Mazepa’s Story: Are Ukrainians “Genetic Traitors”? – Part II

Dear Readers:

This is the continuation (and conclusion) of my work-through of the essay by Vasily Stoyakin, addressing the stereotype of the “treacherous Khokhol”, or Ukrainian.

Now, some stereotypes may contain a grain of truth; but Stoyakin disputes that this is actually the case with Mazepa.  Whom did he betray?  Russia?  Mazepa never possessed a shred of loyalty to Russia.  If Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco, then Mazepa surely left his in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  That was where he longed to live, as a Polish Szlachta, surrounded by devoted and attractive serfs.  Instead, he had to earn his crust as a Hetman, surrounded by ugly and unruly Cossacks.

The Battle of Poltava changed history.

Oh, for sure, Mazepa swore allegiance to Peter the Great and even kissed the cross to prove just how sincere he was.  And then turned around and betrayed Peter without so much as a twitching eyebrow.  Which is the main source of the Russian meme that Mazepa was a vile traitor.  But in truth, Stoyakin insists, everybody was like that in those days.  In all the ruling elites.  Everybody schemed, everybody stabbed everybody in the back.  It was like a season of Survivor, only people actually died hideous deaths.

The Battle of Poltava, which changed history in Russia’s favor (and put away the notion of Sweden ever becoming a superpower), lasted only about 30 minutes.  This was no Waterloo, an epic battle that went on so long, that Victor Hugo felt he had to interrupt the important plot point involving Fantine and her illegitimate child, in order to spend the next 50 pages of his book describing Napoleon’s unsuccessful battle.

Bust of Alexander Menshikov

No, Poltava was short and sweet, from the Russian point of view.  The Swedes were simply blown away by the proficiency of Russian cannons.  Literally.  Swedish soldiers fled in panic and climbed all over each other, trying to surrender to Peter’s Field Marshal, Alexander Menshikov.  At the town of Perevolochnaya, there were twice as many Swedish POW’s crowding around than there were horsemen in the entire Russian cavalry.

And thus, on this fateful day, began also the perennial Swedish resentment and visceral hatred of Russia.  Which continues to this very day!  (Not to mention the geo-political demise of Lithuania as well, but that’s a whole n’other story.)

But What About Mazepa?

So, where does Hetman Mazepa fit into this calamitous defeat?  When Mazepa switched sides from Russia to Sweden, he promised Polish-Lithuanian King John II Casimir Vasa (aka Carolus Rex)  to provide the latter with the following:  Food, ammunition, 40 cannons, and one million Ukrainian Cossacks in shiny uniforms.

What did C.Rex actually receive from Mazepa?  A few rotten cabbages which they requisitioned from the local peasantry, no ammo, zero cannons and a couple of hundred Cossacks who ended up helping the Russian army.

Historic fortress in Baturyn, Ukraine.

Mazepa’s Famous Forty cannons were kept in an armory in the town of Baturyn, in what is now the Chernihiv Oblast of Northern Ukraine.

According to the wiki entry, Baturyn is a settled area since the Neolithic era.  At one time it was home to Bronze Age Scythians.  Its first mention in written history is in 1625, when it became a fortress city under Stefan Batory, King of Poland, Prince of Transylvania, and Grand Duke of Lithuania.  In 1648, unruly Cossacks captured the town during Hetman Bogdan Khmelnitsky’s uprising against the Polish nobility.  Khmelnitsky based his revolution (because it was an actual revolution, at least at first) on the ethnic underpinnings of the Ruthenian peasantry, long and viciously oppressed by Polish landowners.  Under Khmelnitsky, and with Russian support, Baturyn was transformed into a Cossack regional center (sotnia).  Moving forward a half century:  Under the benign rule of Hetman Mazepa, Baturyn prospered, according to wiki.  Population increased to around 20,000.  This was a regional center for trade, and even boasted a college which turned out certified diplomats.

Mazepa was appointed Hetman of Baturyn in 1687 by Russian Prince Vasily Golitsyn, a “favorite” (whatever that means) of the Tsarevna Sofia (who was Peter the Great’s sister).  Golitsyn met Mazepa and was blown away by the latter’s air of culture and European “luster”.  Based on that, Golitsyn saw to it that Mazepa got the gig as Hetman.  After stuff happened and Golitsyn was exiled to Archangelsk, Tsar Peter inherited Mazepa.  Like Golitsyn, Peter found Mazepa to be quite an impressive candidate, and allowed him to keep his position.  Indeed, Mazepa was a shrewd manager and seems to have done a credible job building up the Hetmanate.  Until the Great Northern War came along and shot everything to ruins.

Returning to the issue of the 40 cannons in the Baturyn armory:

Hetman Khmelnytsky won freedom for Ruthenian peasants. (sort of)

Once again, Menshikov proved his military acumen:  In a daring raid, Peter’s henchman had managed to seize Baturyn, burn the armory to the ground, and steal the 40 cannons which were later used at Poltava, against the Swedes.  How was Menshikov able to do this?  Because, in a kind of reverse Ivan Susanin maneuver, Ukrainian Cossacks showed him the way in.  Quoting Stoyakin:

To this day Ukrainian nationalists cannot forgive the Prince [Menshikov] for this feat, knowing that the capital of the Hetmanate [Baturyn] was guarded by only German mercenaries, while at the same time Cossacks were opening the gates [to the Russians].

Who Is The Traitor Here?

Hence, Stoyakin urges, what do we actually have here, in the final analysis?  We have a Polish grandee (=Mazepa) who remained all his life a Polish grandee, and who gave his life for his Polish king.  The Ukrainian people did not support him in the end.  No, the Ukrainians did not support Mazepa’s “switching of sides” from Russia to Poland.  On the whole, Ukrainians always supported friendship with Russia (especially over Poland).

This proves, according to Stoyakin, that Mazepa cannot be used as an example of supposed Ukrainian innate treachery.  Instead, Stoyakin blames Russia.  Or, I should say, blames Russian rulers, who care more about the lives of the rich and famous than about the lives of their menial subjects.  Mazepa is simply a typical example of the “Little Russian” politics engaged in by every Tsar since Alexei Mikhailovich.  Namely:  The Tsars appoint a “Grandee”, what we today call an “oligarch”, over the Ukrainian peasantry.  The Grandee does whatever he pleases, amasses wealth, and rules, one hopes with some wisdom, on behalf of the Russian emperor.  The Tsars do not wish to get involved in the day-to-day details of Little Russian (Ukrainian) life.  So long as things are flowing smoothly, they don’t care and don’t want to bother.

Emperor Peter the Great

In conclusion, I quote/translate verbatim, the concluding two paragraphs of Stoyakin’s essay, in which he addresses Russian readers.  One translation note:  “Malo-Rossiya” (Little Russia).  The traditional term for a swatch of area including today’s Ukraine.  The distinction between Great Russians and Little Russians is not the demeaning one, as it sounds to Western, especially American ears.  The concept is similar to that of “Major” and “Minor”, as in “Greece Major” and “Greece Minor”, for example.  The “Minor” area is the core, the “Major” area is where the core people dispersed to, in colonies or diaspora.  From this aspect, “Little Russia”, including towns such as Kiev and Chernigov, formed the core of the medieval Russian state.  That’s all it means.  Honestly.

Stoyakin:
Forgive me then, please, but what exactly is your beef against Ukraine and Ukrainians?  Moscow herself gave the Hetman’s post to traitors.  Mazepa is the fruit of Moscovite politics.  You don’t like the fruits?  Then fire the gardener.

And by the way, after the Mazepa fiasco, Peter, in his traditional style, cut the Gordian Knot.  He curtailed the Hetmanate Autonomy.  The Autonomy was liquidated for good in the years 1764-1765.  In 1782 the Little Russian szlachta received all the rights pertaining to the Great Russian nobility.  And from that time and right up until the 20th century Russians forgot about the supposed “genetic predispotion to treachery” on the part of the Little Russians.

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8 Responses to Mazepa’s Story: Are Ukrainians “Genetic Traitors”? – Part II

  1. Lyttenburgh says:

    Start blogging on WordPress.com

    “When Mazepa switched sides from Russia to Sweden, he promised Polish-Lithuanian King John II Casimir Vasa (aka Carolus Rex) to provide the latter with the following: Food, ammunition, 40 cannons, and one million Ukrainian Cossacks in shiny uniforms.”

    Illegitimate Krol, I must add! The legitimate one was one-man baby-making machine Augustus Strong, the Elector of Saxony (who at the time was, ah, “in Rostov exile”, figuratively speaking)

    “No, Poltava was short and sweet, from the Russian point of view.”

    Obligatory Sabaton video:

    “This proves, according to Stoyakin, that Mazepa cannot be used as an example of supposed Ukrainian innate treachery. Instead, Stoyakin blames Russia. Or, I should say, blames Russian rulers, who care more about the lives of the rich and famous than about the lives of their menial subjects.”

    Stoyakin pushes his own a-historical narrative here:

    “Moscow herself gave the Hetman’s post to traitors.”

    Victim-blaming – how sweet! Besides, “Moscow” is not a living being.

    Arguably, much better – and more scathing – description of Mazepa’s long and illustrious career had been written by the late Oles Buzina

    Like

    • yalensis says:

      Excellent vid! Thanks for posting!

      Yeah, I agree that Stoyakin went too far with that “Moscow gives Hetman post to traitors” thing. That’s kind of stupid, because Sofia and Peter, like any top-level managers, are just trying to put the best man in the job, and they can’t keep track of every little thing.

      I suspect that Stoyakin is using Mazepa to make a (a-historical) point about the modern scenario, where Russia watches as oligarchs destroy what is left of Little Russia.
      My guess is he wants a new Peter the Great to just go riding in there and sweep away all the “debily”.

      Like

  2. Lyttenburgh says:

    Some further corrections:

    “So, where does Hetman Mazepa fit into this calamitous defeat? When Mazepa switched sides from Russia to Sweden, he promised Polish-Lithuanian King John II Casimir Vasa (aka Carolus Rex)”

    No, Mazepa bagan his career under Ian Kazimir – but that king died in 1672. At the moment of Mazepa’s betrayal Poland had 2 kings – “legitimate” one, Augustus I of Saxony (who had to ran away from Swrdish invaders) and Stanislav Leschinsky (a polish noble and Svedish quisling).

    As the conditions for his betrayal, Mazepa promised to become a formal vassal of the Swedish puppet on Polish throne, but also granted huuuuuuuge sweathes of land in the modern day Byelarus (Polotsk and Mogilev voivodates) as his personal hereditary fief and for himself (because hetmanship was not hereditary) plus a feudal status analoguos to one which had the Duke of Kurland, guaranteed by Sweden.

    As for the line of reasoning – “big deal, for a feudal times!” – it won’t run, because he was cossack’s Hetman, an elected official who was subordinate directly to this or that monarch as said official, but not as someone in the great scheme of feudal order. In fact, what Mazepa has been suggesting was unprecedented.

    “Mazepa was appointed Hetman of Baturyn in 1687 by Russian Prince Vasily Golitsyn, a “favorite” (whatever that means) of the Tsarevna Sofia (who was Peter the Great’s sister). “

    Oh, they totally had sex! Sofia was rather… Rubenesque woman, i.e. exactly the type people would die for in 17th c. Given a chance she’d probably won the title of “Леди Гаага” 😉

    “Mazepa’s Famous Forty cannons were kept in an armory in the town of Baturyn, in what is now the Chernihiv Oblast of Northern Ukraine.”

    These days it’s just glorified village with about 3000 citizens.

    “Golitsyn met Mazepa and was blown away by the latter’s air of culture and European “luster”. Based on that, Golitsyn saw to it that Mazepa got the gig as Hetman.”

    Nah, it was the money… Other People’s Money (from previous hetmans, slave-trade with the Tatars and something made on the side by horylka smuggling from Ukraine into Russia’s proper – I’m shitting you not!), appropriated by Mazepa.

    “To this day Ukrainian nationalists cannot forgive the Prince [Menshikov] for this feat, knowing that the capital of the Hetmanate [Baturyn] was guarded by only German mercenaries, while at the same time Cossacks were opening the gates [to the Russians].”

    Not quite right. The garrison commander and his oficers were German mercs, but the core of it consisted of сердюки – either good-for-nothing piss-poor cossaks or ethnic Polish and Moldavian (sic!) sell-swords and/or guns for hire, precursors to TerrBats of the NatzGuard, who were only good at harrasing and robbing the locals and getting drunk (and they were totally shitfaced during Menshikov’s night raid).

    Another forece at Baturin were real, справжнi regimental cossacks who, actually, learned about Mazepa’s betrayal only from Menshikov’s strike force who came first to demand the peaceful surrender of the fortress. These cossacks cried “zrada!” and “gan’ba!” in absolutely justifed manner and did the right thing.

    “We have a Polish grandee (=Mazepa) who remained all his life a Polish grandee, and who gave his life for his Polish king.”

    Pffft! He died in exile in Turkish controlled Moldavia, shaking over the riches he managedto smuggle from the country, begging another escapee and exile Karl XII to ensure the smooth transfere of all these OPM to Mazepa’s nephew, and not to the rightful owner (i.e. the office-holder of the hetmanship).

    “The Ukrainian people did not support him in the end. No, the Ukrainians did not support Mazepa’s “switching of sides” from Russia to Poland. On the whole, Ukrainians always supported friendship with Russia (especially over Poland).”

    Of course! They pretty much hated Mazepa and his serdyuks and having the Swedes raping and pillaging the countryside didn’t light up their mood.

    Like

    • yalensis says:

      Oh, they totally had sex!
      I found a pic of her where the dress doesn’t make her look quite as fat:

      Like

      • Lyttenburgh says:

        Oh, this looks like one of those typical late 17 c. парсуна by one of those invited sycopantic European artists – hardly like a real thing:

        Contemporaries noted that all Alexei Mikhailovich’s female kids from the first marriage were… “healthy” and with enough, ah, inheritance. Huuuuge tracs of lands, they have, oh yeah. His sons OTOH were very weak and of poor health. The only “normal” and even super-healthy kids he seemed to have from the second marriage to atalya Naryshkina – Peter the Great and his lil’ sis Natalya the younger.

        OTOH In British TV series “Peter the Great” (don’t watch it – too much klyukva and inaccuracies) Sofia was portrayed by Vanessa Redgrave:

        Like

    • yalensis says:

      So, Lyt, as a historian yourself, what is your opinion of that story about Mazepa being tied to his horse ass-first and galloping through the countryside till he died from all the bouncing about?
      Apparently Franz Liszt was inspired by that story.to write his great symphonic poem:

      Like

      • Lyttenburgh says:

        “So, Lyt, as a historian yourself, what is your opinion of that story about Mazepa being tied to his horse ass-first and galloping through the countryside till he died from all the bouncing about?”

        Sadly – he didn’t die. This was his method of transportation from Poland to Ukraine. Thus, a man who slept with other szlactich wife found himself with bare arse and ended up being a filthy rich potentate. Indeed, the Ukraine had always been a land of opportunity!

        Like

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