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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

Sad date

31 July, 2007 - 00:00

Hetman Zynovii-Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the outstanding Ukrainian statesman, military leader, and politician died 350 years ago, on Aug. 6, 1657. He died just three years after the Treaty of Pereiaslav was concluded with Moscow, right in the middle of negotiations that were heading to the denunciation of those agreements, which were being brutally violating by the tsarist government. At the same time Russia’s politics had changed dramatically, and peace negotiations were underway with the Rzeczpospolita. The Cossacks were banned from those negotiations “like dogs out of the church of God!”

Friction between Moscow and the Cossack leaders started almost immediately after the Pereiaslav Council. During the Muscovite-Poland war, in which the Cossacks had taken part, Buturlin’s demands that all the captured cities of Halychyna must pledge allegiance to the Muscovite tsar were considered a great disgrace by Khmelnytsky and other leaders. The Cossack leaders’ principle was: “What was gotten by the Cossack sword should remain under Cossack rule.”

Thus, two years after the Pereiaslav Council Khmelnytsky began to change his political course. He renewed negotiations with the Polish king and the Turkish sultan. But he did not have enough time to break the treaty with Moscow. In early 1657 the hetman fell seriously ill. On the verge of death he held a council of Cossack officers, during which he probably committed his worst political blunder by making his son Yuri his successor. Yurii was then 16 years old and lacked every character trait necessary for a hetman. In early August 1657 Khmelnytsky died in Chyhyryn and was buried in St. Illia’s Church in Subotiv.

Hetman Yurii Khmelnytsky (“Khmelnychenko”) did not rule the Cossack state for long. In September 1657 the hetman’s mace was handed over to the experienced and wise Ivan Vyhovsky, the Cossack General Secretary. Accepting the attributes of power, Vyhovsky said: “Since you have elected me hetman, I will not indulge anyone in the army, as the Zaporozhian Army cannot exist without fear.” But the anarchically-minded Lower Dnipro Cossacks of the Zaporozhian Sich threatened to march “against the hetman, and the secretary, and the colonels” because any form of power was unacceptable to them. Fighting their own leaders, the Zaporozhian Cossacks accused Vyhovsky of every sin and called him a “liakh” (a derogatory term meaning “Pole”). Moreover, they were not averse to accepting Moscow’s assistance.

The brief association between the Cossack officers and Muscovite representatives in Ukraine, as well as the war with the Zaporozhians, who were supported by the Muscovite tsar, turned Hetman Vyhovsky and the Cossack officers away from the union with Moscow. They decided to rescind the Pereiaslav agreements completely. In this decision the hetman had the support not only of the Cossack officers but also the clergy. In September 1658, one year after Khmelnytsky’s death, the so-called Hadiach Council was held, to which Polish representatives were invited. The Ukrainian historian Natalia Yakovenko writes in her book Survey of Ukrainian History: “The ties connecting the Ukrainian elite — the Cossack officers, higher clergy, and noble townsfolk — with the political world of Poland were still strong. They had been brought up on its traditions and matched their own values to its standards.” Here it should be remembered that Ukrainian church leaders refused to sign the Treaty of Pereiaslav because the Patriarch of Constantinople had not given his approval.

The council adopted the Treaty of Hadiach (“Hadiach Points”), which specified Ukraine’s conditions for returning to the Polish crown. Yuri Nemyrych, one of the bravest and best-educated supporters of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, is considered the author of the “Points.” The main idea of the document was the transformation of the Rzeczpospolita into a federation of three states — the Polish Kingdom, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the Great Duchy of Rus’ (i.e., the Cossack territory within the borders of that time). The legislative organ of the Grand Duchy of Rus’ was to be the National Assembly (an elected parliament) and the hetman. The Orthodox Church would receive equal rights with the Catholic Church, and the Orthodox Church leaders would obtain senators’ seats in the Sejm; the union of churches on the territory of the Cossack principality was abolished.

An especially attractive feature of the Treaty of Hadiach was that despite all the wars, hardships, and lack of hope, it included such points as the founding of two universities in Ukraine. One of them was Kyiv Mohyla Academy, which was to have equal rights with the Cracow Academy. The other school of higher education would obtain the status of a university. Establishing colleges with Latin as the language of instruction was allowed throughout the country without restrictions. (The declared educational standards of the Treaty of Hadiach of 1658 are not inferior to modern ones.) The most important (and stirring) point of the treaty is that it declared complete publishing freedom, including during discussions of religious questions. Against the background of uncertainty, war, and constant danger, these last points are almost unbelievable. At any rate, they could never suit the Treaty of Pereiaslav with Russia.

Bohdan Khmelnytsky was a very educated person. He obtained his basic education in the Kyivan Brotherhood School. According to Polish historians, he received an excellent education at Jesuit schools in Yaroslavl-Halytsky and Lviv. Besides his native Ukrainian, he had spoken Polish and Latin since his youth. Later he learned Turkish (probably when he was a prisoner) and French.

During his speech at the Sejm in 1659 Nemyrych, the author of the Treaty of Hadiach, said: “We were born free, educated in freedom, and, as free people, we return to freedom. And we are ready to die for freedom together with all our motherland!”

That year Hetman Ivan Vyhovsky won a brilliant victory over the Muscovite army at Konotop, and Moscow then organized a huge anti-hetman campaign against the “traitor.” (To this day Vyhovsky is branded with this appellation in Russian monographs and textbooks.)

Tragic events soon followed: the war with Moscow, the cancellation of Vyhovsky’s hetmanship by the “black council,” and the assassination of Nemyrych whom Moscow named “the greatest heretic and outlaw.”

The contemporary British historian Andrew Wilson, author of the book The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation, thinks that “the difference between Ukraine and Russia is primarily cultural and political. It is the difference between the striving for independence and freedom on one side, and an imperialistic urge towards ruling all enslaved peoples, on the other.”)

By Klara GUDZYK, The Day