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

100 years of the proclamation of hetmanship in Ukraine–2

On populist hypnosis and constructive conservatism
27 February, 2018 - 10:18

(Conclusion. For beginning see The Day No. 10 of February 15, 2018)

The introduction of historical hetmanite titles into diplomatic ritual revived an old Ukrainian governmental tradition that became an inalienable accessory of the new Ukrainian State and contributed to the proper honoring of its head – the Hetman – and the increase of its international prestige.

The Ukrainian State’s foreign policy was always of a national statist nature. A well-known Ukrainian public figure and academic, Dmytro Doroshenko, was appointed minister of foreign affairs. In spite of all difficulties, the Ukrainian State managed to achieve considerable successes in foreign policy. One of the most important problems the Hetman’s government addressed was to strengthen national statehood as soon as possible with the help of Germany and, at the same time, to follow its own political line without German interference. In spite of a close link with Quadruple Alliance states, the Ukrainian State made an attempt in the summer of 1918 to restore diplomatic relations with the Entente countries. Although this step triggered a resolute protest of the Central Powers, as soon as in October the German government agreed to Ukraine establishing relations with the Entente. For this purpose, the Hetmanate made wide use of its diplomatic relations with neutral states. Shortly before its fall, the Ukrainian State formed diplomatic missions to France with Mykhailo Mohyliansky at the head and to Britain and the US led by Ivan Korostovets. This was a striking illustration of the Hetman Skoropadsky government’s intentions to pursue an independent foreign policy.

An extremely important state-formation aspect of the Ukrainian State’s foreign policy was an intention to consolidate all the ethnic Ukrainian territories. The hetman showed a clear aspiration to incorporate into the domain of Ukraine Kuban and Crimes which were populated to a considerable extent by the Ukrainians who had never lost spiritual and cultural affinity with the parent state. In September 1918, the governments of Ukraine and Crimea concluded a tentative federative agreement under which Crime was to belong to the Ukrainian State with its own Seim.

Pursuing his foreign policy, the hetman was aware that Ukraine was to be a strong state. In this context, it was extremely important to consolidate the grip of the Black Sea coast, where the Ukrainians wielded clout as a result of as long military struggle of Cossacks and colonial expansionism. This goal could be achieved by linking Bessarabia, Crimea, and Kuban, densely populated by Ukrainians, closely to the Ukrainian State.

The sea border of Ukraine was the only stable boundary and, at the same time, a window to the world. But it needed reliable protection, which only a strong Ukrainian navy could ensure. This is why the Black Sea problem was one of the main directions of the diplomatic and military policy.

The hetman set a goal to spread Ukraine’s geopolitical clout on a vast expanse, the so-called Cossack territory from the Caucasian Black Sea coast to the Caspian Sea. This territory, populated by Don, Kuban, Terek, and Ural Cossacks; Caucasian peoples; Kalmyks and Kazakhs, also included strong enclaves of Ukrainian colonists, which stretched as far as the Pacific coast. The establishment of a strong alliance with Cossack communities and Caucasian states made it really possible to resist Russian imperialism, the archenemy of Ukrainian independence.

One of the most important problems the Ukrainian State faced was the land question and a rational agrarian policy. Taking the very first steps, the hetmanite government set itself a goal to carry out a large-scale agrarian reform aimed at forming an economically viable class of medium-income and well-to-do farmers. This peasant stratum was to receive land from the state which was going to parcel big land property on a buy-out basis. For the same purpose, it was planned to set up a State Land Bank in order to help peasants obtain low-cost loans and buy land.

The project of a land reform, drawn by Minister of Agriculture Volodymyr Leontovych, was ready by early November 1918. It envisaged a compulsory buy-out of big land estates by the state, which were to be parceled among peasants with the help of the State Land Bank at the rate of not more than 25 dessiatines [1 dessiatine = 2.7 US acres. – Ed.] per household. The farms of agricultural importance with an area of up to 200 dessiatines each were exempt from the take-over of land.

Experts believe it was the most democratic law in comparison with the agrarian laws of other states at the time. The implementation of this reform could undoubtedly have given an impetus to the untrammeled socioeconomic development of Ukraine. It would have created an agrarian system based on medium-income self-sufficient individual farms, which would have promoted the formation of an economically viable and independent grain-growing stratum – the backbone of the Ukrainian State. Using this experience today would undoubtedly help Ukraine ride out the current socioeconomic crisis.

The Hetmanate’s financial policy is also worthy of high esteem. A stable monetary system was set up in the extremely difficult conditions, which ensured a high exchange rate of the Ukrainian currency. The establishment of the State Bank and the Land Bank and the streamlining of the budgetary process contributed to Ukraine’s economic revival. It is difficult to imagine similar measures in the UNR Central Rada and Directory periods.

The hetman and his inner circle understood that only the social stratum that is simultaneously the owner of capital goods and the producer can play a decisive role in the ongoing struggle between Bolshevism and Ukraine. In contemporary history, this stratum could have been formed by the revived Cossacks who, relying on the tradition of free possession of land and weapons, are extremely interested in the institutions of private land ownership and a stable national statehood that protects these institutions. The creation of a strong and organized Cossack stratum was supposed to help settle disputes about the size of land ownership, introduce the private and hereditary ownership of land, and confirm the right to own land, depending on the participation in fighting the foreign enemy and defending the Ukrainian State’ borders. In this context, the quit logical restoration of the traditional historical Hetmanate on April 29, 1918, led to the revival of the Cossacks as a stratum that was the basis of the Cossack statehood. The Cossacks reemerged on the basis of a law – the Universal of the Hetman of All Ukraine dated October 16, 1918.

Cultural and artistic line in the era of Skoropadsky relied on the sponsorship tradition of Ukrainian hetmans who supported the general national trend in the development of Ukrainian culture. From Petro Konashevych-Sahaidachny, who signed up, together with all of the Zaporozhian Host, for the Kyivan Brotherhood and supported the establishment of the Kyiv Mohyla College, to Kyrylo Rozumovsky, who entertained the idea of setting up a university in Baturyn, all the Ukrainian hetmans were fervent guardians of education and science. Even in a too short period of hetmanship, Skoropadsky founded two Ukrainian universities and the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences.

The hetman was going to do more than to open two Ukrainian universities. It was planned to establish Ukrainian universities in Odesa and Kharkiv by reorganizing the local Russian ones, as well as in Katerynodar (Kuban) and Simferopol (Crimea). What is more, all the Ukrainian secondary schools set up by the Ukrainian community in the Central Rada period were given governmental financial support. At the same time, a large number of state-funded Ukrainian primary schools were opened.

The doubtless achievements of Pavlo Skoropadsky’s Hetmanate do not mean at all that its leaders did not make mistakes and miscalculations, which is a separate subject to discuss. We should note today that the hetman and his government aspired for a class peace, reconciliation of the interests of peasants and big landowners, employers and workers, mostly at the expense of the well-to-do strata. They set a goal to form a real social partnership, promote national consolidation of all the strata of Ukrainian people, and thus ensure stability in the Ukrainian State. The combination of national-conservative and liberal-reformist principles of state-formation in Skoropadsky’s Hetmanate was quite in line with the current social development trends in the civilized European countries.

Against the backdrop of the elimination of national and social values in the Bolshevik Russia, Ukraine demonstrated sort of a breakthrough into the future and affirmed undeniable statist, legal, and national cultural values. The ruination of the Hetmanate by Ukrainian socialists, in fact in cahoots with the Bolsheviks, finally resulted in a catastrophe, a defeat in the national liberation struggle, and the loss of Ukrainian statehood.

Yurii Tereshchenko is Doctor of Sciences (History), member of the Ukrainian Academy of Historical Sciences