UA-178267240-1
2019
Berlin/Zaporozhia

Zaporozhian Cossack Mythology As Political Agenda



Since the early formation of the Ukrainian nation and up until today, the representation of the Zaporozhian Cossacks has been reconstructed and redesigned, each time by a different group, to serve different political and personal agendas. At a time when the largest Lenin statue in Ukraine has been removed from its pedestal and replaced by a poster of a Cossack, it is becoming more and more difficult to see through the many layers of the Cossack’s remade image into what this phenomenon actually was.
This essay makes an argument about who the Zaporozhian Cossacks were and what their political and social impact was on the various stages of Ukrainian history, in order to understand how they are used in today’s politics. This essay attempts to separate the Cossacks’ mythology from their history by explaining what the Zaporozhian Cossacks were not, notwithstanding today’s new national identity that makes claims to the contrary. The Zaporozhian Cossacks were not representatives of the Ukrainian community and not Orthodox Crusaders. They did not fight for the Ukrainian people and were not at any point Ukrainian nationalists. Even though the Zaporozhian brotherhood was at times self-consciously Ukrainian, their members came from many different ethnic, religious and linguistic groups. This study challenges some of the traditional interpretations of the Zaporozhian Cossacks’ role in Ukrainian history as well as in the development of modern Ukrainian nationalism.


UKRAINE THE EARLY HISTORY
The territory that is considered today to be modern Ukraine has been populated since 32,000 BC. During the Middle Ages the area was a fundamental center of East Slavic culture, with the powerful state of Kievan Rus establishing the basis of Ukrainian identity.
The area described as Ukraine was mostly a plain on the direct route from the Southern Asian lowlands to the heart of Europa, meaning that it was also a buffer between Occidental and Oriental civilizations. From its early days Ukraine was a corridor for many migrations, such as Huns, Bulgars, Scandinavians, Mongols, Jews, Tatars, Turks, Poles, Russians, French, and Germans. Among these were also several distinct sub-ethnic groups, especially in western Ukraine.01 The most commonly known are the Hutsuls, Volhynians, Books, and Lemkos. On a large part of the Eurasian plain, nomadic tribes remained dominant well into the modern era.
Ukrainian nationality developed later than most European groups. Furthermore, the very existence of this nationality was constantly debated and at times even denied by the Russians and the Poles. The history of the Ukrainian national movement is, for the most part, the history of this struggle. The Ukrainian self-concept was created in resistance, each time to a different ruler: including the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom, Austria-Hungary, Muscovite Russia and the Crimean Tatar. The word—Ukrainian, in the sixteenth century, remained only a geographical and not an ethnic term. The oldest mention of the word Ukraina appears in the Hypatian Code02 that dates back to the year 1187. It was first used to define the territory of Kievan Rus.03 At that time, Ukraine contained people of different nationalities and groups—all of whom might be called Ukrainian.

01. Linda Gordon, Cossack Rebellions-Social Turmoil in the Sixteenth-Century Ukraine, State University of New York Press, Albany, 1983.