Autonomy. A condition under which a sociopolitical entity determines its own laws. Absolute autonomy is the same as independence, but usually the term autonomy refers to a limited right of legislation and self-rule. Normally the autonomous status of an entity is defined by a constitution and respected by the dominant state. From the political viewpoint, the autonomous entity can be a state, in which case the system is a federative one, or an administrative territory. Other types of organizations or societies can enjoy a certain kind of autonomy also; for example, a national church (in relation to the world church), national minorities, estates, institutions (universities), professional associations, and commercial organizations. According to social theory, the right to autonomy is based on the consciousness of group interests and distinctions in a section of society and on the striving for self-preservation and self-expression by certain groups (see Self-determination). The desire for autonomy among subjugated peoples gave rise to the autonomist movement, which played an important role in modern Ukrainian history.
The various principalities (lands) of the Kyivan Rus’ were autonomous in a certain sense. Until the end of the 14th century the Ukrainian principalities within the Grand Duchy of Lithuania possessed certain attributes of autonomy. In the period before Bohdan Khmelnytsky's rebellion (see Cossack-Polish War), the Cossacks had limited self-rule (liberties) and in some cases actual control of the northern part of the Kyiv voivodeship. This enabled them, along with the Ukrainian clergy and burghers, to conduct their own church and cultural policy.
The Ukrainian Orthodox church enjoyed a certain autonomy in relation to the patriarch of Constantinople before it was incorporated into the Moscow patriarchate in 1686. Similarly, the Uniate church reserved for itself certain autonomous rights in the Church Union of Berestia, but later it gradually lost these rights.
The Pereiaslav Treaty of 1654 between Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky and the tsar of Muscovy, Aleksei Mikhailovich, established the Hetman state as an autonomous polity within Muscovy. The Hetmanate’s autonomy, however, was undermined over time as it was increasingly incorporated into the Russian realm (see Hetman articles). The most dramatic attempt to establish Ukraine's independence from Muscovy was undertaken by Ivan Mazepa in 1708–9. During this period a number of Ukrainians put forth a projects for an autonomous Ukrainian state allied with a different neighbor: Ivan Vyhovsky's Treaty of Hadiach with Poland in 1658, Yurii Khmelnytsky's Treaty of Slobodyshche with Poland in 1660, Petro Doroshenko's Buchach Peace Treaty of 1672 with Turkey, and Petro Petryk's treaty with the Crimea in 1692. The Zaporozhian Sich was autonomous in relation to both the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Hetman state government until it was destroyed by the Russian army in 1775.
Having defeated Ivan Mazepa in 1709 (see Battle of Poltava), Russia made stronger efforts to limit Ukraine's autonomy. Among the most important measures were the appointment of a resident general, representing the tsar, to watch over Hetman Ivan Skoropadsky; the formation of the Little Russian Collegium in 1722; the reduction of the hetman's prerogatives by means of the so-called administrative ordinances (reshitelnye punkty) under Danylo Apostol; and the introduction of the Governing Council of the Hetman Office (1731–50). After a brief restoration of autonomy under Kyrylo Rozumovsky (1750–64), government was handed over to the Little Russian Collegium, headed by Petr Rumiantsev. The regimental system in Slobidska Ukraine was abolished, and the Slobidska Ukraine gubernia and the New Russia gubernia were created in 1764. The Zaporozhian Sich was sacked and burned down. Direct Russian administration was introduced into Ukraine in 1781. Cossack formations were disbanded, and the Cossack starshyna and Ukrainian gentry were absorbed into the Russian nobility in 1785. The peasants became serfs. Later on even the names of the Little Russia gubernia and the Slobidska Ukraine gubernia (1835) were abolished, and the last traces of Ukraine's autonomy vanished.
These measures did not suppress the desire for autonomy in Ukraine, which was forcefully expressed in the instructions for the Ukrainian deputies to Catherine II’s Legislative Commission of 1767–9. In 1791 Vasyl Kapnist traveled to Prussia to look for support for Ukraine's liberation. Autonomist sentiments can be found in the writings of a number of public figures from the end of the 18th to the beginning of the 19th century; for example, in Andriian Chepa, Vasyl Poletyka, Tymofii Kalynsky, Arkhyp Khudorba, and the anonymous author of the popular Istoriia Rusov, which for a long time constituted the program of Ukrainian autonomy. A group of Ukrainians in Novhorod-Siverskyi (see Novhorod-Siverskyi patriotic circle) actively propagated the idea of autonomy for Ukraine. Its leading members came from the earlier Cossack starshyna, the Ukrainian gentry, the clergy, and the nascent intelligentsia. Most of them were graduates of the Kyivan Mohyla Academy. The group's political and cultural activities had a considerable influence on the literary renaissance of the 19th century.
In the 1820s the Little Russian Secret Society, organized by Vasyl Lukashevych, was active in Left-Bank Ukraine. In contrast to the Decembrists, who wanted a centralized Russian republic, this society chose the restoration of autonomy to Ukraine as its goal. The Society of United Slavs—one of the branches of the Decembrist movement in Ukraine—drafted a plan for a Slavic federation, but did not provide for an autonomous Ukraine. The Ukrainian renaissance of the mid-19th century, which at first was a literary and cultural movement, found in Taras Shevchenko a champion of Ukraine's political rights. Mykola Kostomarov's Knyhy bytiia ukraïns'koho narodu (The Books of the Genesis of the Ukrainian People), which was a programmatic statement of the Cyril and Methodius Brotherhood (1845–7), did not go as far as Shevchenko, who was accused of advocating ‘separatism’ by the Russian government, but it did raise the issue of Ukraine's lost autonomy and envisioned Ukraine as a free republic in a federative union with other Slavic nations.
During the Revolution of 1848–9 in the Habsburg monarchy, the Ukrainians of Galicia demanded territorial autonomy. This project was not fulfilled, but remained the minimal political program of the Ukrainians in Galicia until 1918. In 1861, however, the Austrian government granted extensive autonomy to all Galicia (including the western part inhabited by the Poles). Galicia got its own diet (see Diet, provincial), a provincial executive in Lviv, and subordinate agencies of local self-government. The Poles had a majority in the diet and the administration. The official language was German and then, after 1867, Polish, but the Ukrainian members of the diet had the right to address the diet and write petitions in Ukrainian. The Ukrainians waged a long political struggle for the partitioning of Galicia into Ukrainian and Polish parts, believing this to be the only way of settling the differences between the two nations. In the first half of the 19th century Bukovyna was part of Galicia, but in 1861 it became a separate province and was granted autonomous institutions similar to those in Galicia. In Bukovyna, unlike Galicia, the county councils and assemblies were directly responsible to the provincial executive in Chernivtsi. The official language was German, but Romanian and Ukrainian were allowed in government institutions. The political program of the Bukovynian Ukrainians demanded unification with Galicia into a separate autonomous territory within the Austrian Empire.
In 1848 Adolf Dobriansky, the delegate from Transcarpathia in the Supreme Ruthenian Council in Lviv, suggested that Galicia, Bukovyna, and Transcarpathia be unified into one autonomous region. But, like various projects of church organization at the end of the 18th century, this idea did not develop beyond the planning stage. In 1849, however, a separate Ruthenian district was set up in Transcarpathia. Most of the district's inhabitants were Ukrainians, and they enjoyed extensive autonomy in education and government. The constitution of 1860, which abolished the districts, and the introduction of the dualistic system in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy in 1867 put an end to Transcarpathia's autonomy.
After convicting the members of the Cyril and Methodius Brotherhood in 1847, the tsarist government adopted a stricter policy against the movement for autonomy in Russian-ruled Ukraine; the most repressive measures came in the 1870s–1890s. Some sporadic manifestations of Ukrainian autonomism appeared in the relatively liberal period at the end of the 1850s: a group of nobles from the Katerynoslav region presented a memorandum to the assembly of nobility proposing local autonomy as a means of raising the people's standard of living. The zemstvo reform of 1864 and the reform of municipal government did not lead to genuine autonomy, because the agencies of self-government were closely controlled by the governors and the ministry of internal affairs. While ‘separatism’ was repressed, the Ukrainian hromadas conducted mostly scholarly and cultural-educational work. In 1873 Ukrainian students in Saint Petersburg organized a circle of socialist-federalists with a program of autonomy. Mykhailo Drahomanov, in his work Vil'na spilka (Free Association, 1884) presented a program of political freedom for Russia based on autonomous communities, counties, and provinces. Ukraine was to be divided into four autonomous provinces. The writer Trokhym Zinkivsky also advocated the idea of autonomy and federation.
By the end of the 19th century some Ukrainian circles went beyond the demand for autonomy, which they considered insufficient for the development of the Ukrainian people. In 1895 the Ukrainian Radical party, at its congress in Lviv, adopted a declaration on independence, which was largely influenced by Yuliian Bachynsky's book Ukraïna irredenta. A students' conference in Lviv adopted the same position. The Revolutionary Ukrainian party, which was established in Kharkiv in 1900, proposed the idea of Ukraine's secession from Russia and the union of all Ukrainian territories in its programmatic brochure Samostiina Ukraïna (Independent Ukraine), written by Mykola Mikhnovsky. But in 1903 the party abandoned this goal for tactical reasons and limited itself to the demand for autonomy and a separate legislative assembly, even when it became the Ukrainian Social Democratic Workers' party in 1905. The idea of independence was defended only by the Ukrainian People's party.
In spring 1905 the Ukrainian delegates to the All-Russian Congress of Journalists in Saint Petersburg demanded autonomy for Ukraine. A similar demand was made at a zemstvo congress by Illia Shrah on behalf of the zemstvo leaders of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Poltava, Odesa, Vinnytsia, and other cities, and at a conference of the Liberation Alliance. It was rebuffed by all Russian political parties. In 1906–7 the Ukrainian caucus in the Russian State Duma demanded national autonomy for Ukraine. Together with other non-Russian deputies (120 in all) they formed the Autonomists' Union in the First State Duma. The alliance advocated that Russia be restructured on the principles of autonomy and federation. The Society of Ukrainian Progressives, which was active in Ukrainian civic and cultural life in 1908–17, accepted autonomy as a basic principle.
Except for two right-wing parties with little influence—the Ukrainian Party of Socialists-Independentists (formerly the Ukrainian People's party) and the Ukrainian Democratic Agrarian party—both of which demanded independence, the Ukrainian political parties entered the revolutionary period in 1917 with an autonomist program. The First and Second Universals of the Central Rada led to a conflict with the Russian Provisional Government on the issue of autonomy. Eventually the Provisional Government consented to the formation of a General Secretariat as the highest body of government in Ukraine. The Petrograd government regarded the two universals as ‘preparatory steps to autonomy,’ while Ukrainian circles regarded them as its formal ratification. According to the Provisional Government the General Secretariat of the Central Rada was to be responsible to the Russian government; according to Ukrainians it was to be responsible to the Central Rada. When the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia in November 1917 (see October Revolution of 1917), events took a new turn. The Bolsheviks proclaimed the slogan ‘self-determination up to and including separation,’ but at the same time vehemently attacked the Central Rada. Ukrainians were no longer content with autonomy. The Third Universal of the Central Rada, published on 20 November 1917, spoke of ‘federative ties with Russia,’ but was really a declaration of a separate Ukrainian National Republic. The war with Soviet Russia (see Ukrainian-Soviet War, 1917–21), the declaration of independence in the Fourth Universal of 25 January 1918, and France's, Great Britain's, and then the Central Powers' recognition of the government of the Ukrainian National Republic made an anachronism of the autonomist program.
The secret agreement between the government of the Ukrainian National Republic and Austria, which formed a part of the Peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, provided for a separate crown land consisting of Ukrainian Galicia and enjoying an extensive legislative and administrative autonomy. This agreement, however, was revoked by Austria. Beginning in October 1918, the Ukrainians of Galicia and Bukovyna struggled for self-determination that went beyond autonomy and outside the Austrian Empire (see Western Ukrainian National Republic).
Even before the Poles occupied all of Galicia, they were obligated by the Treaty of Versailles (28 June 1919) to respect the autonomous rights of the national minorities. The Conference of Ambassadors approved the incorporation of Galicia into Poland, but at the same time guaranteed Galicia's autonomy, which was to be put into effect under the supervision of the League of Nations. Being uncertain of the ultimate intentions of the international community in regard to Galicia, the Poles inserted these guarantees into the constitution of 17 March 1921. But the concept of autonomy was vague here and permitted various minimalist interpretations. The autonomous provincial agencies and local self-government that Galicia had enjoyed under Austria were abolished by the Polish government as early as 30 January 1920. The law passed by the Polish Sejm on 26 September 1922 introduced self-government in three voivodeships—Lviv, Ternopil, and Stanyslaviv—and some rights for the Ukrainian population there, including bilingualism. But this law was formally revoked in 1933, and a year later Poland renounced the agreement to protect the rights of minorities.
Ukrainian political leaders did not recognize the legality of Galicia's occupation by Poland and hence never raised any demands for autonomy in the 1920s. Only in 1932 did the Ukrainian National Democratic Alliance (UNDO) voice a demand for the territorial autonomy of all Ukrainian regions under Polish rule, and this was done out of tactical considerations. The Ukrainian Parliamentary Representation proposed a suitable act to the Sejm, but it was defeated, for the Polish majority was not prepared to accept such autonomy.
The Treaty of Saint-Germain (10 September 1919) guaranteed Transcarpathia (Subcarpathian Ruthenia) autonomy in matters of language, education, and religion and a separate legislative diet within the framework of the Czechoslovak Republic. Yet the promised autonomy was only partly realized: a governor was appointed, certain linguistic rights were respected, schools were established, but elections to the diet were not held. Political activity in Transcarpathia in the 1920s–1930s was centered on the struggle for autonomy and gave rise to special parties such as the Autonomous Agrarian Alliance. During the international crisis in October 1938 Transcarpathia was given a wider autonomy than was provided for in the Treaty of Saint-Germain: an autonomous government was formed with a number of ministries that were responsible for various internal matters and economic and cultural development. Foreign affairs, defense, finance, and the legal system were common with Czechoslovakia. The governor's post was abolished, and the Carpatho-Ukrainian state (see Carpatho-Ukraine) was represented by the prime minister. In reality the autonomous state of Transcarpathia was something like a member of a federation that was being formed. In March 1939 the Hungarian occupation put an end to Transcarpathia's autonomy. Hungary recognized only some linguistic rights and a minimum of other rights in the region.
The Ukrainian state in 1917–20 dealt with two important issues concerning autonomy: (1) the union of the Western Ukrainian National Republic and the Ukrainian National Republic on 22 January 1919, and (2) the rights of national minorities. The government agencies and armed forces of the Western Ukrainian National Republic retained their de facto autonomy on its territories. National-personal autonomy was granted to individuals from national minorities by the law of 22 January 1918. This was the most far-reaching and progressive solution to the problem of national minorities. Territorial autonomy was not the issue; rather, it was one of cultural rights and self-government for a whole society regardless of residency, for no single minority (Russian, Polish, Jewish, etc) inhabited a distinct region of Ukraine. In 1918 the Hetman government explored the possibility of granting autonomy to the Crimea and the Kuban should these regions join the Ukrainian state.
At a time when the Ukrainian Orthodox church was striving for independence from Moscow, the leaders of the Russian Orthodox church and the local pro-Russian authorities offered autonomy instead of autocephaly (see Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox church). This occurred at all-Ukrainian Orthodox congresses in 1918 and in 1942 during the German occupation. The German authorities legalized the Ukrainian Autonomous Orthodox church as well as the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox church. The attempts of the Ukrainian Catholic church in the 1960s–1970s to introduce a synodal system and win recognition for its own patriarchate can be viewed as a movement for church autonomy within the framework of the Catholic church.
Marxist-Leninist ideology did not regard autonomy as a political solution to the nationality problem. Marx and, at first, Vladimir Lenin favored centralized states and the assimilation of small nations. Even as late as 1913, when the Russian Social Democratic Workers' party (of Bolsheviks) accepted the theoretical right to ‘self-determination up to and including separation,’ the Bolsheviks thought that there was no need for a federation or for cultural-national autonomy (see Nationality policy). They were compelled to change this position in the course of the Ukrainian struggle for independence (1917–20) and recognized the possibility of a federation, but a federation based on the principle of autonomy of its component parts. Thus, the Russian SFSR was created, composed of autonomous soviet socialist republics and autonomous oblasts. Joseph Stalin, who headed the Commissariat for National Minorities in the Soviet government, insisted that the ‘independent’ Soviet republics, which had been set up to counteract the national governments of these countries, be annexed to the Russian SFSR on the basis of autonomy. Two conflicting tendencies emerged in the process of the USSR's formation in 1922–3—the autonomist idea, defended by the Russian Communist party (of Bolsheviks) (see Communist Party of the Soviet Union), and the confederalist idea, defended by the Communists of Ukraine (see Communist Party of Ukraine) and Georgia. Lenin's intervention led to a compromise—the federalist formula.
The principle of autonomy was applied to the smaller nations within the Russian SFSR and in other national republics with an ethnically varied population. There were three types of autonomous entities in the Soviet Union: autonomous soviet socialist republics (ASSR), autonomous oblasts (AO), and autonomous raions. All these entities were based on the presence of a certain nationality in a given territory. The Soviet theory of state law distinguished two forms of autonomy: political autonomy, which applied to the autonomous republics, which had a ‘state character’ (their own constitution and state institutions), and administrative autonomy, which applied to the autonomous oblasts and raions, which had only their own administrative agencies. The autonomous entities in the Soviet Union came into being not through agreement, but through unilateral decision, and their status was in some cases modified or abolished in the same way. Infringements of autonomy could not be challenged judicially.
Within the Ukrainian SSR there was only one autonomous soviet socialist republic—the Moldavian ASSR—in 1924–40. In the 1920s–1930s there were a number of unique administrative entities—national raions and national rural soviets—in which, besides Ukrainian, the language of the minority was used in government and the schools. These entities, however, were not autonomous (see National minorities).
Notwithstanding the centralization of the Soviet state, certain national and territorial entities enjoyed varying degrees of self-governance during various periods. For example, the Ukrainian SSR had broad autonomy during the 1920s. Likewise, Soviet Ukraine gained a degree of administrative autonomy from the 1970s. The Declaration on the State Sovereignty of Ukraine on 16 July 1990 did not result in an immediate and substantial increase in Ukrainian autonomy. The measures redefining Ukraine’s position in the USSR could be found in a Union Treaty that was never implemented before that state’s dissolution.
Vasyl Markus, Oleksander Shulhyn
[This article was updated in 2004.]