Viche (Russian: veche). A general meeting of the citizens of a Kyivan Rus’ town or city that was called to discuss important matters facing the community. The origins of the viche were in a tribal court system, which was a characteristic governing entity for all East Slavic peoples. In terms of its legal authority the viche was a manifestation of popular rule, analogous to the popular meetings held in the cities of ancient Greece and in Western European cities during the Middle Ages. In the larger (‘senior’) cities and towns of the various principalities, the viche evolved into a high-level body that competed in jurisdiction with the offices of the prince and of the Boyar Council. It also gained importance after the waning of the princes' authority in the late 11th century and later, as the role of the general citizenry in the political life of the principalities increased in importance.

The first viche to be chronicled was held in Bilhorod in 997; it was followed by others in Novgorod the Great (1016), Kyiv (1068), Volodymyr-Volynskyi (1097), Zvenyhorod (1147), Rostov (1157), Pereiaslav (1175), and Smolensk (1185). Others were held in smaller cities (pryhorody), where they were largely limited to municipal administrative matters. Members of a pryhorod had the right to take part in the viche of their senior city; eventually they came to be represented by a tysiatskyi (deputy of 1,000 citizens).

The viche was called irregularly, as required, by the prince or one of the boyars or at the initiative of a group of citizens. It was usually attended by the prince, boyars, the bishop, and members of the clergy. It was held on the grounds of the prince's estate or in the church square or market square; in Kyiv it was held in the court of the Saint Sophia Cathedral. The order of business was conducted by the prince or the bishop (in Kyiv by the metropolitan), or occasionally by a tysiatskyi; there were no standard rules for debate, however, or for the adoption of resolutions. In principle resolutions were adopted unanimously, but actually they were decided by a democratic majority of those in attendance.

The jurisdiction of the viche was also not rigidly defined, though certain matters were undoubtedly within its prerogative. They included matters of war and peace (particularly a levy en masse), some matters of foreign policy, the election of a prince to the throne (if he was not an heir apparent or a conqueror) or his expulsion therefrom, the drawing up of agreements (riady) with the prince, and the ratification of laws (see Elections and Legislation). Occasionally the viche would demand the removal of certain officials of the prince's government or become a court in the event of abuses of political power. The decisions of the viche in senior cities were binding on the whole principality.

As an organ of state power the viche was not as influential in Ukrainian principalities as it was in Novgorod, Polatsk, or Pskov. In contrast to those northern principalities, however, where the prince usurped all power for himself, the viche in Ukraine remained equal in power to other governing bodies. Only in Halych principality was it subject to the higher authority of the Boyar Council. The viche declined after the absorption of Ukraine by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and by Poland, where it was replaced by dietines of the nobility. In the 16th to 18th centuries the viche functioned as a community court and served as a model for the proceedings of the General Military Council of the Hetman state. In the late 19th century the term viche was revived in Galicia as the name for large public assemblies called to discuss Ukrainian politics.

Sergeevich, V. Veche i kniaz’ (Moscow 1867)
Linnichenko, I. Veche v Kievskoi oblasti (Kyiv 1881)
Lashchenko, R. Lektsiï po istoriï ukraïns’koho prava (Prague 1923)

Lev Okinshevych

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]

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