Ukrainian nationalism – its roots and nature (I)

PART ONE: a preliminary excursion in ancient history

1204 – The Eastern Crusade of Pope Innocent III: 

Most people mistakenly believe that the Crusades only happened in the Middle-East and that they were only directed at Islam.  This is false.  In fact, while the official excuse for western imperialism at that time was to free the city of Jerusalem from the “Muslim infidels” the crusades also were aimed at either exterminating or converting the “Greek schismatics” i.e. the Orthodox Christians.  The most notorious episode of this anti-Orthodox crusade is the sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204, during the 4th Crusade, in which the city was subjected to three days of absolutely grotesque pillaging, looting and massacres by the western “Christians” who even looted and burned down Orthodox churches, monasteries and convents, raped nuns on church altars and even placed a prostitute on the Patriarchal throne.  This outpouring of genocidal hatred was hardly a fluke, but it was one of the earliest manifestation of something which would become a central feature of the mindset and ideology of the Latin Church.

There is, however, another no less important episode in the history of the Latin hatred for the Orthodox Church which is far less known.

1242 – The Northern Crusades of Pope Gregory IX: 

Unlike his predecessor who directed his soldiers towards the Holy Land, Pope Gregory IX had a very different idea: he wanted to convert the “pagans” of the North and East of Europe to the “true faith”.  In his mind, Orthodox Russia was part of these “pagan lands” and Orthodox Christians were pagans too.  His order to the Teutonic Knights (the spiritual successors of the Franks who had pillaged and destroyed Rome) was to either convert or kill all the pagans they would meet (this genocidal order was very similar to the one given by Ante Pavelic to his own forces against the Serbs during WWII: convert, kill or expel).  In most history books Pope Gregory IX has earned himself a name by instituting the Papal Inquisition (which has never been abolished, by the way), so it is of no surprise that this gentleman was in no mood to show any mercy to the “Greek schismatics”.  This time, however, the Pope’s hordes were met by a formidable defender: Prince Alexander Nevsky.

Saint Alexander Nevsky’s “civilizational choice”

Saint Alexander Nevsky
Saint Alexander Nevsky

Even before dealing with the Pope’s Crusaders Alexander Nevsky had already had to repel an earlier invasion of Russia by the West – the attempt to invade norther Russia by the Swedish Kingdom – which he defeated 1240 at the famous battle of the Neva.  No less important, however, is the fact that Alexander Nevsky was unable to defeat Mongol invasion from the East and so he was placed between what can only be called a civilizational choice: he understood that Russia could not fight the Papacy and the Mongols at the same time, so the choice was simple: to submit to one and to resist the other. But which one should he chose to submit Russia to?

Prince Alexander (who would later be glorified as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church) was truly a deeply pious man who had a deep understanding of the Holy Scripture and who remembered the words of Christ when asked whether Jews should pay taxes to the Romans: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matt 22:21) and “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28).  Alexander, who was very well informed of the policies of his enemies knew that the sole goal of the Mongols was to extract taxes from the Russians, but that they had no desire to convert anybody or to persecute the Church.  Quite to the contrary, the putatively “savage” Mongols respected the Church and its clergy and they never persecuted it.  In contrast, the Crusaders were given the specific order to convert or murder all the Orthodox Christians they would encounter as the Latins had done many times before, and as they would do many times later.  Thus Prince Alexander Nevsky chose to submit to the Mongol Khan and to fight the Crusaders whom he defeated at the famous Battle of the Ice in 1242.

 

Occupied Ukraine in the 14th c.
Occupied Ukraine in the 14th c.

Western Russia occupied, fall of the 2nd Rome, rise of Moscow

Having been defeated by Russia twice, western leaders temporarily renounced their invasion plans, but the Russian victory clearly did not endear the Russian people or culture to the western elites.  Predictably the next wave of invasions from the West began in the early 14th century and lasted until 1385 when the Union of Krewo sealed the union of Poland and Lithuania.  At that moment in time all of what would be called later “the Ukraine” was fully conquered by the Latins.

In 1453, the Fall of Rome in the East, in Constantinople, marked the end of the “2nd Rome” and the end of the Roman civilization which had survived the Fall of Rome in by a full one thousand years (the western Roman Empire fell in 476 AD; the eastern Roman Empire fell in 1453).

The Latins did attempt to submit the Orthodox world by a careful mix of threats and promises to assist Constantinople against the Ottomans at the so-called False Union of Florance, but they had failed, and Constantinople eventually fell to armies of Mehmet the Conqueror.  Thus, Moscow became the “Third Rome”, the last free Orthodox Christian Kingdom, the civilizational heir to the Roman civilization.  Moscow would now become the focal point of the Papist hatred for Orthodox Christianity.  The next western strike would come in 1595 and it would be a truly devastating one.

1595 – Pope Clement VIII conceives the Ukraine

By the end of the 16th century, most of western Russia had been occupied by the Latins for two hundred years (14th-16th), as long as the Mongol Yoke on eastern Russia (13th-15th century).  Predictably the situation of the Orthodox Christian peasants under the Latin occupation was nothing short of terrible.  For all practical purposes, it was enslaved, as Israel Shahak explains in his seminal book Jewish History, Jewish Religion:

Due to many causes, medieval Poland lagged in its development behind countries like England and France; a strong feudal-type monarchy – yet without any parliamentary institutions – was formed there only in the 14th century, especially under Casimir the Great (1333-70). Immediately after his death, changes of dynasty and other factors led to a very rapid development of the power of the noble magnates, then also of the petty nobility, so that by 1572 the process of reduction of the king to a figure head and exclusion of all other non-noble estates from political power was virtually complete. (…)This process was accompanied by a debasement in the position of the Polish peasants (who had been free in the early Middle Ages) to the point of utter serfdom, hardly distinguishable from outright slavery and certainly the worst in Europe. The desire of noblemen in neighboring countries to enjoy the power of the Polish pan over his peasants (including the power of life and death without any right of appeal) was instrumental in the territorial expansion of Poland. The situation in the ‘eastern’ lands of Poland (Byelorussia and the Ukraine) – colonized and settled by newly enserfed peasants – was worst of all.

Clement VIII
Clement VIII

Indeed, the local elites had been more then happy to apostatize and sell out to the Polish occupier to enjoy the privileges of slave-owning (before that Russia had never known serfdom!) while the enslaved peasants stubbornly held on to their faith (interestingly, this is also the period of history when Ukrainian Judeophobia was born – read Shahak for details).  Something needed to be done to find a “solution” to this “problem” and, sure enough, a Pope (Clement VIII) found it: the forcible conversion of the local Orthodox Christians to the Latin church: the so-called Union of Brest.  Thus began a long period of vicious persecution of the Orthodox peasantry by the combined efforts of the Polish nobility, their Jewish overseers and, especially, the Jesuits who justified any atrocity under the slogan “ad majorem Dei gloriam” (to the greater Glory of God).  One man, in particular, excelled in the persecution of Orthodox Christians: Josphat Kuntsevich (whose biography you can read about in this text: The Vatican and Russia).  Kuntsevich – who was eventually lynched by a mob of peasants – was buried in the Saint Peter basilica in Rome near, I kid you not, the relics of Saint Gregory the Theologian and Saint John Chrysostom (!).  The Latins still refer to this mass murderer as “martyr for Christ” (see here for a typical Papist hagiography of Kuntsevich) and he is still greatly respected and admired amongst modern Ukrainian nationalists.  And I can see why – it is during these years of occupation and persecution that modern “Ukraine” was created, maybe not yet as a territory, but definitely as a cultural entity.

The ethnogenesis of the “Ukrainian nation”

Nations, like individuals, are born, live and die.  In fact, as Shlomo Sands so brilliantly demonstrated in his book The Invention of the Jewish People, nations are really invented, created.  In fact, the 20th century has shown us many nations invented ex-nihilo, out of nothing (in order to avoid offending somebody or getting sidetracked, I shall not give examples, but God knows there are many).  A “nation” does not need to have deep historical and cultural roots, it does not need to have a legitimate historiography, in fact, all it takes to “create a nation” is a certain amount of people identifying themselves as a community – all the rest can be created/invented later.  Thus the argument of some Russians that there is no such thing as a Ukrainian nation is fundamentally mistaken: if there are enough people identifying themselves as “Ukrainian” then a distinct “Ukrainian nation” exists.  It does not matter at all that there is no trace of that nation in history or that its founding myths are ridiculous as long as a distinct common is shared by its members.  And from that point of view, the existence of a Ukrainian nation fundamentally different from the Russian one is an undeniable reality.  And that is the immense achievement of the Latin Church – it undeniably succeeded in its desire to cut-off the western Russians from their historical roots and to create a new nation: the Ukrainians.

As an aside, but an important one I think, I would note that the Mongols played a similarly crucial role in the creation of the modern Russian nation.  After all, what are the “founding blocks” of the Russian culture.  The culture of the Slavs before the Christianization of Russia in the 10th century?  Yes, but minimally.  The continuation of the Roman civilization after the Fall of the 2nd Rome?  Yes, to some degree, but not crucially.  The adoption of the Christian faith after the 10 century? Yes, definitely.  But the Russian *state* which grew out of the rather small Grand Duchy of Moscow was definitely shaped by the Mongol culture and statecraft, not Byzantium or ancient Rus.  It would not be incorrect to say that ancient Kievan Rus eventually gave birth to two distinct nations: a Ukrainian one fathered by the Papist occupation and a Russian one, fathered by the Mongol occupation. In that sense the russophobic statement of the Marquis de Custine “Grattez le Russe, et vous verrez un Tartare” (scratch the Russian and you will find a Mongol beneath) is correct.  Equally, however, I would argue that one could say that “scratch the Ukrainian, and you will find the Papist beneath”.

At this point I do not want to continue outlining the history of the Ukraine because I think I have made my point clear: the Ukrainian nation is the product of the thousand year old hatred of Orthodox Christianity by the Papacy.  Just as modern rabbinical Judaism is really nothing more than an anti-Christianity, the modern Ukrainian national identity is basically centered on a rabid, absolutely irrational and paranoid hated and fear of Russia.  That is not to say that all the people which live in the Ukraine partake in that hysterical russophobia, not at all, but the nationalist hard-core definitely does.  And this point is so crucial that I felt that I had to make this long digression into ancient history to explain it.

I have to add one more thing: the Latin Church has undergone tremendous changes in the 20th century and even its Jesuits have long departed from the traditions and ideas of their predecessors of the Counter-Reformation.  Though hatred of the Orthodox Christians and Russian still exists in some Latin circles, it has mostly been replaced by a desire to “incorporate” or swallow the Orthodox Church into the Papacy by means of the so-called “Ecumenical dialog”.  As for the rank and file Roman Catholic faithful – they simply have no idea at all about this history which, of course, is never taught to them.

Stepan Bandera
Stepan Bandera

The Papacy’s goal end is still the same – submission to the Pope.  But the methods and emotions have changed: it used to be hatred and terror, now its a “dialog of love”.  Amongst the Ukrainian nationalists and Uniats, however, the mindset practically has not changed.  From the likes of Stepan Bandera to his modern successor, Dmytro Yarosh, leader of the Right Sector, the Ukrainian nationalists have kept the murderous hatred of Josphat Kuntsevich, hence some of the crazy statements these folks have made.

We now need to make a 3 centuries long jump in time and look at the roots of Fascism and National-Socialism in the early 20th century.  We have to do this jump not because these centuries were not important for the Ukraine – they very much were – but for the sake of space and time.  The key feature of the time period we will skip is basically the rise on power of Russia, which became an Empire under Peter I and the corresponding weakening of the Polish and Lithuanian states which ended up completely occupied by Russia on several occasion.

To be continued…

Source: The Saker

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4 Comments

  1. Pingback: Kırım “elden gidiyor” mu?! | YERELCE

  2. Pingback: Ukrainian nationalism – its roots and nature (II & III) | Oriental Review

  3. Interesting perspective, but allow me a comment:

    quote “The most notorious episode of this anti-Orthodox crusade is the sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204, during the 4th Crusade…”

    As the 1st crusade was Orthodox, and the Catholics, under the Orthodox’s request and call for help participated in the 2nd, the Orthodox yielded to the Muslims, and helped them against the Catholics in the 3rd crusade… Thus the 4th crusade…

    Putting that aside, starting an article about Ukrainian Nationalism with a religious introduction is strange. Religion – especially Christianity (both catholic and orthodox) is neither ethnic nor national!

    Depicting the nationalist ideologies as merely religious does not serve Ukraine.

  4. @Shady Zoghby
    “As the 1st Crusade was Orthodox” – a wrong and misleading statement. The Great Schism of 1054 (the year when Rome got split from the Universal Christian Church, widely known as Orthodox) had one very important consequence: in the vain attempt to claim its primacy, Rome decided to conquer the Holy Lands in the Middle East. Just take note that the 1st Crusade took place since 1096, 42 years after the Schism, and that adventure was ordered from Rome.
    Recommended reading on the history of Pope’s Crusades against the Orthodox center of that time, Byzantine: http://orientalreview.org/2014/01/18/the-byzantine-empire-the-historical-truth-vs-a-fabricated-history/
    The Ukrainian nationalists have no other option to identify themselves but accepting another faith (Catholic or Uniate). Otherwise they wouldn’t have any peculiarity which would allow them to distinguish from the main body of Ukrainian sub-ethnos of the Russian people.

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