Academic journal article Kritika

Ukrainians, Cossacks, Mazepists

Academic journal article Kritika

Ukrainians, Cossacks, Mazepists

Article excerpt

Viktor Brekhunenko, Kozaky na stepovomu kordoni levropy: Typolohiia kozats 'kykh spil'not XVI--pershoi polovyny XVII st. (Cossacks on Europe's Steppe Frontier: Typology of Cossack Communities in the 16th and First Half of the 17th Centuries). 504 pp. Kyiv: Natsional'na akademiia nauk Ukrainy, 2011. ISBN-13 978-9660258440.

Zenon Kohut, Making Ukraine: Studies on Political Culture, Historical Narrative, and Identity. 340 pp. Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press, 2011. ISBN-13 978-1894865210.

Tat'iana Tairova-Iakovleva, Ivan Mazepa i Rossiiskaia imperiia: Istoriia "predatel 'stva" (Ivan Mazepa and the Russian Empire: A Story of "Betrayal"). 528 pp. Moscow: Tsentrpoligraf, 2011. ISBN-13 978-5227025784.

This review's title is deliberately at variance with Andreas Kappeler's 2003 article on the position of Ukrainians in the ethnic hierarchy of the Russian Empire. This informal order in Russia, as in other premodern multiethnic empires, was based on criteria of political loyalty, estate, and social and cultural affiliation. The stratification of Ukrainians made it possible to attribute them to different categories: khokhly, mostly peasants; malorossy, Russian-speaking Ukrainians loyal to the Romanov dynasty; or Mazepists (mazepintsy), those forging Ukrainian cultural and national identity. Kappeler noted that all these categories were interwoven, and the position of Ukrainians in the Russian Empire was therefore extremely complex. (1)

This complexity represents a key subject for several recent publications about early modern Ukraine. In particular, the Cossack past, construed as a historical precursor to the contemporary Ukrainian state, plays a crucial role both in scholarly debates and in the national narrative. (2) The issues of loyalties, identities, and cultural, religious, and political entanglements are also of key interest, and they occupy a prominent place in the studies under review here. (3) Writing in Canada, Ukraine, and Russia, the authors are acclaimed experts in early modern studies, and their new publications strengthen, advance, and sometimes revise their own earlier work. Collectively they offer a broad spectrum of approaches and methodological insights and show how complex and controversial research in Ukrainian history can be.

In a volume encompassing 12 articles published between 1977 and 2006 and three new studies, Zenon Kohut focuses on elite culture, predominantly in the 18th century, and on identity transformations. (4) The book spans the whole modern era from the 17th through the 20th centuries. Kohut offers a revisionist view on some positions and concepts declared in his previous publications and stresses that the construction of the modern Ukrainian state and nation began in the early modern period (xi). Working with the same sources, he emphasizes new aspects: for instance, in his reading of the famous 17th-century Kyivan Synopsis. While Kohut previously delineated the linkage between Ukraine and Russia through dynasty, religion, state structure, and ethnicity, he now refers to this text as an address to "all the Slavs, not to any specific East Slavic people or nation" (xii). (5) Kohut's novel emphasis on proto-nationalist and nationalist movements is linked to an acknowledgment of the multiplicity of trajectories leading from the Ruthenian to the contemporary Ukrainian nation. This variety of paths, often interwoven and complex, are the focus of Kohut's book. For the 17th and 18th centuries Kohut defines two competing state-building projects: the Hetmanate and the Russian Empire. He identifies a major conflict between the idea of the centrally regulated absolutist monarchy and the notion of Little Russian "rights and liberties." For Kohut these were two incompatible poles, and the clash was inevitable.

In this regard, the analysis touches on the classical question of whether contemporary Ukraine can be considered "a non-historical nation. …

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