Commissar or Commissioner (комісар; komisar). Official delegated with special authority to execute a duty or office as an agent or representative of a superior body, usually the state. In the Polish Commonwealth the name denoted a special deputy charged with specific missions. When in 1638 Poland abolished the Cossacks' right to self-government, a Polish commissioner was appointed to command the reduced number of Cossacks. In some countries the term is used for an official assigned by the government to act temporarily in place of an elected body. Under the Ukrainian Central Rada such agents governed counties and gubernias of the Ukrainian National Republic (see Gubernial commissioners).

In Soviet usage the title of commissar has been associated with a number of administrative and military functions. Military political commissars were appointed by the Communist Party and the Soviet government to direct political propaganda and ensure Party loyalty in military units. Often the commissar's role was more important than that of a regular military commander. The office of military commissar was abolished in 1942, but political officials without the title of commissar remained in the army. From 1919 to 1946 government ministers in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, as in the rest of the Soviet Union, were known as people's commissars, and the ministries they headed were called people's commissariats (see People's commissariats of the Ukrainian SSR and Council of People's Commissars).

Vasyl Markus

  [This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]

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