The Spirit of Statehood

26 September 2011, 15:32

Ukrainian conservatism has made a significant contribution, through both its spontaneous manifestations and the sociopolitical structures it created, to preserving the national identity of Ukraine and its revival as a polity. It manifested itself, among other things, in the attempts of Ukrainian aristocracy to find a common language with the Cossacks to jointly fight Poland and build the Cossack state founded by Bohdan Khmelnytsky. In this period, Ukrainian nobility was the vehicle of conservative social trends, thus securing the continuity of statehood-oriented traditions of Rus’-Ukraine. On this foundation, the “Little Russian nobility” produced a general ideological platform in the late 18th and early 19th century which viewed the Cossack state as a legitimate and legal continuation of the princely-era Ukrainian state. Ukrainian society relied on this foundation in its struggle against Russia’s centralism.


Despite the decline of national statehood the Ukrainian countryside fully preserved its characteristic way of life and aspects of material and spiritual organization virtually until Soviet times and thus laid a firm and enduring foundation for national existence. Landowners of all calibers, from the smallest to the greatest, participated in the process. Landlords’ estates and farmers’ households were the accumulators and repositories of Ukrainian spiritual life.

Ukraine’s rejection of the imperial order, which was dictated primarily by the conservative Ukrainian village’s ties to traditional forms of national life, was noted by numerous observers at the time. For example, German traveler Johann Georg Kohl discerned one extremely important factor – the nobility’s impact on social life in Ukraine in the 19th century. He stressed that they ‘have their own language, their own historical memories and rarely mix with or marry Moscow rulers… It can be said that their national roots come from provincial nobility which lives in the countryside and is the source of all great political movements.” Ukrainian “provincial nobility” and peasants were the unwitting keepers of the language, religion, customs and traditional forms of family and civic life. The continuity of this process was evident throughout the 19th century and even until the revolutionary upheavals of 1917-21.

Viacheslav Lypynsky, a leader of the Ukrainian conservatism movement, sharply criticized Ukrainian national democrats for their efforts to put Ukrainian aristocracy outside contemporary national process. He stressed the powerful creative force of the Ukrainian class of landowners who laid “the foundations for the contemporary political and cultural revival of the Ukrainian nation.” Lypynsky had a long list of names to prove his thesis: Yevhen Hrebinka, both Gogols, Mark Markovych, Oleksa Storozhenko, Hryhoriy Kvitka-Osnovianenko, Amvrosiy Metlynsky, Panteleimon Kulish, Mykola Kostomarov, Vasyl Bilozersky, Mykhailo Maksymovych, Oleksandr Lazarevsky, Pavlo Chubynsky, Oleksandr Potebnia, Opanas and Maria Markovych (Marko Vovchok), Panas Rudchenko (Panas Myrny), Oleksandr Konysky, Mykhailo Drahomanov, Borys Hrinchenko, Mykhailo Starytsky, Larysa Kosach (Lesia Ukrainka), Mykola Lysenko, Mykhailo Chaikovsky, Pavlyn Svientsitsky, Borys Poznansky, Volodymyr Antonovych, Tadei Rylsky, and more. A number of academic and cultural institutions were founded on donations from this “landowner bourgeoisie,” including the Taras Schevchenko Scientific Society (Yelyzaveta Myloradovych and Mykhailo Zhuchenko), the South Department of the Geographical Society, the Archeological Commission, the Bohdan Khanenko Museum in Kyiv and the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum in Lviv.


Ukrainian landlords professed an unconditional “love for the people”. They glorified the peasant and Cossack uprisings of the past and the Haidamaka movement and were skeptic of the state-building efforts of the national elite (Volodymyr Antonovych and the khlopomany, Mykola Kostomarov, Oleksandr Lazarevsky and so on). A large part of Ukrainian nobility was put off by the social radicalism of the popular (later socialist) intelligentsia, and it stayed outside the Ukrainian movement represented by the Hromada and Prosvita societies. This component of the Ukrainian nobility was actively involved in zemstos directing them along nationalist paths.

Representatives of both parts of the Ukrainian nobility generally supported the conception of Ukraine’s political development (traditional for Cossack officers) toward achieving an autonomous status within a federation. As they joined the Ukrainian national movement, they thoroughly instilled this concept in the modern Ukrainian intelligentsia.

The inability of the Ukrainian elites to implement a national monarchic idea (or work out a replacement) and foster it in at least some part of Ukrainian citizens created a certain vacuum in social consciousness which was filled by Russian monarchism. This situation led to the principle of so-called double identity in which national feelings were oddly intertwined with loyalty to the Russian empire and tsar.

The autonomy-within-federation tradition of the early popular movement was picked up by Drahomanov who was unable to imagine Ukraine “without a close connection to Russia.” To him, the ideas of federalism stood next to the European ideals of social equality and political will which obscured the striving for national self-governance. This attitude influenced the position of entire generations of Ukrainian politicians who for a long time stayed captives to the Drahomanian view of the national problem, thus deprived of a clear prospect of fighting for national liberation and an independent state.

This greatly hampered society in realizing the need for national independence. It would have taken a “true revolution” against the populist worldview to lead the Ukrainian movement out of delusion in which future Ukraine-Russia relations were viewed as those of an autonomous region and a federation. The origins of this revolution can be seen in the emergence of independence-minded strands in Ukrainian political circles as evidenced by Yulian Bachynsky’s Ukraina irredenta and Mykola Mikhnovsky Samostiyna Ukraina (Independent Ukraine).

The independence idea further suggested discarding Drahomanov’s simplistic view on the place and role of the main social strata or, in the words of Ivan Franko, his “excessively narrow understanding of the nation as plebes.”

Through its full-fledged participation in the Ukrainian movement, an awareness of its unique social role and a proper appraisal of the national state-building tradition the nobility had to help overcome the somewhat limited nature of the social and political goals set by Ukrainian citizens.


A significant shift in the conservative environment was effected by Lypynsky. His activities helped conservatives establish themselves more firmly in terms of ideas and organization and elevated their standing in the Ukrainian movement. At the same time, Lypynsky resolutely fought against the existing tradition of presenting landlords as enemies of the people. In his opinion, as they rediscovered their Ukrainian identity and switched over from both the Russian and the Polish camp, they invested their cultural, managerial and administrative experience, as well as their intellectual and material values, in the Ukrainian revival, thus greatly reinforcing it.

Throughout the 19th century, the Ukrainian aristocracy experienced a complicated and ambivalent process of national revival on both sides of the Zbruch River. This was manifested, among other things, in the changed social-national consciousness and political preferences of rich noble families in Galicia, such as the Puzynas, Sanguszkos, Sapihas, Shymlianskys, Sheptytskys, Fedorovychs and others. In the part of Ukraine that was under Russia at the time, a similar transformation was observed in the families of the Halahans, Tarnovskys, Myloradovychs, Kochubeis, Tyshkevychs, Skoropadskys, Khanenkos, Lyzohubs, etc. Despite the monopolistic positions that liberal democracy and socialist strands in the Ukrainian movement held back then, this evolution evidenced a desire to balance the ideological and political orientation and overcome "the nation’s deadly one-sidedness,” to quote from Lypynsky, which was caused by the weakness in the right conservative wing.

During the First World War, the idea of a constitutional monarchy went into the foundation of the political platform proposed by the Union for the Liberation of Ukraine whose members included politicians in both Galicia and the Dnipro region. Lypynsky’s efforts to equip conservatism with an ideological and organizational basis of a distinct independence-oriented nature won increasing public recognition. “I was, am and will be an 'independent' until my last day,” this ideologue of Ukrainian conservatism famously said.

As the concept of monarchy emerged in political life, it meant a gradual surrender of the monopolist position for liberal democracy, populist and socialist strands in the Ukrainian movement. It showed that Ukrainian society was able to adequately react to the challenges of the times and wanted to balance its ideological and political orientations.

The national radicalism of most participants in the Ukrainian movement repelled the conservatively minded Ukrainian nobility, part of which ended up joining Russian monarchy-supporting organizations and parties. But this was not an all-defining, final step. Rather, it was a move dictated by the instinct of self-preservation and a desire to protect one’s socioeconomic interests. Non-declassed conservative forces distanced themselves from the Ukrainian liberal-radical movement but did not lose their national instinct which clearly came forth after tsarism was overthrown in February 1917.


The surge of the national movement also pointed out that the hetman tradition was still very much alive in Ukraine and relied on the conservatism of both main social components of the Ukrainian countryside – the nobility and the peasants. It proved a cornerstone for Pavlo Skoropadsky’s hetman state. The realization of the traditional idea of a nation state was a link in the pan-European conservative revolution process and took on a new, democratic form after the end of the First World War.

However, Ukrainian society failed to overcome its bias against conservatism. Ukrainian liberals and socialists imposed a view of this societal trend as being reactionary and pro-Russian, and the Ukrainian public at large never cast it off. Ukrainian socialists, together with the Bolsheviks, ruined the conservative model of Ukrainian statehood (the Hetman state), failed to create something durable and stable instead and drowned in endless rows, political feuds and party dogmatism. Ukrainian conservatism as an organized political force (represented primarily by the Ukrainian Farmer Democratic Party founded by Lypynsky, Mykola Mikhnovsky and Serhiy and Volodymyr Sheremeta in 1917-18) succeeded in unfolding its activities only in emigration. Owing to the works of Lypynsky and the school of statehood-oriented Ukrainian scholars he founded (Dmytro Doroshenko, Stepan Tomashivsky, Vasyl Kuchabsky, Osyp Nazaruk, Teofil Kostruba, Natalia Polonska-Vasylenko, Borys Homzyn and others), the ideology of Ukrainian monarchism left a strong imprint in Ukraine's public, political and spiritual life. Ivan Lysiak-Rudnytsky justly noted that, compared to other mainstream trends in the Ukrainian sociopolitical thought (democratic populism, integrational nationalism and communism), conservatism made the greatest intellectual contribution in the course of the 20th century.


Unfortunately, the priceless humanistic and social heritage of Ukrainian conservatism and its chief exponent Lypynsky has yet to find an adequate understanding by the public and be reflected in the programs and actions of contemporary political forces. National democracy again dominates in Ukraine’s sociopolitical life, like it did at the turn of the century, and shows, to much regret, the same style of political activity as in 1917-21. Following an exhausting struggle against the Leonid Kuchma government which brought the Ukrainian national democrats to power in 2004, infighting immediately ensued.

These unfortunate consequences of the national democrats’ domination in the Ukrainian movement call for close and critical attention to their historical evolution and ideological heritage. Evidently, we need to finally acknowledge that the UNR leaders and their contemporary ideological followers wasted and, respectively, are now wasting the efforts of millions of Ukrainians in their struggle for a sovereign Ukrainian state. Without a critical reappraisal of their political methods, their activities may have fatal consequences for Ukraine today. A return to the political experience of Ukrainian conservatism and its ideology, which is geared toward consolidating all social strata in Ukraine, may be a key to solving many a burning issues in the political life of the country.

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