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AN ORTHODOX LIBERATION MOVEMENT?

But the Khmelnitsky rising, remembered by Jews and Poles alike as so terrible, was remembered as glorious in the Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox world. Orthodoxy had been tolerated and had even flourished under Tatar rule both in Ukraine and in Russia but it had been persecuted under the Poles. Khmelnitsky's actual motives seem to have been more to do with personal grudges than any large nationalist or religious project but his rising mobilised the repressed Orthodox population and the resulting union with Russia was widely experienced as a liberation. In 1954, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union published 'twenty one theses' on the tercentenary of the 'Pereiaslav Agreement' between Khmelnitsky and the Muscovite government, hailing it as the union of Ukraine and Russia, though Khlemnitsky in fact turned against Moscow and allied wth Transylvania in 1656 when Moscow allied with the Poles against the Swedes. It was eventually Khmelnistky's son, Iurii, who renewed the Russian alliance, establishing the semi-independent but Russian aligned 'hetmanate', finally suppressed by Peter the Great after his victory over the Swedes in the Battle of Poltava in 1709. (9)

(9)  This account based on Frank E. Sysyn: 'The Khmel'Nyts'kyi Uprising: A characterisation of the Ukrainian revolt', Jewish History, vol 17, No 2, 2003.

The CPSU theses declared: 'In the war of liberation, the Ukrainian people were led by an outstanding statesman and soldier. Bogdan Khmelnitsky. The historic merit of Bogdan Khmelnitsky lies in the fact that, while expressing the age old aspiration and hope of the Ukrainian people - close unity with the Russian people - and while giving leadership to the process of building Ukrainian statehood, he correctly understood its purposes and prospects, realised that the salvation of the Ukrainian people could be achieved only through unity with the great Russian people and worked perseveringly for the reunion of the Ukraine with Russia.' (Sysysn: Khmel'Nyts'kyi Uprising,  p.117)

Leaving aside questions of historical accuracy one can imagine how Jews, given their traditional memory of the Khmelnitsky rising might have responded to this. It doesn't seem to show much respect either for the sensibilities of the Poles, newly incorporated into the Soviet sphere of influence.

Ukrainian national separatism also regards the rising in a generally positive light. According to the Wikipedia article on Khmelnitsky:

'In Ukraine, Khmelnytsky is generally regarded as a national hero. A city and a region of the country bear his name. His image is prominently displayed on Ukrainian banknotes and his monument in the centre of Kiev is a focal point of the Ukrainian capital. There have also been several issues of the Order of Bohdan Khmelnytsky — one of the highest decorations in Ukraine and in the former Soviet Union.

'However, with all this positive appreciation of his legacy, even in Ukraine it is far from being unanimous. He is criticised for his union with Russia, which in the view of some, proved to be disastrous for the future of the country. Prominent Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevchenko, was one of Khmelnytsky's very vocal and harsh critics. Others criticize him for his alliance with the Crimean Tatars, which permitted the latter to take a large number of Ukrainian peasants as slaves. (The Cossacks as a military caste did not protect the kholopy, the lowest stratum of the Ukrainian people). Folk songs capture this. On the balance, the view of his legacy in present-day Ukraine is more positive than negative, with some critics acknowledging that the union with Russia was dictated by necessity and an attempt to survive in those difficult times.'

It should perhaps be said that the actual effects of the Khmelnitsky rising on the Jews, though terrible, might have been less terrible than widely believed. A recent article by Shaul Stampfer of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem argues that the demographic evidence doesn't show the decline in population that a serious genocide would have produced:

'The Jews soon enough, if not immediately, recognised the danger and took steps to save themselves ... most Jews resorted to flight, which is the real reason why so many survived, to return slowly when calm was restored. Within a century, the demographic impact of the uprising was hardly visible. The chronicles, true to their purpose of evoking emotion and repentance, omit mention of this reconstruction.

'The number of Jewish lives lost and communities destroyed was immense. However, the impression of destruction was greater than the destruction itself. Had Khmelnitsky intended to slaughter Jews indiscriminately and as an end in itself, the number of victims would surely have been higher. What made the destruction loom so large was the knowledge that so many communities no longer existed. The chroniclers wanted to memorialise a lost world. The mid-seventeenth century was a terrible time for everyone in the Ukrainian lands; Jews were not the only ones to die, but they did suffer more than others ...' (10)

(10) Shaul Stampfer: 'What happened to the Jews of Ukraine in 1648?', Jewish History, Vol 17, No 2, 2003, pp.221-2. In an earlier footnote I reference Stampfer's questioning of the conversion of the Khazars.

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