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Andrea Caffi

Letter to Giuseppe Prezzolini

May 18, 1915

Dear friend,
I wrote to you two days ago from Ventimiglia. Today I read the new "Voce" and I wholeheartedly support the tendencies and intentions expressed there. In the last four months I have had the chance to see thousands of ordinary people and dozens of French intellectuals up close. For us, theorists, the general impression is not comforting: I have never felt so intensely the absolute uselessness of "intellectuals" to ordinary people, and I did not even expect a withdrawal from "intellectualism" as I have seen it among young, cultured French people. Yet the French are certainly more refined, more capable of intellectual reflection than the Italian masses. We hope at least that, through the greater probity and steadfastness of the small nucleus of those "who do not allow themselves to be influenced" in Italy, it will be possible to keep alive the flame of complex ideals.
I saw in "La Voce" a very short review of a pamphlet on "Ukraine and the Ukrainians" by Radnicki. I think f. c. was wrong to dismiss it with light irony.
1) The Ukrainian language is not a Russian dialect, but a language as different from Russian and Polish as Spanish is from Italian and French. Ukrainian literature is very rich. Not only in popular poems (superior to Russian and perhaps also to Serb poetry) but in the works of great writers such as Kotljarevs'kyj, Kvitka and, above all, Scevcenko (I won't mention the legion of more recent poets, novelists, playwrights, for, quoting from memory, I may make mistaken attributions as well as spelling mistakes), of historians, scholars, publicists. The history of Ukraine - in Ukrainian - by Professor Gruscevski (I have seen the first four volumes) is a masterful piece of work.
2) The Ukrainian nation in fact numbers 35 million individuals (and counting the Ruthenians - of whom I will say more shortly - it could reach 39 million). The core of Ukraine is formed by the provinces of Kiev, Cernigov, Volhynia, Poltava and Charkov, but the Ukrainian population has actually spread as far as the Crimea and the Caspian Sea (among the Terek Cossacks). Ukraine is a nation because: a) it has its own political history, b) it has developed a civilization which is distinct from that of Russia, c) it is fully aware of being a nation and has been claiming complete autonomy for almost a century. Of course, in the Russian Empire, due to the uncertainty surrounding territorial boundaries, nations and regions are not necessarily able to identify themselves clearly and there are many disputed areas. Remember Korolenko, who recalls in his memoirs that throughout his childhood he felt constantly torn between three nations: Russia, Poland and Ukraine.
3) There are significant "medieval episodes" such as the kingdom of Galicia in the Thirteenth century (distant and opposed to the Grand Duchy of Vladimir, whence Muscovy emerged); the Lithuanian-Ukrainian Grand Duchy from the 14th to the 16th century, in which the language and mentality of Ukraine was formed; the free communities of the Cossacks, which were never enslaved, but existed as an autonomous state - the Hetmanate, were united with Poland by Stephen Bathory; the bitter battles of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries fought by the Cossacks simultaneously against the oppression of the Polish state, the clergy and the University of Kiev against the "Latinization" that the Jesuits wanted to impose; the deep disappointment of Ukrainian people when the "liberating Tsar", called upon for help by Bohdan Khmel'nyc'kyj against the Poles, instead of handing back to Ukraine its ancient freedoms, subjected it to the oppression of Moscow, fuelling numerous revolts such as that of Mazepa, above all, though by no means the only one, and throughout the Eighteenth century with the continuous and systematic efforts on the part of the Russian government to convert the free Cossacks into slave peasants, the Ukrainian nobility into state servants, etc.; the long and never-ending attempts, often conducted with monstrous ferocity to force the "united" Church (Catholics of the Greek rite) to return to Moscow, the cradle of orthodoxy (alongside the attempts made against the Georgian Church as well as against the Armenian Church); the even greater harshness of the Russian rulers in the 19th century against "Ukrainian separatism"; with trials, deportations, prohibition on using the Ukrainian language in public; and the great reprisal in 1905, when a hundred Ukrainian newspapers and periodicals sprang up overnight; the "Grosvita" society that did so much for the education of the people (in Ukrainian), Ukrainian parties that brought the claims for autonomy to the Duma’s attention, professors who at the Universities of Kiev, Charkov and Odessa began to run their courses in Ukrainian. Then followed repression, but no more complete suffocation so that the continuous struggle extends and intensifies, reaching the peasant masses.
4) I have already overstretched myself and I would risk too many inaccuracies if I tried to outline here the extent of Ukrainian civilization from the Fifteenth to the Twentieth century. Suffice it to say that its spirit is completely different from that of Moscow, that the University of Kiev arose at a time (in the Sixteenth century) when in Moscow they no longer even knew how to copy liturgical books; that Ukraine's relations with the West were manifold and varied (including those with Venice through the Croatians) and the students of Kiev were the first civilizers "to come from abroad" to Moscow; that in the Eighteenth century there flourished a Ukrainian national theatre, followed by romantic lyric poetry and culture. It should also be remembered that in Russia, as in Ukraine up until the Revolution, one had to deal with completely illiterate masses, therefore: a) the absence of social groups interested in the national question, b) a difficulty on the part of cultured and patriotic Ukrainians to find support against the Russifying state. c) the apparent assimilation of those who studied in Russian high schools, and who became Russian officials and often even had to express their Ukrainian claims in Russian. However, I remember high school professors who taught us Russian, but always spoke Ukrainian to each other and were fervent nationalists.
5) I cannot decide with authority what degree of kinship (for some it would even be identity) there might be between the Ruthenian people and the Ukrainian people. Of course, political history (the Ruthenians were incorporated into the kingdom of Poland, while Ukraine remained with Lithuania, then there was Austria on one side, Muscovy on the other) and religions (in Ruthenia the "United Church" remained steadfast until the recent barbaric persecutions inaugurated by Count Bobrinski as soon as the Russians entered Lviv). In any case, I met in Lvòv (Lviv) trustworthy people who were against Austria and were trying to establish stronger ties between Ruthenians and Ukrainians, as is the case in Zagreb and Serajevo to bring together Serbs and Croats.
6) Russian politics and Slavic politics have nothing to do with each other. It is often forgotten, it seems to me, that the confusion of elements that people in the West believe they understand by naming it "pan-slavism", originated - in its most earnest form - from the Slavophile movement. Now the Slavophiles were (around 1840) ideologues opposed to autocratic Russia, to what they called the German regime of Petersburg. In place of the Russian state, militaristic and repressive along the lines of Prussia and Austria, the Slavophiles dreamed of a federation of Slavic peoples, brought together according to the genuine traditions of completely anti-state "communities" (and this is a very serious problem: perhaps really the historical destiny of the Slavs is to create a form of national solidarity different from the one we inherited from Rome; life as a state has never been successful for the Slavs). Only the followers of Slavophilism negotiated with the bureaucracy and distorted their ideal by combining it grotesquely with the Russian imperialist program. Russia's Slavic policy has never been more than a bluff. Among the Ruthenians there was a party of "moscali" (Muscovites) despised for its notoriously mercenary attitude, and rather more inclined to derailing the national movement than to developing it. Now the Slovenes find the greatest support in Petersburg and I have seen in the Russian newspapers very strange ruminations that are very reminiscent of those of the hired "Muscovites" of Galicia and Bohemia.
7) Austria had ambitions of a Slavic policy against Russia (the confused intentions of Badeny and then of the Archduke F.F.), but the unyielding opposition of the Germans and the Magyars, as well as the very deep-rooted traditions of the Polizeistaat, always prevented the realization of even a minimal part of such ambitions. But England's long-preserved friendship with Austria lay perhaps partly in the consciousness or intuition of this possibility of Slavic action directed against the dreaded Tsarism. Who knows if Italy, coming after Austria, but much freer and favored by all the circumstances, might be able to follow a path of Slavic politics that would ensure full freedom and the possibility of self-determination for Serbia, Bohemia, Poland and Ukraine which could bring Europeanism and democracy to the heart of the "Knuto-Germanic empire" of all the Russias. Excuse the confusion and length of these hasty remarks. It was very important to me that "La Voce" did not make the same mistakes as the whole of the European press. I hope my military situation will be resolved in a few days. Near or far I will always try to keep in touch with you and with "La Voce”.

Yours sincerely,
Andrea Caffi, Milan

(traduzione di Giovanni Maragno)
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