On May 29th, 1935, Lancelot Lawton, an English journalist, presented in a Committee Room of the House of Commons a lecture The Ukrainian Question. He began his lecture with the following words: “The chief problem in Europe today is the Ukrainian problem. Of deep concern to this country because of its effect upon European peace and diplomacy...” 1 Even though the problem today is not as dramatic, there are several thoughts in Lawton’s presentation that have not lost their validity. This was one of the reasons why the Ukrainian historian Serhij Kot prepared Lawton’s lecture together with his article Ukraine: Europe’s Greatest Problem2 for publishing. It was published with a financial support of the British Embassy in Ukraine and the Soros Fund in Ukraine “Вiдродження”.
While Lawton himself claims to be only an independent observer (I would like to say that I am not a friend of Ukraine. It is solely as a student of East Europe that I interest myself in her struggle3 ), his liking of the nation, which has been trying for centuries to form an independent state, is more than obvious. This fact, however, does not in any way compromises Lawton’s effort to collect enough persuasive arguments that would result in a greater involvement of Great Britain in Ukrainian matters. 4
When arguing why Ukraine should become an independent state that would unite its people living in various countries – Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania – Lawton uses a historical method. First of all, he attempts to prove peculiarity of the Ukrainians. According to Lawton, only a few knew about its existence in contemporary Europe: “Ukraine only survived in poetry and legend, and invariably it was thought that if ever it existed, it had long been buried in the cemetery of dead and forgotten nations.” 5 Most of all, he emphasizes the difference between Ukrainians and Russians, because most people in Europe considered Ukrainians to be Russians.
He comprehensively describes the historical path of the Ukrainians that did not converge with its northern neighbor until the Ukrainians already had gone through several centuries of their own history, during which they had not left anybody in doubt that they are an independent ethnic group. He presents historical evidence that disputes Russian superiority. For example, from the depth of the 17th century, he lets speak Paul of Allepo6 : “Although I stranger I felt myself at home to Ukraine. But in Muscovy my heart felt heavy, for wherever I went no one was even a little free... Those who want to shorten their life by fifteen years must go to the land of Muscovy. In Ukraine I found joy in life, freedom and civilization. The Ukrainians are learned. They like science and study the law. They know rhetoric, logic and philosophy. Practically all the habitants can read and write. Their wives and daughters know the liturgy and religious singing. And their children, even orphans, learn to read and write.” 7
Lawton elaborates on his arguments about the peculiarity of the Ukrainian people especially in his second study in the following sections: Two different peoples (P. 149-151), Great Russia and Little Russia (P.151-154), Ukraine (P.154-156), Racial origins (P. 156-157), Language (P. 157-159), The ties between North and South (P.159-160), and Culture in North and South (P. 160-161). Our knowledge of Ukraine and its history is obviously much deeper today, however, to get acquainted with the Ukrainian question, Lawton’s notes certainly still hold their value.
Lawton sees three key stages in the process of building an independent Ukrainian statehood: “The first of these periods was from the ninth to thirteenth century. During these 300 years or more, on the territory now known as Ukraine, there was a powerful and cultured nation, one of foremost in Europe. The nation known as Rus was the first Ukraine, and its capital was Kiev.” 8
Lawton considers the Cossack State to be the second period of Ukrainian independence. According to him, this state was “the continuation, in an original form, of independent Ukrainian nation.” 9 In the end of this period Moscow subjugated Ukraine and snatched her from the European civilization circle towards itself: “Kiev was nearer to the West than Moscow, and derived much benefit from Latin resources. In reality, Moscovia was the pupil of Ukraine and learned nearly all she knew from her. But from the moment when she annexed Ukraine and changed her name to Russia, she deliberately sought to give setback to Ukraine – to retards its development.” 10
The third period of Ukrainian independence is linked to the short time after World War I (Hetmanate, Ukrainian Directory) until Ukraine was conquered by Bolsheviks and integrated into the Soviet Union.
According to Lawton, the Ukrainian independence movement is gaining momentum once again (it is the year of 1935) and Great Britain should pay an ever-increased attention to this fact: “England is not concerned to play the role of a conspiratorial power backing an irredentist effort. But the conditions in Ukraine, where the independence movement has assumed great proportions, are such that something is bound to happen. Many times in the past years, as I have shown, Ukraine proved the danger spot of Europe. It has become so.” 11
In 1939, in his second article on the Ukrainian topic, Lawton already points out the danger of German involvement in this territory: “When the Germans speak of South-Eastern Europe, they have in mind Ukraine. But, at the moment, foreign nations are barred from economic and cultural access to this territory. Consequently, Germany is deeply interested in the Ukrainian National Movement. It is difficult to image how Ukraine could free herself from Soviet domination without external aid. While I am confident that most of her people would welcome this aid, at least for a time, I am equally confident that their leaders do not wish to exchange one conqueror for another – they want an independent Ukraine.” 12
When he comments on the German interest in Ukrainian territory, Lawton asks what should be the stance of Great Britain, i.e. the democracies, to this problem: “What should be the attitude of Great Britain? Our attitude, I think, should be the Ukrainian attitude. We should stand on the side of Ukraine and of any nation who is ready to help her on terms she is willing to accept. In other words, we should strive to bring about a solution such as she herself desires. To do so, I am convince, would be in our interests as well as in hers.” 13
While the democracies were thinking how to help the Ukrainians, Germany acted. Its occupation of Ukrainian territory was at first, as Lawton actually predicted, rather welcome, but in the end, which was the second part of Lawton’s prediction, the Ukrainians stood up against replacing one dictator for another.
In 1991, Ukraine gained its sovereignity but it did not become independent. It depended and still depends on its northern neighbor, it did not even succeed in cutting ties with its communist past. In 2004, Ukraine attempted a more radical step on its path to the real independence and democracy – the Orange Revolution. But the attempt has failed. Its failure does not imminently threaten Ukrainian independence but it has postponed its achievement once again. One of the reasons being that Europe was thinking what to do with the new Ukraine while its closest neighbor acted...
1 Lawton, L.: The Ukrainian Question, Kiev-London 2006, p. 107.
2 Lawton, L., Ukraine: Europe’s Greatest Problem. In: East Europe and Contemporary Russia. London, Spring 1939, p. 28-60.
3 Ibid., P.134.
4 In 1935, the Anglo-Ukrainian Committee, which Lawton was a member too, was founded with a similar intention.
5 Lawton, L.: The Ukrainian Question, p. 107.
6 Paul of Aleppo (17th century), a Syrian Eastern Orthodox clergyman and chronicler. He traveled throughout Constantinople, Wallachia, Moldavia, Ukraine and Muscovy and wrote down an account of his visits.
7 Lawton, L.: The Ukrainian Question, p. 111.
8 Lawton, L., Ukraine: Europe’s Greatest Problem, p. 113.
9 Ibid., p. 136.
10 Ibid., p. 137-138.
11 Lawton, L.: The Ukrainian Question, p.120.
12 Lawton, L., Ukraine: Europe’s Greatest Problem, p.147.
13 Ibid., p. 148.
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