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The Battle of Konotop 1659

 | 
Oleg Rumyantsev
, 
Giovanna Brogi Bercoff

The Konotop battle: 350 years later

Tatjana Yakovleva-Tairova

Texte intégral

1The political situation happens to have curious influences on historical events. Events, which contemporaries did not perceive as important, after centuries became seriously attractive not only for historians, but for the journalists and general public as well.

2Such a metamorphosis has happened with the Konotop battle, which took place in June 1659 in Ukraine. The battle in itself did not bring any change in the fortunes of the Ukrainian Hetmanate; it influenced even less Russia. Even its winner, Ivan Vyhovs’kyj, was not able to keep his power.

  • 1 An amazing example may be found in I. Babulin, who vehemently criticizes the great historian S. Sol (...)

3So, it appears strange, that many serious, respected historians permitted to get involved in a useless discussion about the importance of the Konotop battle together with newly brought to light ‘experts’ of Ukrainian history. The major discussions are going on about the losses of Russian troops. One side presents numbers coming from Polish sources that are definitely increased, the other insists on the information given by the Rozrjad, the official tsars’ reports. Some Ukrainians consider Konotop to be an ‘outstanding victory’, some Moscow historians try to present it like a ‘small’ victory or, ‘not quite’ a victory1.

  • 2 The Department of history of the Leningrad State University was a lucky exception

4The history of Ukraine was not taught at the Historical departments in the Soviet Union2, and this fact still has its negative influence on modern Russia. There is still a certain amount of my Russian colleagues that seem to have deep gaps in their knowledge of historical events concerning Ukraine. This is the reason why they still recur to the old Soviet clichés: they consider all Ukrainian hetmans simply as traitors. All the tsars, on their sides, are also presented as ‘bad guys’ because... they were too slow in punishing the ‘traitors’. On the contrary, the ‘rebels’– viz.: the Cossacks, who rebelled against the hetmans – are presented as ‘good guys’ a priori, the fact that they ended up killing Russians notwithstanding, as it happened for example with both Tymosh Tsytsjura or Ivan Brjukhovets’kyj). Such Soviet clichés are curiously mixed up with the imperial traditions, which proclaims the rule, according to which Russian rulers are always right.

  • 3 He even ignores such an important source as the memoirs of K. Peretjatkovich and whole of the inest (...)

5Both sides, Russian and Ukrainian historians, have problems with the analyses of the sources and knowledge of documents. For example, Babulin is using the Polish Rhyme chronic: it is a quite interesting, but very controversial source, requesting a very careful approach. For some reasons Babulin ignors all other Polish materials – diaries, letters, reports (relacji). Maybe, he simply doesn’t know the Polish language3. In opposite, he criticizes the Ukrainian historiography for using ‘narrative sources’.

  • 4 Only Ju. Mytsyk notices (unfortunately without any references) that the Konotop had a wide European (...)

6From our side, we believe that only by using and analyzing the whole complex of sources we can find out the truth. There are many cases in which the official reports of Russian vojevods included evidently inaccurate, false or even fantastic information. Moreover, there is no doubt that the Russian official documents represent only one side of the documentary material and of the narration of the event. Therefore, they should be considered as a basically subjective source of information. In comparison, the Polish reports (relacji) seem to be at least no less important (Babulin for some reason calls them ‘narrative’). The narrow usage of sources created such a strange situation, that in none of the most recent studies of the Konotop battle one is able to find any kind of analysis of the European reactions to the event4.

  • 5 Babulin I., Bitva pod Konotopom: 3.

7Instead of serious research, we often have to deal with a number of old clichés, more similar to political propaganda or to a poor paper written by a student rather than to a scholarly publication. For example, Babulin writes that Vyhovs’kyj attracted a great number of representants of starshina by intrigues and bribes5. Could he have named at least one example of ‘intrigues’ and ‘bribes’? Meanwhile, by this ‘attraction’ Babulin means Vyhovs’kyj’s legitimate election by starshina at the Korsunskaja rada, after which the Pushkar’s uprising (Pushkar, by the way, attended this rada and voted for Vyhovs’kyj) could be considered just as a revolt (in Babulin’s terms – mutiny, mjatezh) against the legitimate ruler, against the legitimate authority of the Ukrainian Hetmanate. By the way, after this rada Vyhovs’kyj was acknowledged and approved as hetman by tsar Aleksej Mikhajlovich.

8It is easy to detect a ‘double standard’ of evaluation in many recent works of Moscovite historians. Sone Russian historians explain Vyhovs’kyj’s success at Konotop by the support of Tatars. They consider the alliance with the Tatars as a ‘bad’ step. However, we know that precisely the alliance with Tatars was the main reason of Bohdan Khmel’nyts’kyj’s victories in 1648, an event generally considered as most positive in Russian historiography. Babulin states that the separate (national) goals of Vyhovs’kyj were supported only by a narrow part of starshina and not by the whole population of Ukraine. It is easy to encounter this statement by simply recalling that the same may be said about every country of Early Modern Time. The ideas of Peter the great were not at all shared by the Russian serfs. The French peasant didn’t understand the goals of Richelieu. As we know, such a peasant even didn’t have any idea that he was French.

9Historians follow the old Soviet tradition in order to create a negative image of Vyhovs’kyj. They call him an «ex-shljakhtych» (ex-nobleman). First: there is no way for a nobleman to be an ‘ex’! Second: it should be noted that Bohdan Khmel’nyts’kyj, his sun Jurij and most of his colonels, including Ivan Bohun, Hryhorij Lesnyts’kyj and the others, were all shljakhtychi, noblemen.

  • 6 Babulin I., Bitva pod Konotopom: 4.
  • 7 Mjakotin V., Ocherki sotsial’noj istorii Ukrainy XVII-XVIII vv., vyp. 1-3, Praha, 1924; V., Zametki (...)
  • 8 Smirnov states that “the foundation of the agricultural civilization was destroyed” in Ukraine. how (...)

10Babulin states that Ukraine didn’t have «an economic basis, a well-organized army or a constant internal support of the population for the development of a state system»6. This is quite an amazing statement. The historian probably is not familiar with the wide historiography extant on each of those issues, with the many monographs and research articles, which are based on a deep analyzis of archive materials. Just to mention a few: the works by I. Krypjakevych concerninging the general Treasury of the Hetmanate, the studies by V. Mjakotin and V. Barvins’kyj7 on the Ukrainian tax system during the rule of Bohdan Khmel’nyts’kyj, of the land-ownership and of the administrative (including the judicial) system of the Ukrainian Hetmanate. Instead of using such fundamental works, Babulin relies on the pseudoscholarly book by A. Smirnov, who has no kind of knowledge whether of the historiography, nor of the documents8. Should this be considered pure ignorance or holy naivete? If there wasn’t any «economic basis», how could than the culture of the «Ukrainian baroque» appear, that very culture which later became the basis for Peter’s ‘enlightenment’ of Russia?

11As far as the «regularly organized armed forces» are concerned, one should notice, that it was Bohdan Khmel’nyts’kyj, who had broken down the Commonwealth’s military machine. And that Commonwealth was the very state, with which Russia could not compete, beeing forced to sign the Polanowski treaty with its great territorial losses!

  • 9 Babulin I., Bitva pod Konotopom: 42.

12Writing about the implanting of vojevody in Ukrainian cities, Babulin states: «After these steps, which were absolutely necessary indeed, there was no military defeat, no new betray of any hetman which might have taken Kiev and Left-Bank Ukraine away from Russia»9. Again we have a testimony of the enormous ignorance of the author. Indeed, in 1667-1668 it was exactly the appearance of vojevody that provoked the general uprising of the Left-Bank Ukraine, which was followed by the massive massacre of Russian garrisons. As a result, the Hlukhiv articles of 1669 prohibited the presence of Russian vojevody in Ukrainian cities and their role was limited to military issues.

  • 10 Babulin I., Pokhod Belgorodskogo polka na Ukrainu osen’ju 1658 g., in: Edinorog. Materialy vojennoj (...)
  • 11 Jakovleva (Tairova) T., Rujina Het’manshchyny: vid Perejaslavs’koji rady-2 do Andrusivs’koji uhody (...)

13Such fantastic mistakes are spread all over Babulin’s work. He writes: «When the rank and file members of the revolt got the recovery of sight, the Zaporozhian Army almost unanimously forced Vyhovs’kyj to give up the hetmanship…»10. The author probably has no idea, that Vyhovs’kyj was dismissed by the decision of the rada of the Right-Bank starshina, particularly by those members, who took place in the Konotop battle on Vyhovs’kyj’s side. The newly elected hetman Jurij Khmel’nyts’kyj decided to renew the union with Russia – but this time according to the terms of the Zherdov articles11.

14So, I actually am not able to understand the reason why, in this kind of publications published in Moscow, the authors seem to consider the Konotop defeat of Russian troops as their personal grief.

  • 12 Bul’vins’kyj A., Ukraïns’ko-rosijs’ki vzajemyny 1657-1659 rr. v umovakh cyvilizatsijnoho rozmezhuva (...)

15The representation of the events of 1658-1659 as the ‘Russian-Ukrainian war’ seems to be a no less simplification. This term has been introduced by the Ukrainian historian A. Bul’vins’kyj12. These years marked the beginning of the very complicated period called Ruine. Ruine had many different aspects and it would be an extreme simplification to explain the events of that period just by the ‘betrayal’ of Vyhovs’kyj or by the Muscovie invasion. Everything was much more complex.

  • 13 Already by the end of the 16th century the struggle of the Ukrainian Orthodoxhoods and educational (...)

16The Ukrainian Hetmanate was a strange mixture of the free democratic Cossack traditions with the glorious Ukrainian baroque culture. This mixture survived the strong oppression of the Polish Catholic reaction, survived a struggle that lasted half a century13, and created a new political elite that became the carrier of a new identity. Even before 1648 the Ukrainian peasants were the freedom-loving motor of the colonization of the South-Eastern lands of Ukraine. After 1648 all peasants became free (and remained free until the end of the 18-th century). The juridical system of the Ukrainian Hetmanate was based on the Lithuanian Statute and the Magdeburg Law. As a matter of fact, when 1654 it accepted the sovereignty of the Muscovite tsar, the Zaporozhian host had little in common with Russia, which shared the Orthodox faith, but was a totalitarian, non-enlightened state, based on the work of serfs.

17Moreover, the recent deep interest in the details of the small battle, which in no way may be considered a key event, seems strange while the political side of this event has not yet been studied in depth.

18In 1657 the struggle for power started in the Ukrainian Hetmanate. This happened as a result of the death of the strong autocratic and popular leader of the whole nation, who was able to unite his country and to win the liberation war. The death of such leaders most often leads to disturbances. Still, we know very little about the history of the different political groups of the starshina in the times after Khmel’nyts’kyj. Which were their goals? Historical investigation remains poor on the subject. For example: Which was the role of Danylo Vyhovs’kyj and how did his plans correspond to his brother’s plans? Who was the leader of the Right-Bank colonels? who stayed behind them? why did they oppose military action just before the Konotop battle, thus forcing Vyhovs’kyj to use Tatars in the Konotop battle?

19Muscovite historians try to present all the events of Vyhovs’kyj’s Hetmanate as the ‘Cossacks’ revolt’. This position corresponds to the position of some Polish historians, who don’t want to acknowledge the statehood of the Ukrainian Hetmanate. Muscovite historians completely ignore the ideology and mentality of Vyhovs’kyj and his supporters. It was a narrow group of people, but their broad European views are quite impressive. In their documents they applied to European countries and international law. The idea of the Polish Commonwealth as a ‘triple state’ was a utopian one, but still a masterpiece of the Ukrainian baroque political thought. And it is a great pity indeed, that such aspects of the question still remain unknown by the majority of the Russian historians of today and attract quite little attention in modern Ukrainian historiography.

20Taking all the mentioned facts in consideration, we are regrettably obliged to acknowledge that the Konotop battle jubilee has been quite a bloody battle in itself (fortunately, in the case of historiography, it remained only metaphorically bloody!), but it has been substantially useless!

Notes

1 An amazing example may be found in I. Babulin, who vehemently criticizes the great historian S. Solov’ëv for writing about the mourning dresses Aleksej Mikhajlovich supposedly wore after the Konotop defeat. Babulin insists, that mourning was not because of the defeat, but because of the great losses of the Russian elite (Babulin I., Bitva pod Konotopom 28 ijunja 1659 goda, Moskva, 2009: 43). Such a dispute has all the aspect of a pure sophism, indeed.

2 The Department of history of the Leningrad State University was a lucky exception

3 He even ignores such an important source as the memoirs of K. Peretjatkovich and whole of the inestimable publication of the Polish documents by V. herasymchuk.

4 Only Ju. Mytsyk notices (unfortunately without any references) that the Konotop had a wide European reaction and that even official reports about this battle were published (Mytsyk Ju., Het’man Ivan Vyhovs’kyj, Kyïv, 2004: 50).

5 Babulin I., Bitva pod Konotopom: 3.

6 Babulin I., Bitva pod Konotopom: 4.

7 Mjakotin V., Ocherki sotsial’noj istorii Ukrainy XVII-XVIII vv., vyp. 1-3, Praha, 1924; V., Zametki po istorii finansovogo upravlenija v Get’manshchine, Khar’kov, 1914.

8 Smirnov states that “the foundation of the agricultural civilization was destroyed” in Ukraine. how should then one explain the economic booming of Ukraine between the end of the 1670s and the early 1680s? Ukraine was then successfully trading with Europe and supplied the whole of Russia with saltpeter.

9 Babulin I., Bitva pod Konotopom: 42.

10 Babulin I., Pokhod Belgorodskogo polka na Ukrainu osen’ju 1658 g., in: Edinorog. Materialy vojennoj istorii Vostochnoj Evropy, vyp. 1, Moskva, 2009: 265.

11 Jakovleva (Tairova) T., Rujina Het’manshchyny: vid Perejaslavs’koji rady-2 do Andrusivs’koji uhody (1659-1667), Kyïv, 2003.

12 Bul’vins’kyj A., Ukraïns’ko-rosijs’ki vzajemyny 1657-1659 rr. v umovakh cyvilizatsijnoho rozmezhuvannja na skhodi Jevropy, Kyïv, 2008.

13 Already by the end of the 16th century the struggle of the Ukrainian Orthodoxhoods and educational centers was united with the efforts of such Cossack leaders as Severyn Nalyvajko and Petro Konashevych-Sahajdachnyj.

Auteur

Professor at the Institute of History of the St. Petersburg State University, Russia. Her investigations on the Baturyn Archive represent a break-through in Ukrainian and Russian history. The books on Ivan Mazepa and the other Ukrainian hetmans of the 17th-18th century have opened new perspectives on these personalities and their world.

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