Skip to main content
На сайті проводяться технічні роботи. Вибачте за незручності.

The grandeur of Mykhailo Drahomanov

The life and works of a great Ukrainian thinker
11 July, 00:00

Mykhailo Drahomanov is one of the premier figures of Ukrainian civic, scholarly, and socio-cultural life of the 1860s-1890s. He belongs to the pleiad of Ukrainian and pan-Slavic luminaries, “apostles of truth and science” (Serhiy Yefremov) whose ideological impact remained influential well into the 20th century and whose great ideas are still important in our millennium.

A teacher of the truth and a fighter for freedom of thought, Drahomanov was a truly omniscient scholar, who left his imprint on philosophy, pedagogy, history, linguistics (especially folklore and literature studies), political science, culturology, and political journalism. Drahomanov’s philosophical, social, and pedagogical pursuits not only summed up existing experience but also carried it into the future for whose sake the European intellectual and thinker was striving.

A teacher of Ivan Franko and Lesia Ukrainka, and one of the greatest freethinkers and promoters of tolerance in the tyrannical Russian Empire, who worked for Ukraine’s progress and total liberation, Drahomanov was also severely tested by fate. This man, who was doing his utmost to develop free thinking in Ukraine on both sides of the border, was forced to seek more favorable work conditions in Western Europe, where he compelled it to learn about Ukraine. He sought to return Ukraine into the European fold, helping it to overcome the syndrome of provincialism and inferiority acquired under the Muscovite tsars.

Although Drahomanov was forced to eat the bitter bread of an exile, he managed to escape the totalitarian pressure of autocracy and unfold his multifaceted activities in conditions of freedom. According to Mykhailo Hrushevsky, “the foreign exposure of Drahomanov and his followers was aimed at pulling Ukrainians out of the byways of provincialism and opportunism onto the broad paths of the international cultural movement and compelling them to anticipate the prospect of total sociopolitical liberation. For a long time this determined the three equally important directions of the Ukrainian movement: from Kyiv, Lviv, and Geneva. From this viewpoint, Drahomanov’s mission comprised an entire era in Ukrainian life.”

Through his trail-blazing life Drahomanov lit a torch of fragrant Ukrainian wax, which burned with the flames of European and worldwide progress. He was building, to quote Franko, “true golden bridges of mutual understanding and sympathy among nations.” Paradoxically, Drahomanov is still little known and undervalued by his own nation in the new Ukrainian state.

The grandeur of Mykhailo Drahomanov, the descendent of a Cossack official and the son of a Poltava nobleman, was “preprogrammed” by the family traditions of his ancestors among whom there was also a Decembrist precursor of freedom. Reading books from his parents’ well-stocked library, his keen interest in the art of antiquity, and bolstering his humane and liberal ideas, such as the emancipation of serfs, in his classical high school in Poltava were the factors that contributed to shaping the personality of the free-thinking young man.

Drahomanov began to develop his life philosophy in schools in Hadiach and Poltava under the wholesome influence of the Ukrainophile social movement. When he was a schoolboy, he “fell in love” with history and was in raptures over the way O. Stronin taught history and K. Polevych taught Latin (he dedicated his article “Two Teachers” to them). Drahomanov was formed as a magnificent personality in Kyiv, where the future historian of European magnitude was taught by the philosopher S. Hohotsky and other professors, and where he studied the fundamental works of Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, and Pierre Proudhon whose ideas he embraced until the end of his life. What also contributed to the young man’s growth was the European-style “academic freedom” that the regional educational authority head Nikolai Pirogov allowed in Kyiv St. Volodymyr University.

When he was a student, Drahomanov joined a society that established Russia’s first Sunday schools for the illiterate (children and adults) and he gave free history lessons in Ukrainian at two such schools. According to Sofia Rusova, while Drahomanov was still in university, he distinguished himself by his “unusual independence of thought and unbending conviction,” which stemmed from his innate determination as well as his “historical erudition and breadth of political and scholarly synthesis.”

Eventually, he became Privatdozent at the Department of World History of St. Volodymyr University. For Drahomanov and his followers, paying his last respects to Taras Shevchenko on the way to Chernecha Hill was a kind of “oath of the Horatii” and at the same time proof of the thorny path of serving the people. Meanwhile, his temperament as a politician was sparked by the ban imposed by censors on printing his speech at a banquet in honor of Pirogov whom the despotic government of Russia had dismissed from office. Painstaking historical research (majoring in general history, Drahomanov became interested in the social struggle in Rome on the eve of the emergence of Christianity) and work in the promising scholarly field of the interrelationship and continuity of social processes allowed the young scholar to successfully defend a dissertation on Roman history. According to the existing rules, he first submitted a study that enabled him to deliver lectures on Emperor Tiberius. Five years later he defended his Master’s thesis on the history of civilization, entitled “On the Historic Significance of the Roman Empire and P. C. Tacitus.”

However, after his father’s death, the promising university lecturer had to support his brother and sister, the future scholar and writer Olena Pchilka. Drahomanov got married at a young age, became the father of a family whom he had to support. Taking up journalism, Drahomanov wrote numerous editorials and satires for Sankt-Peterburgskie vedomosti, in which he sought to clarify the political situation in Ukraine and tackle Slavic problems from the standpoint of a democratic federation.

Drahomanov’s opponent, educational authority supervisor Prince Shirinsky-Shakhmatov, regarded his criticism of schooling in Ukraine as “Little Russian separatism.” These suspicions, as well as his close contacts with a group of Ukrainophiles, might have resulted in his dismissal, at best. This time the young associate professor got off lightly with police surveillance. The regime’s “paternal care” only intensified his interest in Ukrainian studies. His research on ancient history, religion, and mythology in turn led him to focus on folk traditions and Ukrainian philology. He became a prominent folklorist and together with Volodymyr Antonovych published two annotated volumes of Historical Songs of the Little Russian People (1874-1875).

On the other hand, as the scholar himself admitted, studying the rich and beautiful Ukrainian folk writing instilled in him a profound love for his nation and encouraged him to link its better future with the question of democratic federation in all its breadth.

A three-year sojourn abroad (Austria, Germany, and Italy) showed Drahomanov the real fruits of Russification in Warsaw and “Prussification” in Poznan and also acquainted him with a type of worker that did not exist in his homeland: the well- off and educated German worker. He also enriched himself as a researcher by visiting libraries and attending lectures, especially those given by the famous historian of antiquity Theodor Mommsen. During this period Drahomanov wrote a number of bold political articles in which he opposed centralization and Russification in Russia to the democratic principle of self-government for ethnic areas and minorities.

Drahomanov once noted that it was more interesting for him to make history rather than write about it. Yet he also assessed history in his scholarly research and, being more than just a historian, he fully revealed his talents as an activist. The prolific scholar expressed his multifaceted interests during this period in archeographical publications on ancient historians and rulers, the role of women in the Roman Empire, the relationship between church and state, freedom of worship in the 16th-17th centuries, archeological excavations on Rome’s Palatine Hill, pedagogical reflections on public schools in Ukraine and the importance of the Ukrainian language and dialects in education, semi-popular studies, political reflections (e.g., the idea that closer contacts between Christian and Jewish working-class elements could ward off flare-ups of anti-Jewish hatred), exhaustive ethnographic studies of Ukrainian oral folklore - the list is long.

His stay in Vienna and his contacts with Western Ukrainians prompted the “cosmopolitan” Drahomanov to devise a plan to expand “the Ukrainian vogue” in Halychyna and draw young people’s attention to the Ukrainian cause, thereby strengthening their sense of national identity. Drahomanov’s famous open letters to the Lviv-based Muscophile newspaper Drug helped instill patriotic feelings in the hearts of Galician youth and raise an active and radical generation of “Drahomanovites” headed by Ivan Franko and Mykhailo Pavlyk. As Franko wrote about his “teacher of truth,” Drahomanov’s efforts were aimed at leading “poorly-educated” young residents of Halychyna, “who have grown up in the slavish traditions of our desolate corner, onto the better and clearer paths of European civilization.”

(To be continued in the next issue)

Delimiter 468x90 ad place

Subscribe to the latest news:

Газета "День"