World History/ Cossack Movement term paper 13534

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What was the Cossack Movement? Who were the Cossacks? Why is the Cossack experience important to the history of modern Ukraine?

In the late 15th and early 16th centuries a new group of people formed in the country of Ukraine. This group wanted many new ideals and options in life that had been previously withheld from them. This was a group of freedom and fortune seekers who did not want to be subjugated to the land. These people had little or no interests in religion. Their interests concerned a new life that would grant them absolute freedom and new opportunities. This was the group’s main unifying force driving an entire movement that influenced and changed many societies. This group was made up of Jews, criminals, and other Ukrainian peasants. Their community was like a tightly bound military brotherhood that tried to instill equality with their very democratic ways.

This group became known as the Cossacks. Where did the Cossack Movement take place and why did they decide upon that specific area? What did the Cossacks want and what did they represent?

The Cossack Movement first originated in south Ukraine along the Dneiper River. This was an ideal area to start a community because it offered rivers full of fish, many wild animals, and very rich productive soil. Many of the first Cossacks came to this area to flee the burdensome circumstances of settling in the West. These people would rather try their chances at a new adventurous frontier life rather than be condemned to a life of serfdom.

In pre-modern times religion was what mattered most and in modern times ethnicity and nationality became very important. This forced the Cossacks to have some relationship with authority. The Cossacks decided to adopt a religion. Many different religions; Catholicism, Judaism, and Orthodox surrounded the Cossacks. The majority of the Cossacks favored Orthodoxy so it was the logical decision. Once the Cossacks clung to Orthodoxy their next step was defending their religion and land.

The Cossacks first had to wage many battles against the Tatars and the Ottoman Turkish Empires to clear their newly settled lands. “But as they honed their military and organizational skills and won ever more impressive victories against the Tatars and their Ottoman Turkish overlords, Ukrainian society came to perceive the Cossacks not only as champions against the Muslim threat, but also as defenders against the religionational and socioeconomic oppression of the Polish szachta” (Subtelny 105). After the Cossacks finally won over the Tatars and Ottoman Turkish they began to start their first major settlement. They decided to form their headquarters just below the falls of the Dneiper on the island of Hortica. This famous Cossack community became known as the Zaporozhian Sich. There the government could not bother the Zaporozhians/Cossacks and they could finally start a community based on their own beliefs, ideals, and principals.

Yet more obstacles stood in their way, the Cossacks were like Ukrainian cowboys looking for a place to start their own community. Many of these Cossacks came from Poland to escape the taxes of the Polish government and the harsh hand of Polish landlords. The region that the Cossacks settled particularly appealed to these fleeing Poles because you were not bound to the land by law. The Polish government soon got word of their fleeing people and decided to try and incorporate the Cossack peoples. Polish government wanted to enforce taxes or some kind of control over these unmanageable Cossack areas. Cossack rebellions began to take place. The Cossacks would not let their chances to maintain freedom and independence slip away at the hands of the evil Polish government. A treaty of some kind was struck between the Polish government and the Cossacks. The Cossacks were to be left alone as long as they guarded the borderlands against the ever-present raids by the Tatars. “But the relations between a community of freebooters, mostly composed of fugitive serfs and refugees, and a government of small squires who regarded the Cossacks as a mere rabble were bound to be difficult at the best of times, and political and religious differences presently supervened” (The Cossacks 2). Both the Polish government and the Cossacks went back on their word creating animosity and hatred toward one another. Polish acts of repression led to terrible Cossack uprisings and the two eventually went from allies to enemies. The same type of incident occurred with the Cossacks and the Muscovy. The Cossacks agreed to a treaty in 1654 making them subordinate to the Muscovy tsar. The Muscovy tsar then quickly expanded into Ukrainian lands and split them into several different sections under separate rule. The Cossacks under this Muscovy rule developed a hetmanate. It was very autocratic and created an egalitarian society that did not recognize serfdom. Later the Muscovy went back on its promise and introduced serfdom in the 18th century when it tightened its rule. Just as the Cossacks did with the Polish they rebelled against the Muscovy. Ivan Mazepa led one of the most famous rebellions against the Muscovy. He and the Cossacks decided to fight with the Swedes against the Muscovy and the tsar Peter in 1708. The Muscovy won the war, but Mazepa was considered a hero to the peoples of Ukraine and a traitor to the peoples of Russia. New Muscovy Tsarina Catherine invites the immigrant Cossacks to return to Russia. They were given their land, but they had to serve in the military. Many other Ukrainian Cossacks were taken as slaves to build the new capital in St. Petersburg. Thus explains the Cossack relationship with foreign oppression and government alike.

The Cossack Movement was significant because it became so influential and important to many other countries and modern Ukraine for many reasons. “The growing importance of the Cossacks was accompanied by renewed vigor in Ukrainian religious and cultural life. Once more Kiev became a major center of Orthodoxy” (Subtelny 122). All that the Cossacks ever yearned for was freedom and if they had to they would fight for that freedom. The Cossacks came to be identified with the borderland of Ukraine and their movement to win freedom, democracy, and independence. They mobilized whole borderland peoples to help fight for the Cossack interests. The Ukrainian Cossacks left their marks with many other peoples of surrounding lands. For instance, the Cossacks freedom fighters represented the ideal Ukraine, which later came into being in Russia and Poland. Many literary works written in Russian reflect Ukrainian folklore, customs, and history. Ukrainian Cossack influence spurred on advancements in arts, the education system, and literature in Russia, to name a few.

Word Count: 1105

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