National awakening and nationalism of the Ukrainian nation from Cossack time to the beginning of the 20th century

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2007 17 Pages

Politics - Political Systems - History




The Cossacks Hetmanate as the starting of Ukrainian nationalism

The national awakening of Ukrainians in the Austrian and the Russian Empire

Austrias reforms in educational and religious issues and its impact on Ukrainian nationalism

Cultural awakening of Ukrainians in the Russian Empire

National agitation and organizational stage and mass movement

In the Austro- Hungarian Empire

In the Russian Empire




The question of modern nations in Eastern and Central Europe is a question of nationalism.

In this context we also should see the establishment of Ukraine as a modern state. According to Ernest Gellner, nationalism is at first a political principle, which claims, that a national and a political entity should be congruent (Gellner 1997).

If we consider nationalism as a movement or a general feeling it should be seen in this way (ibid.). That means any movement, which seeks the unification of a nation with a political unit, can be called nationalism or national movement. In this theoretical framework I wish to look at the Ukrainian national movement and its single steps. Therefore it’s necessary to keep in mind several understandings of what a nation is.

In Gellner’s view a nation shares the same culture, which is in a broader sense a system of ideas and signs and associations as well as the way of communicating and behaving (Gellner 1997). Brubaker is pointing out, that there are various more understandings of what a nation is. On the one hand there is the realistic approach, which sees nations as given. A real entity, substantial and an enduring collective. Furthermore we can look at nations as networks, defined as rational actions by groups or from a constructivist point of view. Postmodernist ideas see nations as fragmentary, ephemeral and without fixed and clear boundaries (Brubaker 1998). He sees the necessity of separating nationness and nationhood while studying nations. Nations should not be seen as substance but as an institutionalized form, as a practical category rather than as a collectively, not as an entity but as an event. Nationhood will be institutionalized within states and nationalism is not inherent in a nation (ibid.). This point of view is most interesting while looking at the last stages of Ukrainian nationalism. Brubaker is separating territorial nationhood and ethnic nationality, which will become through an event (nationness as a relational setting) a nation state (Brubaker 1998). In this approach he is denying Gellner’s long- term approach of developing nations trough political, economic and cultural changes. He sees nationness as a changeable, non- stable product of collective action. He argues that sudden events can change relational settings of groups and also nationness (ibid). I am of the opinion that he is not completely contradictory in his view to Gellner when he wants us to see the processual dynamics of nationalism, which means the attention to contingent events and their transformational consequences. He merely specifies the idea of Gellner, that nations are a category of practise, nationhood as an institutionalized cultural and political form and nationness is a contingent event, but not nations as substantial entity (Brubaker 1998). The combination of these two understandings of nations or nationness will be a useful tool to describe the developments in the case of Ukraine. There are several points supporting the idea of Gellner and on the other hand I will show that specific events had interesting impacts on the Ukrainian nationalism, especially when we will look at the influence of the two Empires, which were dividing Ukrainians during history. Gellners understanding is very important if we look at general impacts on development of nations. Industrialisation and especially the need of an exo-socialisation (education) is one of the most influential factors on nationalism. In a wider sense he is not so far away from the event- approach, when he says that nationalism is “crystallisation of new units, suitable for the condition now prevailing using the cultural pre-historical inheritances from pre-nationalist world” (Gellner). The main difference is the developentalistic perspective Gellner is using and in a long-term view this proclaims that nations are somehow substantial.

To describe the Ukrainian nationalism I will also use the famous concept from the Czech historian Hroch who is dividing the national movements into three phases. Phase

1) cultural awakening- a small group of educated people develops an interest in language, history and folklore of an ethnic group.

Phase 2) national agitation- the implementation of national consciousness into a wider circle of the population in order to mobilize them and to integrate them into a national community which will lead to Phase 3) mass movement with its goal of political autonomy (Hroch in Kappeler 2001/ Weeks 1996). The case of Ukraine is in this sense not very easy to look at because of several events, in form of national policies of two influential Empires. Another interesting theoretical point of view is the distinction between ‘ancient’ and ‘young’ nations and their prospects to form a successful national movement. The former having a tradition of a national elite, and high culture, and the latter not. Young nations also have an incomplete social structure and almost no urban middle class. They also are fighting first primarily against the foreign elite and less against the state. The main aim is to create firstly a high culture of their own. Ukraine is seen as such a ‘small’ or ‘young’ nation (Kappeler 2001).

I will describe Ukrainian nationalism in the context of modernization and mobilization through social, economic and political changes as well as on special events that might had a greater impact on the Ukrainian nationalism. The time period covered in this paper will be from the starting point of pre-historical Ukrainian ‘nation’ to the reenactment of the above described third phase of national mass movement.

The Cossacks Hetmanate as the starting of Ukrainian nationalism

Kappeler and Motyl & Krawchenko see the mid seventeenth century and the Cossacks Hetmanate as a crucial point in Ukrainian history (Kappeler 2001/ Motyl & Krawchenko 1997). It was the time where a primitive political elite came into existence after the loss of Ukraines social elite during the integration and incorporation into Russia before (Motyl & Krawchenko 1997). Before that time Ukrainians didn’t possess any high culture or any literacy language and they had no tradition of statehood. They were exclusively peasants (Kappeler 2001).

Cossacks were mainly seen as social freestanding people who defended their land and guarded its boundaries against the Turkey- Tatar aggression, emerged out of escaping serfs, slaves and peasants beyond the bounds of the established political authority in the vast Ukrainian steppes. Their appearance plays an outstanding role in the historical fate of Ukraine (Embassy of Ukraine W.DC 2002/ Motyl & Krawchenko 1997). They formed their own military- political organization with an administrative system based on Cossack’s democratic principles: Zaporizhian Sich, as well as specific political institutions, like military councils or higher legislative- executive organs (EoU 2002). The Cossacks launched attacks on Turks and Tatars and also defended their autonomy against Russians and Poles. They defeated Polish landlords in 1648 and encompassed all strata of Ukrainian society into this revolt (Motyl & Krawchenko 1997). These so called ‘social bandits’ created a legend, which became a basis of Ukrainian national identity (ibid.). They liberated towns and villages and their law became firmly established among several regions in Ukraine (EoU 2002). In the end they established and independent Cossack state (Motyl & Krawchenko 1997).

But this independence was short- lived because Ukraine became a battlefield for different but stronger nations. The Hetmanate was then subordinated to the Russian Tsar even if it stayed more or less intact as an autonomous political unit (ibid). But this situation changed when Catherine the Great came into power and abolished the Hetmanate and destroyed the Sich as well (Motyl & Krawchenko 1997 / EoU 2002). There was no chance for the Cossack Hetmanate to survive longer. They had no long- term perspective and were militarily weak in comparison to other international powers. They were also lucky in the international environment that they could establish themselves temporarily but state building became not possible (ibid.). If we apply Brubakers event approach in a wider sense we could say that the special situation during this time helped the Cossack movement to become relatively strong but it should be taken into consideration, that all preconditions were unfavourable and still there was no high culture yet. Cossacks had no urban fortifications, the geographical position was unhelpful and they lacked prosperous cities. They had no stable society, were economically weak and deprived (Motyl & Krawchenko 1997).



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Vilnius University
National Ukrainian Cossack



Title: National awakening and nationalism of the Ukrainian nation from Cossack time to the beginning of the 20th century