Volume 16 (1998)

The Image of Ukraine and the Ukrainians in Russian Political Thought (1860-1945)
Volodymyr A. Potulnytskyi

First generation
Second generation
Third generation


1. The Ukrainian perspective in Russian political thought was the perspective of the educated and nationally-oriented representatives of a major European, "historic" people. They were well disposed toward Ukrainians and had some knowledge of their history and local customs, but they considered them (like other "unhistoric," peasant peoples in the borderlands of the empire) to be incapable of independent political and cultural development. The brief comparison of the views of Ukraine of the representatives of the three "generations" in Russian political thought seems to be a good illustration of the range of possible modifications and, above all, possible ideological uses of the same national stereotype. In the frame of their generally opposed political doctrines their attitudes to Ukraine were quite similar in synchronic dimension. At the same time in diachronic dimension the comparison of the ideas of the representatives of three "generations" shows some kind of evolution in the whole of Russian political thought toward the deeper understanding of Ukrainian peculiarities.
2. Russian political opinion, since the second half of the century, when the national movement had acquired political meaning, considered any move away from the Russian language and culture to be already dangerous for the unity of the Russian nation. It was intensified by the fact that "the Malorussians" were perceived as a part of the Russian nation, and, also, the religious community was an important factor.
Nearly all the trends in Russian political thought recognized the cultural and linguistic individuality of the Ukrainians as a fact but did not attach any special importance to it. At the same time, the community of the lower strata of Ukrainian and Russian society was emphasized. The attempts of the Ukrainian authors to raise the Ukrainian language to a scientific level (e.g. P. Kulish) were rejected and perceived as an unnecessary separation.
3. The First generation mainly applied Count Uvarov's definition of "Official Nationality" to the whole population of Ukraine, and admitted that the Ukrainian culture and history can be developed only in the general framework of All-Russian culture. Second generation considered Ukrainians more like junior partners than equals. Russia was looked upon as moving faster and paving the way to modernity for Ukraine which lagged behind. The highest degree of theoretical analysis of the Ukrainian problem was achieved in the geopolitical doctrines of Russian emigration. They came close to the problem of the double Ukrainian-Russian identity and loyalty and made a difference among three notions of intelligentsia in Ukraine: Russians, Russified Ukrainians and national Ukrainians. Their level of evaluation of Ukrainian question demonstrates some similarity with the vision of Ukraine in the theoretical constructions of Ukrainian conservatives at the turn of the century. At the same time they did not imagined the Ukrainian language and culture beyond the All-Russian context a statement, renounced by Ukrainian political thought, represented mainly by Hrushevs'kyi, already at the end of the nineteenth century. In the vast majority of theses, the twentieth century experience of the Ukrainian position in Russian political thought can be directly projected on the nineteenth century.
4. All the trends in Russian political thought, from Russian conservative nationalists of the nineteenth century to the Eurasians of the twentieth century, wanted to use the Ukrainians and their culture in formulating certain conceptions of modern Russian nation. On principle, a tradition was preserved which already in the first half of the nineteenth century determined the position of Russian political thought: the Ukrainian theme was essential for formulating Russian identity as it was the instrument of argumentation; there was no "Ukrainophilism" as a self-sufficient goal. It follows from this that there was no sharp overturn to Ukrainophobia in Russian political thought of the second half of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. And this means that the change in Russian state policy in the second half of the nineteenth century did not result in an automatic change in the whole of Russian political opinion toward Ukraine.
The national cultural aspirations of the Ukrainians were rejected by the vast majority of the representatives of Russian political thought, since it seemed that these aspirations threw doubts on the unity of the Russian nation, which embraced the Great Russians, the Malorussians and the Belorussians. Thus, the Ukrainian problem became a key problem of Russian national identity.