Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

The troubled history of the Ukraine

Events over recent days leading to those last Saturday in Kiev have kept the Ukraine and its people in my thoughts and prayers. The situation is clearly still very unclear with the Russian response raising very considerable concerns and the internal politics of the Ukraineappears highly charged and dominateded by colourful, if not necessarily reliable, politicians with an uneven track record. I liked the linein The Times the other day that Yulia Tymoschenko has never met a rabble she has not tried to rouse.

The history of the Ukraine in the last century has been a troubled one to say the least, indeed a terrible one at times, with Soviet oppression and then famine, Second World War invasion and atrocities, restored Soviet rule and, since 1991, a fraught politics.

Some time ago I started, and indeed read much of, Timothy Snyder's The Red Prince, the strange and eventful story of Archduke Wilhelm of Austria.


 Image: Amazon
A member of the Teschen branch of the Imperial family, whose father, Archduke Karl Stephen was a candidate for the Polish throne in 1916-18, and himself a cousin of King Alfonso XIII and Crwon Prince Rupert of Bavaria, he became interested in and took up in the later stages of the Great War the cause of the Ukrainians. At one point he was considered a likely candidate for the position of King of Ukraine. The book is a fascinating insight into that era and of the Habsburgs in the interwar years and afterwards. A biography well worth reading - and I need to finish doing so rather than skim reading to the end as I did. His death from TB as a prisoner in Russian hands makes for a sombre ending to a colourful life. There is an online biography of the Archduke here.

Thinking about it I am inclined to the opinion that the Ukraine might have fared far,far better under the rule of the Habsburg Archduke turned Ukrainian nationalist than under the regimes which have done so since the early 1920s. Given Archduke Wilhelm's proclivities in later years he was perhaps unlikely personally to have established a new dynasty in Kiev, but doubtless a Habsburg nephew could have been brought in as a successor. 


Archduke Wilhelm of Austria. Teschen, also known as “The red prince”
He was the youngest son of archduke Karl Stephan of Austria Teschen and wife, Maria Theresa, pss of Tuscany.
He was cousin of King Alfonso XIII of Spain and Crownprince Rupprecht of Bavaria (By father side) .

Archduke Wilhelm circa 1920

Image: marlenemelade.tumblr.com

A further thought - the much derided Treaty of Brest Litovsk of March 1918 created the independent Ukraine and stripped Russia of her western territories. The Germans and Austrians envisaged awhole new series of realms with Kings of Finland, Lithuania, Poland and the Ukraine and a Duchy of Courland for the Balts linked to the German Empire. Abrogated in 1918 and in 1922 and its effective creations in the Baltic states annexed by the Soviets in 1939-40, so that only an independent Finland survived.

Territories after the Treaty

The Treaty of Brest Litovsk

Image: web1.caryacademy.org
Nevertheless the post-1991 map of eastern Europe with the restored Baltic states , Belarus and the Ukraine looks very like the arrangement made at Brest Litovsk. Are we so sure it was wrong, or unrealistic, or unhistorical given the westward and southwards expansion of Russia under the Empress Catherine II had happened as recently as the late eighteenth century?

No comments: