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¹7 (2014)
Tunnelling Towards Hope

28 February - 6 March 2014

Ukraine History

A Stronghold of Rulers and Rebels

With the recent death toll jumping to nearly 100 and 1,000 injured, Hrushevskoho Street, one of the strongholds of EuroMaidan’s three-month-long protests, made headlines around the globe. It was here, on 19 January the country’s stand against government corruption, abuse of power, and the violation of human rights turned from peaceful protest to all-out revolution. Having witnessed much over the years, Hrushevskoho is a street with a history, and not only care of recent days.


Ukraine Today
Acelebrity using their status and intelligence to influence public views and opinion is rarely seen in modern society, even less so in Ukraine. Here, the majority of celebs use their time, effort, and money to enhance or further their career rather than put their name to something that can do good for others. However, as EuroMaidan intensifies, some are making themselves heard – and they fall either side of the EuroMaidan divide.
It used to be that when rebellion and revolution occurred, the intellectual, creative, and spiritual elite would be front and centre.


Ukrainian Culture

When Walls Can Talk

People have been writing on walls since the dawn of civilisation, we call it graffiti, and ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings. Sometimes it is merely the creator wanting to leave his or her mark; sometimes there is an underlying social or political reason. And it is due to the latter that graffiti has exploded across Kyiv in recent months. Anti dictator messages aside, we peel back a few layers of paint to look at graffiti in the city in general.


Ukraine History

Assassination at the Opera House

One hundred years ago this week, the National Opera of Ukraine was giving a special performance for Tsar Nikolai II and his family. Quitting the royal box seats during second intermission, the rest of the audience followed suit, leaving behind two gentlemen standing in the front row of the theatre talking. What they were talking about is a mystery. As is the reason a third man, wearing a tailcoat and glasses, entered the grand hall with a gun and fired, twice. The man shooting was a member of the Russian Empire’s secret police by the name of Dmytro Bogrov. The man he was aiming at was the Russian Prime Minister, Pyotr Stolypin.

Pyotr Stolypin was rushed to the hospital, and an investigation which lasted over a year ensued. The inquiry was of little use to either party, however: Stolypin died four days later and Bogrov was hanged six days after that. Leaving some crucial questions unanswered, it has left Russian, Ukrainian and even a few foreign historians arguing over the real reason this tough, reform-minded politician was murdered in cold blood in the middle of the National Opera House. 

Politician on the Rise 
Related to the Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov, Pyotr Stolypin came from a very old aristocratic family. Born in Dresden in 1862, he graduated from the St. Petersburg Emperor’s University, surprising the old Russian chemist/inventor Dmitriy Mendeleev with his profound knowledge. Revealing a deep interest and talent in the agricultural sphere, Stolypin accepted a post at the Department of Agriculture after his studies where he was responsible for his own domestic farming project. 
Quickly appointed governor of Saratov, Russia, Stolypin implemented reforms he saw necessary. Building roads, updating water systems, modernising telephone lines and so on, he was quickly gaining the reputation of a wise and talented manager.
Unfortunately, his improvements were not enough in either quantity or speed to deter the 1905 Russian Revolution, and waves of protestors demanding better conditions at work and at home appeared on the streets. With peasants revolting, workers striking and even military mutiny at foot, the people wanted more political, social and national rights. Turning a blind eye to villagers who stole cattle from landlords and then set fire to their houses, it was a revolution Ukraine supported.
It was becoming a very dangerous situation very quickly, and one the Monarch knew required concessions. In one of his manifestos, Nikolai II opted to recognise Ukrainian as a separate language and recommended that the anti-Ukrainian decrees of 1863 and 1876 be banned. As a result, Ukrainian schools, magazines and newspapers opened, and Ukrainian cultural centres and political parties appeared in the largest cities of the region.  

Anti-socialist Sentiment
These newest developments did not stop the current revolts, and in one swift move Pyotr Stolypin instigated military field courts. Insurgents were tried within a two-day period where guilt was predetermined, and verdicts quickly reached, which often lead to execution. These decisive steps calmed the empire and gave Stolypin the opportunity to implement his reforms on a national scale. Most of his improvements were agriculturally-focused, and many historians claim that Stolypin, now Interior Minister, aimed to make those who worked the land strong and independent entrepreneurs. This, however, was something that was in direct opposition to the socialist sentiment gaining support among the entire population at the time.  
The biggest obstacle he faced was the issue of communal land: members of the commune were not allowed to sell the share they worked, nor were they allowed to leave. Tying peasants’ hands so to speak and leaving little chance for development, Stolypin opened up the gates and allowed those who wanted to leave and engage in their own private farm projects the opportunity. 
Unfortunately, this did not solve the problem, and simply allowed those wealthy enough to go about buying more property, leaving the poor forced to continue farming the little land they did have for domestic use. Historians all agree, however, that out of all of the regions, Ukraine most rapidly and effectively supported Stolypin’s reforms. Private farming and entrepreneurship was not new to this region, and by 1916, 50% of Ukrainians were working the land privately.  

Advancement and Assassination 
As one would expect, the reforms had many opponents. The left-wing political assemblies were naturally against them, while the right-wing Ukrainian forces hated Stolypin for his pro-Russian and imperialistic views. The problem was Stolypin did not see Ukraine as a separate nation and did not value the Ukrainian language. In 1910, Stolypin forbade the creation and work of any kind of national club, organisation, or newspaper. He prohibited the publishing of all Ukrainian periodicals, the staging of patriotic plays, even the commemoration of the great Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko was banned. Acting as a true Russian nobleman, promoting the power and will of the tsar, he refused Ukraine any political, cultural or national identity.  
Promoted to Prime Minister, Stolypin’s political steps were tough and quick, and even included the dismissal of the Duma, which he replaced with his own people. Such determination did not go unnoticed, and while the new parliament consisted mostly of pro-monarchy members it did not take long before Nikolai II became wary of his new Prime Minister. Falling into disfavour with the tsar, Stolypin offered his resignation. It was declined, but the Tsar took away almost all his power leaving him politically impotent.
That same year, Pyotr Stolypin paid a visit to Kyiv. Various documents state that his presence was needed for the official opening of a monument to Oleksandr II. By this time, tensions between the Prime Minister of Imperial Russia and the tsar were evident. One harsh example recalls Stolypin meeting Nikolai II at the train station in Kyiv. The tsar deliberately had not allocated space for Stolypin in his carriage, and neither was he given state transport! The day after, Russia’s Prime Minister met his fate while at the National Opera Theatre, putting an end to his life as well as the controversy between himself and the tsar.   

Another Side
This is a typical account of what history books might tell you about the murder of a man that still baffles the population. Modern Ukrainian historians, however, have re-evaluated Stolypin’s heady reforms, and as their findings differ significantly from the official legend promoted during the days of the Soviets, we thought it only prudent to include them here. 
Leading Ukrainian historian Serhiy Hrabovsky says the myth about Pyotr Stolypin being a great and wise reformer is ridiculous. Taking a look at some of the reforms themselves, many claim Stolypin aimed to support the peasants and make them private entrepreneurs. “What he did in fact was support the big landlords, preserving the old and ineffective scheme of only a small amount of landowners owning a large amount of land. What this did was lead to extreme poverty for some and the drastic stratification of the village population.” 
This, Hrabovsky says, is proved a few years later when the Bolsheviks could be seen regularly coming into Ukraine. They were taking whatever they could in order to feed the various Russian villages which had been reformed by Stolypin and could no longer feed themselves. “The only exemption might be the Kuban example. The land was not run by the landlord system here, which is why this area was often leading the way in terms of agricultural export. Had Stolypin really wanted to reform the villages he should have considered Kuban and left the idea of combining private land ownership and big landlords alone.” 

Final Thoughts
Historian Serhiy Hrabovsky also says that what Stolypin did to the Duma was unjustifiable. “He did not just dismiss the Duma, he dispersed them. Many were arrested, others were not allowed to be elected again. In their place, he put big landlords who were predominantly Russian! Other nation states were not allowed.” Eliminating the Duma as the only legal and effective institution which had any control over the government, Hrabovsky says he practically ruined the beginning of Russian parliamentarianism. What’s interesting is that even though his actions brought in a new group of wealthy men, Stolypin was still criticised for his reforms!
One of the most significant things our local historian recalls about this sordid time in Russian politics were the field courts the Prime Minister implemented. They were the prototype of Stalin’s repression which means people were arrested and shot for simply reading a book or possessing a certain leaflet. “Thousands of students and innocent people were shot without any sort of investigation. The only difference between the measures taken by Stolypin and Stalin was the latter went much much further.”
One of the last things Hrabovsky comments on (painting the Russian aristocrat in the right light as far as he’s concerned) was his attitude towards Ukraine. The day before his assassination, Stoplyin was to meet with a Ukrainian delegation. They wanted permission to put up a monument to Shevchenko. His response, like his reforms, was tough and quick: “While I’m alive, there will be no monument to Shevchenko in Kyiv!”
As a final thought, Pyotr Stolypin is often remembered for his famous quote in addressing the left-wing radicals: “You gentlemen, are in need of great upheaval, we are in need of Great Russia!” The tragedy of the situation then was that no one needed and no one cared about the common person. But it still doesn’t answer the question: who killed Pyotr Stolypin?

Kateryna Kyselyova

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Comments (9)
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wzhalmxetpx | 07.02.2012 14:29

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Kunita | 05.02.2012 18:44

I’m going to enter (assuming I can ltocae transport!) I’ve entered every year for the past four or five. I used to phone for a form although now I get sent one in the post, so perhaps you could ask to join the mailing list if you plan on entering regularly. Hope you’ve managed to get through to them Michael!

Kunita | 05.02.2012 18:43

I’m going to enter (assuming I can ltocae transport!) I’ve entered every year for the past four or five. I used to phone for a form although now I get sent one in the post, so perhaps you could ask to join the mailing list if you plan on entering regularly. Hope you’ve managed to get through to them Michael!

pierre LB | 13.09.2011 14:24


I think one must distinguish the source quoted and the editor that puts the piece together. It is only fair that the author of the article quotes and draws ideas from a wide variety of sources. As far as Bogrov’s background, I accept that he is indeed a murky character, however, to state categorically that he was a member of the Ohrana as historical truth is misleading as well as oblivious of mainstream historical opinion on the matter from A Solzhenitsyn to H. Carrere d’Encause. One would have wished for a more balanced affirmation regarding Bogrov’s profile in the intro as well as a wider range of sources for the piece. This is hardly an insult..

As far as Hrabovsky’s statement regarding the similitude between Stalin’s mass murders and P.A. Stolypin’s governance, it is at best embarrassing for the Institute of Philosophy of the Academy of Arts and Sciences of Ukraine to be wasting its budget with this man’s salary or at worst shear dishonesty…

Seriously, Stalin? Why not Baba Yaga??

Editor | 13.09.2011 13:40

I AM appalled:))))

Editor | 13.09.2011 13:37

Just because you disagree with some pieces of the feature, does not mean it's fair and reasonable to attack the piece so completely, nor the journalist who wrote it. As far as both of these complaints are concerned, you both think Bogrov was not a member of the secret service. That is of course your choice, but there are many well educated historians who now believe he was. The second complaint is against a quotation by a respected historian, analyst at the Institute of Philosophy of the Academy of Arts and Sciences of Ukraine, and a respected journalist. You cannot insult the journalist and say her work is unresearched on the basis of a quotation from an expert in the field. I appalled by the standard of your complaints.

pierre LB | 13.09.2011 13:09

I am appalled by the abyssal depth in historical standards displayed in this article.

-Mordko Bogrov was never a member of the Ohrana, if anything he may have been an informant as mainstream research puts it.
-to suggest a parallel between Stalin and P.A. Stolypin is as ludicrous as drawing a parallel between Nazism and Scotland Yard. For WO to portray such opinion as the main reference of the article raises doubts on its credibility.
-the idea that “thousands of students were shot just for reading leaflets” shows at worst a total lack of historical understanding from the author of such idea or at best, a certain propensity for historical phantasies. If it were the case that “students got shot in the thousands for reading prohibited leaflets”, there would have never been a revolution to start with..

It would have served the author better to read more about this great man to come up with a more credible piece...
For instance, it would have been interesting to note that P.A. Stolypin died, a few days after being mortally wounded, in the same building which todays serves as the headquarter of the Rukh in Kiev, in the same room Tchernovyl died few decades later – fate can have a strange sense of humor sometimes..

I wholeheartedly applaud WO’s effort to raise the editorial content of the magazine from the level of “bikinis & Lap dance technique” by producing history articles, sadly the present issue shows that WO is more credible with the later than the former.

Paul Niland | 13.09.2011 12:14

Dear Alxissf;

Your opinions on this piece are interesting. You state quite categorically at the beginning that Bogrov was not a member of the Russian secret police, well, how can you be so sure? Other sources I have looked at also claim that he was. To be fair, we do not know, and so maybe the author should have wrote that "it is widely thought that he was a member of the secret police", but considering the information available in research material on the subject it was not an unfair statement to make.

Then, if you are as I understand objecting to Bogrov being labelled a member of the Russian secret police, why? Are you suggesting that the Russian secret police were honourable people who would never stoop to murder? That's an interesting debate! Many would disagree I feel.

And then, the conclusion of your comment, that nobody in the Russian empire was ever was ever shot for having a book or a leaflet. Again, the author has researched the subject well and in her closing remarks is quoting directly historian Serhiy Hrabovsky, to be honest I am not sure of his credentials, but if you wish to question them and question his findings and opinions, that's your right also... I would expect though that you'll find Mr. Hrabovsky is fairly well respected.

The point with history is that it will tell us different things depending on the interpretations applied and the underlying attitudes of those that are interpreting, and you may not agree with the conclusions reached by either the author or indeed Mr. Hrabovsky, but you cannot (reasonably) suggest that this piece was ill researched.



alxissf | 13.09.2011 11:00

First, the killer Bogrov was NOT a member of the Russian secret police. It's a complete invention. There is a theory that he might have been an informer like many other terrorist but that's it.

Second, this sentence "They were the prototype of Stalin’s repression which means people were arrested and shot for simply reading a book or possessing a certain leaflet. “Thousands of students and innocent people were shot without any sort of investigation. "

This is a complete lie. Nobody in the Russian Empire was ever shot for having a book or a leaflet. It's a shame that a newspaper like "What's On" publishes such rubbish. The least you can do is pay some respect to a good man, victim of communist terrorism when trying to reform a huge Empire that was Russia.

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