Михаил Петрович Драгоманов (1841-1895)

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Mykhaylo Drahomanov: A Symposium and Selected Writings, The Annals of the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in the U.S., Vol. II, Spring, 1952, No. 1 (3).


Mykhaylo Drahomanov

This first appeared in Russian in the Slavyanshj Almanack (Slavic Almanac) (Vienna, 1880), under the title "Politico-Social Thoughts in Recent Songs of the Ukrainian (Little Russian) People." Today the Slavic Almanac is a bibliographic rarity, and we did not have access to it. Our translation was made from the Ukrainian version in the third volume of Studies of M. Drahomanov in Ukrainian Folklore and Literature (Lviv, 1906). We have taken only the introductory part, which treats methodological and general questions. The principal part of the article treats folk songs of the 19th century as they reflect the political and social processes of Drahomanov's own time. Because it is so difficult to translate the songs which Drahomanov quotes at length, we were unfortunately unable to present the main portion. However, we hope that this fragment will characterize Drahomanov's scientific methods, in which studies of folklore merge into sociology. We should add that Drahomanov reworked and enlarged this article into a book, New Ukrainian Songs on Social Matters (Geneva, 1881).

We have chosen this subject for our contribution to the Slavic Almanac because of an editorial statement that the purpose of this collection is to give the readers a sampling from the various Slavic languages and dialects, and to publish articles which present the individual characteristics of these peoples. . . .

Our people is known for the richness and realism of its folk songs, which are always the best examples of the popular idiom. . . . We are less sure whether an article on folk songs can reach the second goal of showing the "individual characteristics" of our people. We must first explain this reservation.

Both scholars and politicians of the nationalist and democratic parties are fond of talking about "national individuality" and "popular philosophies of life." However these are by their nature vague concepts, first because each person seeks in a nationality what he himself hopes to find, and secondly because it is hard to say exactly what a "people" is. Though a "people" be taken to include only the poorest and least educated classes, it must still be remembered that these are less homogeneous in their ideas and character than is usually thought. Even the classes which have been least affected by the course of history are marked with the imprint of successive epochs of civilization and differentiated into cultural strata. Of course this is less visible than among the higher classes, where we find people with ideas from the 19th, 18th, 17th, and even earlier centuries coexisting at the same time. To say that any one characteristic is popular or national, as one speaks of a national religion, for instance, is very risky. . . . To obtain worthwhile results in this question it would be necessary to make a comparative study of all peoples. Only by such an enormous work of analysis and synthesis would it be possible to say with assurance that any given characteristic or idea, or rather type of idea, is national and limited to such and such a people.

What we find in the life and thoughts of a people may be compared to the geologic structure of the earth's crust. It is like a mountain which is based on a foundation common to the whole earth, but has been given a specific shape and composition by the passage of geologic time. It will, however, continue to change, since the history of the earth is not yet finished. A very detailed examination is required to determine the specific characteristics of a mountain, and this can only be done for a specific geologic period, and cannot be generalized. In the field of national characteristics such investigations are still in their cradle. So far the most valuable work has been the collection of material, and not the largely subjective and biased interpretations which we find in discussions of national individuality.

Only after such an introduction can we permit ourselves to begin our consideration of the ideas and characteristics of the Ukrainian people, even though such characteristics certainly exist and can be sensed in all that the people thinks and does. We must make one more reservation. We do not dare speak of characteristics so basic in our people that throughout their whole history these could be considered an essential part of their psychology. We shall limit ourselves to the most recent period, and choose from it only folk songs which may be said to express the feelings of the majority, if not all, of the people. These are songs which treat subjects common to the majority, and even do so in almost the same words from the Mukachevo region in Hungary to the Slobidska Ukraine on the banks of the Seym and the Don.

The latest period in Ukrainian history may be said to be the last hundred years, from the latter half of the 18th century. At that time began the transfer of power from the three aristocracies -- the Hungarian west of the Carpathians, the Polish between the Carpathians and the Dnieper, and the Cossack from the Dnieper to the Don -- to the Austrian and Russian bureaucracies, under whom the Ukrainians have spent the 19th century thus far. Eveni in Austria a truly constitutional way of life has scarcely begun for the nass of the Ruthenians.

During this most recent period what are the political and social ideas which we find in the songs of those classes for whom a song is what a book or newspaper is for the more educated classes?

In beginning a discussion of the political ideas of any people, the first question is whether it has a feeling of national unity, or if, being without political unity, it feels this lack.

We note that a large majority of the songs dealing with the life of the individual and the family are the same all over the Ukraine. Three-fourths of the songs such as Christmas carols, love songs, wedding songs, and the songs peasants sing at their work are the same everywhere, from the Don or Chernihiv regions on the one side, to Ukrainian settlements in Hungary on the other, although these lands were never united politically. Thus, for instance, out of forty-five songs which Talapkovych1 recorded in Hungarian Ruthenia, we find twenty-eight which are recognizable at first glance as variations on songs of the Dnieper Ukraine.

Songs treating political matters vary more; those stemming from the most ancient periods are the most nearly identical over the whole Ukraine. These are the ones which are the relics of the heroic period of the princes and boyars from the 9th to the 14th centuries. Among these are for instance the kolady (sung during the Christmas season), which describe: a cohort of warriors assembling to go to Tsarhorod (Constantinople) for military service; the division of the plunder; a young lord's siege of a city; a lord going to Sudomyr or some other city to administer justice, etc. We have included many such songs in the first volume of our Historical Songs of the Little Russian People (Kiev, 1874). Most of these were recorded in Galicia and the Right Bank Ukraine, but versions of many of these were later sent to us from the Kharkiv, Ekaterinoslav, and Don regions. Such very ancient songs are the same all over the Ukraine because in the heroic period the princely and boyar structure was the same everywhere. They have been preserved in the various new social orders because they have been attached to religious festivals which are still celebrated in the same manner all over the Ukraine.

More recent political songs are no longer found to be similar in all our lands. For instance the dumas (lyric epics) of the Cossack kobzars (minstrels) of the 16th to 18th centuries are found almost exclusively in the Left Bank Ukraine, haydamak (peasant insurgent) songs of the 18th century mostly on the Right Bank. The songs of the opryshky ("Robin Hoods") are limited to the Carpathians. However, there are some songs which describe conditions common to our whole country, for instance the many describing the Turkish and Tatar bondage, and scenes from the struggle against it: Cossack patrols on the steppes, a warrior's death on the steppe, his farewell to his horse, etc. Besides these, there are songs about real or typical imaginary figures, beloved or unloved, which are the same from the Carpathians to the Don. Among these we find songs about: Bayda, who killed the Turkish sultan (16th century); Morozenko, a hero slain in battle (17th century); Nechay, the general of the Khmelnytsky period who fought the most ardently for the freedom of the whole people, and not just for the interests of the Cossack elders, and is better remembered than even Hetman Khmelnytsky, "The Father of the Cossacks" (17th century); Kaniowski, the Polish lord who killed a cooper's daughter (a scene from aristocratic Poland of the 18th century); Sava Chaly, who deserted the Cossacks in order to serve the Polish lords and was killed by the Cossacks for this; and Shvachka, one of the haydamaks who took revenge for deeds like those of Kaniowski.

Such political songs, like the songs of the individual, of the family, and of cultural life, are found to be the same in collections from the Carpathians, Volhynia, the Right Bank Ukraine, the Left Bank Ukraine, the province of Kharkiv, etc., that is, in regions which have not belonged to the same political State for a long time, or have never been united.

It is also revealing to compare Ukrainian songs with those of the peoples, even the Slavic peoples, with whom the Ukrainians have lived in the same States. A comparison of Ukrainian songs with Polish and Great Russian ones shows very few from individual, family, and agricultural life which are the same, and almost none from the political sphere, with the exception of a very few Great Russian soldiers' songs, which occur in the Ukraine in a very mutilated form. Out of the thousands of the most important Ukrainian songs which have been printed in collections, there are scarcely fifty of which variations can be found in Polish or Great Russian collections. Of those which have parallels, half belong to the group of itinerant motifs (the marriage of brother and sister, the slaying of a brother, etc.) which are to be found not only among the Slavs, but also among the Germanic, Latin, and other European and Asiatic peoples.

It is interesting that our variations of such songs are closest to those of the Slovaks, i.e. to those of a people which has never dominated the Ukrainians. This correlates with the fact that on our western ethnic frontier the Ukrainians are more easily assimilated by the Slovaks, and vice versa, than by the Poles. However, the number of songs which are common to the Ukrainians and the Slovaks is not very large, and many of these do not extend beyond the region of the Ukrainian tribe of the Lemky in the Carpathians.

Folk songs show an exceptionally close relationship between the Ukrainians and their northern neighbors, the Byelorussians. In Byelorussian collections at least sixty or seventy percent of the songs are variations of Ukrainian ones. Of these about twenty percent (wedding songs, Easter songs, and other ritual and seasonal songs) are very old and must have been common to the Ukrainians and the Byelorussians from earliest times. The Byelorussians have clearly taken the rest of these parallel songs from us. It may be asked whether we did not take them from the Byelorussians, but in these songs we find birds, plants, etc. native to the Ukraine, as well as treatment of our Cossacks and chumaky (merchants travelling in caravans). It is interesting to remember that during the Lithuanian period, when our people was most closely linked to the Byelorussian, the political center was in Byelorussia rather than in our land. Nonetheless, they took incomparably more songs from us than we from them.

A geographical survey of the songs in the various parts of our land, and in neighboring lands, shows the interesting fact that political frontiers, as opposed to ethnic ones, have very little effect on the diffusion of songs. Our songs form a distinct and integrated group, and this is one of the clearest signs of a crystallized and homogeneous nationality.

However, a closer view of the ideas contained in these songs makes it evident that the individuality and unity of our nation is a function of private life and custom rather than of political consciousness. Even the specifically political songs express abhorrence of foreign domination rather than the desire for all of us to live together in our own State. The underlying thought may be expressed thus: we do not want to be taken into Turk or Tatar captivity, or to be beaten by Polish lords or Muscovite generals. What kind of State our people longs for can not be determined from these songs. Their whole content indicates that after several hundred years of foreign domination, the opposition of our people is more from social and economic motives than from national and political antipathies and sympathies. This was inevitable, for history did not give us a chance to create a State which would have channeled national emotions.

Our nation was closest to statehood at the time of Khmelnytsky's Cossack revolution in the middle of the 17th century. A vast territory on both sides of the Dnieper, from Baturyn on the Muscovite border to Vinnitsa in Podolya, was then organized into a Cossack republic, and groups of Cossacks and peasant insurgents were to be found as far as Nadvirna in Galicia. But even then the mass of the people was more interested in economic and social problems than in national ones. Even in the Cossack dumas, sung by professional minstrels, we find less about religion, the nation, and the State, than about items such as how "the tax collecting on our rivers and highways is farmed out to Jews"; and in the simple songs sung by peasants all over the Ukraine, the statesman Khmelnytsky is scarcely mentioned, whereas Nechay, the representative of peasant interests, is widely praised. The dismemberment of the Cossack republic by Muscovy, Poland, and Turkey in 1667, and the crystallization of an aristocracy in that part of the Cossack republic which lasted another hundred years on the Left Bank under tsarist protection, necessarily weakened even further the idea of the nation and the State, and reinforced the social and economic motives. It was with this orientation that our people entered a new epoch of its history in the second half of the 18th century.


1 Holovatsky, Folk Songs of Galician and Hungarian Rus, II, pp. 535-559.

malorus.org, копилефт 2006 г.