally used by the imperial elite of the time: “citizen,” “the welfare of the state,” “society,” “faithful service to the Fatherland,” and so on.

The epoch of palace coups in the Russian empire (1725–62) helped lessen the central government’s pressure on Ukraine’s autonomy and generally allowed the intellectuals in the Hetman State to defend their interests, even if on a limited scale but with a degree of zeal matching that of their fathers.

In 1727 the Hetman State was reinstated, as was the traditional hetman administration. This encouraged the Hetman State’s secular intellectual elite to defend, by written or oral statements, a sociopolitical order that was only natural to them. Unlike the Cossack intellectuals’ response to the violations of liberties that their Fatherland enjoyed in the early decades of the 18th century, their children’s works look rather epigonic. The former’s intellectual output was marked by the fear of death and a desire to rid themselves of the brand “traitors.” That of the latter was marked by a desire to receive status, power, and wealth, which they could indeed obtain in exchange for faithful service to the Russian empire.

Nevertheless, the preferences and argumentation of both generations were the same. The increase in the number of secular manuscripts was evidence that the Cossack autonomy remained the basis for sociopolitical views on the part of not only military office clerks, who had a material interest there, but also the rest of the secular and, partially, church elite. Historical literary works created by that generation were largely political lampoons. While never crossing the boundaries of official ideology, they used dark colors to portray the consequences of the central government’s intrusions into Ukraine’s autonomy that was otherwise prospering, enjoying its rights and liberties.

In the mid-18th century Ukrainian society had religious and secular views on its existence. These views were interrelated, although marked by manifest distinctions. These views related to the past and current realities, and even had their projections on the future. Members of the church elite were the first to start recording the past of Ukraine, or Little Russia as it was then officially known, while the Cossack intellectuals only broke the Church’s monopoly on history.

Hryhorii Hrabianka’s Diistviia prezil’noi i ot nachala poliakov krvavshoi nebyvaloi brani Bohdana Khmelnytskoho, hetmana Zaporozhskoho s poliaky ... (The Events of the Most Bitter and the Most Bloody War since the Origin of the Poles between Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the Zaporozhian Hetman, and the Poles ..., 1710), which is considered to be the first edition of what would become known as Hrabianka’s Chronicle, was written in terms of liberties, yet within the bounds of the religious concept of history.

The Cossack concept of history and prospects that stemmed from its interpretation were a response to the church version of Ukraine’s and Russia’s early modern history. On the one hand, the ideas of the Cossack intellectuals in their totality were nothing new in Central Europe at the time. Neither Pylyp Orlyk’s Constitution, nor any references to past experiences in substantiating the Cossack autonomy were new ideas in that region.

On the other hand, the Cossack intellectuals had developed a new trait in political consciousness by offering a fresh view of history, in contrast to the traditional theological one. Thus, people who originated from Moldova and had survived the Pruth campaign not only entered the Russian empire’s intellectual realm, but were also among the originators of imperial political consciousness. In this context the Cossack concept of Little Russia was an alternative to the Russian empire’s unified concept. The authors of all those Cossack chronicles portrayed their homeland’s past as Cossack history. For them, history began with the revolt against the Poles, while Kyivan Rus’ remained part of the Dark Ages. The Cossack intellectuals focused on the rights and liberties enjoyed by Little Russia, all the way from the time when it was under the Polish crown and until it existed as an autonomous unit under the protectorate of Muscovy and later Russian empire. Secular intellectuals struggled to prove that Little Russia’s envoys had made political agreements first with Polish kings and then with Muscovite tsars of their own accord.

In the 1730s a fresh impetus was given to historical-literary writings by military office clerks. Members of the Cossack elite started meticulously collecting historical data — chronicles and scrolls — among them the well-known Korotky opys Malorosii (A Brief History of Little Russia), Chernihivsky litopys (The Chernihiv Chronicle), Kratkoie litoizobrazitelnoie znamenytykh diistv i sluchaiev opysanie (A Brief Chronicle of Noted Historical Actions and Events), etc. Other manuscripts, their varying editions and copies, also provided important evidence of the Ukrainian autonomy’s progress, among them the anonymous “Cossack History, Where They Come From, and Khmelnytsky’s War against Poles,” “A Chronicle of the Beginning of the World, Especially of Poland and Little Russia,” etc.

A Brief Chronicle was brought about by Hrabianka’s Chronicle, and it is considered to have been the first attempt to render Ukrainian history in a pragmatic way. The unknown author offers an account of events starting with Lithuanian rule and until 1734. A Brief Chronicle was a cleverly revised edition of Hrabianka’s Chronicle, without the original highfaluting Church Slavonic rhetoric, kept in an highly readable style. Additions made by Hryhorii Pokas, T. Mankivsky, O. Bilohrud, I. Myrovych, and other Cossack intellectuals are proof of this Brief Chronicle’s popularity. Noted secular intellectuals of the Hetman State wrote numerous works, creating a whole stratum of historical literature, offering their own concepts of Ukrainian history (primarily within the bounds of the Hetman State). The additional facts provided by Cossack intellectuals were perceived not only by the Cossack elite, but also by latter-day historians. The Cossack chronicles focus on the struggle the Ukrainian elite waged in order to maintain its original status.

Pokas in his Chronicle thus portrays his people: “Since days of old this people has had a number of rulers, known as hetmans, who had their names, who came from certain families, who ruled at certain periods, and who showed their merits as military leaders, performing feats of arms, defending their native land against its enemies, among them Poles, for so many years.” The author adds: “The glory of this people and its reputation across the world, as well as in the eyes of the neighboring peoples, are an established fact that no one will ever be able to keep secret.”

In their historical literary writings, secular intellectuals of the Hetman State developed the concept of Cossack autonomy. They wrote that the Ukrainian elite valorously defended its rights and liberties before representatives of Muscovy. The author of A Brief History tells the reader about Pavlo Polubotok and his retinue: “We went to St. Petersburg in order to meet with His Majesty, intending to bring up the matter of our age-old Cossack rights and liberties confirmed by His Majesty’s edicts… but our bold requests incurred His Majesty’s wrath whereupon we found ourselves under arrest.”

In the Chernihiv Chronicle, Polubotok and his followers “submitted a petition to His Majesty’s Foreign Collegium [i.e., Foreign Ministry] on September 13, requesting on behalf of Ukraine that the taxes levied on us be lifted, that the courts of law observe the rights and liberties conferred on the Cossacks as per edicts signed by His Majesty’s father… under Hetman Khmelnytsky, and then reaffirmed by His Imperial Majesty… the said request attested to by the acting hetman, Pavlo Polubotok…”

The author of the Brief Chronicle of Noted Historical Actions and Events holds a dim view of the Little Russian Collegium: “This Collegium existed until 1728, having caused a number of notable people to suffer from all kinds of extortion, bondage, sham loan agreements under which one had to pay money one never owed to anyone, when one had to give a bribe to have a lawful transaction performed, when the Collegium’s clerks … milked Little Russia big way.”

Pokas wrote about Hetman Danylo Apostol: “He neither wanted nor was able to exercise his authority; as for his team in Little Russia, he followed in the footsteps of previous hetmans who had kept their power impregnable, when he gave somebody something while destroying or changing everything they had preserved.”

The Cossack intellectuals stressed that Russia’s tsarist government maintained relations with Ukraine via the Posolski prikaz [Muscovy’s version of foreign ministry — Ed.], on a par with diplomatic relations with other countries. The Brief Chronicle testifies to the Hetman State’s special, autonomous status as part of the Russian empire. Ukraine’s autonomy was also confirmed by edicts issued by Russian Empress Anna.

Secular intellectuals of the Hetman State paid special attention to the latter’s place within the Russian empire. Danylo Apostol wrote in Brief Journal that during the coronation of Peter II he was on the right side of the podium, in a specially designated place, beside the Georgian tsarevich, monarch of an independent country. The Cossack intellectuals were further interested in Russia’s imperial legislation, looking for clauses that protected their liberties. Mykhailo Khanenko spoke on behalf of Little Russia’s envoys, on Dec. 14, 1749, stressing the age-old rights of the hetman. This secular intellectual addressed the Russian empress, trying to get across his point that if Ukraine was “granted its original status,” it would be for “for the lasting glory and benefit of the Russian Empire.”

Military clerks took the liberty of recording the negative consequences of Russia’s central government intrusions in Ukraine’s domestic affairs. A Brief Chronicle of Noted Historical Actions and Events portrays the destruction of Baturyn. Hryhorii Pokas writes in his Brief Chronicle of Little Russia: “Behold the hair-raising massacre of Christians, people who had to die because of someone’s wrath and lawless conduct, for lawless conduct affects even those sitting on big thrones.”

The author of the Chernihiv Chronicle refers to Aleksandr Menshikov as “an enemy of our Fatherland.” The Cossack intellectuals even overstated the Russian authorities’ unfair attitude toward Ukrainians. The Chernihiv Chronicle reads that over 30 percent Cossacks died in military campaigns and in canal construction works. After summing up such campaigns, the Cossacks ought to have been physically annihilated as a military unit.

The author of A Brief Chronicle of Noted Historical Actions and Events writes that in 1715 Ivan Sulyma, then a Cossack flag-bearer, and 10,000 Cossacks were ordered to dig the Ladoga Canal. He thus portrays the death of these Cossacks: “Canals were dug, where a great many Cossacks perished and hardly one half of them made it back home.” In actuality, Sulyma was ordered to dig a canal in the vicinity of Tsaritsyn in 1716, and recent historical findings indicate that Cossack losses were overstated by those Cossack intellectuals. The author of the Khronichka (A Small Chronicle) from Sulyma’s archives mentions 3,000 Cossacks killed by exposure to cold temperatures.

A Brief Chronicle of Noted Historical Actions and Events reads that “Another 10,000 Cossacks were forwarded to Sulak [under the command of] Mykhailo Myloradovych Hadiatsky, and hardly one-third returned, whilethe rest had died.” The Brief History of the Cossack People of Little Russia describes the ruination of the Hetman State during the 1735–39 Russo-Turkish War. Food supplies to the Russian army in the summer and fall of 1736 were recorded by Ivan Zabila. Pokas portrayed the Russo-Turkish War in dark colors: “The people was meant to be annihilated or their liberties curbed and then destroyed.”

The Cossack intellectuals noted statements made by Count Burkhard Christoph von M nnich, who “publicly told His Majesty” that Ukrainians were “ne’er-do-wells, like mice doing harm in a barn.” The authors of the Chernihiv Chronicle and many versions of Little Russia’s Brief Chronicle reported the arrest and exile of Archbishop Varlaam Vanatovych of Kyiv in 1730, portraying the pious hierarch as a champion of the Cossack liberties, who “wished and advised Little Russia to withdraw from Russia and thus stage a revolt.” In fact, the change to the title of the Kyiv metropolitan in 1772 ensued from Peter I’s uncompleted reform designed to divide the Russian Church into five archbishoprics.

At the same time, the Cossack intellectuals positively described Moscow’s milder policy with regard to the Hetman State under Empress Elizabeth of Russia. Her attitude to the Hetman State is reflected in a copy of her ukase dated May 22, 1755: “As per edicts issued by Our Imperial Majesty, as well as those to be further issued, the rights and liberties of the ancient people of Little Russia shall not be violated in any way, and nor shall be its title to the Hetman’s rule, as compared to our other subjects… and that the people of Little Russia and the Zaporozhian Host shall remain faithful to our successors under the rule of the Hetman, and shall defend us from all our foes.”

Even though the Cossack intellectuals positively portrayed Elizabeth of Russia, they noted cases of conscription from among registered Cossacks, military Cossack camps, requisitions of livestock, etc., during the Seven Years’ War (1756–63). It is important to note that the Cossack intellectuals perceived the Russian sovereign as being inseparably linked to the Ukrainian rights and liberties, which were regularly emphasized.

Khanenko referred to Elizabeth of Russia as “Her Imperial Majesty the Empress of All Russia” and stressed her autocratic rule and her God-chosen status. At the same time, he focused on Ukraine’s age-old rights and urged to uphold them “for the lasting glory of the Russian empire.” The absolute majority of Cossack intellectuals in the 1730s though the 1750s saw their ideal in an autonomous Hetman State under Muscovite protectorate. Such Cossack “chroniclers” saw Ukraine’s past in its ties with Poland and Russia of the early modern times. Likewise, military clerks paid attention to the Crimea, Ottoman Empire, and less so to Moldova, Sweden, Habsburg dynasty, Prussia, and Walachia.

For the Cossack intellectuals, the important thing was keeping up the traditional way of life, which implied, above all, enjoying liberties. Therefore, they generated a historical myth, either consciously or subconsciously, in order to preserve their sociopolitical originality.

Vasyl Kononenko works at the Institute of Ukrainian History at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.