Today I start a new series, based on this piece in VZGLIAD by reporter Dmitry Lyskov. It is about Ukrainian history of 100 years ago. One theme is dual power, accompanied by dual historiographies. In our time there are two main competing narratives of Ukrainian history of that era, with two opposing claims of governmental legitimacy and preeminence. The current Ukrainian government bases itself on a certain ideology of Ukrainian Nationalism, accompanied by its own version of historical events, and which government it sees as its predecessor.
The other side begs to disagree.
Before I start: A brief editorial/linguistic note. Up until now, as a blogposter with my own editorial standards, I have been willing to go along with Ukrainian spellings and transliterations, for example “Mykhailo” instead of “Mikhail”. Firstly, because I love the Ukrainian language and think it sounds really cool. Secondly, as a trained (if not practicing) Linguist, I really don’t give a fig about spellings, so long as they are consistent and phonemic. Like Shakespeare said, “A rose is a rose by any other name.” Thirdly, the motto of my blog is “Human Dignity”, and I am willing to bend over backwards to oblige the national and ethnic feelings. HOWEVER! From the Ukrainian Nationalist side, things have gotten so out of hand, what with the forced Ukrainization and terrorizing people for speaking Russian and even spelling things in the Russian style, etc., that I felt it was time to take a side. From now on, I’m done with that Ukrainian-spelling nonsense; only Russian-style spellings on my blog. Or at least until order is restored and things get back to normal.
With that said, we shall proceed with our story. So, the first stage of the Russian Revolution (February 1917) launched a series of events which affected all the provinces and peripheries of the Russian Empire. During the days April 6-8, 1917, a movement called the All-Ukrainian National Congress elected a “Rada” (Parliament) of 115 deputies, headed by Mikhail Grushevsky. According to his bio, Grushevsky (born 1866) was a Ukrainian nobleman, which is sort of an oxymoron; nonetheless his grandfather had been granted a title of nobility for his military service to the Russian Empire. Mikhail grew up to become a noted historian specializing in Ukrainian history. His 10-volume “History of Ukraine-Rus” is still considered a scholarly classic in this field. Grushevsky’s political views (simplifying egregiously here) were “socialistic” (stressed the role of ordinary people), anti-Polish, and pro-Russian. As a statesman and political leader, his goal was to build an independent Ukraine, uniting both geographical/political regions of the country (West vs East), which have been (and still are) hopelessly divided since time immemorial. In 1899 Grushevsky had founded the Galician-based National Democratic Party, which called for eventual Ukrainian independence.
When the Russian Revolution rolled around, Grushevsky was in a good place to lead Ukraine, as he was legitimately elected head of the Central Rada in Kiev. His goal was an evolutionary process of Ukrainian autonomy within the new “democratic” Russia, and on to eventual independence with a socialist government. All of this seemed very reasonable at the time. Hence, the Ukrainian Peoples Republic was declared.
During the German-assisted coup (April 29, 1918) led by the unfortunately named General Pavlo Skoropadsky, Grushevsky was forced to go into hiding temporarily. I am guessing that his long beard got in the way, but ever since Karl Marx went hairy, it was the law back in those days that socialists had to wear beards. (Lenin was granted an exemption, with his goatee.) Skoropadsky, on the other hand, was clean-shaven, and he was also a Ukrainian nobleman, as well as a Cossack. But here is where that all-mysterious “class line” shines through and pits people against each other on political grounds. Skoropadsky’s class base was the wealthy landowning class. He was anti-Communist and lacked Grushevsky’s implicit sympathy for the Bolsheviks. Most Ukrainians considered Skoro too pro-Russian, which meant that he tilted towards the Tsarists and Whites. He favored a Ukraine as part of a federation with a restored (Tsarist) Russian Empire. But the clean-shaven Hetman could be practical-minded too: When it became clear that the Tsar wasn’t going to be coming back any time soon, he concluded a peace treaty with Soviet Russia.
Skoropadsky’s wiki says that he built many schools and universities, including the National Academy of Sciences, Ukraine. To quote Shakespeare’s Mark Antony, “If it were so, then he must have been one frantic beaver” since his government was only in power for roughly 9 months. Or perhaps he was a new version of “Bob the Builder”. In any case, come December 1918 Skoropadsky lived up to his name, abdicated, and fled to his German masters in Berlin. Leaving behind all those schools and universities.
Skoropadsky’s departure made it possible for Grushevsky to come out of hiding. He emerged cautiously at first, just poking his head out. Unfortunately, he was not able to get back into the government, which had moved on, and there was now a Directory governing the country. A disappointed Grushevsky went into emigration. He became more pro-Bolshevik, while also criticizing the Bolsheviks for their centralizing and repressatory tendencies. He eventually returned to the Ukraine in 1924, where he tried to stay clear of Stalin and concentrated on his academic works, until his death in 1934.
[to be continued]