I saw this interesting essay written by a man named Vasily Stoyakin. Stoyakin is the Director of a Russian think tank called the Center For Political Marketing. History buffs will like this piece, because there is a lot in here about Ivan Mazepa, one of the more colorful characters in Russian and Ukrainian history. Mazepa is the subject of many artistic works, including a long poem by Pushkin, an opera by Tchaikovsky, and a “symphonic poem” by Franz Liszt.
Stoyakin begins his essay with the regretful comment that the Russian internet is awash with various theories about “Ukrainian treachery” and the so-called “genetic disposition” of Ukrainians to betray their allies. Note that this is not a new phenomenon; one thinks of that old chestnut of a Russian joke about the military squad consisting of 3 Ukrainians. I can’t remember the exact wording of the joke, but the punchline is that the third man in the squad is the “obligatory traitor”.
Anti-Ukrainian sentiment within Russia turned especially bitter with the events of the Maidan (2014) and the ensuing Civil War between the pro-Banderite government in Kiev, and the Russian-speaking population in Eastern Ukraine. And some pro-Russian bloggers do indeed write in earnest about a supposed “Traitor Gene” in Ukrainian DNA. Stoyakin, however, does not believe that Mazepa was actually a traitor: “An ordinary feudal politician — cunning, unprincipled, lacking most human feelings… completely normal for his time.” In other words, ALL the leading political figures of that era were sociopaths: ranging from Tsar Peter the Great to Peter’s second-in-command Alexander Danilovich Menshikov, to Mazepa, and all the others. Somehow all these people managed to get through life without possessing a shred of human decency, loyalty, or feelings of attachment to others.
Mazepa began his biography at the court of the Polish King Jan Kazimierz, aka John II Casimir Vasa. In those days ethnicity was defined not by skin color or language, but by religion. Mazepa was Orthodox, therefore he was considered a “Little Russian”, and not a Pole. Due to his religion, Mazepa was discriminated against and forced out of the Polish court, although his dream always was to worm his way back in. For the time being, though, Mazepa was forced to earn his daily bread in the Hetmanshchina, otherwise known as the Left Bank Ukraina.
[yalensis: Important note for Russian History students and geography majors: In Ukraine, the Dniepr River flows from North to South (like, well, most Earthian rivers); so orientation (Left-Right) is from the Point of View (POV) of the head of the flowing river itself. Therefore, that land which is to the East of the river is known as the Left Bank. Which is the opposite of the way we see things on the map, which is why this is confusing. Got it?]
Moving along with Mazepa’s story: Mazepa longed so much to return to the Polish court [yalensis: So, why didn’t he just convert to Catholicism?] that he felt compelled to betray Swedish King Karl XII. Also known as Carolus Rex, which is a cool name. Sounds sort of like a Swedish dinosaur.
Mazepa was so desperate to escape from the Hetmanshchina and return to Poland, that he didn’t even consider himself to be a Ukrainian. In his correspondence with the Polish King he begs the latter to grant him estates in Belorussia.
So, where was this horrific treachery against Russia? Well, there was that tiny incident when Mazepa swore allegiance to Russian Tsar Peter the Great and even kissed the cross. This is the sole reason why Mazepa is considered to be one of the greatest traitors who ever lived. Yawn.
The reality is that Mazepa was one of the greatest screw-ups who ever lived. What he did for Peter in losing the battle of Poltava was an indescribably amazing “self-goal”. Even Peter was astounded by the extent of his own (unexpected) history-altering victory over the Swedish army
[to be continued]