Dimitri Von Mohrenschildt, Toward a United States of Russia: Plans and Projects of Federal Reconstruction of Russia in the Nineteenth Century, 1981.

The Society of Saints Cyril and Methodius

We believe that spiritual and political unity of the Slavs is their true destiny towards which they all should strive.
-- from the by-laws of the Saints Cyril and Methodius Society

The Third Section of His Majesty's Chancery viewed the Society of Saints Cyril and Methodius as a serious threat to the security of the state. L. V. Dubelt gave the following description of it, January 18, 1854, writing to the Minister of Education, A. S. Porov:

In Kiev the Candidate Gulak, Assistant Professor Kostomarov and Candidate Belozersky organized a secret society named Saints Cyril and Methodius. Associated with the above and sharing their views were the following: a former teacher of St. Petersburg gymnasium Kulish, the painter Shevchenko and other young people for the most part students at the St. Vladimir University. At first the aim of this society consisted in reviving the nationality, the language and literature of the Slavic peoples, to prepare these peoples for a union under one power. Since, however, all the members of the society were natives of the Ukraine, their Slavophilisin soon turned to Ukrainophilism and they arrived at the proposition of reestablishing the Ukraine as it was before it joined Russia.

In the papers of the participants of the Ukrainian-Slav society and even in the published works of Kulish and in some works of Kostomarov the decrees of Peter I and his successors were described [41] as oppressive suppressions of peoples' rights. On the other hand, the spirit of the ancient Cossacks was enthusiastically praised, the raids of the Haidamaks were represented as heroic exploits, and the glories of the Hetmanate described as of world-wide significance. The Ukrainian songs were represented as expressing the love of freedom, with a hint that this spirit has not yet cooled off and is actually present in the Ukrainians even today. Finally, at the homes of some of the participants were found the by-laws of the Society and a manuscript entitled "The Law of God." Although the Ukrainian-Slav Society had not actually had time to put in practice these rules, it could nevertheless have taken a direction dangerous to the tranquillity of the state.1

It was a fair description, though the threat to the state was exaggerated. The society was not in favor of revolutionary methods; as a group it rejected force and favored peaceful propaganda in accordance with the rules of the Gospel -- "love, meekness and patience."2 The most radical member of the group was the great national poet of the Ukraine, Shevchenko. A former serf who had bought his freedom, Shevchenko's poetry did, indeed, express the striving for freedom and resentment against oppression (see, for example, his popuiar poem "Eretik," 1845). But as Dr. Papazian has observed: "No evidence has come to light which tells of any particular way in which he wished to realize a revolution. Only his poetry and his conversations testified to his belief; there is not known any documentary plan of his which has any specific designs for revolution."3

It is now generally accepted that the historian N. I. Kostomarov was the ideologist of the Cyril and Methodius Society or Brotherhood (1846-47). Born of a Great Russian father and a Ukrainian mother in the central black-earth region in the province of Voronezh, he was educated at the University of Kharkov. While there, he became a collector of Ukrainian folksongs and was influenced in his general Slav interests by the famous professor I. I. Sreznevsky. Upon graduation, he wrote a number of Ukrainian ballads and produced, in Ukrainian, a drama in five acts, Sava Choly. In 1843 he received a master's degree in Russian history and [42] subsequently taught this subject at a gymnasium in Rovno. In 1846 he joined the faculty of the University of St. Vladimir in Kiev as a lecturer in Russian history. The circle of young writers and students which formed itself around Kostomarov was imbued with ideas of Ukrainian renaissance, Slavic unity, and the social-political issues of the day, of which serfdom was the major. As Dr. Papazian has observed: "One part of the group had chiefly nationalistic interests; the other, inspired by the Western Slavs, had chiefly pan-Slavic concerns."4 Kostomarov tried to reconcile the various divergent views and attempted to work out a more or less consistent program.

The precise membership of the society is still in dispute, but if one defines it broadly, one could say that the following were in various degrees associated with it: N. I. Gulak, writer and graduate of the University of Dorpat; V. M. Belozersky, graduate of the University of Kiev and future editor of Osnova; the brilliant writer P. A. Kulish, and most importantly, the national poet of the Ukraine, Taras Shevchenko; finally, several students and local landowners.5

One major source on the ideology of the society is Zakon Bozhii or Kniga bytiia ukrainskogo naroda (Law of God or Book of the Genesis of the Ukrainian People) written by Kostomarov.6 Written in biblical style, it is a pseudohistorical survey of the Ukraine, ending on a messianic note:

The Ukraine shall rise from her grave and shall call on all her Slavic brothers, and they will all rise ... and the Ukraine will be an independent republic in a Slav Union.7

The theme of the Law of God is that God created man free, but man fell into sin and is punished by the oppressive rule of tsars and kings. It has much in common with similar writings of the time, notably, Adam Micklewicz's The Book of the Pilgrimages of the Polish People, published in Paris in 1832. In style and form Kostomarov's Zakon Bozhii was undoubtedly inspired by the latter, but, as Zalonchkovsky observed, it was by no means a copy of it.8 The Ukrainian work is strongly [43] federalist and reflects the more democratic strata of the lower gentry, while the Polish work represents the viewpoint of Polish aristocracy. Appended to the Law of God are two appeals. One is "To Brother Ukrainians," explaining the Christian type of federation envisaged; the other "To Brother Great Russians and Poles," urging a reconciliation among the Slavs. "They must clothe themselves in Slavic love for mankind. Once this is done, they will have their reward: a Slavic Union, universal equality, brotherhood and peace."9

The statutes or by-laws of the society constitute another source on the society's program. These were probably collectively composed. The first six points expressed the basic views on the organization of the future Slavic federation, which was to consist of Russians, Ukrainians, White Russians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Lusatians, Serbs, Croats, and Bolgars --- all united on the federative principle into one Slavic union founded on the Christian religion."10 Much later, Kostomarov recalled more details in his autobiography dictated to N. A. Belozerskaia in the last years of his life. "We began to imagine all the Slavic nations united in a federation like the ancient Greek republics or the United States of North America in such a way that all should be solidly linked to one another, but each should preserve inviolable its own separate autonomy."11 The ethnic principle was not recognized because of the great divergences of size and population. "What kind of a union could there be," Kostomarov inquired, "on the basis of complete equality between the Lusatians who are insignificant in number and the huge mass of Russian people with the immeasurable extent of their fatherland?"12

Thus, Russia was to be a constituent state of a Slav federation, and the empire was to be divided into a number of states formed out of its historical and natural regions: Central, Northern, Northeastern, Southeastern, Upper Volga, Lower Volga, two Ukrainian states, two Southern states, two in Siberia, the Caucasus, Belorussia, Poland, Serbia, etc. Kiev was to belong to no state, but was to be the seat of the federal Seim.13

Both Semevsky and Zalonchkovsky had pointed out that [44] the Slavic federation advocated by the society had some points of similarity with Nikita Muraviev's constitution. Both have thirteen or fourteen states and both have units of government approximately equal in power. There were also similarities with the Society of the United Slavs.14 Finally, Kostomarov's own testimony showed that the constitution of the United States of America, adopted in 1789, also had an influence on the formulation of the society's plans."15

Although small in size -- according to Zaionchkovsky, there were only "a few dozen people --- the danger to the Russian state was in the society's idealization of the Ukrainian past and in the emphasis on the leading role reserved for the Ukraine in the future federation. The final report of the Third Section to Nicholas I stated that the danger lay "in the insidious slow growth of ill-feeling and dissatisfaction which it inspired."16

Most of the Cyril-Methodians were amnestied in the late 1850s and were allowed to come back and reside in the capitals. Several of them -- Kostomarov, Kulish, Belozersky and Shevchenko (until his death in 1861) -- formed in St. Petersburg a circle of Ukrainian patriots centered around the Ukrainian journal Osnova.

The Society of Saints Cyril and Methodius marked a stage in the development of the Ukrainian national movement in Russia. At the same time, It carried on the idea of a Slav federation, first enunciated by the United Slavs of the Decembrists. This federal idea became next associated, on the one hand, with Dragomanov's federal-constitutional projects and, on the other, with the radical Slav federation advocated by Bakunin and his followers.


1. L. V. Dubelt, in M. Lemke, ed., Nikolaevskie zhandarmy i literatura 18261855gg. (St. Petersburg, 1909), pp. 217-18.

2. The by-laws of the Society are in Dennis Papazian's Ph.D. dissertation "Nicholai Ivanovich Kostomarov: Russian Historian, Ukrainian Nationalist, Slavic Federalist" (University of Michigan, 1966). [45] The best Soviet study of the Society of Saints Cyril and Methodius is by P. A. Zaionchkovsky, Kirillo-Mefodievskoe Obsbchestvo, 1846-1847 (Moscow, 1959).

3. Papazian, p. 177. For a typical Soviet estimate, see Ia. D. Dmiterko, Obshchestvenno-politicheskie i filosofskie vzghady T. G. Shevchenko (Moscow, 1954).

4. Papazian, "N. I. Kostomarov and the Cyril-Methodian Ideology," The Russian Review, January 1970, p. 64.

5. P. A. Zaionchkovsky, Kirillo-Mefodievskoe Obshchestvo (Moscow, 1959), pp. 70, 78.

6. The published versions of this document which is about 4,500 words in length, are few. A full text is in the appendix of P. A. Zaionchkovsky's study, pp. 149-60; an English translation is in Papazian's dissertation, pp. 118-33.

7. Dmytro Doroshenko, A Survey of Ukrainian Historiography (New York, 1957), p. 134.

8. Zaionchkovsky, Kirillo-Mefodievskoe Obsbchestvo, pp. 8-10.

9. Papazian, The Russian Review, pp. 67-68.

10. Ibid., p. 69.

11. Kostomarov, Literaturnoe naskdie (St. Petersburg, 1890), p. 61.

12. Ibid, p. 62.

13. Kostomarov to N. A. Belozerskaia, an undated letter preserved by V. L Semevsvky, Russkaia starina, January 1886, pp. 187-88. The Seim was to consist of two chambers and was to meet every four years; each state's assembly was to meet every year; the supreme executive power of the federation was to be in the hands of the president who was to be elected for four years. (Zaionchkovsky, p. 87J

14. Semevsky's article on Kostomarov in Russkaia starina, January 1886, p. 23; Zaionchkovsky, p. 87.

15. Kostomarov, Avtobiografiia, (Moscow, 1890), p. 62.

16. Papazian, The Russian Review, p. 72.