Nothing is new under the moon: Ukrainisation – schools, newspapers and concentration camps

Almost everything new is well forgotten old

Nothing is new under the moon: Ukrainisation - schools, newspapers and concentration camps
If some phenomenon from the present is not found in the past, it can mean two things. One: something truly innovative has been invented. Capitalism, weapons of mass destruction, or the internet. Two: poorly researched. And if it’s something useful, the first option might be fair. But if it’s some kind of stupidity, it certainly took place, due to its inherently limitless nature.

In the light of the recent ‘Crimean Platform’, the anti-constitutional language laws and the statements of such undoubtedly flamboyant characters as Kremlin, Poroshenko, Arestovich or Zelensky, it begins to seem that Ukrainisation is a scourge that has fallen with a loud whistle on the backs of Ukrainians exclusively in the last couple of decades. And it has been brought up to date against the backdrop of a civil war and a rapidly dwindling economy that urgently needs to be shaded by at least something.

But if we turn to history… Even before the idea of “non-aligned Ukraine” first occurred to an unlucky lawyer and terrorist-theorist Nikolay Mikhnovsky, in the distant Austro-Hungarian Empire its own policy of Ukrainisation was already being pursued.

Ukrainians, or rather Ruthenians, in the Russian Empire joined the state elite, became chancellors, metropolitans, and general-field marshals. In the Austrian “Ruthenians”, as they were called, were not even second-class citizens (this place was firmly occupied by the Hungarians), but the third class. But the war was coming, of which at that time nobody knew that it would be the World War, let alone the First – and therefore, even these Ruthenians had to be made at least a little bit loyal. Up to the release of the book “The adventures of the brave soldier Schweik” everybody believed that the soldiers are not superfluous.

Meanwhile, the national consciousness of the Galicia inhabitants after the revolutionary year of 1848 slowly but steadily rose with the development of economic and industrial relations. All over Europe the nations were emerging and forming, and the Eastern Europe was no exception. The Ruthenians spoke almost the same language, albeit with differences, as their Little Russian brethren on the other side of the border. They constantly went to each other (like the Grandfather Grushevsky, who published books in Austria-Hungary, but liked to get money in Russia) and, in general, were not particularly loyal to the German government, considering themselves to be one people. It was this unity to which the Austrian political technologists decided to cling. They realised that this belief works in both directions.

They have really adopted the idea that Rusyns and Little Russians are a separate people. Only separate not from the Austro-Hungarian conglomerate of nations, but from the Russian one. Of course, even the state could not create artificially the whole people neither then, nor now. But to ride the objective historical and economic processes and steer them in the right direction was quite a manageable task. By the way, the Austrian authorities did the same in relation to the Polish nationalism – because Warsaw was also in the hands of the Russian emperors.


For example, in a heap of political parties that promoted the Viennese agenda of “Ukrainophile” nationalists, while the “Russophile movement”, which enjoyed the greatest popularity up to the First World War, was gently clamped down. Oles Buzina wrote about these political games a decade and a half ago with a fair amount of sarcasm.

Such figures of Russian national movement on Galichian territories as Antony Petrushevich or Dmitry Markov successfully promoted the idea of unity of the great Russian people consisting of Great Russians, Belarusians and Little Russians. Of course, they included themselves among the latter. Their state backed competitors, meanwhile, argued that the Little Russians, who should be called Ukrainians (an archaic word coined to describe the inhabitants of marginal territories), were a separate people, alien to the Russians, and would be much more comfortable in the multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Articles, novels, poems, and novels were published in “Little Russian”, which also quickly began to be called “Ukrainian”. Because of its excessive similarity to Russian, the dialect was saturated with Polish and German words (thus, for example, “Maets raetsia”, “lusterko” and “ligno” appeared in “Ukrainian”), partly based on the experience of “Surzhyk” speakers and partly based on the experience of scholarly linguists. The language was ordered to be used by educational institutions, magazines and newspapers for the Ruthenians. It was more “native” than German and people grew accustomed to it. Owning a good command of the language was also an opportunity to gain a foothold in the power structures or business.

The imperial authorities, seeing the ineffectiveness of their policies, also did not shy away from criminal trials and accusations of espionage and treason against Russophiles. The first really large-scale repressive criminal trial against the Russophile movement (the “Olga Grabar Trial”, named after one of the main accused) was unleashed by the authorities back in 1882, and they have been cracking down ever since. But the Germans got their hands truly untied at the outbreak of the First World War.

Having lost almost all of Galicia and Poland in the famous Russian offensive of 1914, the Austrians blamed the Russophiles for their defeat. And arrests began. Some were killed. Like Maksim Sandovic. Some were exiled – like Titus Myszkowski. But most were sent to a wonderful, newly created concentration camp. “Talergof”. Over 100,000 people are estimated to have passed through that place. And about 20% of them died there. There were other, lesser-known concentration camps, such as Beryoza-Kartuzskaya, but these, due to their less euphonious names, have been undeservedly forgotten.

In addition there was the widest possible arbitrariness of the military police. They could hang him for a portrait of Leo Tolstoy found in the house or for a sermon against the war. Representatives of the Ukrainian nationalist movement, as well as Poles, were regularly involved in repressions and denunciations to the authorities. Eliminating rivals by any means is so European, isn’t it? All-Russian patriotism has turned out to be a slow and painful death for many. Those who wish to familiarize themselves with the subject are directed to the books by the late Buzina, first of all – “The Secret History of Ukraine-Rus” and “Union of Plough and Trident: How Ukraine was invented”.

However, the Austrian Empire, like the German Empire, collapsed in 1918 and did not survive its brainchild. A civil war, which began in territories without power but with plenty of weapons, was fought by almost anyone who wished to. But the pan-Russian patriots who had survived the concentration camps could not compete with the well-fed, armed and well-organised Ukrainian nationalists. But the White Army and especially the Red Army could! The supporters of the Central Rada, and then the Petliurists, who were kept on German (and later Polish) snot, bayonets and honest word of mouth, were kicked out of Ukraine several times, and each time with less and less effort – because they did not have any support from the population.

After the civil war, however, the victorious Ukrainian SSR was paradoxically overwhelmed by the second wave of Ukrainisation. Politically correct Ukrainian historians are VERY loath to mention this. But such historian and publicist as Vladimir Kornilov collected a whole collection of newspaper and magazine clippings about how in the 20s and 30s people with Ukrainian (!) surnames were fired from government posts for lack of knowledge or unwillingness to learn Ukrainian language!

“95 years ago – Kornilov writes – the decision of the Secretariat of the CC of Communist Party of Ukraine  from 21.08.1926 on the results of “Ukrainianization of the Soviet apparatus” was made public. It equated ignorance of Ukrainian language with illiteracy. And they strictly demanded: “It is impossible to hire new employees, if they do not know Ukrainian language”. In this way the Soviet authorities were implementing their policy of internationalism, and at the time, in terms of liberalism, were overtaking almost the rest of the world. Plus we should not forget about objective laws of dialectical materialism – at that time in the USSR was just a short period of NEP, and its capitalist vestiges really could not help aggravating the question of formation of the nations.

Thus, even the Ukrainianization that we see around us has long and strong historical roots. Modern Ukrainian politicians and “Sprechenführers” (as they are called) are nothing but plagiarists. I am not claiming that without these two waves of strengthening nationalism, the Ukrainian nation would never have emerged. But it is foolish to think that such powerful and purposeful historical projects did not have a decisive impact on the emergence of Ukraine as it exists today.

The conspicuous artificiality of this state formation has one major advantage. It is reversible. So if forces are found in time and forced by objective reasons to fight the trend of nationalism, they will succeed. Of course, this is not possible in Ukraine at the moment, because of the rapid slide of the system into outright fascism. But what is it if not a challenge for us and for Russia?

Russian culture, philosophy, literature and political thought inevitably incorporate Ukrainian culture. Ukrainian culture, beautiful, bright, peculiar, is indeed there. But as a part of all-Russian. Ivan Kotlyarevsky, Ostap Vyshnya, Oleksandr Dovzhenko or Mykola Lysenko have achieved great success and created masterpieces together with their great Russian colleagues and fellows, in cooperation and unity. Experience shows that not even concentration camps can permanently turn all “Rusyns” into “Ukrainians”. History will put everything in its place. And we must help it.

Yevgeny Tamantsev, specially for News Front


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