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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 3.2 (2002) 321-335

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Review Essay

The Ukrainian Idea in the Second Half of the 19th Century

John-Paul Himka

Aleksei Il´ich Miller, "Ukrainskii vopros" v politike vlastei i russkom obshchestvennom mnenii (vtoraia polovina XIX veka). St. Petersburg: Aleteiia, 2000. 282 pp. ISBN 5-89329-246-4.
Anatolii Kruhlashov, Drama intelektuala: Politychni idei Mykhaila Drahomanova. Chernivtsi: Vydavnytstvo "Prut," 2000. ISBN 966-560-008-7.

When in 1654 Hetman Bohdan Khmelnyts´kyi led his Cossack host under the protection of the tsar's "high hand," two peoples came into contact who had some things in common, while others markedly differentiated them. Turning their backs to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Cossacks made a point of emphasizing what they shared with the people of the Muscovite state. They both called themselves Rus´ and they confessed the same Holy Orthodox faith. But both understood that they were far from identical. The Muscovites translated Cossack documents, even when written in what was supposed to be the same Church Slavonic language that they used. The spoken vernaculars were much more distant. The two versions of Orthodoxy met each other uneasily. The Cossack officers and their churchmen were influenced by Polish and Latin culture and thought politically in terms of the pacta conventa and the republican constitution of the Commonwealth. The Muscovites knew little of the Western learning, and autocracy lay at the base of their political culture.

Over the next century and a half, the Cossack population was more thoroughly integrated into the Russian polity. The Cossacks' churchmen worked out a conception of how they fit into this enlarged Russia: they were the Little Russians, and the people who formed the core of the state which they entered were the Great Russians - together they made up all Rus´. The Little Russian churchmen dominated the Orthodox hierarchy and did much to homogenize the religious culture of the two branches of Rus´. In the latter half of the 18th century, Catherine II, rationalizing the administration of her huge realm, dismantled all the vestiges of Little Russian autonomy. With the destruction of both the Crimean Khanate and Poland-Lithuania, she no longer needed the Cossacks. They could serve the state like any other Russian subjects. [End Page 321]

The passing of the old Cossack order provoked a wave of nostalgic regionalism. A travesty of the Aeneid in the Little Russian vernacular, with Cossacks taking the place of Vergil's Trojans, filled with local lore and local humor, was an instant success when it was published in 1798. It touched off a lively literary movement in the vernacular, which flourished especially in the region just east of the main Cossack territories, in so-called Sloboda Ukraine, a place where Cossacks had settled under Muscovite rule even before 1654. Here in Sloboda Ukraine, in Kharkiv, a university was founded in 1805, so there was a concentration of intellectuals who could breathe life into the new movement. They put out literary almanacs and periodicals with titles like Ukrainskii al´manakh, Ukrainskii sbornik, Ukrainskii vestnik, and Ukrainskii zhurnal. The "Ukrainian" in these titles indicated that they were based in Sloboda Ukraine, but soon the word caught on to describe the new Little Russian movement as a whole.

Roughly at the same time, in 1793-95, as a result of the second and third partitions of Poland, Russia acquired the Right Bank of the Dnipro, where the Little Russian vernacular was also spoken and where Cossacks had also once held sway. From here the greatest exponent of the Ukrainian movement hailed - the painter, freed serf, and national poet Taras Shevchenko. He gravitated towards the newly founded St. Vladimir University in Kyiv, as did other intellectuals of the same persuasion. The Russian government looked favorably on their activities. It was felt that their regional Little Russian movement could be an effective antidote to Polish agitation in the Right Bank. Indeed, the Poles had erupted in rebellion in 1830-31, and the university in Kyiv was founded in 1834...


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