By: Bogdan Shutka
The Union of Lublin, which was signed on July 1st, 1569 in the present day eastern Polish city of Lublin had everlasting effects on Ukrainian lands and could be seen as the starting point for addressing the starting point of a modern Ukrainian nation-building and development. In its long term aftermath the “Ruthenian Issue” became clearly visible and there arose a need for a separate and equal representation of the Ruthenian nation on side of the already existent Lithuanian and Polish classes. Furthermore, it could be argued that the Union of Lublin marks the official end of Rus’ in the western half of the eastern Slavic lands, in conditions most favourable to Poland.
The Union’s roots between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland could be traced back to the personal Union of Krewo, which took place in 1385 and gave way for the marriage of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila with the many years younger Polish Queen Jadwiga. The personal union did not only gave way for sustained christianisation of Lithuania, it also solidified its place in western Europe, as Jogaila was obligated to take on Roman Catholicism. This acted somewhat in contrary to the previous policies of the Lithuanian Grand Dukes which promoted Eastern Christianity and respectively its culture and languages, as was practiced in the Kyivan Rus’. The lands of the Kyivan Rus’ enjoyed most all rights and privileges under the Lithuanian rule and even after the Union of Krewo there were major developments in Eastern Slavic culture as they did not contradict those of Vilnius.
Another lasting effect of the personal union was the creation of a new Polish royal dynasty – the Jagiollians. In somewhat ironic situation the Union of Lublin would see the end of this dynasty, which for a long time was one of the most successful and powerful ruling families of Europe. King Sigismund II Augustus had for one hoped that through the Union he could weaken the strength of the Polish nobility, better known as the szlachta, which was making enormous gains in power consolidation. One the other side, he was caught in a difficult situation, having married three times and not baring a single air to the throne. He hoped that through the Union and the creation of the elective monarchy, a truly innovative democratised institution in Europe for its time, the work of his dynasty would continue.
The Lithuanians on the other side had witnessed the rise of Moscovy and were often times caught up in wars with the rising power. Having agreed on the office of the elective king, the Polish king would then be placed with a difficult mission of “regard to recovery of the castles, the estates, the landholdings and all the property from the Muscovite enemy. His Royal Majesty will be obligated to restore them to those fro whom these belonged previously, before having eben seized by the enemy”. The Lithuanian lords were willing to pay a high prise for this, which included the right for Polish lords to settle on their lands, introduction of a mutual currency, the acceptance of the Polish legal law, extreme underrepresentation in the Senate and Sejm in Warsaw amongst others. But perhaps the highest price paid was the succession of the lands of the Kyivan, Volyhnian and Breslav Palatinates. Timothy Snyder points out, that whereas the Union of Lublin occurred organically and was highly negotiable, the condition on succession of the southern Rus’ lands occurred “precipitous and decreed”.
Even based on the list of attending lords, bishops and nobles one does not see many if any at representatives from the southern Rus’. These expressed their disappointments with any sort of Unions with Catholic Poland since the Personal Union . In fact they have hoped that they would be able to establish an Eastern Christian rite dynasty in Lithuania. At first, Lithuanians elites did not appose – they have received from Rus’ a written language and first contacts with christianity. Through further integration of Lithuania into the Polish realm, Ruthenian elites became second class citizens and their voices were left unheard.
Aside the need for a defensive Union on the Lithuanian side and a realistic fear of a growing nobility on the polish side – the Union of Lublin arose at a time a general European tendency of centralisation and the strengthening of the royal powers. Yet the Union also provided a hope to the nobles of a strong economy and growing their riches. These hopes were well-grounded, in the years leading to the Union in Lublin the Polish Kingdom had made strong gains socially, politically and territorial. After winning theThirteen Years’ War (1454-1466) Poland had gained a secure access to the Baltic Sea and could sustain trade with the West and the remnants of the Hanseatic League. Lithuania on the other hand had managed to thaw the threat of the Crimean Khanate and had so secured access to the Black Sea ports. But perhaps more important was the security factor, which paved way for large scale agricultural production in the southern Ruthenian lands. This carried with it a dark side for the peasants, as it led to the Second Serfdom.
In reality, as Frank Susyn points out, major goals of the Union were left unaccomplished – the two states continued having, in contrast to the agreement: separate administrations, armies and judicial codes . Furthermore through the election of the King, the title lost its importance and Poland saw an even greater rise of the middle nobility which would eventually destroy the state from within. This nobility was perhaps the only group that had any gains immediate aftermath from the Union, through the accumulation of Ukrainian lands. Here they began building massive plantations and estates, some numbering up to 230.000 peasant-serfs, as in case of Jarema Wiśniowiecki.
Within short time the szlachta and magnates came into a confrontation with the Ruthenian lords and petty nobility. This battle was often times played in religious conflicts and was left for the King of Poland to solve. It did not take thirty years for the conflict to gain massive proportions and the Ukrainian lands were caught up in a bloody conflicts over souls and political power.
Poland as a western European power had found itself also enduring the reformation, but in contrast to much of Western Europe the reformation did has managed to benefit Poland more that it harmed it. The reformation and its goals propelled the Polish State into its Golden Age, with developments in the cultural and linguistic fields. Other than elsewhere in Europe the Polish Catholic elites did not push for forced Counterreformation but rather chose a soft-power approach. Especially the Jesuits were seen as the “firework” in this work. They took on initial protestant methods such the use of vernacular language in religious works and the use of printed books, which gave a broader access to religious texts. Two of these prominent Jesuit schools were located in close proximity to the Ukrainian ethnographical lands, namely in Vilnius and in the Galician city of Jarosław.
Within no time the very same methods were transferred and applied to the Ukrainian lands where they stirred up the already heated religious debates. This was in part due to internal power struggles in the newly acquired lands. The Kyiv Orthodox Metropolia had become a much desired seat as the church owned the most lands, which were of key interest to the lords and nobles. These often times propelled their children through the church hierarchy as priest and bishops in order to gain access to the vast realms and the church faced a serious decline in confidence and trust. Powerful orthodox brotherhoods sought to change this perception and promoted Polish-Jesuit measures such as the study of languages, church reform and the creation of brethren schools. These schools were founded with the goal of challenging the Roman Catholic authority. They soon lost favour with the local bishops and even gained protection from the Patriarch of Constantinople.
There were attempts on the orthodox side to counter the rebellions and succession voices. Most notably the Volyhnian prince Kostiantyn Ostrozky, who personally funded the first full translation of the Bible into Church Slavonic and a first of its kind in Eastern Europe – the Ostroh Academy, where the teachers from Greece amongst other European countries sought to promote orthodox values, further develop the Church Slavonic language and teach foreign ones such as Latin. Ostrozky considered himself, and in the eyes of contemporaries was the most powerful man in Ukraine at the time and had, even as an orthodox noble much to say in all of Ruthenian lands.
Soon enough the religious climate was ripe for further action and the path was set for a church union with the Roman Catholic Church of Rome. This was as stated before emphasised on part due to the serious trust problems within the Orthodox Church but also due to the fact, that Orthodox bishops and nobility had limited rights in the Commonwealth and were not even granted in becoming members of the Parliament in Warsaw. In 1596 upon receiving blessing from Pope Clement VIII and approval from the Polish King the time and place was set for a signing of the Union of Brest.
The Union of Brest further engulfed the country in conflict, as the orthodox magnates, brotherhoods, monastic and a good part of the parishes were again such moves. The magnates did not want to loose control over the church and the monastic fought to protect their landholdings. The brotherhoods had more justly reasons, as they sought to reform the church from bellow and a good chunk of the parishes could not possibly imagine betraying the patriarch in Constantinople. But perhaps a more negative effect of the Union was that with it the orthodox faithful became virtually outlawed in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, as the Kind had only acknowledged the Greek Catholic Church now and not the Orthodox anymore. Only in 1620 would the Kyiv Orthodox Metropolia be restored and shortly thereafter gain legal status in the Commonwealth.
The divide in the church caused numerous armed conflicts and would reach its highpoint during the Khmelnytsky Uprising, which was further proof of the growing disapproval of Polish rule. For the Cossacks, who were often times left unpaid after being deployed by the Polish Sejm, had seen a decline of their orthodox culture and lacking numerous rights a revolt was seen as the only solution to the conflict.
The Union of Lublin sought to create a dualistic state but failed to take into account the third nationality. The Ruthenians made up the largest group of people within the Commonwealth and were most underrepresented in political, social and religious processes. Only in 1658 did the Polish nobility and crown sit down together with the Ruthenians to talk of creation of a separate Duchy of Ruthenia during peace negotiations in the Ukrainian city of Haidach. This was however too late and the Cossack rebells already have sought aid from the northern orthodox neighbour in Moscow four years prior. In a dark twist the original justification for the Union of Lublin – namely the Russian threat, it became inevitable through its shortcomings. Even so the Treaty of Haibach had its downsides, it for example did not factor in giving up the original Ruthenian Palatinate in Galicia. Furthermore the religious divide between the Unite Church and Orthodox, a large rebellious army and weakened Polish King, as main authority, Poland has lost most of its credibility. Soon thereafter it would become victim to its own all too powerful nobility and be divided amongst its neighbours through the three partitions in 1772, 1793 and 1795.
Perhaps one of its greatest positive accomplishments was that without the Union of Lublin Ukrainian lands would look different today. Starting 1569 nearly all Ukrainian lands came under control of the Kingdom of Poland. As a result of this a separate identity could be formed, based heavily on the orthodox identity of southern Rus’. Linguistically starting around the same time one could place the break up between the Middle Ukrainerin and Middle Belorussian languages. Because Poland underwent the Reformation and Renaissance during its Golden Age, Ukraine went through similar processes during the Polish Silver Age. All in all Ukraine became integrated into Western Europe and underwent all European social, economical and political processes. And even though the Union resulted in numerous troubles for the Ukrainian elites, their counter-actions led to the creation of modern Ukraine identity. Perhaps rightfully so, Timothy Snyder marks the beginning of modern Ukrainian history with the Union of Lublin in 1569.