Hromada

Hromada. The Ukrainian term for a commune or community—the most basic administrative-territorial unit in any one (rural) settlement. Historically the social and legal significance of the term has varied. It has also been used to refer to church-parish communities and to groups sharing property (to the exclusion of non-members). During the medieval Princely era a community was called a verv. Several vervy made up a volost. Other terms for communities at the time were the desiatka (clan), sotnia (larger clan), and tysiacha (tribe); with time these took on the same meaning as the hromada, verv, and zemlia (‘land,’ ie, ‘domain’) respectively, and in the end acquired additional military meanings (see Desiatskyi and Tysiatskyi).

In the 14th and 15th centuries, when Rus’ law was still in effect in Galicia and the Lithuanian-Ruthenian state, many volost hromady existed and enjoyed wide-ranging self-rule. The head of each dvoryshche (an extended-family group) met with his peers (muzhiie, liudy) to elect the leader (starets or starosta) of a volost. The general assembly of a volost—the kopa—had judicial and enforcement functions (see Community court), and members of the volost were collectively responsible for tax collection and apprehending and handing over wrongdoers. In introducing serfdom (see Voloka land reform), the nobility of the 16th century broke up the volost hromady into individual village hromady. The latter retained vestiges of self-rule and fought to maintain their ancient rights, but they lost their autonomy with the advent of Polish-Lithuanian rule and the substitution of Rus’ law with Germanic law. Thereafter the hromada was subject to the authority of a viit (reeve) designated by the local demesnal owner (a noble, the church, or the king).

In the Carpathian Mountains of Galicia the pastoral hromady were governed by Wallachian law; they elected their leader (kniez) and enjoyed self-rule for a much longer time because of their isolation and non-agricultural economy.

In Left-Bank Ukraine, hromady existed well into the 19th century. They were either purely Cossack, mixed (ie, consisting of Cossacks and commoners sharing the same rights but headed by a Cossack otaman), or purely peasant-village hromady (headed by a viit or starosta). The otaman and viit/starosta were elected and were responsible for convening assemblies to resolve communal matters of administration, justice, and land use.

Because the hromady each owned some land, they came to be known as land communities. Allotments of arable land and their subdivision were designated by the hromada assembly. In Ukraine, land ownership by the hromady diminished during the 18th century; in Russia proper, land ownership by the peasant commune (obshchina) had deeper roots and continued up to the Revolution of 1917. The 1861 land reform and abolition of serfdom in the Russian Empire gave the land communities new relevance: land ownership was granted not to individual peasants, but to the hromada, which then distributed the land and had collective responsibility for ensuring that its members paid their taxes and redemption payments. This kind of hromada was prevalent in Left-Bank Ukraine and Southern Ukraine. Not until the Stolypin agrarian reforms after the Revolution of 1905 did private land ownership and use supersede that of the commune. This transformation occurred far more extensively in Ukraine than in Russia proper (see Land tenure system).

Under Russian rule, the hromada as an administrative unit existed in the form of a ‘rural society,’ and throughout the 19th century it was allowed a minimum of social organization and autonomy. Until 1861, only state peasants could belong to village hromady; afterwards, all emancipated serfs were included. The governing bodies of the village hromada were the skhod (assembly, consisting of the village elders and 2 adult male family heads for every 10 households) and the starosta. The skhod elected the starosta and other officials, set taxes, and resolved various husbandry problems. Nonetheless, the village hromada had extremely limited self-rule and was directly supervised by various volost authorities. On an informal and extra-legal level the hromada also acted to preserve community solidarity and interests through social control of behavior. Community action (samosud) was taken against fellow villagers or outsiders who broke the law or infringed upon local customs.

Under Austrian rule, the West Ukrainian village hromada had much more extensive autonomy. In addition to specific functions delineated by various laws, it performed others handed down by the civil administration. The governing organs of the hromada were the council and the viit. Only adult males who paid taxes or were enumerated in the census as part of a particular professional category could take part in its elections.

During the period of Ukrainian struggle for independence (1917–20), self-government of the hromady was restored and democratized but had little opportunity to develop. Under Soviet rule, the village and municipal hromady were replaced in the 1920s by rural soviets and municipal governments.

In Western Ukraine under interwar Polish rule the village hromada did not, in fact, have its own government but was, in most cases, administered by an appointed government commissioner. The traditional system, however, was not officially abolished until 1933, when a new law concerning territorial self-rule was introduced and several hromady came to constitute a gmina. The hromada was responsible for taking care of its village's communal property and roads, and co-operating with the gmina authorities in cultural, agricultural, and health matters affecting the village. The head of the hromada—the soltys—and its council were elected by all inhabitants of the hromada who were 24 years of age or older. The election of the soltys was confirmed by the county head (starosta), and the entire hromada was supervised by the county office and the gmina head (viit, Polish: wójt), who, despite the existence of this legal framework, was frequently appointed in many Ukrainian regions by the commissioner.

In Transcarpathia, each village had a self-governing hromada, which elected its starosta. Only in matters concerning the administration of the state as a whole (under Hungary and Czechoslovakia) were several hromady subordinated to a district notary office.

Vasyl Markus

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 2 (1989).]




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