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This webpage reproduces an item in the
Ukrainian Quarterly
Vol. 12 No. 4 (Dec. 1956), pp326‑331

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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 p326  The Doctrine of Wilson and the Building of the Ukrainian National Republic

By Alexander Choulguine, Paris

The proclamation of the 14 Points of President Wilson, the official statement of the principle of self-determination of peoples, made of course a great impression upon Ukraine in 1918. This noble speech gave hopes both for the speedy ending of the World War and for the victory of the Ukrainian national idea. Although these hopes deceived us and although the principle of self-determination was not carried out in full measure, especially for the Ukrainian people, President Wilson remains in the memory of all enslaved peoples as a noble figure in history. I had the honor, as a delegate of Ukraine (UNR) to the Paris Peace Conference, to see and hear the President when our entire Ukrainian delegation was received by the Council of Four in the building on the Place des Etats-Unis in Paris, where the President resided. Although I did not succeed in having a long conversation with him, yet the personal contact left its mark in my memory and strengthened my general impression of his activity as a great humanist and a very sympathetic personality, a tragic figure of modern times.

Although the principle of self-determination of nations was taken into consideration at the Peace Conference in Versailles, at least so far as Central Europe and especially the land of the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy was concerned, it was not applied consistently, especially in the case of the Ukrainian population of Eastern Galicia and also of Volyn.

Ukraine as a state was defeated in 1919 in Versailles. For the long period since the 18th century, it had been reduced to the role of a Russian province. Europe and the world had forgotten Ukraine's strivings for independence which were well known in Europe in the 17th century in the time of Bohdan Khmelnytsky and in the 18th century, thanks to the heroic struggle of Hetman Ivan Mazepa and his successor, Hetman Pylyp Orlyk.

All the great powers which made the Versailles Treaty, were very hostile to the Communist Russian government. In their view the communization of Russia was a temporary phenomenon. They believed that an indivisible Russia (only democratic) would come out on top and  p327 they were not even willing to hear that this Russia was composed of a larger number of nations than was the partitioned Austro-Hungarian Empire. The latter they divided but Russia had to remain untouched. The Russian anti-Bolshevik delegation, which consisted of well known figures of the old Russia resolutely supported them in this mood. The Poles, thanks to their claims to the Western Ukrainian lands, were likewise hostile to the idea of Ukrainian statehood up to 1920. After the conclusion of the unfortunate Warsaw treaty of 1920 with the Ukrainian National Republic, Poland, although it insisted upon its plans to extend its frontiers at the expense of Ukraine, stopped, however, all hostile attacks on Ukrainian statehood and even sympathized with it. Eventually the delegation of old Russia lost its prestige and became less dangerous for Ukraine and the Russian emigration broke into irreconcilable groups, some of which were definite opponents of Bolshevism and all national movements within the former empire of the tsars; others wavered in their anti-Bolshevism and criticizing sharply the internal policy of the Soviets, yet (as it became clear in 1945‑6) admired the successes of the foreign policy of Moscow. But the international influence of the White Russians fell lower and lower and approached zero. All this was much later but in 1919, when all questions were to be decided, we were surrounded by very hostile influences or by complete indifference and the disregard which the creators of the Versailles Treaty felt.

Meanwhile in Kiev self-determination was actually carried out in 1917‑8. This was either not known in Paris or the people did not wish to know it under those influences which I have mentioned. They were not willing to believe us, the members of the Ukrainian delegation, despite all our efforts; we were a new nation, little known, at times the victims of hostile slanders, and we had for a long time to work very carefully both in Paris and especially in Geneva, for them to begin to listen to us. But the further course of events compelled people to believe that we were right. It was only at the end of the 20's that we could say that the delegations of the UNR, especially in Geneva, succeeded in pla­cing on the order of the day the Ukrainian question. We did not succeed in this in 1919.

Actually the Ukrainian Central Rada, in proclaiming the Ukrainian National Republic on November 20, 1917, and in declaring the political independence of Ukraine January 22, 1918, was relying upon its legal historical rights. In 1654 Hetman Bohdan Khmelnitsky in the name of Ukraine voluntarily made an agreement with the Moscow Tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich, and acknowledged his protectorate over Ukraine on the condition that we would preserve the sovereignty of the Hetman and very much of the state character of Ukraine. But the Moscow tsars during the 17th and especially the 18th century began to destroy the principle of the sovereignty of Ukraine; Catherine II finally destroyed Ukrainian statehood  p328 and changed Ukraine into a Governor General­ship of the Russian Empire.

This unilateral violation of the treaty between Ukraine and Moscow naturally gave Ukraine the right to break with Russia at any moment. Besides Ukraine was bound in 1654 not to Russia but to the tsar and the Romanov dynasty. So, the Russians by destroying the last representative of the dynasty, Nicholas II, definitely from the legal point of view unbound the hands of Ukraine.

These facts were in the past. The natural expansion of the Ukrainian population broadened significantly the territory of the historical Ukraine to the south on the lands taken from the Tatars. It was therefore necessary in 1917 to show the will of the Ukrainian population, i.e. to apply the principle of self-determination. I have already told that this happened and how it was done.

At the beginning of the revolution in 1917, in April, there was called in Kiev a National Congress, which set up the revolutionary parliament of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Central Rada. Every district of Ukraine (the guberniyas into which Ukraine was divided in tsarist times) had its representatives chosen by the village communities, municipalities and agricultural cooperatives. At first it consisted only of representatives of the Ukrainian parties but in July, 1917, it was entered by representatives of the parties and organizations of the national minorities of Ukraine, Russians, Poles and Jews. The minorities in Ukraine were clustered chiefly in the cities and formed 20% of the total population of Ukraine, but the Central Rada gave them 25% of its members.

Later the Central Rada included representatives of the Peasant Union, workers' syndicates and soldiers' organizations.

In May‑June, 1917 the Central Rada was recognized by the whole of Ukraine as its Supreme Representative Organ, and in June there was formed the General Secretariat — the first government of the restored Ukraine.

So the Central Rada was the organ which proclaimed, as we have said, on November 20th the Ukrainian National Republic and on January 22nd, it announced the complete independence of the country.

Did the Central Rada have the right to do this and was it the actual expression of the will of the Ukrainian people?

Our answers to these questions are wholly positive, because:

I. The Provisional Russian Government first of Prince Lvov and then of Kerensky adopted great reserve toward the Ukrainian national aspirations, — not to say simply — hostility. In any case it could not be suspected of a desire to support this movement and to favor its development. But taking account of the actual state of affairs in Ukraine and the enormous authority of the Central Rada, four of the most influential  p329 members of the Provisional Government, Kerensky, Minister of Justice, Tereschenko, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tseretelli and Nekrasov appeared in Kiev and carried on official negotiations with the Head of the Central Rada, Prof. Michael Hrushevsky and the Head of the General Secretariat, Volodymyr Vynnychenko. An agreement was made by which the Russian Provisional Government recognized the regional authority of the Central Rada and entrusted to its General Secretariat the execution of the supreme authority in Ukraine. It is true that this resulted in a crisis of the Russian Provisional Government and the Cadet Ministers, i.e. the partisans of Milyukov, left the government. But a month later the Provisional Government issued instructions to the General Secretariat, which aroused deep dissatisfaction in the Central Rada, for it limited the number of General Secretaries and extended the power of the General Secretariat over only five Ukrainian guberniyas and left out the four in the south. It was also said in the Instructions that these guberniyas through their communal and municipal organs (zemstvos) had the right to join Ukrainian territory — and this happened during the next month. The Provisional Government officially confirmed the composition of the General Secretariat of Ukraine, which was given to it by the Central Rada. From this time on until after the fall of the Provisional Government in its various modifications this government of Ukraine continued on its own territory and when that was occupied, it continued in the emigration. So the attitude toward the Central Rada of the almost hostile Russian Provisional Government is a striking proof of the great authority of the Central Rada in Ukraine.

II. But there is another proof, if, as we have seen, the Central Rada was not formed on the basis of normal democratic elections, these elections were held in Ukraine in 1917. First of all there were elections to the democratized zemstvos, i.e., the local autonomous institutions. In these 80% voted for the Ukrainian parties represented in the Central Rada. Then there were elections on the democratic formula (equal, direct, general, secret and proportional) to the All‑Russian Constitutional Assembly and then to the Ukrainian Constitutional Assembly. Although, thanks to the violence of the Bolsheviks, neither of these bodies could meet, the fact of these elections is very interesting as an expression of the will of the population; in both cases the Ukrainian national parties received 75‑80% of the votes in Ukraine. The elections to the All‑Russian Constituent Assembly are especially interesting, for then the Russian parties in Ukraine showed the maximum energy and put forward their best candidates and yet the party of Kerensky (Socialist-Revolutionist and Workers) received in Ukraine only 13% of the votes, while in Russia this party received an absolute majority. We have mentioned the existence in Ukraine of minorities (20%) but they, (not only the Russians but also the Poles and  p330 Jews) put up a number of candidates and so the Ukrainian parties could naturally not receive more than 75‑80%. It was only in the urban municipalities of Ukraine that they could not receive a majority, for the minorities were clustered in the cities of Ukraine; in the smaller towns the parties had 50‑60% of the votes, but in entire Ukraine over 75%. The remaining 25% were by no means all Russian votes. Especially the Jewish parties elected in Kiev many deputies, among them Zionists, who, among other points strongly supported the Ukrainians in their demands for independence.

The elections of 1917 were the only actually free and actually democratic elections which have ever taken place in Ukraine. They gave the victory to the same parties which formed the overwhelming majority of the Central Rada. More than this, even the same persons who were sitting in the Central Rada in the vast majority were again elected in both Constitutional Assemblies.

Thus the acts of the Central Rada which formed the Ukrainian National Republic and declared its independence were and remain the true expression of the will of the Ukrainian people and were the acts of the true national self-determination of the Ukrainian people.

The self-determination of Ukraine, the principle proclaimed by President Wilson, was brilliantly carried out in Ukraine in 1917.

What happened later? In accordance with their usual methods the Soviet Moscow government at the end of 1917 formed a government of the Ukrainian Soviet Republics on the same formula and by the same means which they later applied in the Baltic countries, Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria, etc. This government was formed first beyond Ukraine's borders, in Moscow, and only later was transferred to Kharkiv on the peripheries of Ukraine, and thanks to the Russian Red Army did it occupy the whole of Ukraine.

Thus two governments were formed: the legal democratic government by the will of the people which after a long and bloody struggle went into the emigration with Simon Petlyura and his successors at the head and which still has not ceased its protests against the Moscow occupation of Ukraine. The other Communist government of Soviet Ukraine was not elected by the will of the people but appointed by Moscow. So far for the government.

But we see that even Soviet Ukraine was de jure from 1918 to 1923 juridically an independent government. In 1923 the government of the Russian Soviet Republic and the Soviet government of Ukraine formed together with other Soviet republics the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. On the basis of the Treaty (Art. 44), Ukraine had the right to secede from this Union but this, of course, was a dead letter in view of the terrible Moscow terror in Ukraine.

 p331  This "union" of 1923 is not legal since the Ukrainian Soviet government itself was merely made by Moscow as the later "Soviet" governments of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and did not and does not have any legal title to speak and act in the name of the people of Ukraine.

But juridical facts also have their importance; the fact that Moscow did not annul Ukrainian statehood is very symptomatic and shows that even Moscow could not fail to take into account the existence of the Ukrainian Republic.

Before the occupation of Ukraine by the Soviets, the government of the Ukrainian National Republic secured the recognition of Ukraine by France, England (1918), and also Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria. These recognized the Ukrainian National Republic juridically and had diplomatic relations with it. Juridically Finland, Latvia, and Poland recognized the Ukrainian National Republic and de facto or de jure Ukraine was recognized by Estonia, Latvia, Romania, Georgia and all the Caucasian Republics. In 1922 Argentina also recognized the Ukrainian National Republic.

We must say also that Moscow before it occupied the Ukrainian National Republic, also officially recognized it by the armistice agreement made in May, 1918 in Kiev and published in the Documents of the First Assembly of the League of Nations (No. 88).

During its existence in 1920 the Ukrainian National Republic declared its desire to enter the League of Nations. The Ukrainian petition was officially accepted by the League of Nations and the delegate of Ukraine appeared at the appropriate meetings of the League. But the question was postponed because the Russian Communist Army was then occupying Ukraine. In 1945 Ukraine — this time a Soviet state — was accepted into the Organization of the United Nations as a charter member. By this all the states which are members of the UN evidently have recognized Ukrainian statehood.

Taking all these facts into consideration, we see that Ukraine has long since passed through the stage of self-determination. It is no longer a question of applying to it that principle which was proclaimed by President Wilson; it took place in 1917.

It is the same question now that the Western Powers have in the case of Germany. It is a question of introdu­cing free elections into Ukraine and Byelorussia, the Baltic states, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. These elections must lead to the formation of new governments which will correspond to the will of their peoples.

Only in this modified manner can there be now appointed to the enslaved nations and first of all to Ukraine the Fourteen Points of President Wilson — the principle of self-determination.

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