Friday, February 15, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Ukraine, Not Russia, Successor of Kievan Rus, Yushchenko Advisors Say

Paul Goble

Baku, February 15 – Kyiv is set to challenge two of the holy of holies of Russian national identity: a group of advisors to President Viktor Yushchenko says in a special report that Ukraine is the true successor to Kievan Rus’ and that Ukrainians have always been a separate nation rather than “a by-product” of Russian development.
Late Wednesday, the New Region news agency released a report about the contents of a paper prepared for Yushchenko by the Kyiv National Institute of Strategic Studies under the direction of the president’s secretariat that the president is slated to use in a speech to the Ukrainian parliament (
The paper’s arguments have already sparked outrage in the Russian blogosphere, are certain to infuriate many Russians inside the Moscow government and beyond, and will further complicate relations between Moscow and Kyiv. Indeed, that may force Yushchenko to avoid making some of them at least in as direct a way as the report does.
But because the institute’s position reflects the thinking of an increasing number of Ukrainians – indeed, most of its contents have long been common ground of Ukrainian intellectuals – it deserves close attention regardless of what Yushchenko does with it. Fortunately, the New Region report includes extensive quotations from it.
According to the institute, “Russian theoreticians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries developed and Soviet ideologues extended the notion that the Ukrainian people is ‘a byproduct’ of historical development which arose as a result of alien Lithuanian-Polish-Austrian intrigues.”
The Russian people, these Moscow ideologists said in the words of the Kyiv report, is “the heir of Kievan Rus’,” “a great people” – “’god bearing’ in tsarist times and ‘the bastion of the world revolutionary movement’” in Soviet ones – and thus has the special role of “savior of humanity.”
“Over the course of centuries,” the report continues, “Ancient Princely Rus’ was conflated with contemporary Russia.” And it says that Russians who dos so also insist that the formation of the Ukrainian ethnos “occurred much later (not earlier than the 14th century)” and has always wanted “to reunify with the great fraternal Russian people.”
Such views, the report continues, continue to be disseminated “in the information space of Ukraine” via “Russian television programs and popular music where the central theme is ‘Russian valor and glory,’ Soviet symbols, the names of Ukrainian villages and town, which even now glorify the people and events of the imperial and totalitarian past.”
Moreover, it says, “researchers and instructors with a post-Soviet and pan-Slavic type of thought” not only keep such historically incorrect views alive but spread them to the next generation of Ukrainians to the harm of their nation and their state, preventing them from overcoming the Russian and Soviet past.
Ukrainians have written and spoken a great deal about the “unprecedented” physical traumas their nation suffered in the past, but they have focused less attention on the equally or even greater ideological trauma that Russian and Soviet rule inflicted upon them.
Now, the authors of the report say, it is time to insist on the restoration of historical truth, to recognize and proclaim that Kievan Rus’ was the forefather of Ukraine rather than the foundation stone of Russia and that Ukrainians are and have always been a separate nation not an offshoot of the Russian one.
As a first step in that direction, they continue, “the calendar of state holidays, the toponymy of Ukraine, and the memorial symbols of is cities and villages must be decisively cleansed from ‘the relicts’ of the Soviet period” which “glorify events that for Ukrainians were tragic and the names of the killers of the Ukrainian people.”
In addition, the authors of the report argue, Ukrainians must recognize that both Ukrainian-Russian bilingualism and Ukraine’s continuing in the “’canonical territory’ of Moscow Orthodoxy” fundamentally contradict the Ukrainian national idea and must be overcome.
It is unlikely that Yushchenko or his government will choose to advance all of these ideas all at once. Indeed, one of the tasks of such papers is to lay out an issue in the starkest terms rather than define precisely what political leaders with their own sense of the possible will choose to do.
But the circulation of these ideas at the highest levels of the Ukrainian government today suggest that more and more Ukrainians as they move to integrate with the West are prepared to challenge Russian historical conceptions that ignore the historical record and denigrate their national dignity.

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