Senate (Сенат; Senat; from Latin senatus, ‘council of elders’). In ancient Rome and in many modern states the senate is the highest governing council. In some countries it is one of the legislative chambers of parliament or a judicial college of the higher courts, sometimes even the supreme court (as with the State Senate under Pavlo Skoropadsky’s Hetman government). The ruling council in higher educational institutions is also called a senate.

In the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth the Senate evolved from the royal council and in the first half of the 16th century became (along with the chamber of deputies) a part of the Parliament. After the Union of Lublin (1569) a single bicameral diet served both Poland and Lithuania. The Senate’s 150 members included the Roman Catholic clergy (primate, archbishops, bishops) and secular officials (ministers, voivodes, castellans). Its sessions were held separately from those of the deputies, and its role was to approve the decisions of the lower house. Gradually that exercise became a mere formality. Neither Orthodox nor Uniate bishops were admitted to the Senate until 1791, when a new constitution guaranteed the Uniate metropolitan a Senate seat.

The Senate was introduced into Russia by Peter I in 1711 to replace the Boyar Duma, and its powers changed during the subsequent two centuries. Under Peter it served as the chief instrument of reform. For some time it was the highest governing body with administrative, judicial, and auditing powers. Collegiums and agencies of local government, represented by governors, were subordinate to it. Under Catherine II the powers of the Senate were reduced, particularly when the gubernias were placed under the control of a governor-general who was responsible directly to the empress. With the introduction of the State Council in 1810, the Senate was largely transformed into the empire’s highest judicial body. It was abolished by the Soviet government on 5 December 1917.

In the 1920s and 1930s the Senate served as an upper house of the parliaments of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. The Polish Senate could pass or reject bills passed by the Sejm. If the Sejm passed the bill again, it became law. The senators were elected in general elections. The 1935 constitution expanded the powers of the Senate, some of whose members were now appointed by the president. The 1920 constitution of Czechoslovakia provided for a Senate similar to the Polish one. In the 1920s its members were elected by a general vote. In Romania some of the senators were elected by communities and counties (indirect elections), and some were appointed by the king. Deputies of the Ukrainian minorities in those three countries sat in their senates, but their numbers were disproportionately small given the size of the Ukrainian populations there.

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

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