Promethean movement

Image - Promethee (no. 130, 1937) (Paris).

Promethean movement. A political movement of opposition to the Soviet government, named after the mythical god Prometheus (a symbol of the struggle of all enslaved nations for freedom), that emerged in Europe in the 1920s among émigré communities of nations under Soviet rule. It was formed as the Promethean League of Nations Subjugated by Moscow (commonly known as the Promethean League) in 1925 after a conference of representatives of various governments-in-exile and national committees based in Paris, Warsaw, Bucharest, Istanbul, Helsinki, and Prague. Its headquarters was set up in Warsaw. The league’s first executive included president Roman Smal-Stotsky of Ukraine and two vice-presidents, W. Mustapha Bei of Azerbaijan and J. Salakaya of Georgia. The league consisted of Azerbaijani, Buriat, Caucasian mountain peoples’, Crimean Tatars’, Don Cossacks’, Georgian, Idel-Ural Tatar, Ingrian, Kazakh (see Kazakhstan), Kirghiz (see Kirgizia), Komi, Kuban Cossack (see Kuban Cossack Host), Mari, Mordovian (see Mordovia), Tadzhik (see Tadzhikistan), Turkmen (see Turkmenistan), and Ukrainian representatives. Armenians and Belarusians were not represented. The league claimed to speak for up to 80 million people. Its most concrete undertaking was a campaign to block the admission of the USSR into the League of Nations. In connection with this campaign it sent memorandums and other materials to all attending delegations. The Promethean League’s representative in Geneva was Mykola Livytsky. The league sponsored a congress in Warsaw in 1935 which was attended by 200 delegates and specialists in the nationalities question in their respective countries.

Much of the Promethean movement’s activity, in fact, consisted of advocacy work. It was carried out mainly by local clubs through lectures, meetings, and informative gatherings aimed at acquainting the participants with the movement’s struggle. Local chapters also published periodicals, such as the French-language Prométhée (1926–8) and La Revue de Prométhée (1938–40). Journals in other languages were also published, and articles for publication in the press, books, and brochures were written by Promethean supporters.

Paris and Warsaw were the main centers of Promethean activity. Paris was an important publishing center and served as the headquarters for the allied Friendship Committee of the Peoples of Caucasia, Turkestan, and Ukraine and the France-Orient organization (which had a Ukrainian section), both of which were organized under the auspices of Prince Jan Tokarzewski-Karaszewicz. The leading activists among the Ukrainians were Mykola O. Kovalsky, Ilarion Kosenko, Viacheslav Prokopovych, Oleksander Shulhyn, and R. Shulhyn.

In Warsaw the movement benefited from the financial and administrative support of government and semigovernmental agencies, military officials, and supporters of Józef Piłsudski. The Oriental Institute in Warsaw (S. Siedlecki, director; O. Górka, secretary) was the main base for the movement, and many scholars and professionals associated with it worked there. A youth circle formed around the institute published Wschód (L’Orient) under the editorship of W. Bączkowski. The Polish Institute of Nationalities Research, the Ukrainian Scientific Institute in Warsaw, and the Biuletyn Polsko-Ukraiński were also havens for movement supporters, as was the Institute of Eastern Europe in Vilnius (V. Bielgorski, director). Other Polish proponents of the movement included A. Bocheński, Tadeusz Hołówko, M. Handelsman, S. Poniatowski, Stanisław Stempowski, and Leon Wasilewski. Leading activists among the Ukrainians included S. Baziak, Levko Chykalenko, Tymish Olesiiuk, Volodymyr Salsky (head of the Ukrainian section), Pavlo Shandruk, Roman Smal-Stotsky (long-standing head of the Prometei club), Pavlo Suliatytsky (of the Kuban), and Vsevolod Zmiienko.

Secondary centers of the league’s activity were Berlin, Harbin, Helsinki, Istanbul, Prague, and Teheran. In 1932–7 the Prometei club was active in Harbin, and in 1933 it published a collection of articles in Ukrainian, Georgian, Turkic-Tatar, and Polish. Local activists were I. Paslavsky and Ivan Svit. There was also a Promethean group in Shanghai, formed by refugees from Manchuria and Soviet territory.

After the Second World War certain ideas of the Promethean movement were perpetuated by organizations such as the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations, the Paris Bloc, and the Federation of Former Central and East European Veterans.

Arkadii Zhukovsky

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]

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