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Wolodymyr Golash

Under a foreign yoke
Mykhailo Drahomanov and his article “Lost time” are still relevant today
#24, Tuesday, 29 July 2008

The life of the prominent 19th-century Ukrainian thinker Mykhailo Drahomanov-and especially the reception of his colossal intellectual heritage by his contemporaries and subsequent generations-is a stunning example of the relevance of a law that was discovered long ago. According to this law, average people always try to curtail or “clip” the works of great individuals in such a way as to make their lofty thoughts conform to certain predefined doctrinal patterns and keep them within the strict limits of prefabricated dogmas.

Drahomanov’s writings, however, are still mightier and much more complex than any stereotypes, an overabundance of which has been construed in the 113 years since his death.

Here is a vivid example of one of these stereotypes: it has been claimed that Drahomanov was indifferent, or even hostile, to the ideals of Ukraine’s national liberation throughout his life, and the 20-th-century radical Ukrainian thinker Dmytro Dontsov was one of the most ardent defenders of this thesis. According to Dontsov, Drahomanov was ostensibly a liberal, a federalist, and a cosmopolitan by conviction. This alone meant that he could not have been a consistent advocate of an independent Ukrainian state.

Furthermore, Dontsov sharply criticized Drahomanov’s “socialist illusions” as a bygone and extremely harmful stage of our liberation movement. Nevertheless, even a cursory but unbiased reading of Drahomanov’s works convincingly shows that such rash, tendentious, and largely politically motivated conclusions are at variance with the conceptual output of this social thinker, who was arguably second only to Taras Shevchenko in 19th-century Ukraine.

Drahomanov was a true European in the highest sense of the word. He had a perfect command of the main European languages and the languages of classical antiquity, and a large number of his writings were devoted not only to Ukrainian history and folklore but also to problems of ancient, medieval, and modern world history.

Drahomanov always emphasized that the policy of the immediate separation of Ukrainian lands from the imperial entities to which they belonged (Russia and Austro-Hungary) and transformation into an independent state was not feasible. However, this does not mean that he was a “non- national” or “anti-national” thinker, as his political adversaries claimed. Convincing proof is found in Drahomanov’s unfinished article “Lost time: Ukrainians in the Muscovite Tsardom (1654-1876)” which has not lost its relevance today.

The article has an interesting background. It was first issued as a separate publication in Lviv 14 years after the author’s death in 1909. Mykhailo Pavlyk, the Ukrainian writer, publicist, and public figure, wrote a preface to “Lost time,” suggesting that the brochure containing this article could serve as an introduction to a fundamental work on the history of Ukraine’s political, cultural, and social relations with Russia, a work that Drahomanov planned to publish in the sixth issue of the almanac Hromada . (Unfortunately, his plan did not materialize.) The title of the work alone explains why “Lost time” was strictly banned in the Soviet era. The article was first published in a one-volume collection of Drahomanov’s works only in 1991.

What makes this article so relevant today? First of all, it is hard to find a more convincing rebuttal of the conception of Ukraine and Russia’s “common past.” (Of course, the interpretation was that this common past obliges our two nations to meld in spiritual or, even better, political unity in a single state.) Even today this conception is very popular in certain Russian political and sociological circles. In Drahomanov’s day this theory was patently monarchist in character, while today it fits the modern liberal-imperial spirit of the Putin-Medvedev ruling elite. How truthful is it? Let us take a closer look at Drahomanov’s article “Lost time.”

At the very beginning of his article Drahomanov expresses the following (correct) conviction: “To weep for the past and to want to restore it is always a futile thing, especially for us, the servants of the “common” Ukrainian people. We know all too well that what we want has never existed in the world, and it will only come in the future, when people become much wiser than today. However, we need to look back in order to know why things have become so bitter now and avoid making the same old mistakes again. Ukrainians need to take a careful look at their past and remember the last 220 years, back to the time when the Cossacks led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky submitted to the ruling hand of the “Eastern tsar of Moscow in 1654.” Then Drahomanov proceeds to discuss the essential issue.

“Learned people say,” the scholar continues with caustic irony, “that resistance to the Muscovite state and its ways was mounted only by stubborn militants, who did not want to know anything except knighthood, turncoats lured by the enemies of the Rus’ people, and people accustomed to unrest and desertion, shatost as they used to say.” One of these learned people, the famous Russian historian, Professor Sergei Solovev, spoke about “the nice life that Empress Catherine established in the steppes in the lower reaches of the Dnipro River after distributing the lands to landlords and foreigners.”

In his History of Russia from the Most Ancient Times Solovev claimed that “if the Cossacks had requested to keep possession of their lands, this would have meant that these regions, the so-called New Russia, would turn into a wilderness.” Drahomanov wrote with angry sarcasm and pain: “Of course, it follows from this that the empress had to send an army to destroy the Zaporozhian Sich! Our children are taught these views in schools and gymnasia, and they retain them in their heads without wondering whether they are really true or not, whether the Cossacks, like madmen, were doing nothing but thinking about how to establish a wilderness around them, whether everything that is good was indeed introduced by the tsars, who had to eradicate those mad ruffians, and, finally, whether we are truly living in clover now!”

What most astonishes the author of “Lost time” is that such views were frequently expressed by seemingly liberal-minded people rather than dyed-in-the-wool reactionary chauvinists. For example, Mikhail de Pule, a literary critic, historian, and publicist, wrote on many occasions that “it cannot be that throughout the expanse of the Russian empire there should be the same practices, and the practices of Moscow bureaucrats at that. But as soon as de Pule touched upon our Ukraine and wrote an article on the Horlenkos and Lomykovskys, enemies of Peter I and supporters of Mazepa, he immediately forgot what he himself had written about Muscovite practices.”

Indeed, de Pule believes that “with the exception of the Rus’ national roots and Orthodoxy, the Little Russian military community did not produce anything original, anything of its own creation: all the beginnings of its civic life and all its forms were Polish. Its independent existence was unthinkable: it had to be either under Poland’s rule or that of Moscow. But the fathers and grandfathers of Mazepa and Horlenko’s contemporaries did not want to be in Poland...But then a man of genius appeared on the scene (Peter I I.S. ) and he traversed all of Left- Bank Little Russia with other moskali (Muscovites). Only old, inveterate people-Mazepa, Horlenko, Lomykovsky, and suchlike- could fail to see the new Russian man in him. He was the kind of man whom the earlier Moscow had never produced, but it was easy for the Little Russians to go along with him after their higher circles tasted European citizenship through Polish mediation. Instead of Muscovy, a new Russia was being built, and instead of moskali a new, Russian people was in the making, deprived of provincial and ethnographical narrow-mindedness.”

We know all too well these surprisingly enduring historical myths, such as Peter the Westernizer. Preserving outward calm, Drahomanov suggests: “Let us look at what the situation really was in Ukraine after Cossackdom was abolished and what we received in its stead. If it turns out that Ukraine has not entirely wasted the last 200 years, is it really because the old indigenous practices were abolished and replaced with new ones, of Muscovite or St. Petersburg’s making?”

This statement is followed by an important, or perhaps even fundamental, tenet of the author: “It is hard to find people today who would not agree with the fact that all the affairs of a very large state cannot be governed by bureaucrats and by edicts handed down from distant capitals, without asking the opinion of the local population for which these edicts are written. Today even in the Russian Empire they have introduced county and city administrations to have at least minor things done by local people. They, rather than officials, know what is happening here today and there tomorrow.”

After this passage (which is directly applicable to us) Drahomanov explodes with wrathful sarcasm, bitterness, and anguish as he writes about a painful subject: “If this is so, what did we gain from suffering the cruelty of Peter I, the frenzy of Menshikov and Biron’s Germans, the stupidity of Paul I, the soldier’s brutality of Arakcheev, the cold self-will of Nicholas I, about whom Ukrainians cannot even say that these were ‘our own dogs that we ourselves raised’ because we had no one like Ivan the Terrible in the past. On their part, these lawless rulers and mutilators of human nature never considered us, Ukrainians, as their own people, and when the opportunity presented itself, they oppressed us, the so-called “brainless, stubborn khokhols ,” with more anger and less mercy than their own ‘Russian people.’”

This is why Drahomanov believes and this is of cardinal importance to us that the 200- year span of time when Ukraine was part of the Muscovite (later Russian) state was “lost time”-the age of barbaric violations of fundamental civic liberties and human rights. The scholar summarizes angrily: “Everything that was done by the tsarist government in Ukraine after Khmelnytsky until 1775, when the [Zaporozhian] Sich was destroyed, served the single purpose of putting an end to the ancient Ukrainian ways. How many stratagems on the part of the Muscovite boyars and the bureaucrats of St. Petersburg it took, how much torment the ordinary Ukrainian had to endure, how low big and small Ukrainian landowners had to bend and learn to inform on others-until they saw this happening only to admit later that all these ‘new’ practices were good for nothing!”

These lines could have been written only by a person who is deeply pained by the fate of his native land and knows the real price of the timeworn myth of the “glorious common past,” at the same time perceiving the weaknesses and flaws of his own people. Ivan Franko, who later in his life adopted a fairly critical attitude to Drahomanov’s writings, was absolutely correct when he wrote that Drahomanov “did not write a single word that did not pertain to living people, to life’s circumstances, and to those questions that, one way or another, broach the thoughts and feelings of the community around him. Drahomanov is best characterized precisely by that vibrant perception, that clever glance that always perceives the needs of the moment and knows how to find a fitting expression and an appropriate way to meet them.”

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