A republic or a hetmanate?

Yurii TERESHCHENKO: “History proves that national liberation is only possible if you have a state of your own”

“Kings, Princes, Hetmans,” a fundamental article by the well-known historian, Doctor of Sciences (History), Professor Yurii Tereshchenko, is a gem in the Den Library’s new publication The Crown, or Heritage of the Rus’ Kingdom. The article expounds in a concentrated form the history of Ukrainian statehood, emphasizing the role the monarchic- dynastic tradition in it. As the research shows, it is one of the key roles. As a matter of fact, exploring a new subject of Ukrainian history, as well as researching the heritage of Viacheslav Lypynsky (1882-1931), an outstanding sociopolitical figure, a theoretician of Ukrainian conservatism, is one of the researcher’s top academic priorities (see the reference).

Prof. Tereshchenko visited our editorial office the other day to exchange plans and ideas and receive a courtesy copy of the publication. The following interview is about the prospects of a monarchic project in Ukraine, an alternative to populist historiography, and the importance of Lypynsky’s heritage for understanding Ukrainian history.


Mr. Tereshchenko, you have been advocating a view on history, which challenges traditional populist historiography, throughout your academic career. Den is also following this line. But we must admit that it has never been a mainstream on the national level. Why do you think this has happened and under what conditions can the situation change?

“The populist ideology upholds a certain historical and political tradition. First of all, it is about transformation of the Ukrainian elite and its world-view. At the same time, a monarchic world-view is inherent in Ukrainians, as it is in all the European nations. Some Ukrainian leaders were aware of this and were trying to turn Ukraine’s sociopolitical development into this very direction.

“The one who intended to implement this project most amply and adequately in Modern Period was Bohdan Khmelnytsky who wanted to make hetmanship dynastic, monarchic. Incidentally, monarchic in no way means despotic. In this context, it is worthwhile to compare St. Petersburg’s autocratic monarchy founded by Peter I with the British monarchy, the founder of democratic institutions in Europe. Khmelnytsky’s rule was absolutist in form (i.e., undeniable – there was nobody else to share power with) but not despotic. The Cossack state the hetman founded consisted of classes-estates which were convened for assemblies from time to time. Ukrainian statehood was finally formed in 1654. The main achievement of the so-called Pereiaslav Treaty was severing any ties with Poland. Before that, in spite of all the victories, Khmelnytsky had to take into account every time certain clauses that tied up Ukraine, one way or another, to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The year 1654 was an important stage in the development of Cossack statehood – Khmelnytsky announced to the world that Ukrainians were no longer Poland’s subjects. Yes, Ukraine accepted the Moscow tsar’s protection, but we should not forget that there had been the Turkish sultan’s protection before. After Pereiaslav, Ukraine kept the main attributes of independence intact: hetman, in fact the head of state; its own administrative apparatus, army, diplomacy, and finances. Ukraine formed no joint governmental or other institutions with Moscow.




“But Moscow viewed this treaty as a way to devour our country. Having seen this very soon, Khmelnytsky entered into a new alliance – with Sweden, Brandenburg-Prussia, Transylvania, Protestant Lithuania, and Moldova. This Black Sea-Baltic alliance was a cordon sanitaire of sorts between Poland and Muscovy. What is more, Sweden was in a state of war with Moscow. Can we imagine that a vassal forms an alliance against its suzerain? In other words, Khmelnytsky considered the Pereiaslav Treaty as a purely military action against Poland and did not take Moscow’s attitude into account. Aware of a rather unstable domestic situation in the Cossack state, Khmelnytsky thought it necessary to transform hetmanship and make it hereditary in order to ward off any destructive claims to power. But, unfortunately, he failed to carry out the dynastic project in his lifetime. Instead, the political vision of senior Cossack officers (starshyna) got the upper hand – Ivan Vyhovsky concluded the Hadiach Treaty, in fact an oligarchic project, with Poland. Elective hetmanship, which the majority of senior Cossack officers supported, was confirmed in 1710 by Pylyp Orlyk in his Pacts and Constitutions of Rights and Freedoms of the Zaporizhian Host. This document seals the supremacy of oligarchic republicanism over the idea of hereditary hetmanship and an independent state. In fact, the Cossack starshyna continued to favor elective hetmanship and the autonomous-federalist vision of the history of Ukraine. Although there were attempts to consider the concept of a hereditary hetmanate also after Khmelnytsky, they did not succeed. Among those who worked on this were Samoilovych, Mazepa, Rozumovsky, et al.”


We can also hear echoes of the political elite’s autonomist-federalist concept in the 19th century, when the intelligentsia, composed to a large extent of the Cossack starshyna element, comes out on the sociopolitical arena. Its ideology, absorbed during quite a long period of the hetmanate (until 1764), was essentially autonomist-federalist rather than independence-oriented.

“Following the Great French Revolution, Europe began to think that a nation is represented by not only the nobility, but also the third estate. Society entertains the ideas of human rights, civil society, the vision of the world as a federation of free communities, etc. These ideas were spreading in Ukrainian society thanks to Mykhailo Drahomanov. This resulted in the fusion of the traditional autonomist-federalist concept and the ‘progressive’ European socialist ideas. Drahomanov believed that national liberation was only possible in a close revolutionary alliance with Russia and resolutely opposed ‘Ukrainian separatism.’

“The first independence-minded politicians in Ukraine began to emerge in the late 19th century. A group of people, including Mykola Mikhnovsky, formed the Revolutionary Ukrainian Party (RUP). Independence-oriented tendencies emerged in both the socialist milieu (where Dmytro Dontsov was the key figure for some time) and the conservative circles represented by Viacheslav Lypynsky. They coexisted at a certain stage. Lypynsky promoted this independence-oriented tendency through a group of Ukrainian socialists. The First World War period saw the formation of the Ukraine Liberation Union based on the somewhat modified views of Lypynsky. The program of this organization broaches the problem of a political system – the independent Ukrainian state must arise as a constitutional monarchy.

“Incidentally, it is no accident that later, in the 1930s, there were attempts to establish contacts between the OUN and former Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky. We should also remember that, although Lypynsky was rather skeptical of Dontsov, they tried to cooperate in the pre-revolutionary period. Later, during WWII, Skoropadsky strongly advised the Germans to free Bandera. Skoropadsky’s son Danylo, who died in 1957 in London under mysterious circumstances, also sought contacts with the OUN. A very similar death awaited Lev Rebet, a member of the OUN leadership. It is not difficult to guess which side could treat cooperation between the OUN and the hetman’s people as a potential threat to itself. Olena Skoropadska, the daughter of Ukraine’s last hetman, told me that, in her opinion, the death of her brother, quite a healthy and relatively young man, was not accidental.

“The autonomist-federalist and nationalist independence-oriented tendencies in the Ukrainian movement always fought one another, which led, in particular, to a split in the RUP. Finally, Mikhnovsky formed his own independence-oriented Ukrainian People’s Party, while the RUP transformed into a social democratic entity. This struggle lasted until the February 1917 Revolution which showed that Ukrainian politicians, above all, socialists, were absolutely unprepared for building a real state. The UNR was proclaimed as late as November 1917, when the Bolsheviks had already seized power in Petrograd. It was a paradoxical situation: the Central Rada proclaims the UNR – only as part of a federative Russia. The question is: which Russia? The democratic Russia personified by the Kerensky government no longer existed. The Central Rada did not seem to recognize the Bolsheviks as a legitimate government. So which Russia were they going to form a federation with?

“The UNR ideology propounded by Hrushevsky and Vynnychenko reigns supreme in the minds of many Ukrainians, including the powers that be, even today. The proof of this is, in particular, the policy about monuments, renaming streets, etc. It is with great difficulties that we managed to persuade the city authorities to put up a memorial plaque in honor of Lypynsky on the wall of what is now Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University’s Institute of Philology, the former Kyiv First Gymnasium, where he studied in 1900-02, and to rename a Pecherskyi district street after Skoropadsky.”


“The international situation in 1917-18 demanded that Ukraine become a subject of international relations. For when the Ukrainian delegation came to participate in the Brest peace negotiations, the Germans noted that the UNR was not an independent state and a subject of international relations. Only when Muravyov was near Kyiv did the Central Rada issue the Fourth Universal that proclaimed Ukraine’s independence. It was admitted in the preamble that the UNR was forced to proclaim itself an independent state under the pressure of circumstances. But even the Fourth Universal comprised an intention to get back to the idea of a federation in the future! Mykhailo Hrushevsky and Serhii Yefremov continued to publish articles that carried the slogan ‘through independence to federation.’ All this proves that the Ukrainian elite were not mature enough at the time to understand the necessity of performing the function of the builder of a Ukrainian nation state.

“On the other hand, all factions of the Russian political class, from monarchists to socialist radicals, such as Lenin, showed a striking unanimity in not accepting Ukrainian independence. The Russian scholar, Slavicist, Aleksei Shakhmatov was in contact with Hrushevsky and other Ukrainian figures, repeatedly voiced his support for the Ukrainian printed word, and prepared encyclopedic publications on the history of the Ukrainian people. But when the Ukrainian public and political activist Petro Stebnytsky turned to him for support after February 1917, the liberal Russian academic refused – he could not accept even the Ukrainian autonomy the Central Rada adhered to, let alone independence.

“Very few people in Russian society unreservedly recognized the Ukrainian nation and its political rights. The events of today confirm this tendency again. ‘Ivan will never embrace Vaniukha,’ Dontsov wrote. There was, is, and will be no brotherhood, there is only deceit. Unfortunately, our society managed to understand this only when a war with Russia broke out. History proves that national liberation is only possible if you have a state of your own.”

What is the attitude to your historical views in academic circles? Do you feel any resistance?

“It is difficult to say because I am not in general trying to actively spread my ideas. I’m just working in my field. At the same time, I must say that professional researchers of Lypynsky or Skoropadsky often arrive at wrong conclusions. For example, they allege that Skoropadsky ‘invited’ the Germans, that he was a tsarist general and a landlord and, hence, the enemy of Ukraine, that he issued a federation-oriented decree and turned Ukraine over to the ‘tender mercies’ of Russia. But, as is known, it is the UNR leaders who were federalists, so these accusations against Skoropadsky on the part of UNR ‘adepts’ look strange, to say the least. The uprising against Skoropadsky was not caused by the publication of the decree, which was a forced step – it was fomented well before it. In spite of the Ukrainian socialists’ destructive activities, Skoropadsky managed to draw up an agrarian reform rated by experts as the most democratic in Europe. A general conscription was announced in early 1919. He introduced a hard currency in the seven and a half months of building the Ukrainian state. Later, the UNR exiles feasted on this money for years.

“The more attempts are made today to drop this UNR ‘rot’ (regretfully, I can’t find a better word), the better. Those people argued furiously that an alliance with Russia was a boon to Ukraine. But these are two incompatible systems in terms of civilization. Ukraine as a national entity was formed above all on the principle of private property, while the commune had always dominated in Russia.”


What is your personal story of acquaintance with the figure of Viacheslav Lypynsky? What did it begin with?

“My father, Ilarion Tereshchenko, an economist by profession, was for a long time on the staff of the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. He was an assistant to the Academy’s President Oleksandr Palladin, the chief of the Academy’s finance and planning department, and was in close contact with many interesting people. In the postwar years he organized a branch of the Academy of Sciences in Lviv. Mykhailo Vozniak, Ilarion Svientsitsky, father and son Vasyl and Stepan Shchurat worked there at the time. The latter often visited us in Kyiv. Father knew Olena Stepaniv, a Ukrainian Sich Riflemen figure, with whom he has communicated well before she was arrested and deported to a Mordovia prison camp.

“Father also made friends with Khomiak, director of the Shevchenko Scientific Society’s library, who presented him with a library from his house on Marketplace Square. Thanks to this, I had an opportunity to read 10 volumes of Hrushevsky’s History of Ukraine-Rus’, Vozniak’s History of Ukrainian Literature, works by Ivan Krypiakevych, and a series of other books, including Lypynsky’s Letters to Brothers-Agrarians. On the Idea and Organization of Ukrainian Monarchism. I can remember that the title immediately astonished me, but did not hasten to read it. The book would have perhaps remained on the shelf, if fate had not brought me in contact with Vololdymyr Holobutsky, a brilliant historian ostracized by Soviet functionaries. We got in touch. I married his daughter and made friends with his son Petro who has, unfortunately, departed this life. Holobutsky came from the Chernihiv region and was once a pupil of the well-known historian Boris Grekov. His father was a psalm-reader and mother was of a noble origin. He was forced to invent a ‘right’ life story but still remained totally out of the Soviet context. It is at his home that I first saw Lypynsky’s Ukraine at the Turning Point. When I read Lypynsky’s appraisal of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, my entire spiritual world changed forever. It was a sharp contrast to the position of Hrushevsky who in general noticed no constructive actions during Khmelnytsky’s hetmanship. Lypynsky saw what nobody else did. Then I, naturally, read Letters to Brothers-Agrarians. This is how I began to enthuse about Lypynsky.

“Later, there emerged the American Ukrainian historian and political scientist Jaroslaw Pelenski who published the first volume of Lypynsky’s correspondence (from A to Zh). Then my wife, historian Tetiana Ostashko, and I found in an archive letters that dated to the last two or three years of Lypynsky’s life. We decided to publish them together with the entire invaluable epistolary heritage of this outstanding Ukrainian thinker and sociopolitical figure. And there is still a lot of work to do.

“The letters we found show that Lypynsky in no way lost his mental equilibrium in the twilight of his life in spite of a serious illness. The allegations of some researchers that he quarreled with Tomashivsky, Nazaruk, and Skoropadsky due to his illness are absolutely not true to fact. The simple truth is that politicians could not reach his level of spirituality and principledness. He was a morally pure person who never abandoned his vision of Ukraine’s future. Lypynsky’s mind remained serene until the last moment in spite of all sufferings, and all his thoughts were focused on Ukraine only.”


What do you think about the role and mission of constitutional monarchy in today’s world, and do you see any prospects of this political system in Ukraine?

“I am convinced that the general public will not accept the idea of hetmanship, for it is something unusual and exotic. It seems to me that various social strata can find a point of contact here. ‘Long live Ukraine with hetman at the head!’ is the slogan that rang out in the February days of 1917. And the hetman came after all, although Lypynsky had not even formulated his concept of a hetmanate. It was up to the Ukrainian soim (parliament) to decide on the form of this hetmanate.

“The same may happen today under certain conditions. For it is not accidental that presidents hold the mace as a symbol and take an oath on the Gospel. This is the way power is sacralized. The presence of these moments in our secularized world means that they are extremely durable. It is the Ukrainian hetman-oriented tradition which is alive but needs to be seriously reinforced. It is clear that we cannot convene an assembly of sorts and immediately choose a candidate to the throne. Obviously, it is necessary to begin with forming certain institutions and popularizing the very idea of this.

“There is hardly anybody to deny that the Britons’ feelings toward their monarchs are quite sincere. But Britain has a certain tradition. ‘Her Majesty’s Navy,’ ‘Her Majesty’s Theater,’ and other institutions are personified with monarchic dignity. Besides, the monarch has a very limited impact on political affairs, with parliamentary democratic institutions deciding everything. Monarchy keeps a certain balance in society. For this reason, it is just impossible for a rogue or a fanatic to emerge at the head of a British government. The monarch has all the necessary instruments to prevent the political system from changing. In such cases, he or she can exercise their power directly. ‘Her Majesty’s Navy’ and ‘Her Majesty’s Air Force’ are not just empty words.

“In the book Ukraine and the European World I draw parallels between the Cossacks as personification of Ukraine and the gentry as personification of Britain. The gentry are a new noble class that emerged approximately in the same historical epoch as the Cossacks did. Both the gentry and the Cossacks were landowners and ran rather strong businesses, but they only used free hired labor, not serfs. It is no accident that a British researcher called Ukrainians ‘Britons of the East.’

“It is thanks to the monarchic approach to state-formation that Japan still exists and prospers. There are many other similar examples. Monarchic institutions show their viability and perform an important societal function. I am sure this system would not harm our country either – it would only strengthen Ukrainian society and state.”


Yurii TERESHCHENKO is a professor, Doctor of Sciences (History), head of the Department of the History of Ukraine and Foreign Countries at the Kyiv National Linguistic University. Graduated from the History Faculty of the Kyiv Taras Shevchenko State University. Worked at the Institute of History (National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine). Author of about 200 scholarly publications, including The Treasures of Historical Traditions: Essays in the History of Ukrainian Statehood (2011), A Ukrainian Patriot from the Habsburg Dynasty (1999, in co-authorship), Viacheslav Lypynsky: Epistolary Heritage (1996, in co-authorship), Ukraine and the European World: Essays in History from the Formation of an Ancient Kyivan State to the Late 16th Century (1996), A History of Ukraine. Book 1: From Ancient Times to 1917 (1995, in co-authorship), A History of Ukraine from Ancient Times to the Establishment of an Independent State (1993, in co-authorship), The Great October and the Making of a Socialist Economy in Ukraine: an Essay in the History of the Economic Policy in 1917-1920 (1986), Political Struggle in the Elections to Ukraine’s City Dumas in the Period of Preparation for the October Revolution (1974). Initiated the establishment of the all-Ukrainian civic association “Union of Hetman State Supporters” in 2000.

(To be continued)