“Ukraine is not really a country.”—President Vladimir Putin, Russian Federation
“It is impossible to speak of a Ukrainian nation.”—Roman Dmowski Founder of Poland
In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson and the heads of the Allied powers listened to Roman Dmowski, founder of the Polish nation-state, speak on Eastern European affairs. Roman Dmowski’s speech led to the creation of the Second Polish Republic, and his speech was responsible for Poland gaining more territory than any military campaign in Poland’s twentieth-century history. Roman Dmowski believed that intelligent rhetoric and speech could achieve more for a nation than war and violent revolution. After all the failed Polish uprisings of the nineteenth century, Roman Dmowski proved the superiority of measured conservative political rhetoric to military power by making such an impression on his Western listeners. A friend to G.K. Chesterton, he was also awarded an honorary doctorate by Cambridge University after impressing leading British intellectuals in a series of lectures. It is my sincere hope that while trying to judge the political question of the present Ukraine crisis, President Professor Barak Obama follows in the lead of President Professor Woodrow Wilson, and lends ear to the founder of Poland. He will find, perhaps to his surprise, that despite what the current Polish government claims now, Poland’s Founding Father had more in common with the present stance of the Russian Federation than with the present stance of the European Union. This should give us all pause and especially compel us to cease insisting that every time someone speaks up in favor of President Putin’s views on Ukraine, he is “doing Moscow’s bidding.” Roman Dmowski, the Founding Father of Poland who struggled for independence against Moscow, cannot be said to have been “doing Moscow’s bidding.” We ignore him in the West at our own risk. It is my sincere hope that this translation, the first of several parts of Roman Dmowski’s work, finds its way—at the very least—to the State Department, and that the State Department gives it the same serious consideration that President Woodrow Wilson gave Roman Dmowski in 1918.
I. National Liberation
One of the most important dilemmas of our domestic and foreign policy is the Ukraine question. It is generally understood to be a matter of a nation which has awoken to an independent life in the XIX century, which has elevated its popular dialect to the honor of a literary language, and eventually achieved sovereign statehood. From this point of view, the creation of an independent Ukraine on the map of Europe is only a matter of time. This way of thinking is far too simplistic.
The Ukrainian question, in its present state, goes far beyond the dilemma associated with a local national group. The Ukraine question is actually far less interesting and less dramatic as a question of nationality, and far more interesting and dramatic as a question of political economy. The resolution of this question will determine the future balance of power not only of Europe, but of the entire world. The political-economic aspect, not the national aspect, must be understood in order to craft a policy position that is conscious of its’ aims. Ignoring political-economy, focusing exclusively on questions of nationality, Ukrainian politics will remain incomprehensible.
One must remark in general terms that the questions of national independence that the XIX century brought to the forefront and which the XX century has thus far dealt with effectively are neither as simple, nor as similar to one another as they appear at first glance.
A classic instance of national rebirth, and a model for others, are the Czechs. In a country within which only the populations of the small villages spoke Czech, while all of the other classes were German, a Czech national movement was born in the XIX century, which gave rise to a Czech literary language and a rich literary heritage, bringing honor unto itself with its excellent poets and scientists. It organized itself in an excellent manner in economic affairs, and excelled in production. Along the way, it won the cities and created a Czech social elite. It organized excellently in pursuit of its rights and interests and executed an amazingly energetic economics and politics, fully conscious of its interests, which gave unto the Czechs a premier role in the Habsburg monarchy; and upon the dismantling of this monarchy, achieved for the Czechs not only an independent state existence, but unity with Slovaks, Hungarian-Russia and a portion of lands generally Polish.
Such an imposing story of the rebirth of a nation, supposedly annihilated both politically and in terms of its very civilization, is extraordinary. We will find no similar example to that of the Czechs. We can understand the Czech example only if we recall to mind that Czechs, as a nation, had a long, thousand year history, and that Czech civilization was only destroyed in the XVII century, that in the XVI century, in the golden age of our, Polish civilization, our own poets wrote that the Czech language is older and richer than the Polish language. Such a long uninterrupted tradition and high form of civilization, which other nations awakening to life in the XIX century never had, gave the Czech national movement a rich inner content and became the principle basis of Czech development.
Parenthetically, one must add that the Czechs, at the height of their power, played a major role in the struggles against Rome, having played a great part in the Protestant Reformation and all of the clandestine unions that stood behind the Reformation. Czech statesmen have reinvigorated these clandestine unions of late, which has given them very intimate relations with dynamic forces in Europe and in America, as well as the energetic support of Czech affairs by these clandestine organizations. However, these ties have left a strong mark on their young nation-state and on the spirit of its politics, and the future may well show us that great troubles lie ahead for the Czech state on their account.
The matter of nationalities arose not only amongst peoples who were undergoing national rebirth, but in the public opinion of Europe on account of three principle causes: 1) the French Revolution, which brought to the forefront the question of nations existing independent of states and taking power over states, 2) the matter of the Polish nation, which preoccupied European public opinion for most of the first half of the XIX century as a matter concerning a historic nation, an independent civilization with its own rich political philosophy, yet without its own political state, and, finally 3) the romanticist literary movement, which focused on the spiritual richness of one’s own race, raising the banner of the traditions of one’s own people as a source of poetic inspiration and of the spiritual strength of a nation.
However, it cannot be said that the national movements which grew from these causes were the principle causes of national emancipation, of—how shall we say—the political careers of these nations. When nationalist ideas gained ground in European affairs in the XIX century, the diplomacy of the Great Powers understood that nationalist sentiments could, in many cases, be exploited in wars against their enemies. Nationalist sentiments were particularly exploited by the Great Powers in matters pertaining to the East, against Turkey. The Balkan nations principally gained their independence on account of the Great Powers’ aim to destroy the position of Turkey in Europe. The Great Powers, which partitioned Poland, understood in the XIX century that by stoking nationalist sentiments on the territory of the old Polish republic, they could actually weaken the Poles and reduce the territorial scope of the Polish nation. Thus, the Great Powers began to manufacture nationalist movements as a matter of political policy, using their own means.
A classic example of such manufactured national sentiment is the birth of the Lithuanian movement. Following the defeat of the uprisings of 1863-1864, the famous Milutinowski education organization plan in the Congressional Kingdom was aimed at wrenching all possible movements in the country from Polish influence; be they Russian speakers, Lithuanians, even Germans or Jews. This was the aim of segregating these elements into separate high schools, all of which, nota bene, were Russian.
Under this plan, the gymnasium in Mariampol was reserved only for the sons of Lithuanian speakers from the northern part of the Suvalk governorship. Additional lessons in the Polish language for Poles inhabiting this area were terminated and replaced by mandatory teaching of the Lithuanian language. The first Lithuanian language textbooks were printed at the behest of the government. Next, stipends were established for ten Lithuanians, graduates of the Mariampol school, at Moscow University. The first Lithuanian nationalist leaders were all graduates of Moscow University under these stipends. Only much later (without the support of the Russian government and against the views of the Russian government) did they transfer the locus of the national independence movement from the Kingdom to Koven, where they propagated national liberation mainly in the Christian Seminaries. Austria, for its part, had engaged in similar activities amongst the Russian population of Galicia much earlier. Prussia, at one time, even attempted to patent the Kashubian nationality and the Mazurkian nationality in Prussian patent offices; though they soon gave up exclusive rights to this “invention.”
In light of all of this, every matter of nationality must be looked upon from two points of view: 1) What is the actual content, what does a given nation actually possess in terms of unique ethnicity, in terms of language, civilization, and historical tradition? Is there really an historical, linguistic and civilizational unity in this nation? 2) Exactly who is attempting to organize this nation, and against whom, in a new nation-state?
Seen from the perspective of these two points of view, the Ukraine question appears to us exceedingly complex, and therefore very interesting.
II. Ukraine as a Nation
The word “Ukraine,” which up until very recently still meant the border lands of South-Eastern Poland has now, in political discourse, come to mean something completely different. In the contemporary view of the Ukrainian question, “Ukraine” is understood to consist of an entire territory, the people of which speak principally in Low-Russian, and a territory inhabited by almost fifty million people.
The East-Slavic riverbeds, known as Russian, initially differing little from one another, have now grown in population due to colonization of the areas from the Carpathians to the Pacific, and through the assimilation of the population. The particular differentiation of these people into High Russian, Low Russian and, let us add Bielo-Russian—took place only following the destruction and annihilation of the Great Kiev Principality by the Pecenegi. The languages of High Russian and Russian thus developed in the forest areas between the Volga and Oka, where the Slavic colonists gradually melted into the Finnish populace, and which—for two hundred years—remained under the rule of the Mongols. Eventually, High Russian became the language of the state of Moscow, later of Russia, and gave birth to great, rich and original literature.
As for Low Russian, this dialect remained the language of the south-west, which became more and more intergraded with the sphere of Polish rule. It became the dialect of the Southern Carpathians, who for a short time organized their own political union, the Halicka Kingdom, and, under the protection of Polish power, expanded ever East, past the Dniepr, from Red-Russia all the way to the Podole, to Kiev, to the Chernihov and Poltav regions, assimilating various ethnic groups along the way. Following the loss of these regions by Poland, and the subsequent partition of Poland, the Eastward migration of these groups continued nonetheless, all the way to the Black Sea, and the Low Russian language spread. Thus, we now understand whence emerged the large area in which this language is dominant.
The Low-Russian people differ from the High-Russian people not only in speech, but in the very fact that the latter colonized the forest regions and integrated with Finnish tribes, while the former expanded in the steppes, assimilating wandering inhabitants. These different historiographies necessarily caused the differences in the Low and High Russian languages. Another large difference results from the epic fate of the people there. When the one, remaining for a long time under Mongolian rule, developed under Mongolian influence, while the other came under the stronger or weaker influence of the West, of Poland, and to a large extent of the Church Union. In the end, it was pulled into the sphere of Roman Catholic influence. One could thus even say that the differences in character, in psychology, are actually far greater than the differences in language.
It must be noted that, amongst the various lands where one can encounter the Low Russian language, or, as it is today called, the “Ukrainian language,” there exist great differences in the natural environment, and even greater differences in the epic destiny of the peoples there. Beginning with the sub-Carpathian lands, which were already Polish over a thousand years ago, and from King Kazimierz I until the partition, were property of the Crown, which were never under Russian sovereignty and ending at the Black Sea areas and the territories which were colonized fairly late east of Poltav, which were never under Polish sovereignty, one could divide that the territory into one where Low-Russian (“Ukrainian”) is spoken, but where there are seven or eight different parts, each with a completely different historiography. Thus we see the source of the vast differences; spiritual, cultural and political, between each particular Low-Russian (“Ukrainian”) speaking tribe. Thus also the great lack of a common factor that brings national unity to these Low-Russian (“Ukrainian”) peoples.
The Ukrainian question stands squarely in contrast to the matter of all other national renaissances. In the case of most nations, one is dealing with several million people, all relatively homogenous, whereas in Ukraine, you are dealing with tens of millions of people who are heterogeneous and divided into vastly different territorial groups. Given this vast heterogeneity, it is impossible to speak of the existence of a “Ukrainian nation”—to use such a term would be the height of licentiousness.
Nevertheless, the very fact that a people exist who differ in language, custom, character, religion and ritual from their neighbors or even from those who inhabit their own lands, gives rise to the question which, under the proper conditions, arises in the arena of politics—whether they are motivated by the representatives of these peoples or by the machinations of foreign powers trying to take advantage of all of this with a view to their own interests. This was inevitable even in the territories where people spoke Low-Russian (“Ukrainian”), let alone the territories where High Russian was spoken. The problem came to fruition at one time, in the middle of the XIX century, in two separate locations. A movement for self-determination, taken up by a pure and altruistic people, seeking their own independent form of cultural and literary expression for their people, emerged at this time on the Ukrainian Zadnieprzansk. Its principle representative was the poet, Shevchenko.
It was no coincidence that his home was that particular land. Formerly the regions known as Chernigov and Poltava were the most stylish Ukrainian territories, the most racially beautiful and the most spiritually vibrant. This land produced, in the first half of the XIX century, the great writer, Gogol, who, though he wrote in Russian, expressed in his writing the spirit of Ukraine. This land remained the source of the Ukrainian movement within the Russian state.
The Russian government did not oppose this cultural and literary work, although it was rather unenthusiastic about it. Russia treated this movement as a regionalist movement. As for Poles; well—for obvious (anti-Russian) reasons Poles treated this movement with great sympathy and encouraged the movement to become more than a literary-cultural movement, but to transform into a political movement. The Polish desire was to defeat Russia. It was a logical desire. In a state in which the Russian element attempted to pour itself into everything, it was necessary—for ones’ own self-preservation, to encourage all movements aimed at national rebellion against Russia. Starting with the Uprising in 1863, with flags featuring not only the Eagle and the Pogon, but also St. Michael, and ending with the Russian Duma where, taking their bearings from the formation of a Polish club, the Ukrainian club was formed, there came to exist within the Russian state a sort of sympathy between Polish politics and the Ukrainian movement.
The second point, in which the Ukrainian question comes to the fore, is in the Austrian territories, in Eastern Galicia. There, the beginnings of the Ukrainian movement are absolutely different. There, the Austrian government manufactured a Rus-national question in order to weaken the Poles. As they used to say in Galicia, “Count Stadion invented the Rus.” This is evident insofar as the Rus movement was immediately a political movement, and any cultural or literary elements of the Rus movement were merely political afterthoughts.
This was a very clear, local problem, a problem of the Austrian state, encompassing Eastern Galicia and northern Bukovin; the Rus became a legally and politically acknowledged nation within Austria. Not everyone considered themselves as such: amongst the few groups considering themselves Polish (gente Ruthenus, natione Polonus), a strong group of Old-Ruses considered themselves to actually be Russian and used Russian in their cultural lives because they believed the Low-Russian (“Ukrainian”) language to be merely a plebian dialect. These activities were strengthened and supported by Russia all the way through to the war in 1914; Russia saw Eastern Galicia as its future territory.
It was only towards the end of the XIX century that people began to use the term “Ukrainian nation,” signifying those populating both the Eastern Galicia region and the south of the Russian state, and the “Ukrainian question” emerged as a dilemma about the political future of the lands inhabited by this nation. From that moment on, in the Austrian language, one notes the disappearance of the term “Rus” and the appearance of the term “Ukrainian.”
III. Ukraine in German Politics
The ease with which the Viennese political circles transformed the narrow, local notion of the Rus into the broad notion of Ukraine and thus transformed the internal and domestic Austrian question of the Rus into an international Ukrainian question is astounding. It would have been completely incomprehensible if not for the deep change which took place in our contemporary world towards the end of the XIX century in the situation of the Habsburg monarchy.
The Austro-Hungarian alliance, tied to the Germans for many years, transformed their alliance into a deeper, more unitary one which helped both the Hungarian and the German monarchy—threatened as they were by other nations—and gave them a strong level of support in the form of a German Reich. Secondly, the goal was to subject Austro-Hungarian diplomacy in terms of domestic politics to the dictate of the German Kaiser. This explains why all of the motions and activities undertaken by Austro-Hungary at the time, which could not be explained or understood by anyone in Vienna, were understood perfectly well in Berlin.
At the time, Pan-Germanic literature undertook the work to imagine for themselves a conceptual framework for a new state—the state of a great Ukraine. A German consulate was opened in Lvov, not for German citizen services, because there were no German citizens in such large numbers in Eastern Galicia, but for the express purpose of undertaking political cooperation with the Ukrainians, which in fact, was publically acknowledged. Another matter that came to light was the lively activity of the Germans in the Eastern Kres (Ostmarkenverein) and the groups the Germans founded there to combat Poles. It turned out to be the case that whenever the Ukrainian question came up, the center of gravity in these affairs constantly wandered from Vienna to Berlin.
The question arises now: why did the Germans, who had no Russian people in their state, take such a keen interest in the fate of the Russian peoples in Austro-Hungary? It could not have been some idealistic, altruistic desire to support a newly reborn nation, but rather was the direct result of German territorial ambitions. It was all about prosecuting the German interest—but against whom?
In the time leading up to the World War, the Germans looked upon Russia as an area to be dominated, an area to be exploited economically and a legitimate area of German political dominance. Even outside of the borders of Germany, Russia was often treated as a part of the German Empire. From this point of view, the Germans sought to weaken Russia both politically and economically: the German aim was to make Russia incapable of challenging Germany in any area.
At the end of the XIX century, Russia, who once saw the primary riches of the Low-Russian (“Ukrainian”) lands in terms of their excellent farm lands, began to eagerly exploit the large amounts of steel and coal there and build the basis of Russian industry on these lands. This industrial development was not only meant to serve the needs of the Russian nation, but for export to Eastern markets. For Germany, this meant not only a reduction of the Russian market for German exports, but also a new Russian competitor in the Asian market.
On the other hand, the Germans, towards the end of the XIX century, strengthened their position in Turkey and undertook the total subjugation of Turkey. The position of Russia was a great barrier to German ambitions, particularly the Russian position on the Black Sea and Russian access to the Balkans. All of these barriers and dangers to German imperial ambitions would be easily erased by the bold idea of creating an independent, huge Ukrainian state. Moreover, considering the cultural and national element of Ukraine as particularly weak, given the lack of Ukrainian unity, the existence of such vastly different ethnic groups within Ukraine, who had absolutely nothing to do with Ukraine, the large amount of Jews populating Ukraine, and finally the large amount of German colonists in Crimea and Chersonshchire—the Germans could be absolutely sure that the new Ukrainian state would be unable to muster its own united national policy, and remain under total and absolute German control, with German control of its economic production and of its politics. Thus, independent Ukraine was conceived and manufactured as an economic and political branch of the German Empire.
Russia, without Ukraine, would be without wheat and steal. Russia without Ukraine would remain a territorially large state, but an extremely weak economy. Russia, without Ukraine, would have no chance at economic independence. Russia, without Ukraine, would forever be dependent on Germany. Cut off from the Black Sea and the Balkans, Russia would no longer be able to affect German ambitions against Turkey and the Balkan states. These territories would come under absolute German control, and under the control of the German servants—the Habsburgs. From the point of view of German political aims towards Russia—the greatest achievement of German Imperial politics would no doubt be the creation of a large, independent Ukraine.
There were, however, another people—next to the Russian people—against whom the Germans hatched their Ukrainian plan in order to save German Imperialism.
When the Polish question, having arisen briefly in the second half of the XIX century, ceased to be of general concern in international affairs and became the internal affair of the three Great Powers who partitioned Poland, only German politics looked upon the Polish problem with open eyes. Germany did not share the optimism of the Russians and the Austrians and never ceased to fear the return of the Polish question to the international stage. Bismark did not hide this, and Bulov openly said that Germany is not only at war with “her Poles” but with “the entire Polish nation.”
Germans understood that the fast pace of progress in their political ambitions in the world would lead to a great war. Moments of great tensions between the Great Powers are characterized by the fact that matters which are silent and serene in peace time explode onto the international stage in war. The Polish question was not even that serene in peace time, and thus the prospect for its re-emergence was high. Towards the end of the XIX century, the movement towards Polish political rebirth picked up pace; it existed and was organized in all three of the partitioned spaces. On the territory of the three partitions, one giant national independence movement had been organized. As testimony of its political maturity, it spoke in a language of statesmanship that was truly political, one long unheard of on Polish lands.
The rise of Poland on the international stage, as a great nation, would be—for German imperial ambitions—a great failure. If it was not possible to simply annihilate the Polish nation, it was necessary to make Poland a petty nation, rather than a great nation. The simplest and most effective way to make Poland into a petty, small, ineffective nation—was to manufacture and create a nation called “Ukraine,” encompassing large swaths of Polish lands where the Russian language is spoken within Ukrainian borders.
Thus, for the German Reich, the idea of manufacturing a Ukrainian nation-state was a way to strike a massive blow against both Poland and Russia. This plan was executed on paper. That paper was the treaty, signed in 1918, in the Lithuanian Bres by an artificial ad hoc delegation of the Ukrainian republic and Germany, Austro-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria. It remained on paper because Germany, in 1918, was only powerful enough to enforce its imperial ambitions on pieces of paper. It remains today as a testament of the German Reich, awaiting that some Germans will arise to execute it in the post-war world.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. This is part one of a three-part series written by Roman Dmowski and translated from Polish by Peter Strzelecki Rieth. Part two may be found here.