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Stephen Velychenko. New Wine Old Bottle. Ukrainian History, Muscovite /Russian Imperial Myths and the Cambridge History of Russia

 

2013-09-19-velychenkoTolochko and Kasianov in their proposal for a new interpretation of Ukraine’s past review the inadequacy of existing concepts  and mention the Cambridge History of Russia as a model. In his review Halushko voiced reservations and  correctly reminds us that “…“… до цих термінологічних ігор треба ставитися дещо простіше, не надаючи їм надмірної ваги, адже «деконструкція понять» урешті позбавить нас понять узагалі. А люди не можуть існувати без понять. Тому треба шукати певного common sense. І не перетворювати вивчення минулого на обскурантистське заперечення сучасності.» He also draws our attention to the lack of a non-Russocentric history of Eurasia and doubts whether  Ukrainian historians and historians of Ukraine should use recent editions of the Cambridge History series as models.

Having read the Russia volumes of that series I also wonder why Tolochko and Kasianov think Ukraine’s historians should use them as a model for a new interpretation and consider them, like  some others in the series,  “максимально деідеологізовані” The Cambridge survey is obviously valuable because it does incorporate new information and new subjects into the Russian grand narrative. However, the survey’s grand narrative itself, or more precisely its conceptual structure, is hardly “de-ideologized.” Like all other histories of Russia it traces Russia’s past back to territories that were not part of Russia until the eighteenth century. How can a country’s history “begin” in lands that were not part of it “in the beginning” and are outside its borders in the present?  Thus, the volume contains no prehistory of the Volga-Oka basin, nor an explanation of why authors of surveys of Muscovite/Russian history today should ignore those beginnings or the relationship between this omission and Muscovy/Russian medieval myths about “Kyivan origins”.  The volume commendably does not cover “the south-western lands of Rus’”  when they formed part of Poland-Lithuania and does not refer to them as “western Russia.” But then, why include them before they became part of Poland- Lithuania? As when they wrote their article Tolochko and Kasianov only had access to volume 3, which covers the USSR,  they could not have known this. In light of their understandable omission, I think it  worthwhile to point out to those interested in this discussion on interpretive revision  that, despite its merits, the Cambridge Russia volumes are not quite “de-ideologized.”

The contributors presumably all agreed to the interpretive criteria delineated by  the editor in volume 1.

 I have chosen to use the dynastic-political criteria which operated in the period itself: thus, the volume focuses on the territories ruled by the Riurikid dynasty (the descendants of the semi-legendary figure of Riurik the Viking) from the tenth to the sixteenth centuries, and by their successors the Romanovs in the seventeenth…. This approach acknowledges the existence of a degree of political continuity between early Rus’ and Muscovy, without rejecting the claims of present-day Ukraine and Belarus (or the other post-Soviet states) to national histories of their own which are separate and distinct from that of Russia.

The first matter one might take issue with here is the reversion to medieval dynastic criteria  to delineate the boundaries of national grand narratives in the 21rst century. One might be grateful that the editors of other volumes in the Cambridge series have not adopted this approach and made claims of dynastic continuity into claims of political-historical  continuity. It is difficult to imagine, for instance, what a history of Britain written to such criteria would look like as the country had  six ruling families since 1066, none of them English, and its  Royal Marriage Act (1772) was designed to keep the royal family German. Prince Philip’s real last name, for those who have forgotten, is  Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg. Perhaps Princess Diana was so beloved was because she would have been the only English woman since Boadicea  to have been Queen.  I am not aware of any history of Britain/UK/England that begins in a German principality, nor of any history of Germany that includes Britain.

Having made their decision, the contributors  then use a contrived medieval dynastic claim, that with the election of Michael Romanov becomes an almost totally spurious claim, to justify a political-historical  continuity between a peripheral Rus principality and the Kyivan-Rus metropole.  Their history, as a result, like most every other History of Russia,  presents events in the Dnipro basin and Black Sea littoral  as a “first period” of  a political cultural unit whose center somewhere else -- the Volga-Oka basin. They then ignore that unit’s prehistory effectively leaving its inhabitants without an origins.  Kyivan Rus consequently is misrepresented as a “beginning”  rather than what is was, an influence on that unit, much like the Mongols or the Finns or the Swedes were an influence on it.

The earliest extant Muscovite/Russian chronicle written in the lands of the Volga_Oka basin is the Laurentian text of the Primary Chronicle (1377). Its narrative begins and then shifts away from the Kyivan centre after about 1180 and thereafter focuses instead on the Suzdalian periphery with no direct reference to any event or theory to justify or demonstrate why it does so. The text was based on compilations written in 1177 and 1193 at the command of Andrei Bogoliubsky and his brother and successor Vsevolod III. Both claimed political primacy in Rus' but did not move to Kyiv. They tried to win from Byzantium recognition of their town as the seat of the Rus' Metropolitanate and successor to Kyiv. To this end they instructed the prelates of the Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir to provide the necessary historical legitimation. Two resultant hypothetical codices were probably intended to prove to the emperor and the patriarch that Vladimir, and not its western rival Halych, was the “true” Rus'. The task of these Vladimir chroniclers was considerably facilitated by Bogoliubsky's foresight in bringing from Kyiv, which he sacked in 1169, a copy of the Primary Chronicle. This absolved Vladimir chroniclers of the need to provide a story of origins, as they could simply begin with the pre-1169 past of Kyivan Rus' already written in the Primary Chronicle. To explain how Bogoliubsky’s destruction and then retreat to Vladimir-Suzdal from Kyiv represented not a rejection but a continuation of Kyivan rule, the compilers resorted to the notion of  “translatio imperii” not dynastic right. These first Vladimir chroniclers attributed the sack of Kyiv to “punishment for their [Kyivan] sins,” thereby  implying and justifying according to the values of the time the claims of their prince. While historians  today can understand why medieval clerics writing for their prince in Kyiv’s northeastern periphery began their narrative from a metropole and then shifted their narrative to their peripheral Volga region, why should any of them  still today, and least of all non-Russians, still think in such terms? If we are concerned with applying “dynastic-political criteria which operated in the period itself” why give precedence to this one particular imperial Muscovite/Russian version of those criteria as if it were valid and there were no other versions?

      The tracing of the city of Vladimir’s  first appearance on the historical stage as far back as possible was dramatically expressed in the Sofiia I Chronicle (1456), which may have reproduced in part the Vladimirskii polikhron (1418?). Here, for the first time, the local prince Vsevolod III is called the ruler of “all the Rus' land,” while the city of Vladimir is given a history to 988. Many historians trace the subsequent Muscovite claim to primacy in Rus' and to the Kyivan inheritance to the end of the fourteenth century and literature dealing with the Kulikovo battle. The Troitskaia Chronicle (1408-9) in particular is cited as a major source of the new “imperial” ideology. There, for the first time in Muscovite chronicles,“Rus’” replaces “Muscovite” and “Suzdal land” as a term for Kyiv's old northeastern provinces. From that time, it has been argued, “Russkaia zemlia” for the Volga-Oka region elites almost always meant Muscovy. However almost all the known Kulikovo literature exists only in mid-fifteenth- and sixteenth-century copies, while the Troitskaia Chronicle was destroyed by fire in 1812, and the text used today is only a reconstruction, not a re-creation. Thus, the notion of Muscovite primacy in Rus'  could just as well have been asserted not at the end of the fourteenth, but at the end of the fifteenth century.  In the earliest known version of one of the works of the Kulikovo cycle, Zadonshchina, moreover, Moscow is still treated as one only one of several political centres in Rus' and its ruler as one of many rivals. This is one of the last expressions of an idea that, by the end of the fifteenth century, had disappeared from Russian historical writing.

Two pieces of evidence suggest the end of fifteenth century is the correct date. First, early chronicles written at the court of the metropolitan, who moved to Moscow only in 1326, had a definite pan-Eastern Slavic approach. The Moscow princes could be considered Riurykovyches but these chronicles never explicitly made this the base for claims about a Muscovite political primacy. The finest example of this is the Troitskaia Chronicle, which reflected a desire for Orthodox unity against the infidel and a willingness to accept Lithuanian leadership. Only after 1458, and the division of the old Rus' metropolitanate along the Lithuanian-Muscovite border, did the Moscow metropolitan became subordinate to the Muscovite Grand Duke and only then did chronicles sponsored by the metropolitan begin reflecting the Moscow Grand Dukes’ secular political interests. The merging of the earlier politically neutral pan-Eastern Slavic religious interest with particularist Muscovite political interest, in addition, displaced the established Muscovite chronicle writing that was limited to accounts of the ruling prince and his principality. Second, in the earliest known version of one of the works of the Kulikovo cycle, Zadonshchina, Moscow is still treated as one only one of several political centres in Rus' and its ruler as one of many rivals. This is one of the last expressions of an idea that, by the end of the fifteenth century, had disappeared from Musocovite/Russian historical writing. A full fledged theory of hereditary right, apparently appeared in  Muscovite/Russian chronicles for the first time only in 1456 in the Sofiia I Chronicle. This work includes a panegyric poem written in 1454 or 1455 as a routine synthetic genealogy. What was unique about this ode was that it traced the ancestors of the Muscovite prince back to Kyivan times, rather than terminating the lineage, as had been the practice before then, with the Vladimir-Suzdal princes.

If Muscovite  chroniclers commissioned by princes used dynastic links to justify political –territorial claims on all Rus’ lands,  does that mean that academic historians today should use that same politically inspired logic to incorporate  Kyiv Rus as a “first period” into their modern grand narratives of Russian history?  Is it logical, moreover, to trace  “Russian history”  to the banks of the Dnipro just because Kyiv once ruled principalities in what is now Russia? Analogous logic would lead American historians to claim that because what today is America was once ruled from London, American “national history” should begin on the banks of the Thames. British, German or French historians similarly, would claim that because what are now Britain, France and Germany were once ruled by Roman emperors, their respective national histories should begin on the banks of the Tiber.  Geoffrey of Monmouth,  for example, who wrote in the 1130s did  begin his history of Britain/Albia (Historia regum Britannia ) on the banks of the Tiber, just like Bogoliubsky’s clerics began their history on the banks of the Dnipro. But he wr in England his schema was disproved as myth in the seventeenth century. Thus, today we will not be seeing a Cambridge History of England that begins in Rome.

 Muscovite imperial claims were  influenced by rivalry with Poland-Lithuania. In 1481, ten years after the Duchy of Kyiv was abolished, Mykhailo Olelkovych, the last ruling Gediminite prince of Kyiv, was murdered by the Poles. The next year his closest relatives, the Belsky brothers, escaped to Moscow, where they began to encourage Ivan III to avenge his brother-in-law and claim his “rightful” lands. Ivan included “All Rus'” into his title in 1481, and six years later made the first explicit Muscovite demand for the Poles to recognize this addition as a legitimate part of the tsar's title. By this act Ivan III extended the notion of “all Rus'” to include not only the Rus' he ruled, but also the Rus' ruled by Lithuania. Against this background, Muscovite chroniclers then began to claim that their grand princes belonged to a dynasty whose roots went back not only to Vladimir/Volodymyr of Kyiv, but to the Roman emperors. Implicit in this major theoretical addition to the notion of “translatio imperii” was the idea that the lands once ruled by Vladimir of Kyiv  were the rightful patrimony of the Muscovite princes. The clearest expression of this “patrimonial theory” was formulated by Metropolitan Spirodon in his Skazanie o kniazakh vladimirskikh (1504-5?). According to his argument, the only rights the Lithuanian dukes had to Kyivan lands did not stem from a conquest, as they claimed, but rather from the marriage of Algirdas (Olgierd) to the sister of Mikhail of Tver. Algirdas could, therefore, call himself a duke (princeps), but he, and extention his lands, were subordinate to and vassal of the Muscovite ruler. The Skazanie explains that the Lithuanians had simply taken advantage of Kyiv's decline and quite illegitimately usurped Moscow's right to rule there. We might understand why Muscovite/Russian court chroniclers and historians imagined their country’s past in these terms, but why should academic historians continue to frame Russian history in these terms in the 21rst century? If, moreover, we accept this kind of thinking is founded on medieval myth, then why subscribe to this particular official set of stories and not another?

Alongside the Laurention codex version of early Rus history is also the Hypatian Codex (1425), also called Litopys ruskyi. This consists of three works: the Primary Chronicle (1039), the Kyivan Chronicle (c. 1200), and the Halych-Volyn Chronicle (compiled 1255-1300). Although the first two were written in Kyiv, they are not normally regarded as “Ukrainian” by non-Ukrainian historians. The Kyivan Chronicle under the year 1171, unlike the Laurentian codex,explained the sack of Kyiv as punishment for “our sins.” Since the author lived in or around Kyiv, the sins in question clearly could not be “theirs”, as it was for the Vladimir clerics for whom Kyiv was far away. This wording implied no transfer of political primacy to Vladimir or its princes regardless of dynastic ties. The narrative continued to focus on Kyivan lands after 1160. This chronicle admittedly implied no Kyivan links to Halych (eastern Galicia). According to Hrushevsky this was because parts of it were written in the early 1170s by a Vladimir-Suzdal sympathizer who “went through earlier sections of the chronicle...and in general incorporated `Suzdalian' tendencies into the chronicle.” This explanation is confirmed by the third part of the Hypatian Codex, which most accept as “Ukrainian,” that does link Halych with Kyiv. Priselkov suggested that it was written as a reply to Vladimir-Suzdal compilations to demonstrate that primacy in Rus' had not gone north-east, but west to Halych. The Halych-Volyn Chronicle explicitly identified Rus' with western Ukrainian lands by referring to Galicia as the site of the “second Kyiv.” The compilers referred to Roman of Halych as “autocrat” and “tsar” of all Rus'. Under the year 1250 we read that Danylo Romanovych was “Grand Duke ruling the Rus' land, Kyiv, Volyn and Halych,” and “his father was tsar in the Rus' lands.” Should this be ignored by historians today concerned about the “criteria of the period?”

      This idea was an underlying theme of the Hypatian Codex and distinguishes it from the Laurentian Codex. The former was probably compiled for Vytautas (Vivovt), Grand Duke of Lithuania, who had  to justify his claims against the still independent principality of Pskov. During the same period the Lithuanian princes also claimed to rule all of Rus', and an interpretation of the Rus' past not linking the Kyivan heritage either to Poland or to Moscow was ideologically useful. The Hypatian Codex, by joining together three separate Rus' chronicles with no reference to any Polish conquest of Rus' or “shift” of capitals, thus provided a theoretical basis upon which the Lithuanian Grand Duchy could be portrayed as the inheritor of the Kyivan legacy. Logically, “according to dynastic-political criteria which operated in the period itself”, might not a Cambridge History of Lithuania begin on the banks of the Dnipro?

Significantly, the Hypatian Codex opens with an introductory list of Kyivan princes to 1240 not found in the Laurentian text. The list is incomplete, but its message is that after 1171 the political centre of Rus' shifted west, not north-east: “and after him came Volodymyr, and after him Roman [of Halych], and after Roman...Volodymyr Riurykovych, whom Danylo [of Halych] put on the Kyivan throne. After Volodymyr, under the rule of Dmytro, Danylo's vice-regent, Kyiv fell to Baty.” With the exception of the above mentioned Suzdalian tendencies in Part Two, the structure of the narrative in Hypatian Codex followed the Riurykovych succession as given in the introduction, linking Kyiv with Halych- eastern Galicia, not Suzdal/Moscow.  Accordingly,  why should academic historians give priority to  Muscovite/ Russian medieval based imperial myths, instead of this eastern-Galician--Lithuanian claim regarding Kyivan Rus history, and still today classify it as  the “first period of Russian history?”

Indeed, by appealing to  the  “criteria of time”| we could  just as well include the entire past of the Dnipro/ black sea littoral region into a Cambridge History of Poland on the grounds that  medieval Polish chronicles considered these lands legitimately conquered by their kings. During the debates preceding the Union of Lublin in 1569, Polish spokesmen justified the incorporation of central Ukrainian lands into the Polish Kingdom on the grounds that the area had been part of Poland since the eleventh century. Advocates of incorporation pointed out how Kyiv and the “whole Rus' land” should be part of Poland, “because it is established from ancient chronicles that the city had been taken and laid waste three times by Polish kings.” This idea that the Kyivan lands had been conquered and annexed to Poland before the 1386 Union of Kreva first appeared in the Polish Chronica (1114), which was written as a panegyric to Bolesław III and the Piast dynasty. One of the “worthy deeds” described was Bolesław I's temporary occupation of Kyiv in 1018. Interested in highlighting Piast glory, the author claimed that sojourn  amounted to a conquest. He embellished his account with incidents illustrating Polish superiority over Rus' and described how Boles?aw had struck the city gates with his sword to symbolize its dependency. This interpretation of Polish-Rus' relations echoed through Polish historiography for centuries.  Today, however, no history of Poland includes all Ukrainian lands on grounds they were once all conquered by Poland.

There are presumably among historians of Ukraine those who think there is no such thing as “truth” about the past to which historians should aspire using empirical evidence and logic. For them there are only “myths” about the past – a position that can only lead  them to   create other myths without being able to  explain why they prefer one myth to another, or, why a new one should be preferable to the old one for other than political reasons. One can only hope such persons devote as much attention to “deconstructing” Muscovite/ Russian imperial myths as they do to Ukrainian national myths.

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